Bigsley the Oaf

dark-tight-knot-heart dark-tight-knot-heart

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on April 26, 2012

My father told me once that he would come home from work and cry, sometimes, after everyone else had gone to bed. I was crying at the time. It was the first winter I was home from MIT. I pretended that MIT was not hard for 4 years (and longer), but I couldn’t pretend in front of him.

When I spoke to him about the fact that my grandfather had had a stroke there were alien feelings, long lost feelings. I don’t care too much about genetic material, after all. I could only repeat “he was such a good man,” and weep.

Tonight at dinner, explaining the plot of “Scorched” to my family, and I couldn’t help it. The play was too sad for me to handle and was the start of something for me. It’s about the sacrifice intrinsic to the dark hidden things that we keep from everyone else because we love them so much.

Then there was prom night – explaining to my father that I thought that I might be gay, and I cried. I was so confused. Because I couldn’t kiss my prom date. Because she was a horrible bitch who I hated, though she was attractive.

In Japan, my surrogate father, Adachi-san, sat with me while I cried about the mounting tensions of living in a different culture. It could have been the most embarrassing moment of my life, but he treated me with a tenderness which I appreciate to this day.

I cry a lot in front of my father. I can’t hide my sadness from him. He lets me untie my knots and get past the tension.

My heart can be a hard, tight, dark place. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m usually not in a groove or at harmony with the things around me. I feel like an alien and a stranger, half the time.

I keep listening to this song and I keep crying and I keep writing this post:

Can you imagine what it would be like if your lover left you and you were strangers? When I think about this happening to me and Jen I can’t even begin to comprehend it, goddammit, it hurts so much. I know that I don’t appreciate the people around me enough, goddammit. Why can’t I just be happy with what I have?

I’m visiting my parents in Wilmington at the moment, and I’ve been in NYC since last Friday night. This trip has been a sad one. There is some healing aspect to sadness, though. I read a quote tonight which went something like “It’s one of the sad ironies of the universe that the times that we feel lonely are the same times that we most need to be alone.” I feel the need to be alone. I want to detach my soul from this lovely universe and go into a hole where I can breathe, alone.

I know there are things that I don’t admit to myself. I need to learn to be my own father. I need to untie this horrible knot that I have become, or cut it apart and start over.

The Limits of Science

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on April 10, 2012

I often wonder about various limits related to human consciousness. Questions like:

– “How much” can we remember?

– How fast can we find the answer to a well-defined problem? (e.g. 1950235 + 39208)

– What are the limits of our rigor – as in, what sorts of things will we accept as true despite their being false? 

– How many objects can I visualize simultaneously? (3 spinning balls? 4?)

These limits all obviously exist, when it comes to individuals. The different “modes” of thinking corresponding to these limits – respectively mnemonic, computational, logical, imaginative – are all present in some form as categories of human behavior in group. E.g. historians remember, programmers compute, mathematicians ensure the logical consistency of (a class) of our beliefs, artists + musicians imagine. Consequently, these structures (groups of mathematicians, groups of artists, etc.) have “limits” – the horizon of activity – what is being thought about/discovered currently.

It is reasonable to believe that these disciplines developed as a consequence of mass-action with respect to their associated attributes. This is to say that first humans were able to imagine, then they developed art on an individual basis, then more and more people became artists, formed groups of artists, etc. They did not develop art and then learn to imagine.

This may seem very obvious, but the reason that I’m explicating it thoroughly is that I’d like to claim that  when it comes to “scientific thinking” (at least as it has evolved in the western world) the process occurred in the opposite direction. First a social structure of “science” was developed – then people learned how to “think scientifically.”

Let me make my definition of “science” clear. It is, for me, defined primarily as an organizational principle for society. It represents a state which society is either in, or is not. Science is the state produced when everything accepted as “true” for a society is also “verifiable.”

So, our belief that the speed of light is ~3×10^8 m/s is “true” because anyone (given sufficient resources)[1] can measure it and verify it. 

A belief that the speed of light is 2 m/s is “false” because I can (personally) perform an experiment that verifies that it is not.

So, a scientific society is one which maintains this standard of verifiability of its beliefs. [2]

So, a scientific mindset is one which those who enact science must maintain in order to maintain the standard of verifiability. It requires certain modes of thinking (logic, computation) more than others (imagination, visualization). The action of a scientific mindset is to deny ideas which cannot be verified for some reason. It does this by attempting to verify them and, if verification fails, reporting this fact.

Thus, when we talk about the limits of science, we must talk about the limits of the social structure, not of the individuals. The individuals simply create the social structure. Further, we want to talk first about the extrinsic limits – that is, the limits of science if it is faithfully enacted. Then, we’ll talk about the intrinsic limits – that is, the impossibility of faithfully enacting it.

Anyway, this whole post started because I was thinking about one particular limit of science. Namely, scientific thinking can only be applied to domains in which the controlling factors of the domain are few  and known.

FEW

In physics, for example, the controlling factors are the “laws of the universe.” We’ve always had small theories of physics – “earth, wind, water, fire” – “atom, gravity, electromagnetic force” – “quark, quantum effects” – “string, string theory?”

In math, there is one factor – the axiom. It’s strange to talk about math as a science per se, since it is deeper than science (it can be done by individuals), but for a proof to be verified by a group of people it has to be shown to be reducible to axioms.[3]

In biology, we make claims about living systems as such. The factors are things like “physical structures” (organs, organelles), “chemical processes” (osmosis, catalysis), “vectors” (viruses, bacteria, etc.) Biology actually has way too many factors, and it’s impossible to create a theory that includes all of them, so it has to be broken up into specific domains (anatomy, ecology, etc.) until we get the # of factors small enough to think about. Biology seems to be structured pretty hierarchically, so this isn’t really a problem (e.g. you can talk about the eye without talking about ecology)

KNOWN

Economics is a classical example of a bad science. It produces results which are too highly qualified to be of any interest. More importantly, the claims of economics are basically impossible to verify. Why? Because we do not know what the real factors of economics are. The economic system of the US is so complicated that it is literally impossible to interpret. There’s the government, countless corporations, technology, the emotional makeup of the people, etc. 

The deep fact of economics is that money is not a fundamental system. Biology doesn’t care what we think about it (yet). Physics really doesn’t. But money does. Since we control it to a large extent, we can change it, and the question of “how do we change our social rules?” is influenced by 6 billion factors, none of which we understand.

A CASE STUDY

The idea for this post came from this article: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/scientific-american-declares-homeopathy-indispensable-to-planet-and-human-health/

Here is an example of a “scientist” in brazil who does not understand the basic idea of science – that results must be verifiable. It may very well be true that homeopathy “works,” but in order for this to be a scientific claim we must first agree on a definition of “works” and a means by which this can be tested.

But now we’re hitting up against the intrinsic limits of science. Namely, science is a social structure – it can only allow beliefs to be believed which all people can verify. The issue here is that we have to define “all people” and, in doing so, we exclude some people – the insane, the homeless, the “quacks.” The reason that science and religion have battled for so long is that science’s standard of social “proof” is different from religion’s. In religion, the belief of the individual is sometimes acceptable as truth. E.g. if someone has a divine revelation, that might be acceptable as truth to a lot of people. [4]

The issue (in my mind) is that individuals contain truths that are not verifiable, but are nonetheless true. In this sense, atheism may indeed be a disease [5].

The fact is that these crazy homeopaths might be right. Or rather, perhaps they are right about 0.01% of what they believe. The issue is that they don’t know how to quantify their beliefs – they don’t know how to phrase them in a coherent way – they have not systematized them.

We must always remember, in humility, that people thought Einstein was crazy, people thought Tesla was crazy, people thought (and still think!) Grothendieck was crazy. What’s more, they thought that they were unscientific. What’s MORE, they thought that they (the community) were NOT crazy.

We, in our modern hubris, believe that we understand the standards of truth. But we will never hold those reins, and we must be ceaselessly wary lest we come to believe that we do. [6]

[1] And let’s not get into this clusterfuck. Basically, I don’t think science exists anymore since the requirements for resources required to verify academic results are just too large. E.g. how would you (you personally) verify the existence of neutrinos? I suppose you could build your own neutrino detector, costing you tens of millions of dollars… But isn’t it so much easier just to accept the results? (Ha!)

[2] A philosophical society is simply one that accepts the existence of mind. Philosophy pre-dates science because it is required by science. After all, how can we think about the relationships between our beliefs if we don’t share the idea of belief?

[3] The reason that mathematics is deeper than science is that an individual can do it, and there is no universal standard for it. The axioms of ZFC set theory are accepted by a number of mathematicians, but not all. There are plenty of competing theories. 

To go one step further down the rabbit hole, philosophy is a deeper form than mathematics because it is obviously required by mathematics – how can we compare axiom sets other than by philosophical arguments? Mathematics is fundamentally a discussion about how individual thoughts are related within the individual (if A is true and A -> B then B is true) – Philosophy is fundamentally a discussion about thoughts as such within the individual – it allows the individual to decompose his/her own thoughts independently.

[4] Interesting, just as humanity has learned to “game” religion (and so has lost its spirituality) it has learned to “game” science (and so has lost its connection to objective truth). Just look at the sorry shambles that scientific disciplines lie in today – they still do their job, but the life and fire have gone out of them. Can you name 3 important scientists from the past 20 years and outline their contributions?

How does society “game” religion? Religion says that truth comes from god, gods, or some other divine source. Some of this truth exists among the people (common truth), whereas the other part of this truth comes from individuals whose speciality is in gathering it (revelations, theology, etc.) You game religion by claiming that you are one of these individuals, but handing out false information.

How does society “game” science? Similar idea. Since science’s results are not really universally verifiable (they are expensive to verify in terms of resources) you create a class of people who is the “verifiers” and now (since it’s not everyone) you control the source of knowledge. Knowledge = Power and the rest follows.

[5] Atheism may be interpreted as a disease in the following way: 

1. Society attains “science” as its standard for belief and abolishes religion (religion takes resources and does not contribute verifiable knowledge.

2. Some within society who lack knowledge of the divine (if such a thing exists) claim that religion is wrong – they use science as their standard. Since the metaphysical claims of religion are its backbone (e.g. the existence of god), and since these claims cannot be verified, it follows that religion is invalid. 

3. Other members of society are now forced to reject their religion if they hope to think in a way consistent with “science.”

4. Atheists protect themselves by saying “I don’t really care what you believe – but don’t tell me what to believe” which, if you think about it, would prevent them from telling you about their beliefs.

– As an aside – I don’t believe in God, god, YWHW, etc. However, I am not an atheist as I have a sense of the divine. I see it in my cat, I feel it in music, etc. There is something there besides the quantifiable world.

[6] Incidentally, I believe that morality falls above science. Thus, a should can imply an “is” but an “is” cannot imply a should. Right morality is needed for right science, of course (but this is a philosophical question).

Informational Priviledge, Childbirth, and Control

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on April 8, 2012

The primary mode of human action is informational privilege. Though it appears that we act as objects on objects, actually the purest form of action is the attachment of consciousness to an arbitrary locus of informational complexity.

Take a simple example. I am hungry – what shall I eat? I eat an apple.

The action and the decision here – the crux of it – is that I have chosen to think on the level of eating, hunger, and food. I could, for example, not allow the actual stuff of my perceptual reality (the sensations of hunger, the visual aspects of the food before me, the mnemonic attributes of my food holdings, etc.) to attain the forms set out by the common ontology of food.

But this is fairly abstract. It might be hard for you to understand how the decision to eat is actually the decision to think on the level of eating.

A better example has to do with time-scales. Consider a decision like – what college shall I go to? The fact of its being a decision is actually the privileging of a ~10-year timescale as the timescale on which to make a decision. The enactment of the decision is the sum of the pressures which focus the consciousness on that timescale. 

There is a subtle deceit here which it is important to understand. Namely, there are two types of decisions which we think of as the same type.

Suppose you lived in the moment. What would then, for you, constitute a “decision of college?” It would be a reaction – there would be a time at which the question is posed – really posed – and a moment in which the answer is given. The act is a spontaneous reaction on the scale of the moment.

But if you live on the 10-year timescale, where the decision to go to college is part of a plan, then the decision rises slowly out of nothing, attains its apex at the moment of “no going back” (if there is one), and then slowly descends back into oblivion. 

Though from an external perspective these are both “decisions,” I hope you can appreciate that they are of an entirely different character.

What’s more, my claim is that once you decide which information to privilege – whether to live in the moment, or to live on a 1-year timescale, or a 10-year one, or on the timescale of your life (e.g. planning for your old age), you are largely out of control of what you do.

Let me clarify what it means to privilege a time-scale. What it means is that, in every decision, in every thought, the ideas and objects to which your mind adheres are those which belong to that time-scale. If you live in the moment then you might think of sensations, simple relationships, dynamics, contrasts, etc. If you live on the 10-year timescale then your head is full of thoughts like career, health, friends, etc. If you live on the 80-year timescale then you might be worried about old age, family, building an empire, etc. If you live on the “eternity” timescale (in some sense the inverse of the momentary timescale) then you’re probably concerned with cosmology, laws, deep philosophy, computation, etc. – so-called “eternal” concepts.

Most people do not purely privilege a single timescale. Perhaps you are a weekend buddhist and privilege the moment when relaxing, but privilege the 10-year when working. Personally, I think that I vacillate frequently between thinking of eternity and thinking of the moment – I’m pretty bad at everything in between (which is why I have Jen 🙂 )

But timescales are not the only sort of informational privilege. Another is much more straightforward and static – namely, the question of which objects to attach value to, and what type of value. Humanists privilege human information. Mystics privilege “spiritual” information. Artists privilege forms and relations. Computer scientists privilege data (meta-information). Perversely, mathematicians privilege no information. 

Which brings us to the former element of the title of this post – childbirth. 

It’s a very strange topic to me, because what child birth really comes down to (largely) is privileging genetic information. If I have a child with someone else, what I am really doing is putting a great deal of my mental and physical energy – my time – and other resources – behind the belief that the combination of my genetic information with that person’s is worthwhile. It is a value, relative to which other values are lesser. 

I could, after all, start a business, or go travelling, or try to have a lot of good sex. I could make art, learn to sing. I could kill myself. I could do drugs and die in a ditch. But instead, I’m deciding that it’s important for some reason that my genetic information gets reproduced. 

This perspective, which I believe pretty strongly, makes it really hard for me to think clearly about my own child-rearing potential. I have a wife. We could have a baby right now. But is it what I want to do? Clearly my body wants me to do it, as do some of my friends, as do my parents. But there are forces pushing against it, too.

The fact is that genetic information is only actually useful on the scale of a society. What I mean by this is that a society with better genetic information is more likely to survive. More abstractly, a society which has better mechanisms for getting its members with better genetic information to reproduce, is more likely to survive. It has more resources relative to other societies. I don’t want to go into it, but I think that this idea dictates most of what we see in the media, etc. – how we think about beauty, intelligent, etc. etc. etc. 

My point is that if I had a child, it’s really for society, full stop. It might make me happy, but only to the extent that it is supported and encouraged by the fabric of society around me.

So really the decision is not a decision – it is a state. If society decides that I want to have a baby then I will have one. If it doesn’t, then I won’t. It is not in my control.

What it all comes down to is control. The eye changes the world. The level of complexity on which you think is the level of complexity on which your world will change, locally. If you think on the scale of the moment, then your moments will change, but your life may become monotonous. If you think on the scale of decades, then your moment may be boring, but they will sum to grand shiftings. If you focus on genetic values then you will have children – if you focus on the mind then you’ll have ideas.

And so on and so forth.