Archive | June, 2014

Mindsect

27 Jun

When I skim various topics online, I can’t help but notice how people end up self-sorting themselves.  One of my favorite characters is the guy who thinks that everything would be fine if only we would follow some good old-time rules or whatever.  Most typical people spent some time as that guy at some point in their lives.  “The world has gone astray!”  I’m thinking…I’m pretty sure it’s always been ‘astray’ and that this guy would have felt blighted in any period of history.  He doesn’t seem to understand that at base his grievance is that the Universe doesn’t care about him.  He doesn’t understand this, because he doesn’t understand that no transcendental moral obligation is owed to him.  If he understood that, he might be on his way to a very special art of seduction rather than yelping at something which doesn’t have ears for his cries.

It’s partly a matter of intelligence, part knowledge, part character, part rolodex, and part wisdom.  There are certain phase changes, too.  Beyond a given mass and density, a rolling snowball may securely compound its growth.  Until then, however, most snowballs may only roll up a bit of snow here and there until they once again break apart.

It’s not just a matter of self-sorting, either.  There are multiple vectors of sorting.  The absences sometimes speak much more loudly than the presences do.  The spaces between the notes, the intervals, carry an identity of their own.  What’s more, sometimes one wonders: why not a french horn here?  Why not some flute there?

These noisy silences are pervasive in human social & intellectual conduct and are one of the places a philosopher might be found observing the background which everyone is so sure doesn’t exist. “Everything is foreground!” insists the devout man.  Assumptions can take the form of noisy silences which may be very difficult to notice until one takes a more observant and whimsical perspective on a situation.  Yet when one must apply assumptions, they can be damn near impossible to notice.

Celia Green’s cautions about confusing reality with human political and societal affairs are worth recalling here.  Many people will interpret the above comments in terms of in and out groups.  But we are all an out group when it comes to what there is to know and become.  Big time.  That is what I try to focus on, because I don’t believe in defining oneself primarily with respect to other people.  CG deftly noted that substituting the merely human for the real is one way to eliminate awareness of the ‘outside’.  “There is no outside; there are just winners and losers!”

Many people believe this and live accordingly.  It saddens me.  Blind dedication to semi-arbitrary standards is one of the primary ways in which people lose themselves.  It’s a common mechanism for stunting would-be originality.  So many horrible sacrifices are heaped on the altar of this or that game.

But there is an outside, and I’m looking to dart directly into it.  The outside helps to better define the inside.  This adventure also requires trials by fire in order to maintain a hearty realism, but these trials are necessarily fights of honor in which one attempts to give the outside an avatar in the fight so as to transcend the wanting finite integration one sits within at any given time.

 

 

Yes and No

27 Jun

In seeking a hopeful and assertive outlook, I find challenge in the curious mix of needed affirmation and rejection.  There are bad aspects of life, but life itself is not bad.  The present is what is real now, yet the ideal future is giving this present meaning it wouldn’t otherwise have.  Initiative is a necessary zealot, although it must be measured and limited from without.

The trick seems to be to liberate initiative from cramped bounds.  Rather than focusing on strict day-to-day realism or an airy idealism, a more complicated integration is suggested.  The present situation forms a relationship with the desired goals, and the primary object is this relation and not the goals in of themselves.

On one level it’s too obvious to state, but to explain how such a thing occurs is much more involved than only observing that it does occur.  The ability to point to a thing is very different from being able to design it and/or predict it.  It sounds plain enough, but in practice there is rampant confusion on the matter.

One challenge is in defining the partiality or self-concern of a sapient creature which is able to reject significant parts of its present state in favor of a new port of call; the creature maintains its partiality throughout this process.  Though there is some rejection of the present state, realism is maintained.  In spite of the idealistic component, ad hoc capabilities are not neglected.

While in practice one claims to be thinking for oneself, it’s a terribly common matter for an idea to have its thinker as much as the thinker has the idea.  When the idea has the thinker, it could be said that the thinker’s partiality includes this very idea.  The idea is not an object of study, then, but is part of the medium.

I believe that any idea or belief(to idealize these vague metaphysical terms) is available for analysis in principle, but in practice the ‘mental partiality’ can only commodify bits and pieces of itself at a time, but other significant parts of the mind/brain have to remain as the ‘all-seeing asymmetry’.  Put another way: there is irreducible dependence.  The form the dependence takes is key.

 

Success

23 Jun

Healthy people rarely understand what a massive head start they have over their unhealthy peers.  They don’t really have an incentive to care about this fact.  It’s still annoying!

Why not be realistic about success?  Odds are drastically improved by: good health, good intelligence, good education, good connections, solid financial grounding, good looks, political cunning, supportive family, strong work ethic and grit/resilience, relevant experience, luck, high expectations, early adopter status, physical size, a history of success/victory, and so on.

While some might see this as a fatalistic message, it needn’t be taken that way!  I see it as an opportunity to move the odds in my favor by the only reliable means available to me.  That’s not fatalistic — quite the opposite.  It maximizes efficacy.  What’s fatalistic is to deceive oneself about the true nature of the situation in order to feel better about one’s less than ideal position.  That’s the dark side.

There are many romantic stories about people who ‘came from nothing’, but many, if not most, big names did not come from nothing.  It makes sense, too.  If someone starts from a high level and works as hard as the guy who starts from nothing, then presumably the more fortunate guy will go much further!  If one has no giants to stand on the shoulders of, one won’t see as far.  Sometimes it’s just that simple.  It becomes more obvious when one compares a scientist starting in 1900 with one beginning in 1650.  If they are judged by the same time-independent standard, the 1650 guy will not match up well no matter how outrageously brilliant he is.

When one looks closely at the romanticized cases, one tends to find that a given person was simply more intelligent than their peers, or they were exposed to certain issues from a very young age, or they stumbled into just the right circles at just the right time in life, or they had a specially devoted friend to lessen their mundane burdens, or they were free of usual obligations of labor, or they had an obsessive interest in a most fertile area of study, etc.  The most extreme cases may feature all of the above and then some.

 

 

USA Today

23 Jun

I suspect that easy gratification is changing the life arcs of many Americans(among other wonderful world citizens).  Most don’t notice what’s going on in any serious way.  It wasn’t all that long ago that life was primarily about surviving.  That’s pretty damn motivating, and I’m guessing that it gives life a realism which is probably lacking in those who are never pushed to their mortal limits.

But it gets me thinking.  As recently as 1975, the paths to stimulation in life were in certain critical aspects very different from what they are today.  Things were still substantially real.  The population was still full of knowing war vets.  These were men who fought in a war in which the US really seemed like the good guy doing the right thing.  Political correctness hadn’t yet completely taken over.

Expectations were different.  I’m guessing that many of today’s excuses and sensitivities wouldn’t have flown back then.  I think a lot of people still believed in big things, too: ideas, religion, the country, values.  Serious writers still existed in significant numbers.  Many people still read real books.  Obesity rates weren’t yet completely out of control.

Young men didn’t grow up playing Halo and watching online porn.  Families were still a thing.  There were fewer satisfying ways to escape real life, and there was much more pressure on those who tried to do so.  To access knowledge and know-how, one had to actually know people with skills.  There was booze, but there’s always been booze.  While there was far less electronic connection, there was probably also more meaningful camaraderie.  More real privacy.  Even a lot of the hippy druggies tried to develop serious outlooks.  There was some sincere hope that drugs would be more than a button to press for gratification.

Not everything had been completely commercialized and washed-out yet, although I get the impression that after the 60’s things turned very hard in that direction in the culture.  It seems to me that there was far more organic culture back then.  Maybe I’m wrong, but the music from that period included a lot of serious folk stuff which sounds suspiciously authentic and heartfelt.  It wasn’t all dubbed over and over-produced to the gills.  Not only was it written by real people living real lives, but they even believed in things!  I wonder what that’s like.  I even get the impression that money wasn’t always the biggest concern.  Whoa.  

Also, this was before our barrage of modern psychological cripples and rampant overmedicating.

1975.  One year before The Selfish Gene was first published!

 

Many of the changes since 1975 have been unambiguously for the better.  I would not want to go back to a time in which one still had to flip through books instead of typing in a search.  In which one would have to rely on word of mouth and urban legends.  There’s a lot of other stuff, but this part is huge.

Still, I get the impression that earning stimulation and gratification is necessary for dignified self-development.  The realer the situation and the more compelling the cause, the better.  There’s a lot to be said for restraint, for old-fashioned civility, for a certain happy credulity.  For family.

I believe in a life with worthwhile challenges.  The situation today has made it easy to retreat into a cornucopia of tittering digital gratification.  Phoniness and glib commercialization abound.  There is a sort of amorphous idealism, but it’s hard to take seriously.

What are the challenges to capture the imagination and strain the mast?

 

There is global warming.  There are the third world problems.  What’s more, there’s probably something to be said for finding ways to return some meaning to gratification.

In a highly scientific and more thoroughly postmodern age, I also think there will have to be more than old-time appeals to the idealism of big threats.  Can people believe in things again?  Maybe.  But the old approaches probably won’t work.  The scene has changed.  Plausibility is a big issue, and even PR firms working their fannies off are failing.  The instant gratification culture and the relentless PR have probably gone a long ways towards ruining grassroots enthusiasm for big problems.  The Green movement could have had its Ron Paul type figure, I bet, but it never really happened.

People want to believe, but first they need something believable.  Trust and principles matter!  For gods sakes, let some real people through!  We need them.  There’s an image management bubble.

Just one more reason to go for the Sacred.  If seeing is believing, then maybe it’s time for a new view of something that’s been here all along.

I don’t know if that will happen or not, but I hope so.  I hope many people will seek the great challenges to dignify themselves and others.  It doesn’t all have to be ostentatious and grand on the highest scale, but just some way of finding hard things to give rewards meaning in the real world.

 

The Bleeding Edge

23 Jun

I don’t know if this is right or not.  It’s just something I decided to wander through.

 

One common argument against the idea that description is inadequate for life: it would seem to be theoretically possible, given a moon’s worth of computing capacity, to exhaust any pitiful creature on Earth.

However, making arguments with imaginary computers is only sometimes reputable.  Where do these computers come from in the first place?  Gedanken storks?

The processes of generation and invention would seem to imply a vanguard executive, without which all of this exquisitely ordered and powerful technology is not possible.  This is a rough term for all the essential components of high civilization as we know it today — no simple thing.

The thing about the vanguard is that it is seldom, if ever, adequately understood until it’s in the rear-view mirror.  Even then, it is only comprehended by a new vanguard which is itself only partially self-explicit.

The point being that to exhaust something, it would seem one has to exceed it.  But then, one is presumably creating another entity/process which is not entirely exhausted/explicit/described…and so on.

This problem is especially challenging in higher life forms, given that creatures can form populations which make exotic measurements and innovations, exhibit considerable autonomy and originality, behave cunningly, employ deceit, evolve, learn unknown unknowns, access implicit components of themselves and the world, etc.  In colloquial terms: that’s some serious shit.  One presumes that a ‘computer’ able to model all of that would be one serious mother.  However, maybe the most interesting thing about it is that it would almost certainly require incredible executive ability..which would make it much less like the ‘models’ as we think of them today and more like a sapient being.  Perceptual ability would also be a must.

Would not this juggernaut have its own existential issues?  Would it not cast shadows onto its own soul?  Oh cruel world!

Anyway, my position here seems to imply a sort of hierarchy of control and description, or possibly one of epistemic symmetry.  The very advanced and very vital might be able to exhaust the relativity simple, but the vanguard probably can’t adequately model itself.  Instead, it has to read Kierkegaard’s intolerable ramblings.

Oh man.  Too much implicit and explicit rigmarole.

 

Keeping it Real

22 Jun

Is our world really about morals and being nice?

Who defines these words?  On what basis?

How do public declarations contrast with how people behave, speak, and emote in private?

 

Few things are as rife with nonsense as the practice of unilaterally declaring some behaviors valid and others invalid according to some supposed moral righteousness.  Emotionally, I’m mostly oriented as a humanist.  But so what?  Why should I regard my emotions as anything more than a product of evolution, chance, and upbringing?  Perhaps there is a good reason to think otherwise, but that would require some major breakthroughs to demonstrate.  Anyway, most people have weak ability to introspect on their own motivations in life.  Hint: skew petty…add 15 pounds, etc.  Nevertheless, the political incentive in public is nearly always in favor of saying the right things, so the party goes on.

My suspicion is that we ended up with the golden rule and a general sense of moral symmetry(“your pain is my pain”) because a fair measure of this allowed more powerful societies to develop.  I don’t think it’s helpful to identify these trends with some fundamental moral progress.  I believe it has everything to do with more organized and coordinated societies which yield superior economic and military results.  If people who believed x, y, and z ended up in control of everything, then which beliefs are going to be considered ‘best’?  Gee, I wonder.

Peoples who viciously infight all the time and who have no standards of fairness can’t get advanced societies off the ground.  It’s too inefficient.  It makes everyone insecure and hostilely oriented.  Delicate incentive structures can’t easily exist in that situation. People in such a situation are relatively less likely to take risks on ambitious productive and creative endeavors, and those who do take these risks are far more likely to be frustrated in their ambitions than are those who take such risks in more liberal societies.

Nevertheless, I feel that those who seek to premise moral outlooks simply on their traditional and emotional orientations are doing something of questionable merit.  My take: seek a less arbitrary basis or drop the pretense.  Because pretense won’t last.  It’s vanity.  The arbitrariness of the basis of the thing will always be sitting there, ripe for exploitation.

This point is hard for Westerners to swallow, because we think we’re special.  As a result, few people embark on Sacred studies, because they don’t see the Sacred in themselves.  They don’t really see themselves at all.  They just see ‘the way things are’.  Everything is amenable to science in the West — other than our holy common sense on which much of the rest depends.  YUCK!

Roughly put, Buddhism teaches that the self is basically a construct.  An appetite brought into the world.  A mad appetite which seeks only its own gratification and generates tragedy in the process.  While this view may have been excessively pessimistic, I find a lot of truth to it.  This outlook leaves one open to Sacred studies, at least.  How might one construct different types of selves?  How do such things interact, evolve, and so on?  What kinds of basis for personal identity might there be?  What is the source of these possibilities to begin with?  The line to the primeval remains open.

Yet in the West, this beacon of truth and inquiry, our beliefs about the nature of the self don’t seem to have anything to do with removed observant truth.  Instead, our subjective beliefs about ourselves seem carefully groomed to produce the most impressive results of production and achievement.  Things have become more sentimental recently, but, if anything, the sentimental outlook is even more detached from the bare truth than the earlier outlook was.  This is painfully dissonant in light of the constant proclamations of Dawkins, among others, that one must “always support beliefs with evidence”.  But don’t you see that sometimes our beliefs are co-authoring this very evidence?  Our persistent beliefs in ourselves, in the concept of progress, and so on…all of that affects our behavior and thereby influences the ‘moral evidence’ resultant from these processes.  ‘Reflexivity’.

Some results are obviously belief-dependent.  How many lives have been guided on the premise that God is always watching?  This was a belief which altered behavior in large numbers.  The behavior cannot be explained without referencing the belief which motivated it.

Dawkins would of course say, “ah, but the belief was delusional!”  Still, what if the belief resulted in a functional advantage of certain societies?  Why be so simpleminded about ‘belief’?  Perhaps there is more to belief than idyllic truth.

Even more frightening for the typical Westerner is the suggestion that some beliefs may only make sense with reference to a Sacred complex of accompanying beliefs in a way analogous to how a creature’s organs only make sense when ordered together in a functioning body.  That is to say that some beliefs, such as the belief in Self or the belief in the relation between the me of tomorrow to the me of today, may participate in the creation of a reality while simultaneously not being delusional since they do not mistakenly refer to/describe something which is not real.  The beliefs assist in conjuring their own evidence.  In this case, verification is not passive.  The processes of homeostasis may provide an interesting parallel study in this regard.

The beliefs are not independent from the evidence in this case.  If the beliefs are changed, the evidence may also change.  This isn’t Alice in Wonderland; it’s not a trick.  It’s real.  I believe the real function of this unnerving example is to remind the philosopher of the physical, embodied nature of beliefs. It also helps in melting the crust of common sense to enable a bit more upwelling to occur.  Beyond that, it reveals some of the limits of idealized ‘pure truth’ as an end in itself.

Of course, the so-called ‘creative’ nature of beliefs is strictly limited to very special cases.  It’s not an unlimited well of possibility, and it does not generate magic sovereignty from the rest of the Universe.  It is not a license to total solipsism or relativism.  It does not challenge the Universally invariant truths which science has uncovered.  But it’s certainly relevant, and it may even give hints of an enlarged conception of realism.  Human beings are, after all, intimate parties to some of these very special cases.

 

Entrenchment of Assumptions

22 Jun

Here follows a speculative, quasi-metaphysical entry.

One difficulty in communicating philosophical points results from the way in which common language and culture rest on some of the very assumptions which are being put on trial.  This dependence is usually subconscious.

The processes of conditioning and admission are themselves partly captive to the assumptions in question.  It’s very much like religion and the Celia Green-inspired idea of ‘sanity’.  One might say that the apostate is handicapped by convention in such a scenario, but he will not be recognized as an apostate but simply as ‘wrong’.  In other words, the distinction between being incorrect or irrelevant and being inconvenient to the health of a particular limited ideology is happily lost.

There is a danger in reified conceptions of, among other items, ’empiricism’, ‘rationality’, and ‘truth’.  Glib use of these terms gives an appearance of a priori innocence on the part of those who use them with impunity.  The words can be fashioned into a kind of holy armor which is supposed to be impenetrable.

The usual tactic of the guilty parties is to place a ban on certain questions in order to replace philosophy with a mad pragmatic drive which burns off its existential anxieties through its myopic programs.  What else could “shut up and calculate” possibly mean?  Stop asking irritating questions!  I don’t like it, and I feel entitled to tell you what to do.

It’s not that pragmatic science isn’t wonderful and essential.  Of course it is!  But it’s not everything.  Furthermore, the whole issue with the philosophy of pragmatism is its implicit bracketing of ‘what works’.  If left untended and unquestioned for very long, any particular ‘pragmatism’ will begin petrifying into a new dogma.

An organic approach is in large part a response to this awkward limitation of pragmatism.  Science is re-seated as an ‘organ’ within a ‘creature’, and its use and meaning is to some extent regulated by other organs along with the changing environment of the creature itself which may generate novel ‘perceptual data’ which feeds into a kind of self-reflexive ‘state relevance’.  Yes, there are invariant truths.  However, life is not strictly a matter of truth qua truth(aka idea museum) but is about the utilization of these truths for a creature’s purposes.

“So it is that knowledge must perish and be reborn as will.”

There’s a lot of confusion between ‘truth itself’ and the use of truth.  Dogma tends to emerge when ‘truth itself’ becomes the ideal.  Pragmatism shifts the dogmatic seeds to fixed definitions of ‘what is practical’, yet in life, fluid intelligence, and creativity, one is presumably operating at a higher level in which there might be said to exist a sort of pan-contextualization which has some resistance even to tyrannical values or formulas.  One might say there are multiple axes of empiricism; it’s not only a matter of testing the invariant theories, but is also a matter of gauging and regulating those theories in living relevant practice.

So-called organic approaches seek a partial liberation from the finite reflexes by maximizing the relevant fluidity/jointedness, and thereby the freedom, of the institutions within the complex.  Ideological inertia is minimized along lines of inter-resonant relevance.  It is hoped that the self-occlusion inherent in necessary fixity will be minimized.  The entire situation may be characterized as a kind of ‘floating institution’ which is able to avail itself of subtle symmetries within its parts and causeways.  Each part of the network becomes conversant with many other parts, and in so doing provides something of a contextual buffer against the tyrannical eruption of singularly absolute methods and values.

Each fixed part is enveloped by many others and so attains a complement, an outside, and perhaps even a kind of implicit/explicit duality.

A dedicated theorist or pure scientist may nobly focus on her specific task and leave details of practical implementation to others, but this separation of labor ought not to be interpreted as a hierarchy with the ‘pure truth-seekers’ sitting proudly atop the pyramid.  That would only be adequate if all of this were about nothing more than filling up our idea museums.