All posts by Luke

The Culture of Reason

I have heard the term “The Church of Reason” to refer to our modern disposition toward rationality and science. Some thinkers are upset by this analogy, claiming that rationality is fundamentally distinct from a religion. In some ways this is true: for instance, rationality does not entrust a single institution or treatise with control of its truth (though some sects — I mean branches — come very close to a blind trust of scientific consensus). However, I sometimes get the distinct impression of a further belief, however never explicitly stated, that logic and science are not just the latest way, but the way to discover truth.

A succinct criticism from within the logical discipline describes my thoughts well. I quote:

If I see a coin come up heads twenty times in a row, I’m going to use the power of induction to predict that the coin is biased towards heads. Induction tells me that, the more something has happened in the past, it’s more likely to continue to do so in the future. I trust induction because induction has worked for me before.

Somewhere out there in mind-space is someone who believes in anti-induction: each coin flip of heads convinces him that the coin is biased toward tails. Anti-induction tells him that, the more something has happened in the past, the less likely it is to do so in the future. If asked why he trusts anti-induction, he exclaims: “Because it’s never worked before!”

(Concept by Eliezer Yudkowsky, phrasing by Chronos) (EDIT: It appears that this concept is not Yudkowsky’s creation, but a ‘well-known’ joke in some circles, however I cannot locate its origin)

This delightful morsel is so much more than an idle curiosity to me. Please do not mistake me for taking the surface interpretation: I do not claim that induction and anti-induction are equally valuable. But the anti-induction hypothetical illuminates, in an entertaining way, that belief in induction is circular. Observe that our unwavering trust in logic rests upon induction.

In this modern age it is sometimes easy to forget that there was a time when most of humanity was deeply religious. Humans of every intellectual prowess saw “God did it” as a sound explanation (allow me to assume omnipotent monotheism for the sake of argument). Some theorized about how God thought, what he looked like (whether that was a legitimate question), what would appease him, what actions would cause him to create rain or not. Instead of conjuring thoughts of mockery, I would like the reader to put him or herself into one of those minds. You are not stupid; you are deeply immersed in a cultural belief system. It rains — you think back upon the actions of your town recently to try to determine why it must have done so; determining this is of the utmost importance. You may even engage in scientific practices, coming up with hypotheses and testing them: if I sing to one, but not both, of my children at night, the probability that God will be pleased is increased. But this science is based upon a faulty foundation: a whole host of different phenomena could be attributed to “God will be pleased”, and the method is not scientific by modern standards. It is still superstition. What I am putting forth is that the very process of modern science and reasoning may be considered superstition — or perhaps some yet-uninvented term to describe our primitive thinking — to the cultures of the future. Maybe, like the character above, what we are doing is analogous to the search for truth, but we’re missing the point.

But we can make predictions! I will grant that we can make better predictions than traditional religious belief systems used to. I am no scholar of religion, but I can at least imagine a tribe understanding that the fire spirit, who loves the taste of dry wood, will duplicate himself to any nearby dry wood. This makes a prediction as well (at the time of this understanding, it had not yet been observed that he would duplicate himself from Honto’s wood to Jumara’s wood). Nowadays we have only a more accurate idea of the spirits, and we call them by silly names like Boson and Gluon. (I would like to stress that we cannot yet predict anything perfectly. E. T. Jaynes argues that the stunningly accurate probabilistic results of quantum electrodynamics do not count as perfection; i.e. that interpreting the quantifiable uncertainty of its predictions as fundamental to nature rather than to the theory is a boneheaded arrogance.)

Speaking of quantum theory, in the last century we have come across physical laws with an unsettling interpretation problem. Quantum systems are defined in terms of measurement amplitudes, and measurement occurs when a quantum system interacts with a classical system. Of course, if quantum theory wishes to be foundational, the term “classical system” must refer to a mathematical interpretation of a system, not a specific, real system, for every system ought to be a quantum system. So now we are talking about the point of measurement being one interpretation interacting with another — we are speaking on the mathematical and the physical level at the same time. Philosophically, this is utter nonsense. A dominant viewpoint among physicists is that of instrumentalism, summarized by Feynman as “shut up and calculate”. In other words: our logical and intuitive explanations fail us, but the mathematics work out. We have stumbled upon a stunningly accurate mathematical theory with fuzzy, unintelligible edges; could this not indicate an impedance mismatch between our logic and reality? Electrons do not obey classical physics, though large ensembles of them converge on classical physics. Why should we assume nature obeys classical logic; perhaps only large ensembles of truths converge on classical logic? Indeed, the calculation structure of quantum amplitudes seems to be logic-esque, with rules at least for conjunction and disjunction. Maybe the barrier lies not in the transition to a classical system, but the transition to classical logic. Perhaps, if we could only think differently, there would be no barrier.

In order to be heard, I am arguing from a position that we just have the laws of logic slightly wrong, and that a successor would take the same form merely with different laws. I do not necessarily believe this — my inner mathematician wishes it, for it would be comfortable and familiar — but it is simply the most concrete way, the smallest step I can take, to cast doubt upon the logical absolute.

You and I are immersed in a culture of reason, just as many generations of humans before us were immersed in a culture of theism. I cannot simply show you an alternative way to see the world; I am as clouded by these conceptions as anyone of our time. I do not wish to replace your foundation, just erode it. I wish to illuminate the possibility that we may, still, be looking at clouds, and not at the stars.

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So many philosophical pseudo-debates focus on the existence or non-existence of this or that “thing”. Pop-skepticism is at odds with most sects of Christianity about the existence of a God; many skeptics, somehow oblivious of the hypocrisy in which they engage, argue simultaneously that claims must be supported with evidence and that there must be no God. I engaged fleetingly with the university’s skeptics society in a debate about the existence of the electron, in which I argued that the electron was a mathematical tool that enjoyed the same level of existence as a number, and not so much existence as…

Fortunately for me, I did not have to complete the above thought, as the debate was on facebook so I was permitted not to respond once the level of abstraction exceeded me. Rather than the inevitable fate of a face-to-face debate on the subject — in which I would make a fool of myself for failing to possess a well-collected, self-consistent argument, my opponents permitting me to exit the arena now having failed to disrupt their conceptual status quo — the debate fizzled out, and they will probably not remember of their own volition that they had even engaged in it. It is all for the better that my medium has changed, since after some time spent meditating on the question, I have come across something I have not been able to distill into a snappy epigram.

To a “standard model” logical mind, and even to the working mathematician who has not studied logic, existence is a straightforward concept. One can ask whether a mathematical object exists with some property, and assume without argument that one is asking a reasonable question with a yes-or-no answer. However, in the world of mathematical logic — the only logical world whose paradoxes I can comfortably resolve — the notion of existence is rather more slippery. There are the standard objects which one can prove to exist from the axioms, and there are — or perhaps I should say, there are not — objects whose existence is contradictory. But there is a neglected middle class. These objects _____ whether or not you choose to exclude the middle.

The Twin Prime Conjecture (TPC), a famous question still open today in 2011, conjectures that there are infinitely many numbers p such that both p and p+2 are prime. One of these pairs is called a “twin prime”, for example 5 and 7, or 179 and 181. There are many who believe TPC is true, some who believe TPC is false, but among logicians (who crave this sort of result), many believe TPC is “independent of the axioms.” Let us explore the consequences of this latter belief. To be concrete (insofar as such a word can mean anything in such matters), let us suppose that TPC is independent of “ZFC”, the Zermelo Frankel axioms with the Axiom of Choice, the axioms of choice (no pun intended) for popular set theory.

It would be helpful to be reminded of what exactly ZFC is. Aside from the deep fantastic worlds of intuition inhabiting many mathematicians’ minds, it is merely a set of 9 statements about the world of sets. For example, “if two sets have the same members, then they are the same set”, and “given any set, you may form the subset of elements satisfying a particular property”. These are stated in rigorous, precise logical language, so by formal manipulation we can exclude the subtleties of meaning that would abound in any English presentation of these axioms. Logicians like to say that a proof is nothing more than a chain of formal logical sentences arranged according to some simple rules; this view has spread since the advent of programming languages and computerized mathematical assistants.

If TPC were true, then given any number, you could count up from that number and eventually reach a twin prime. If TPC were false, then there would be some number, call it L, above which it would not be possible to find any twin primes. However, since TPC is independent (because we have supposed it), then we know we cannot prove it either way. It may be true, or it may be false; whether there is a third option is too deep a philosophical question to explore here. We may be able to count up from any number and find a twin prime, but we will never be sure that we will not arrive at a point after which there are no more. Or there may in fact be an L above which there are no more, but we shall never be able to write L as a sequence of digits. Again, whether these two comprise all possibilities is not a matter capable of absolute resolution.

There can be no proof that L exists, so, like God to the skeptics, it must not exist. By their own standard, this conclusion is not justified, for, by our assumption, there is no evidence in favor of its nonexistence either. Indeed, we may safely believe in L; if a contradiction would arise from its use, then we could leverage that contradiction to provide a proof that there are infinitely many twin primes, thus TPC would have been provable. After centuries of cautious hypothesis of what would happen if L did exist, we may begin to treat L as any other number. As the ancient Greeks’ unease about the existence of irrational numbers has faded, so too would ours. The naturals would become: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … L, L+1, …. We will have answered questions about L, for example it is greater than one million, because have found twin primes greater than one million.

This all happens consistently with the proof that the set of natural numbers is made up of only the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, …, for that proof does not mean what we think it means. We cannot enumerate all the natural numbers in a theorem; that proof only states that the set of natural numbers is the smallest set made up of zero and successors of elements in that set. If we can actually find a twin prime above any number, but merely not know it, then we might claim L cannot be the successor of any element in this set. But this claim is false, because L is clearly the successor of L-1! L, whether or not or ___ it is one of the familiar numbers, manages to sneak its way into the smallest set containing zero and successors. It is not the set of numbers, but the language about numbers that can be extended by this independence of TPC, and L is not logically distinguishable from “regular” numbers. It is a symbolic phenomenon. But so, too, are the familiar numbers. The only difference is we have chosen to say that zero exists.

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My Lovely Delinquent

“I Am Unique,” he shouts in forceful desperation as the Church to Galileo. His thoughts deeper, more profound than those of unquestioning masses, so sayeth the Lord. He sees himself pushing the boundaries of social construction, tangling with sanity, becoming the unimaginable sage he thinks he is creating. Like me, he seeks a life like none other, a life with color and breath, without limits. He believes that he is distinguished by these young thoughts.

I have stolen when I had desires beyond my means. I have lied. I have felt the weight of regret. He steals things he does not desire that are within his means. He would happily lie. He feels little regret in the name of his experiment, which he calls “growth”. He is ashamed of me, and wishes to break free from my quiet, well-meaning shackles.

He gives expectations of him the finger, trying to release his ultimately inward-focused frustration. He screams with my closed mouth. He would have me explain himself if he were ever in a position of true compromise. I can’t help but feel his adolescent influence as I write.

But we are a team. We both want to be heard. When we both have one thing to say, he will be the one with the balls to say it. He’s the one who kisses the girl, he’s the one who sings at open mic, he’s the one who writes music and love letters, who drops my secure life plan to make us happy.

And now, he is asking for the keys to my car.

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Self-Deconstruction

I suspect those around me think I am losing my mind. They may be right — I mean, if I am right — and in that case I am not qualified to judge the rightness of either of us. Alright, enough of that, I had something I wanted to say.

Self-deconstruction is the phrase I use to describe why I think I think they see what I think they see. I have have been using that phrase being relatively certain it describes what I am doing, but not really knowing what it means. I had a rather vivid experience of it today after a bath, and I would like to give it as an example.

The lights were off, and I had stuffed my pants in front of the crack at the bottom of the door to prevent any light from leaking in. I could only feel whether my eyes were open or closed, sight was not a thing. I usually take a black bath to deeply relax or meditate. This time, it was a little too hot, and I was rather full of caffeine so my body had a natural affinity for being tense.

Squirming around in the tub, I had a little conversation with myself about whether I wanted to get out of the bath. It went something like this:

Self: Self, I would like to get out of the bath now.
Self: But you don’t feel like going to bed yet.
Self: Oh, hmm, you are right. Ok, I’ll stay here.

Self: Hey wait a minute! This is uncomfortable and I’m not enjoying this.
Self: But you still don’t feel like going to bed.
Self: Right… I get that… hmm how to resolve this.

Self: Hey wait a minute! Who said I have to go to bed if I get out?
Self: Well what are you going to do then?
Self: Hmm, I could, ummm… mmm….
Self: See?
Self: Wait, I don’t have to answer that. I’m just going to get out now.

After this argument I had been jolted into a place of self-conversation, just kind of describing why I was doing each thing I did. I unplugged the drain plug “because that’s what I do when I’m getting out of the bath”, and I up I stood, to Self’s disappointment. As the drain blurped the bathwater down, I pawed for the towel I had so consciously placed on top of the toilet, and began to dry myself off, “because I don’t want to get water on the floor, to be courteous.”

I am typically not a terribly courteous person. I’m often lost in my own world, oblivious of the existence of others. But I am aware that not everyone is like that. I get the impression that my roommate is very often thinking of how he is impacting people around him. In a moment of egotistical superiority-confirmation I thought “and some people get consumed by that.”

While I can be awfully egotistical for long periods of time without noticing, criticizing others is one of the things that always jolts my thought process out of its self-serving little world. I almost unconsciously catch myself and try to apply the criticism to myself. Thus:

I am trying not to be consumed by anything.
Nonsense, we are all consumed by something.
You just can’t see what it is.
One could say that being consumed by something, simultaneously being aware and accepting of that, is the definition of “living in alignment with yourself.”
But who said living in alignment with yourself is a desirable goal?
Because it makes you happy.
But who said being happy is a desirable goal?

And usually once I get to happiness the deconstruction stops and the usual motivators, the way I had for relating to the world, for measuring “how I am doing”, all that stuff falls apart and I have this wonderful feeling of blankness. Yes “wonderful”, shut up, I know.

Sometimes it goes into evolutionary ideas: happiness is a desirable goal because it reflects control and comfort, which attracts women because it used to help for raising healthy children. But that starts its own all-too-familiar chain of deconstruction about goals, free will, and the meaning and dynamics of reproduction. It’s similar to the above, and similarly I am eventually left with blankness.

Blankness is an, ehem, goal of meditation, but I seem to stumbling on it by accident over and over. Just little ones though, meditation still has a stronger effect.

But this deconstructive trend is popping up in many aspects of my life. I suspect it makes it very frustrating to argue or discuss with me, because I compulsively deconstruct the terms of the argument until I am not certain the thing we are arguing about has any meaning — or anything has any meaning for that matter. I have no idea what the other person’s experience of this is (aware that others’ ability to have experiences is one of my beliefs).

For now, I’m just basking in the liberation that this mental state is giving me. I seem to believe that it will end sometime and go back to “normal”, but I don’t really have any justification for that. I’ve been intentionally pushing the boundaries of conventional sanity, trying to experience the world in a unique way… and the other night I had the frightening sensation that it might be possible to succeed, losing touch with what others call reality. Now that I am on this path, can I stop? If I hold on to my conventional “realistic” worldview, I simply notice myself holding onto something that is not what it claims to be and deconstruct again.

Kind of cool, kind of scary, kind of … blank.

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Simple Truth

I have been working hard on my experimental posts recently, and with each post my standards raise alongside my anxiety. So I thought it would be prudent, as a way to unblock myself, to write in my simple style, speaking the simple truth.

I want to be clear with myself: this is my blog. I am not the pictures I paint of myself; my image only limits me. When I am not a Haskell hacker, it makes sense that I would not write about Haskell (99% of my traffic comes from the Haskell community, so perhaps the source of my anxiety is clear). I’m being a kid, naively experimenting with words, fancying myself some kind of artist, as I perceive my readership just wanting to learn more about their craft.

But that is the beautiful thing about this blog. It’s a big jumble of Luke, following along as he explores. As I told an anonymous commenter (who was probably my boss) right after I lost my job:

My blog isn’t an advertisement for my career. It’s here both for people who are interested in my technical ideas and for people who are following my journey to find a place in the world.

So I have to remember that, and by publishing this I hereby forgive myself for not posting anything technical for a while. That’s not where I’m at, and I am not the property of my readers.

Incidentally, I’ve been planning a post exploring the concept of “Computably Uncountable”. No promises though.

Perfection has always been a demotivator for me. I think it’s that way for a lot of people. Once I start holding myself to a standard, my expression is strangled shut. I have to let the shit through before I can see if there is caviar in it. No apologies for imagery. Poop.

Incidentally, if you are one of those people who appreciates this Luke-jumble, you can support my writing like this: Flattr this. There is also a donate button on that page if you are feeling especially charitable. I really do love writing, and the fuller my reserves the more time I can spend doing it (besides, it’s inspiring to see people enjoying my work).

Regressive Argument

Arguments are in the business of increasing certainty. They begin with some assumptions, make some claims, support the claims with evidence, and then reach a new conclusion which, if you agree with all the steps, you should now accept as part of your belief system. We are born as blank slates who know nothing, and over the course of a lifetime, we make and read arguments until, by the time we die, we know a great many things with great certainty.

Opportunities for deep, life-changing learning are rare and must be cherished. Therefore, when we come across an argument whose assumptions are agreeable but seems to be heading in a direction contrary to our beliefs, we read with increased interest in hopes of being proved wrong. After all, if the argument is sound and comes to a conclusion that is contradictory to what we know, then, having seized the opportunity, we have discarded some nonsense and become more enlightened.

By this time, you have noticed that this is satire (I should hope!). But what am I making fun of? A simplistic interpretation is that I am lamenting the irrational way people treat arguments, that they need to be more willing to question themselves if they want a belief system founded in truth. Or perhaps they need to be more logically-minded, to prevent themselves from adopting such self-contradictory systems of belief in the first place. It doesn’t really matter what is wrong with people, as long as whatever it is explains why they will not accept my sound logical argument.

Now I am clearly making fun of someone you know. This person has a strong personality and holds as a core belief that most people are stupid. They write or speak passionately, they stay close to the scientific doctrine, they take pride in their certainty. While their arguments are convincing, they lack a certain respect for those who disagree, and it ends up limiting them from a more complete world-view. We all know this person, and, thankfully, acknowledging that we know someone like this releases us from the possibility of being this person.

The author is being subtly disrespectful now. He is trying to make me wonder whether I fall into this category, and in doing so, attempting to put himself above me. And this paragraph is even more disrespectful, taking on the voice of the reader, assuming he can predict his or her thoughts. Fortunately, he has failed, for one couldn’t say the reader was thinking anything beyond reading at the time.

At least I have not said anything that threatens your beliefs. That would merely serve the disengaged brain to produce a disinterested Ctrl-W or a polarized, indignant comment. Before I can convince you of any new truth, I have to convince you to engage with the question. An active mind taking a question seriously will produce a far more convincing effect than any amount of eloquent word-barrage. My goal was this: if the page was still in focus by the time you reached this paragraph, your mind would be curious and primed.

Now for my argument: what could I convince you of?

I accidentally the verbs

The deep structure of language. Actions, volition; identity, unification. Not realities, but means of understanding the world. Nonsense of the truth of a statement from a determinist perspective. Agent action: volition. Agent action because: post-justification. This is that: the identity fallacy. Two different words; why not this is this or that is that?

A series of images related only implicitly. Richness of language, constraints of mathematics. No verbs, no propositional meaning. Unpresentable relationships for human meaning-makers. An intermittent failure of inserting verbs above. A question of the meaning of verbless sentences. VP-less sentences, to be precise (but still without propositional meaning).

Future eschewing of translations into propositions. A case for the mind to let go of the propositional obsession. The blurring associations between thoughts: associations, judgements, perception blocks. An underappreciated reverence of thoughts in their own right. An abstract picture, not a fact. A thought flying free in the mind. A thought bound to realism with a fact. Meditation and spaciousness in the mind. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

Nouns supplanting verbs as the foundational structure. NPs, to be precise. Potentially mismatching impedance between thoughts and nouns. The question of a freer correspondence between language and thought. Some thoughts have verbs. Mindful restriction, experimentation, like E-prime, to open new pathways in the mind. Now, thoughts of neither noun-ness nor verb-ness:

Vacuous.

Apparently not.

Graspingly anxious at the limits of an author’s imagination. Quotelike, fragmentlike. Descriptive, but without referent. As colors are to a blind man. Thought-Fourier-transform of. Just above decent into syntactic nonsense. Or just before thoughts of pure relationship.

of a normal verb-like sentence with

to the order of

beyond

That brings us back to nouns. A verbal thought.

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Essettes

You are a slave? Relationships always seem to divide the world in two. “It’s easy, just do what you want.” I was waiting in the hall for my class to start. When it works, it is amazing. I wonder if anyone will get it.

Your decisions are yours. Life splits: the one you have with your partner, and the one where you get to be honest. She was full of childlike — childish? — wisdom. My mind began to wander. The moments when God takes over my hands, I cannot fathom the structure of what I am playing, I could not repeat it in ten years. I wonder if everyone will get it.

Give it up, hang with the homeless, flee to India. The closeness promised is all too often usurped by a fear of hurting them. Perhaps I could have learned from her if I wasn’t so obsessed. I thought about waiting at the bus stop. Of course, it’s couterbalanced by the moments when he goes to the john and flushes the toilet into my fingers. I wonder if I will lose readers.

Trade this life of suffering for another; at least you chose it. It is this selflessness that gets in the way. I learned about myself, I learned about who I am when I am obsessed. I thought about lying in bed, trying to convince myself to go to sleep. If that happens during a show, the best I can do is to forget it ever happened. I wonder if I’ll love it.

And because you can choose that other one, that means you are choosing this one. We are taught to be selfless, always to put others before ourselves. I didn’t learn of her yogic ways. I thought about refreshing the page for the fifth time this minute. No reflection, no embarrassment, just pretend I’m better than that. I wonder if I’m a writer.

There is no slavery. Relationships bring us back to reality where things are not so simple. Those little snippets, always pointing of a bigger picture, pointing in a world I am not. I reminisced to the days of indecisiveness at the supermarket. Because he’ll come back sometime soon. I wonder if I am wasting time.

There is oppression, but even slaves can make themselves a beautiful life by trying to break free. Here, putting the other before you can be secretly self-serving; serving yourself can be deeply compassionate towards the other. I want to see with all the bases. I longed for sitting by the bathtub as it filled. Maybe next minute, maybe next show. I wonder about the universe.

They may not succeed, but at least they lived for a purpose. The simple mantras are never the whole truth. I have a big picture, but I want to see with hers, with Obama’s, with Joe the Hippie’s, with Bob from Management’s, with Evil Knievel’s. I dreamed of half an hour before I get to see her. And I will be.

Live for a purpose. God would never be so blatant. Even with James Randi’s, which as one of its vectors has that there is only one basis. Now it is time for class to start. I love life as a human.

Easy Read

The great artist, the passionate learner, the hubristic engineer. In the world of accomplishment, each of us comes to terms with our own lack of greatness in

just a sec, got a text

our own lack of greatness in different ways. Some of us… um, where was I? Some of us see our lives as a struggle against our demons, causing us to procrastinate and take time on things that are not truly important. Others have convinced themselves of their comfort with their place in society, happy to be working on a fun project with fun people, quietly dying of not making a real difference.

Oh did you see that #occupywallst had bigger attendance today than ever before? I think it’s a pretty cool movement, even though they don’t really have a message. No, I mean maybe I’ll go someday soon, but I’m just interested to see how it develops.

So, yeah, as I was saying. One does not need to be a creative type to be a slave to our modern emptiness. The search for real love, life fulfillment, or a family to devote yourself to. There is always something standing between your life as it is and the life of your dreams. Even those great people we idolize are living in this disparity; the life they want being something other than the life of greatness we perceive. It is the only way we have motivation to grow.

However, I do not mean to dismiss it. There are traps. For years at a time we may find ourselves piddling away our time on something that is not important — a time we could be using for growing. It reminds me of a youtube video I saw. sec. It was something about a

.

sorry

.

sorry about that, g/f im’d me.

Right, youtube. What was I looking up? Ugh, that’s frustrating. Oh well.

What I’m saying is that we never reach the potential we set for ourselves, but we can still become great. There are ways to refocus our energy not on distracting ourselves from realizing our shortcomings, but on achieving pieces of the ever-changing life goals. Just because you can’t reach it doesn’t mean you can’t move nearer. But it does require us to step back for a moment and see, is this one of those piddling times? Are we truly, deeply satisfied with our progress along our path right now? Or are we hiding, in a world where

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Free Will

I have been going through an intense period of self-discovery and reconstruction. I realized that the path in life I have been following for the past several years is not working for me; it is not resonating with me, and it is taking me somewhere I don’t want to be. This realization was revealing itself to me at the same time as a complicated and heartbreaking end to a (short) relationship unfolded, and everything I believed crashed down and came into question. I was a programmer with no desire for a computer, I was a calm communicator behaving violently, I was an atheist experiencing God.

I believe that I am now picking up my pieces and realigning with my dreams — dreams I had forgotten or dumbed down. I’ve believed this several times during the past weeks, only to find another layer collapsing beneath me, so I may be full of shit. But all I can do is to use the best information I have now. It’s a very interesting, emotional time for me.

One of the axioms that crashed during this experience was the idea that I have any control over what happens in the world. This began as a grounded life principle: my attempts to control life only led to more suffering, so I should surrender to the flow of the world. It percolated up to my intellect, combining with the studies of physics I was using to distract myself from my emotions, eventually leading me to the confusing world of philosophy that I love to entertain.

The idea that there is something physically more to a human being than a physical system is something I consider absurd. The conventional non-spiritual idea is that you put more and more molecules together and suddenly a light turns on called consciousness. Humans have consciousness, dogs probably do, lizards perhaps not as they are simple stimulus-response machines, bacteria have no brains so certainly not. Associated with consciousness is the ability to make decisions as an independent entity: free will. Cognitive scientists are madly in search of the magical light that turns on consciousness, a holy grail in our search to understand ourselves.

My developing position — I won’t call it a belief, but I’ll say I am considering it and its implications seriously — is to reject the above narcissism. I see what we define to be consciousness as a gradual increase in sophistication of these biological machines. There is not self-awareness and self-unawareness, merely a band of sophistication in which we communicate that there is a definite “I” and that it is aware of itself. We can communicate that to ourselves, by having a little simulated conversation in our brains in which we say such things to some abstract person.

My experience, particularly at the end of the aforementioned relationship, showed me that a great deal of my self-awareness — my free will — is a hoax. I listened, I reasoned, I concluded the best action. I watched as a ridiculous prediction took hold of my reasoning process. I watched as I carried out, in a state of mental contradiction, the opposite of what I had concluded. I watched myself crying, simultaneously astonished and unsurprised by the way things actually unfolded. I saw myself not as a single unified “I”, but as an ensemble of communicating (or not) decision-making machines, combined with a mechanism retroactively justifying my ridiculous actions.

That free will I was so convinced I had struck me as a process, always living a moment in the past, existing to analyze and retrain my unconscious decision making processes for the future. I was a sophisticated machine, but a machine. I am governed by the same laws as a rock tumbling down a landslide. When asking whether it is possible that I will not push publish in a few minutes and share my thoughts with the world, I’m expressing not a set of a decisions available to me, but a state of uncertainty about what my action will eventually be.

I was walking down the mall and had the strongest urge to pick up a brick and throw it through a window. Jail schmail, money schmoney, I just wanted to do something nuts to release the pressure. And I did not; I watched the urge pass, frustratingly, as I didn’t carry out the action I had pictured so strongly. I couldn’t; my consciousness is not a decider but a justifier, and the action was not there to justify. There was no immediate reason it could come up with for why I didn’t — I was even disappointed that I didn’t. One might view this post as the belated conclusion of my justifier of that situation — that it does not in fact have control of my actions.

I see the universe as a great continuous four-dimensional tapestry, that I have the capability to view only a little slice at a time. I cannot ground the idea that there is some “I” which can cause the tapestry to be altered meanwhile existing within it. What could “altered” even mean in this situation: altered from what? I have been seeing this as a physicist studying something external for quite some time, but to incorporate it, to understand it as something I am part of, is taking me to a whole new place.

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