Munchhausen Multiverse

•January 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I can’t imagine how productive an individual I would be if I didn’t have this bad habit of demanding an explanation for the universe…

That said, Agrippa’s (Munchhausen) Trilemma is about as tasty and mind-warping as it gets. It takes an obnoxious detour right past our empiricism, our religion, our science, and shakes hands with the unsettling and oft-ignored implications of Heisenberg and Godel. It shamelessly puts our best and brightest of ideas on the same humble ground. And I think if it does, someway somehow, have an answer, it’s probably the best we can rationally ask for.

The Trilemma gets all these grandiose ?compliments? from me through its unabashed audacity. In regards to proof and knowing, it calls us on our logical crutches and demands we face our fallacies. It’s general premise then is that we can’t foundationally claim to know anything without creating some grand travesty of reason. And it even does us the courtesy of giving us three options for our doom here! We could:

1)  Employ circular reasoning. Which is pretty poor. Take this example for instance “Whatever is less dense than water will float, because such objects won’t sink in water.” No thanks.

2)  Allow infinite regress. This is the same as the “turtles all the way down” parable. Causality stretches endlessly backwards, and every explanation has a preceding one ad nauseam.

3)  Give up to some axiomatic argument. Oh, “axioms,” truth, that sounds good right?! My personal guess is that this stance is perhaps the most popular (just take the whole God thing for instance), but it only sounds good. In actuality, it’s a presumption that something ss “just because.” Run along and play now children. Nothing to see here!

And that’s it! Try it, and see if you can come up with another way out!

Such a Trilemma is generally not a terrible concern because we really can take the third option and be sensible human beings most of the time. The universe is (supposedly) a certain way after all, and we can in any desperation attempt to trace it all back to some physical phenomenon or general rules of the universe. Scientists are especially comfortable with doing this, as indeed, science is about discovering “the way the universe is.” And it is, “just because.”

Even one of my favorite physicists, Sean Caroll, seems strangely satisfied with the idea. And it’s possible, I admit. At some point, things just may completely and utterly fall short of any explanation. Some fact, upon which the rest of the universe is built, may.just.be.period. I grant that possibility, but I won’t pretend it’s logical, and I prefer to exhaust the Principle of Sufficient Reason‘s options before giving up on it. We kind of depend on that cornerstone of logic for, like, pretty-much-everything-we-do after all. To me, stopping at “just because” right now is a very subtle intellectual lazyness. I would buy it (maybe) if we somehow saw that our’s is the only universe possible, but current consensus really doesn’t hold that as the case. In fact, some even say the universe could have just not have been at all.

That’s the historical question we’ve seemingly asked at least. At this level of discussion, a few of us aggressively question how something could come out of nothing? Why does anything exist? There’s even a book on it now.
(It’s…ok…)

But I’ve increasingly come to realize it’s actually the wrong question to ask. Sadly, some philosophers have beat me to the realization. Spinoza, in particular, noticed that that just as we can ask “why would anything exist?”, we could equally ask “why would nothing exist?”. Really what we should be asking then, and the grand question waiting at the root of the Munchhausen Trilemma, is “why this rather than that?”. Why this universe rather than that one? “Nothing” is only one of the many options (and thus a lowly statistical matter) after all.

And the question has actually been asked throughout history. “God,” that one-word reason, sufficed us for a while. Leibniz then clarified this a bit by explaining that it is because it is the best possible of all worlds. Luckily, Voltaire helped show us the errors of our ways here a bit, and a couple centuries on-wards we’ve came up with a bit more realistic ideas. At the moment, our substituted reasons seem to be things like “simplicity” or “life.” We might argue that this universe is true because it is based on the simplest axioms possible, or perhaps because it is capable of producing intelligent life. The problem with all of these ideas though is presuming that any of them are end-arguments. Why should the universe value simplicity instead of complexity? Why should it be good rather than bad? Why does it have to have intelligent life? All these arguments have done is moved the need for explanation a different step down the line.

Some intrepid (or crazy) person then decided to side-step the whole issue by claiming the multiverse. And despite how absurd, immeasurable, and perhaps not empirical the idea may be, it might well logically reign supreme. It’s presence into the equation allows us to disregard the “why this rather than that?” question, for all this and that’s are actually true! Logic then does rest upon the axiomatic argument, dependent upon the specific flavor of the universe you live in, and we can logically not worry about having to differentiate possibilities beyond that (they’re already differentiated after all).  We have a potential way out of the Trilemma then! Considering this, it’s easy to see why such a wild idea as a multiverse can be so sexy (and that’s not even mentioning the ‘verse where you’re Spiderman!).

Aside from the multiverse maybe not being scientifically testable, there’s a few cases of concern here though:

1)  Some scientists put a limit on the multiverse. One way to do this is to assume some initial, relatively simplistic parameters are responsible to populating the possible ‘verses out there. As such, there is an actually limit to the number of possible multiverses even if the number is staggeringly large (I think I read 10^10^10^7 once).  The little that I’ve read seems to suggest the scientific community is uncomfortable with the idea of an infinite and unrestrained multiverse. Unfortunately, by positing a set of specific initial parameters (“rules” we might say), the multiverse loses a bit of its flair. Even if we’ve blown our own universe’s “why” questions out of significance, we can now ask why those initial rules that propagate the multiverse? Why not a different multiverse?

2)  Alternatively we could literally have an infinite universe, one filled with all conceivable and inconceivable possibilities. Although this might deal with the causal-explanatory-why questioning, it demands that each of these ‘verses actually have a real manifestation somehow (as indeed our’s does). Imagining this “everything” is tantamount to imagining “nothing.” Perhaps they are indeed the same thing. Logic then breaks down in any sensible hope to describe such a multiverse or its components. It’s hard to say how sensible this is then. Human beings don’t favor thinking in infinities after all. Also it would mean some”where” a dragon battling Optimus Prime while wearing a Morgan Freeman mask is phasing in and out of existence every 2.34 seconds. Can we go with this one?

3)  Our universe is does seem, at least a little bit, peculiarly biased towards those “reasons” some scientists are searching for (namely life and simplicity). Consistently, science has allowed us refine complex phenomena into simpler and simpler concepts, with the vast world about us being largely an emergent one. Even our most holy “fundamental” interactions are suffering from aggressive attempts to put them in a singular format, an initial primary force (see Grand Unified Theory). Furthermore, the parameter range of many of the physical constants building our world is relatively (to their size) small when constraining them to still allow life (and not just “our life;” think let’s just get galaxies and stars to form). A quick counter to this seeming “specialness” would be to note that even small parameter ranges can have an infinite number of values (and thus here, universes) satisfying its requirements (here, life conditions). BUT that’s only if math is continuous, and by zeus the Math of the universe might well (currently seems like it will) not be! If quantum mechanics can sensibly be extended to space-time/gravity (as it is expected), we might find that said physical constants can only vary by discrete amounts (i.e. the Planck Scale). Logic, some form of causality, and the Principle of Sufficient Reason have also aged pretty well, even under extreme paradigm shifts like Relativity or QM. Although it may be incomprehensible at the moment, there may well be some non-arbitrary and self-necessary reason why the universe, or a finite multiverse), has to be this way. That sounds a bit like, and is often ridiculed as, a piped-dream, but I would cut the notion some slack. The universe is at least flirting with the notion after all.

All this considered, unless we can really pull some magic out of our hat and claim that this is the only possible universe (a nigh inconceivable seeming option at the moment), some sort of multiverse scenario seems inescapable if we want to stick with the whole logic thing. And that’s a painful thing to type.

I’ve never liked the multiverse idea, and I’m not sure I still do. I’d rather have some significance in this universe than be Captain Crunk in another. But logically, Mr. Munchhausen seems to pin me down to it. Empirically, it seems to mirror our world as well. We are, after all, one person on a planet of billions, next to a star in a galaxy of billions of stars. And a mere glance at the Hubble Deep-Field images alone already make it look like we are staring into the multiverse, each galaxy a universe of its own. The multiverse can be a cold place then, one where we aren’t all that special. Even not too long ago, ceding the multiverse as reality would have set me towards some serious unease in that matter. I’ve learned though, more and more than I used to, to have my security depend on my own values, goals, and progression rather than any sort of being “special.” That may be Existentialism, but objectively, we’re not “special,” especially when considering this vast human sea and all those that have come before. And by god, if even one in a billion of those stars has life other than our own! It’s a far more stable and productive sense of security otherwise anyways.

And for now, while the idea of some self-necessitating reason seems just wishful thinking, the multiverse may be our best logical bet. Sure, we have historically put god or various aesthetics in that hole, but a real non-arbitrary reason isn’t yet, and is likely more mathematical (and as such not within my ability). Until we start scratching at those possibilities and seeing our options (empirical evidence of a multiverse, a legit quantum gravity or grand unified theory, or some brilliant mathematician’s idea would be a nice start), I guess I’ll have to wait and can settle on this for now (I may well have reached my limit on the extent I can ponder). Perhaps beggars can’t be choosers. But either way, I suppose the Munchhausen multiverse is an alright place to be.

Advertisements

Irrational Irrationality and Death

•December 16, 2013 • 6 Comments

While I was religious, I always wondered how the atheists “did it”—how they could abide in their world where death is just this abysmal void waiting for us all. How could they walk with courage and without depression? How could the joyous moments of life not be spoiled by an inevitable fear? And the answers I would always read (for I was a curious one), were never satisfying. “The fear of death is irrational.” “Death has nothing to do with life.” “We won’t know anything about it because we won’t exist.” I felt there was little meat to these philosophies, but assumed that maybe I just didn’t understand because I wasn’t an atheist. Maybe if I actually shared their views, I could find what they really meant and how they really were able to deal with it.

Years later, my religious convictions have obviously waned to a paltry sum of metaphysical leanings, ethical values, and cultural appreciations. “Perhaps now, I can empathize,” I thought, and I once again set out to find their answer. In fact, I felt I nigh had to. Enough time without the comfort blanket of religion to support you against the cold winds, and I think such searches are inevitable. It is a crisis of sorts, and I think many of my last blog posts are evident of that.

But the answers I found sounded no different. Forum post after blog after article after comment, the irreligious always seemed to respond with the same answer. “Death does not matter; the fear of death is irrational.”

“Perhaps,” I thought and formed my own custom-tailored responses. I dropped the matter for a time, thankful to the busyness of the waking world, but then I ran into this TED talk:

Here, Stephen Cave does a great job discussing how we bias ourselves to otherwise irrational hopes about death. His breakdown of the “stories” we tell ourselves is, I feel, a rather useful organization and way to critique our philosophy. In fact, I think it would be pretty accurate to say I’ve gone through each of his four categories at some point in my life (and probably still hold some biases of each). After a seeming attempt to dispel the myth of each story though, he makes one of his own, a pleasant little analogy of life as a story book. A pleasant little story book with one undercurrent theme:  “Death does not matter; the fear of death is irrational.”

And that’s when I realized how the atheists “do it.” This story of death, that it doesn’t matter to the living, that the fear of it is irrational, is nothing more than another biased story we can tell ourselves. By marginalizing death in this manner, we marginalize the fear of it. By treating it as effectively nigh irrelevant, we effectively brainwash ourselves that death itself is irrelevant. We push that fear back and far into some dark recess of the mind, caging it within the limitations of our story book with pretty analogies such as that of the end cover of a book or that there will be no recognition of it, but again, this is only our story, and the Leviathan still waits. Simply “willing” the fear of death away then seems a good means for it to creep back up from its dark corner in surprise when life suddenly presents it. Though I am admittedly leaving off evaluation of the other stories here, this story, to me, does not seem all that great of one.

Still, unlike Stephen Cave, I’m not as opposed to telling ourselves stories about death as needed (though neither should he as he tells his own). Confronted directly and openly, the psychological ramifications of potential nothingness requires a mental fortitude not easily maintained, and perhaps not capable by all. If such a story is what it takes for you to get by, then I say tell it, but make sure your story is a good one, a productive one, and an ethical one. That security is not something I wish to take from people, as the world can be hard enough as is. For myself though, I have a hard time not gravitating towards more interest in the truth.

The truth though, I think is quite opposite of the story Cave is telling. The truth is that death is important. As he claims, it has effected societal beliefs emphatically throughout history. It drives many personal convictions and leads individuals to potentially irrational conclusions. To pretend that death is irrelevant will not erase its effects in our society. It will not stem the tide of social injustices, disease, poverty, war, or famine. And the fear of death is, I argue, perhaps the most rational fear we could have. The fear of death keeps us alive and often provides us with some impetus to live better. Without fearing it, we would simply succumb to it. What needs is there for the medicines we have unless we believe death is inherently negative and to be avoided? Even conceptually, as the cessation of the ability to productively reason, rational thought would seemingly find death its antithesis and enemy.

I suggest then that our continual run from the fear of death and our denial of it is irrational instead. We have consistently sought for ways to not fear death, when that is exactly what we should do. Death should be loathed, it should be maligned and fought against. We have been running from the fear death as if it were some predator we simultaneously told ourselves does not exist, when instead, we should have turned around and attempted to drive a steak through its heart. Cave does not buy this in his video, citing searches for the elixir of life and the advances of science in a way that seems futile, as if evidence has consistently showed that death must win. Indeed, no one has beaten death yet, and an expectation of our individual selves of this generation as the champions would sensibly seem statistically naive. But the historical evidence shows that death is losing ground. Medicine is getting better, diseases are becoming curable, and new research only expands our expectations of the length and quality of life. If anything, it would seem the odds are slowly tilting in our favor. The evidence is against Cave here. What we’ve made is working, and we should hope and help for more. I see no reason (aside from the death of the universe itself… but hey that’s another dilemma) ultimately against the hope that, one day, death can be beaten.

That “one day” though is unfortunately not dependably likely or statistically likely in our generation’s lifetime. If we are to allow a rational fear of it then, we must channel it as productive motivation. To simply will it away allows us vulnerable to a surprise attack from it, and as such, we must acknowledge it, confront it, and overcome it but not irrationally deny it. Philosophically, we may take it on a (long-shot) gambler’s bet that it might pay off in our lifetime, we might take it as a means of benefit for future generations and a legacy, or we might take it simply as a rational choice based on acknowledgement of death’s negativity. Each of these are stories, as Cave suggests, but they are also actual productive actions. They are responses rather than delusions or ignorance. And that response (instead of denial), is important.

So how do we overcome it rather than be ruled by it? How do we make proactive decisions acknowledging it without being driven by it? How do we have a healthy response? I think the answers to those questions depend somewhat on the extent an individual is willing to buy into stories, which stories they find tangible, and their psychological fortitude in the matter. I think one should make sure the stories chosen are also at least four things:  1)  effective – For instance, I think treating the fear of death as irrational is a rather ineffective means, allowing for vulnerability when death actually comes knocking and cognitive dissonance when trying to support society or medical campaigns against death. 2) ethical – For instance, religions often violates this by prescribing immoral attitudes or actions while maintaining the security of belief. 3) sensible – For instance, that science will miraculously cure death within the next 20 or so years allows one for a great big let-down. Alternatively, blind faith in a religion without some tangible support could lead to a cognitive meltdown 4) responsive – Denying the problem of death, as discussed, does little to ever challenge it, and it should be challenged.

The stories chosen, then, will vary from individual to individual, but I would also suggest they be put into perspective, and if multiple ones are chosen, they can synchronize with one another without cognitive dissonance. To do this, we might frame three questions:

1) What is my response to death?
What I mean is what, if anything, am I going to do about it? And as discussed, I think by acknowledging death as the negative event it is, and without giving it the undue and unproven omnipotence required to ignore it, we see that we should have some response to it. We should make our own little (or big) contribution to challenging it in some way. For me, that’s going to be a social matter. I hope to have some impact on cultural attitudes (whether on a large or merely personal level) in humanity that allow it to work together better, be more creative, be more inspired, and have better philosophical attitudes. How to do that is a whole other matter, but if I were to, I would be supporting the ingredients of human spirit needed for science and discovery to invent, explore, and discern.

2)  What story do I tell myself that allows me to deal with death on a daily basis?
Again, I’m not against the telling of these stories. We’re human, and we simply have to do what we have to do to make it. Let’s just make sure our stories are good (as discussed) and do not invalidate the previous question. This question, then, is asking what allows the more mundane and casual to still be enjoyable and productive rather than worried, obsessed, and depressed. I think here it is ok to allows oneself to be more hopeful. If one has an active answer to the first question, then I see no reason to allow optimism. “The glass is as it is” is only so useful for we faulty creatures, even if I gear myself towards it as much as possible. That said, for me, I allow a mix of various hopes. Cryonics (or other scientific ventures) certainly interests me and sounds plausible once the omnipotent death myth is dispelled, and reincarnation remains a mysterious idea that is at least a possible muse. I have previously also been concerned with legacy in the past, though I have recognized this can build into an eventual sense of astonishing underachievement. Instead, now, I trade it for a sense of humanism mixed with Eastern philosophy—that my individual legacy is not as important as the advancement of our race, and that I support that. This may seem a noncommittal mixture as long as the remaining question is answered.

3)  What story do I rely on when death confronts me directly?
This is the harder question to ask and is relevant when death actually rears its ugly head on the death of a loved one or the confrontation of your own. It’s also an area where I think Cave’s story lacks some potential effectiveness. To have spent a life treating death as roughly inconsequential and to be largely unconcerned with would seemingly lead to a great shock when, upon being faced with its direct and harsh closeness, one discovers it is a rather difficult thing to marginalize. It’s also a matter where some sense of commitment is likely required. A wishy-washy stance on death here would sensibly translate to a lack of cognitive security and immense stress in a time where it would most desire it. For this, I would say whatever story provides comfort is perhaps best, but one might should recognize that if the story is dissonant with the answers to the first two questions, it will likely be ineffective. For instance, one would not likely receive much comfort from the religious story if one has not spent their life appreciably living it actively and in validity. The story should also probably be the most sensible one depending on the least optimism. For me then, basing this on reincarnation would likely lead to higher stress and fear as the evidence is scarce, and as well, the use of cryonics is more a sort of Pascal’s Wager than a firm foundation. The last bit of question of my second question (note the synchronicity) then remains my best bastion at the moment. In my own imaginings, such humanistic philosophy is actually reasonably sufficient. Perhaps my ideals would change were more evidence of another story presented, but for now, I hope largely for a better future for humanity. For this to work, I better actually live this way then! Luckily this is perhaps the one thing that has survived my changing worldviews, so I believe it remains sufficient for now.

Everyone’s answers to these questions should be astoundingly diverse, and I would presume no “best-fit” scenario. Still, until we both temper our comforts, optimisms, and superstitions regarding death with both reason AND action, we will continuously follow blind “escapes” or remain forever the prey. Obviously I have humanistic leanings, so I think we can change that. And I hope, that even if those hopes don’t fulfill themselves in our lifetime, then we can at least contribute to them for a brighter and better tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope we choose personal philosophies that lead us to neither ignorance, complacency, denial, or irrationality. Maybe one day, humanity will wake up and not have to ask these tough questions, but until then we boldly face the world before us.

 
EDIT:  In retrospect, I recognize this post seems to immensely contradict a previous one where I talked about fear having been a terrible motivator for me and attempted to somewhat unlink my sense of humanism from the fear of death. I still maintain this in the sense that, if death can be found as the root and stem motivation for some matter, it will likely lead to stress and a lack of productivity in that matter. The fear of death should not be a prime motivator and could leave us to the tendencies Cave and said previous post describe. However, this post entails some of the new recognition that attempting to excise fear altogether is not the most rational pursuit and also leads to its own weaknesses and lack of productivity as described here. Rather, fear must be put in its place and, when stumbled upon, directed alongside pre-existing motivations in productivity (as per the previous post).  Further, there is some more realistic acknowledgement that such may not be able to be completely unlinked from all matters, but by not “being afraid of fear” so to speak, this can remain healthy and less troubling.

Mind Blown: Color and Qualia

•November 21, 2013 • 2 Comments

I have long, long since considered large swaths of philosophy, in its more technical spheres, as pure, or at least unnecessary, dribble. Things like platonism and qualia landed on that list fairly well. This isn’t at all to say I devalued the role of philosophy in our understanding, but I viewed it as someone who needed to be quiet while science and common sense spoke, waiting their turn for something like ethics or a matter where science wasn’t yet enamored. After quite a while of pondering about, you know me, the universe, I realized that some of the Greeks’s rather wild-sounding philosophy actually made sense. Especially the Skeptics. As of yet, I still don’t see a way to get out of Agrippa’s Trilemma and rescue consistent logic and causality from an eventual and ultimate ?. Still, qualia remained on my “Eh, whatever” list.

…And then, after superfluous reading of Green Lantern comics, I started thinking about color…

Why we as humans consistently experience something we call “blue” when looking at a marker or the sky or etc. doesn’t strike me as much of a mystery. Wavelengths, refraction, reflection, yadda yadda. Those are purely physical and sensibly quantifiable aspects of nature. They can be measured, and we can see the repetition therein. We can quantifiably determine (given sufficient) data whether or not an object will illicit the stimulus that we perceive as “blue.” Via Western culture, propensities towards science, and great usefulness of the tools of logic, we’re (I’m) a bit trained to rationalize then that color makes sense, entirely disregarding the actually rather deep questions someone stoned out of their mind might ask instead.

Such as “Why the bloody heck does blue ‘look’ the way it does anyway?!”.

Why doesn’t what we call “blue” look like “red” and vice versa? It sensibly could, after all, and perhaps my “blue” is your “red” anyways. We’d never know. I remember laughing with friends over the notion before, but I don’t think I ever really stopped to think of how much of a mind-fuck it is. And this is qualia— the idea that experience is an actual “thing.”

I won’t lie, I’m generally a bit of a materialist myself. I like things being causal (or at least whatever-the-heck quantum mechanics makes of causality these days…), explainable, and tangible. Consciousness is something wrapped up in the physical actions of our mind, and etc. I would normally count questions such as that of “free will” as pseudo-questions and probably have dismissed qualia similarly (as a lot of the bigwig science-philosophy culture seems to today). But damn, the more I think about color, the more massive a headache I get.

Sure, sure, “blue” is just how our mind interprets said wavelengths of light, but why does our mind interpret “blue” that way? It could have just easily interpreted it as what we perceive as “red” after all. I don’t see why it couldn’t even interpret it as a tactile feeling instead. Perhaps there is some evolutionary advantage to experiencing “blue” as vision rather than another form of touch (less competition of stimulus to perceive a predator threat perhaps?), but why, oh why, must “blue” be “blue” and not “red”? And what the hell is the perception of color anyway?

Maybe addressing the question of whether our perceptions of a single color are all the same is relevant. Surely this is unknowable, as I can not have your experience, but perhaps logically, there might be some reasoning which concludes we share the same experience. If we take the typical materialist view, then surely we would share the same experience of “blue” if the structures used to interpret blue for us were the same and sharing the same initial states. This is plausible given a shared lineage from a common evolutionary ancestor originally developing the sense of color. Ok, so the rods and the cones develop to receive the stimulus, and the brain adapts in such a way to organize and interpret that information. Then still, by what mechanism, what chemical reaction, what organic structure predisposed the brain to associate that particular series of impulses from the rods and cones with “blue?” Why not “yellow”? Or to stretch it, why not “turtle” for that matter? This could be applied to the other senses after all (such as taste or hearing… no I don’t eat turtles).

Pop dogma seems to want to wish these colors away as a mere illusion or epiphenomenon. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with these descriptions, I don’t think it removes the weight or validity of the questions posed. Colors can still be discrete and consistent. We do not simply perceive them as some sort of acknowledgement of there existence, but rather a unique occurrence. Even if this occurrence is contrived by the mind, why and how are still very relevant, and to be purely materialistic, would require a deeper explanation that just rods, cones, and wavelengths.

Assuming that objects are not inherently colored (which I wager as general consensus giving our understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum), it would seem we could then draw two conclusions. Either A)  Color is entirely contrived by the mind in response to physical stimuli, or B)  Colors exist as an independent facet, law, or design, of reality, thus accessed by the mind upon physical stimuli. “A” sounds nice, but then there’s an unbelievably, if not impossible (I’d argue), dilemma of explaining how the mind converts wavelength to “blue,” what that “blue” is, and why is prefers this to “red.” Perhaps science can one day avail here (though I truly can not imagine it fully), but in the least this is no trivial matter. “B” sounds quite wild and causes us to question in what way it “exists,” but hey, sometimes in this preposterous universe, the wacky answer is correct.

The consistent, unique, and discrete characters of the experience, seemingly arising from nothing related to the physical description of the experience itself, seems to almost necessitate that colors are “absolute” in some way. As such, when the physical stimulus is received, “blue” is “triggered” rather than observed in the physical itself perhaps? This would seem even more evident if everyone’s perception of “blue” was indeed my “blue.” What then, is this Plato’s idea of the forms? Is dualism rearing its head? I don’t know, but I don’t know how to salvage a purely physical viewpoint from it. As said, even if we describe it all as illusion or epiphenomenon, we then have an illusion or epiphenomenon with questions demanding explanation and an almost objective nature.

We could take the route astrophysicists seem nigh like to do these days and either accept it (as the universe) as a brute fact or say that all other possibilities were viable and we just go this one. That anything may simply be a “brute fact” is certainly possible, but intellectually unsatisfying if not lazy until desperately exhausted otherwise. Accepting all other possibilities as viable leads to what must be a paradox. If we define “possible” as “conceivable” then clearly we limit ourselves to only the colors currently present in human experience (we can not possibly “invent” a new color experience), further objectifying the special characteristics or necessity of these colors alone. If we define “possible” as containing an infinite set of colors, including even those which we can not experience, we must wonder why we can only experience such a small subset when statistically we would be more likely to experience many more. Evolutionary development (i.e. radio-frequency not being useful and selective, gamma exposure being harmful) might contain some of the explanation here, though this leaves the matching of actual perceptions to corresponding wavelengths still a matter of “just so.” Inability to conceive of any of these other such colors makes this quite cognitively unsatisfying, but not necessarily invalid.

But. damn.

So where does this leave me then?
It sure does seem like one of two things are true:  The universe “just is” for far more characteristics and in far more frustrating, preposterous, and logically incoherent ways than we generally surmise, OR There’s some special, non-physical reason the universe is the way it is (I’m extrapolating in both accounts).

And until somehow a direct explanation is given on why rods, cones, and wavelengths create the perception itself of “blue” (not just a perception of “blue”), then I’m still bloody left wondering why a color is the way it is.
Sheesh. What a headache.

Cool Things

•November 12, 2013 • 2 Comments

First off, I can’t resist the compulsion to share this vid:

“Why the World Exists” – Sean Carroll, Jim Holt

Normally videos on the great question of existence seem to be the two poles (Christians and atheists) hashing out the same-old same-old arguments. Not so here. Sean Carroll (probably my favorite physicist) does a great job expressing the philosophy science has been taking on the matter (“Shut up and calculate!”) without stomping on the validity of the more philosophical questions left not addressed. Jim Holt, albeit perhaps seemingly dominating the conversation a bit much (and coming across a wee cocky perchance), does a great job of making sure the metaphysics itself is not so easily dismissed and keeps Carroll from digressing into only pure scientism. Carroll, as usual, also does a wonderful job of being frank about what we do not yet know rather than talking prematurely in the positive about his own pet theories as I’ve seen many others do (*cough* Hawking *cough*). It’s also a great survey of a lot of the mind-wracking options available to current thought (from the multiverse to Boltzmann brains). And it’s relaxed, without unnecessary dips into religious banter or petty talking past each others points,. I wish they had gotten into a little bit more on what Carroll and Holt thought about whether you accept the universe as a brute fact and give up or delve into philosophy (correspondingly then issues like Agrippa’s Trilemma, uncertainty, and incompleteness), but still, they covered a lot of ground. I highly suggest this for anyone wanting to sift through the mire and talking-past-each other that has gone on within the big question of late.

Next cool thing, new tattoo. It is still very fresh, a bit scaly, and the colors haven’t settled fully. But here:

photo

Which is from these guys:

And these guys:

I am well-pleased.

UPDATE: ANNNNNNDDDDD this thing. Just heard this existed. Minority Report now looks so last summer.

The Yellow Out of the Heart

•November 2, 2013 • 4 Comments

At the heart of so many of my motivations has always been some pursuit of a better me and a better world, outletting to something kind of like altruism (though far less pure) with either religious or humanistic wrappings dependent on the flavor of that age’s philosophy. I’ve never entirely understood what exact emotion it is (sadness? duty? compulsion? logical? hope?) or where it came from (good upbringing? it just makes sense? a lot of good-character video game RP?), but I have at least, for the longest, known it wasn’t pure. That’s not to say whatever slight goodness I might at all claim is hypocritical (in any more sense than we all are), but that my own portion of altruism is muddled has been no secret from myself.

To be blunt, and to consolidate past the minor circumstantial selfishnesses that randomly color our selflessness, my own blemish therein has been the pursuit of being special, different, great. Lest that immediately ring of an arrogance of sorts, know it’s far more carnal.

Although I really do want to make the world better, and I really do want to give and help and etc., I also have been really aware of how small, insignificant, and impermanent our initial lot here is. And as such, I’ll admit my urge to overcome that by effecting the world in as grand and magnanimous way possible. If I can set the world in a new and better direction, if I can be good enough, perhaps I am proving the worth of my existence. Perhaps I can show the universe some reason to keep me around. Or, if in the same manner, perhaps if I am great enough, have figured it out enough, and drive myself hard enough, perhaps I can change the rules of the game. Perhaps I can be great enough that I don’t have to die (permanently, at least). Perhaps I can be fit enough in this world of survival.

So, in short, the blemish on my goodwill is not arrogance, not self-righteousness or anything of the such, but simple fear, even if indirectly so.

But like I’ve said, I’ve known this, and rarely ever concerned myself with it— not out denial, but rather because it’s effect and hold was small (I should affirm that my motivations were not entirely built on fear as it may sound above). I also don’t know that we can ever be perfectly free of each of our demons, and even sometimes can rather make them work for us. I never expect to have a perfect sense of altruism or remove myself of all selfish impurities either (some make sure we take care of ourselves after all), but I do expect a better will than what I have currently. That our motivations are imperfect is not as important as which of them sits in the driver’s seat.

And recently I’ve noticed it’s the wrong one now doing so.

Despite still feeling something wrong with my brain even after how much negativity and beffudlement I’ve exorcised out of it recently, It didn’t dawn on me until thinking about the freedom in living without having to proof yourself to some cosmic entity. And then I recognized I was still doing so, just now to the “universe” or against fate instead. It wasn’t then long before the mirror was linking this with other symptoms— low-level anxiety, a lack general of creativity, emotional and intellectual tunnel-vision, and a dulled sense of pleasure— all of which I can easily see stemming from this in some form or another.

Diagnosis done, we would expect needing only the simple removal of an illogical perspective. It’s trickier than that though because, as I mentioned in a previous post, I think there is some sensible logic to this. I do not believe as humans, at least as a species holistically, we should just consign ourselves to the inevitability of death. Perhaps individually yes, but I believe individually as well, we should each contribute some measure of fighting it.  That argument is rather deeply held so, in moving on to the pragmatics, it means I can’t just say “Now, now Mind, that’s silly.” I can not entirely excise that from my motivations, because in truth, there is some part of that I value.

But it can not be in the form of fear. Whoever said “Fear is a great motivator” must not have experienced much of it. The quote should rather read “Fear is a great polarizer.” It can freeze us, captivate our world views, and divert our energy unilaterally, but it is not an effective problem-solver. Each of its tools require a limited focus, a lack of external perspective, and this inherently reduces the natural creative potential needed for novel solutions. Fear is nothing but a last-ditch gamble, to hide or throw everything you have all at once, and to then sink or float by that. It (obviously) then can not be my approach on death and would better be replaced from my vices if possible (if possible).

What should not be initially obvious though is how to still retain my high-hoped dreaming for a better world as well as a strong-willed rivalry with the death in it (things I do very much value), and yet to simultaneously heal the infection fear has left in previous means.

Luck smiles this time though, as all of that exposure to other worldviews and religions seems to have paid off here. For once, despite how much I’ve often looked down upon it, I think embracing a bit of Dharmic philosophy could be of use. Even if I do find the concept of maya to downplay the importance of what I would consider very present (“real”) issues, and even if I do think the focus on non-attachment is overzealous, I have to admit, self-attachment can certainly be the root of quite a bit of distress. And here, obviously even more so.

So why not strike at the root? If I can shift my focus from the survival of self specifically (which is not to say deny my wishes for or consideration of, mind you) onto that of the world, of life and better life for the people in it (an actual sense of altruism), then I can strike two birds with one stone. The first part, although perhaps counter-intuitive to past thoughts, I actually think is reasonable when coupled with the later. Although the ideas of Buddhism and Hinduism may not make much sense to me as traditionally presented, they are surprisingly palatable when conjoined with the notion that there is far more at stake in this universe than yourself. And as I would prefer to not be a mere stubborn and selfish parasite, I can accept that humility. The later, a sense of real altruism, unfortunately is not something you can just choose to have. That motive may have drastically dulled and dissipated recently, but I’ve known its taste, and I believe I can get myself back to whatever portion I had of it again.

But, as said, I can not simply “choose” to. Because of this, I’m suggesting to myself a reboot of sorts. I believe I need to entirely drop all current sense of compulsion and predisposition in regards to what I think my life “should” be like, how far I should go, how good I should be, how much I should concern myself with these matters, and even what I “should” want. We build up these lists of “should’s” over our lifetime, and they’re not all bad, but my current ones have been locked in belief past their expiration date because of said fears, and the ones that are actually good have their own infections because of it. Instead, and especially now after having had quite a few rather effecting life experiences, I need to release them and see who I really am at core, uncompelled, and what my passions would lead me to.

I believe someone good, someone better, will arise out of that naturally. Even if not, I still can’t just force it to be lest the cognitive dissonance rip me apart. But I know and remember the part of myself I’m hoping will surface. I certainly know it better than the person I have been of late. And if so, then I will be stronger and truer to myself than I ever have been, if not bolder and more loving too.

There are better ways than doing

•October 27, 2013 • 4 Comments

buckminster change

I won’t, even for a moment, pretend that my eventual-book/personal-mantra/earnest-drive Fable is not an exercise in near boundless idealism, but I don’t think “naive” is a good-fit accompanying word. Although I am far less so having been whetted a bit more by adulthood, I always knew that my ideas and hopes for a better world had to be more than that. And I don’t know that I have ever not been obsessed of this. The compulsion is quiet, yes, but I can remember how, even in my short foray as a janitor at a high school, I would ambush history teachers on their way to lunch and have them explain to me what they thought made various movements “stick” throughout history. I knew that a “great idea” or even “the best philosophy” could not stand out its on. It needs a platform, an outlet, implementation, and I continuously thought of what I could help produce of this in our world to bring whatever scale of my hopes to reality that I could.

(Note, again, the idealism. My descriptions here wax ambiguity because I don’t like setting limits on possibilities.)

But I’ve still felt that something was missing and have taken a long drop on writing Fable accordingly. To make my point, consider how fantastic or necessary are many of the recognized ideas of today:  sustainable energy, equality of basic rights, global compassion for development, scientific endeavor for knowledge and increasing the human condition of well-being, etc. Note as well that these do have platforms and implementations. There’s a near endless supply of nonprofits and grants for all sorts of greatly positive ideas or pursuits. They have donors, hierarchies, publicity, calls to action, specific events, etc etc. And yet so many are just pings. That’s not at all to say cumulative changes do not gradually change the way of our world, but history has shown us that things can, and have been, more. Despite so many overwhelmingly attractive potentials, many grab somewhat of a following, but they do not stick. They have not changed the wind. They have not yet found their way to the human heart.

And although I have an ever-growing list of ideas on how I might platform and implement my own offerings to our world, honesty compels me to admit even the greatest of just “ideas” as a gambler’s prayer in efficacy. And I’m just idealistic enough to, recognize I am but a human doing only what he can, be interested in more than that.

It’s left me wondering for some time now what was missing. Sometimes though, random internet searches pay off, and so I have to pause and thank Mr. Fuller. That picture you’ve been wondering about, of course.

It’s a nigh frustrating truth. It means your good ideas aren’t good enough. It even means your best “method” isn’t necessarily good enough. You must have a way to turn philosophy into the tangible, ideas into action, yes, but that method must be tastier, quicker, more attractive, and easier than the competition. This is intuitable enough, as it’s just good marketing and design. But I also think it must have competition in the first place. I believe that, for large-scale changes, it is as much about replacing as it is building.

We humans, at least socially, have a bit of a short attention span. The things we are willing to commit ourselves to are limited. This is sensible, especially in the developed world, where we have such an abounding access of means to meet needs, and needs (or some extension of them in appearance) are what seem to drive most of us. With such access, we are (theoretically) able to fill in the box for those needs quicker and easier with the ideologies, practices, lifestyles, and motivations that suit us. The rest are discarded or held with little commitment in a culture that, admittedly, can feel “rushed” or at least pulled in opposite directions. In short, we have what we need; why spend our resources on anything else? Why risk cognitive dissonance if a new idea, despite sounding promising, risk conflicting with what we hold? There are vested interests, by ourselves or those that benefit from currently held paradigms after all, so any “other” idea with a slight pull against them… well, why bother? We are not so very interested in these extras. We are also lazy or busy, and not interested in bringing them to fulfillment (even if they do “sound” good).

There’s more to the picture, I’m sure, but I think this at least holds some significance into why we seem so half-hearted on some of the most novel, important, and humanistic pursuits of our time. And as such, if we want better, we might heed Mr. Fuller’s advice. To make it better, we must replace it better. We must blow the outdated concept out of the water with something that has people lining up asking for more. And in today’s world, we unfortunately must compete with paradigms which have gobbled up markets not even in their territory, or have done their own in ways near monopolized.

An easy example is religion. That’s not to say I want to see it running out the door (albeit I would prefer some drastic changes), but it serves a great example of the scope of this possible in American society. Here, despite our culture’s called “melting pot,” Christianity still has a near monopoly on our worldview. This extends widely in nearly all directions as well, largely defining one’s sense of purpose, political beliefs, priorities, morality, often activities, and so on. If you are fronting some major charity idea, those who already feel their philanthropic needs met by certain Christian pursuits (tithing or missions for instance) might only be somewhat interested no matter how great your idea. Similarly, suppose some astounding political notion exists, but it creates dissonance with some Christian value. Although the political ramifications might be large and positive, commitment would likely be small in most adherents (or opposed). For either of these two theoretical ideas to really gain momentum, you would perhaps find an easier case convincing of a different flavor of Christianity which precludes the ideas, one that is more attractive and fulfilling, rather than spearheading them individually.

In a more direct or core point perspective, take the notion of free exchange of information. It’s an idea growing in popularity near to the point these days that it is taken for granted and yields to quick frustration if Google doesn’t give you what you’re looking for. It’s a seriously spelled out philosophical idea with support and calls to action (it’s even made it’s way to TED talks). And yet we still have incredibly highly-priced textbooks. And then we have Wikipedia. The former we might cry against in such a philosophy, but people have vested interests after all. But in the later, someone took that idea of free information and built upon it a model so powerful, attractive, easy, and satisfying (and indeed, free), that despite the vested interests of encyclopedia makers such as Britannica, Wiki dominated and solidified the idea of free information into reality as, arguably, our prime encyclopedia use today. Meanwhile, textbooks will continue to stay pricey and cumbersome, with some small attempts at moving away from them until someone similarly replaces the system with one consolidated and better. We can cry our beliefs forever, but until we build from them a better and more attractive model, we are crying in the wilderness. And until that model bests by large the competition that shares similar targets or needs, humanity will at best take upon it in lackluster.

What this means to me exactly, I’m not quite sure yet. Translating any of my own ideas or accumulated learning into something that could replace an existing way is a tall-order. Still, I believe honesty compels me to consider this if I realistically seek to maximize any such impact. I certainly, at least, take it as a refreshing insight and means to think more productively. And of course I shall mull about it extensively.

Mulling is not doing though—I know this—and doing isn’t necessarily “enough.” But what I am learning is spelling out more potential. I have much more to think about with this and more to learn for now. So what, if anything, do I think will coalesce from that?

I’ll leave that to the muses and continue on in my stubbornness. In the meantime, I tip my hat to Buckminster. And maybe, just maybe, something interesting will fall out of it.

The red god

•October 21, 2013 • 4 Comments

I often pull out meaning in odd or mundane places. Try Game of Thrones for instance. Or just try it because, well, it’s a damn good series.

The series involves, as per ^title^, a rather mysterious “red god” who is often flowered with such terminology as “the one true god” or the “lord of light” in the show. He’s mysterious, as the god has never really dropped in to say “hi,” but he sure does actually appear to be the only “active” (doing stuff) god in the series. The others are too busy sitting around getting worshiped to do such petty things as, you know, raising people from the dead or killing off various kings. And about that killing part, the red god does seem to be good at that, but he’s the “good” and “true” god, or so we hear… Well, damn, this is sounding a bit much like real life now.

What stirred my whimsy in the show is a bit of visible confusion in one Sir Davos who is quite against the seemingly immoral acts done in the name of this god. Davos openly confronts his best bud, King Stannis, about this, who’s opinion pretty much amounts to a hefty and angry heaping pile of cognitive dissonance with the words “Yeah… but he’s god, right?”. Davos seems the reasonable skeptic and is unlikely to buy into such extremes without evidence. Having read the books myself though, let’s just say the show is about to give him a heaping pile of said evidence. And I do have to wonder how Davos will respond.

Why? Because I’ve often wondered the same of myself. For long, missing my old faithful years, I’ve often thought “You know God, you could just drop down and give me a ‘whatssup’. We could totally be bff’s again then.” Wishful thinking, and I’ve known this, but it’s one of those things you still wish wasn’t so. It’d be easier and perhaps nicer if it was, but the truth is, and has always been, that even if God immaculately proved his identity and power, I’d still be waiting on quite a few explanations. And even if “HE” got on the (inter)national news and clearly proclaimed “Hey everybody, it’s me, the G-man. You don’t have to worry about that faith thing anymore. I’m here directly now.”, I still doubt I’d be much closer to serving Him.

To me, god would have some responsibility to explain himself, his silence, the stacked-deck religions, the purpose, and all the trials and troubles here. Otherwise, he’s still just the “red god,” and unless I were pressured by absolute force and hopelessness, he wouldn’t have my loyalty.

For most of the religious, this is probably where I’ve lost them. There’s generally some sense of “Who are you to question God?” or “Well, God’s ways are more than our’s.” It’s even spelled out as such in the Bible:

But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” (Rom. 9:20)

Yes, I bloody well would hope what was formed would ask that. And this is where I think the religious meet a wide philosophy hurdle in understanding us irreligious types. God does have to explain himself to us. God does have to be ethical. God does not get to hide behind his authority or supposed omnipotence. There’s no “Get-out-of-jail-free-because-I’m-the-Big-G card.” Sure, the argument of authority sounds all nice at its premise, and sure ethics are complicated enough that a mandated and ultimate set of spiritual ethics would be easier, but I don’t see how it can hold water under scrutiny. Unless you’re ok with blindly accepting the religion of your birth, if you want to believe, you do need to think about which perspective on god actually makes sense. And hopefully ethics plays into that consideration.

But what if a rather unethical god really was the right one and proved it, as you say?

Then, I ask, will this god immediately strike me down if I didn’t follow him? Is he truly omniscience and omnipotent? If there’s enough of a no% in answer to those questions, to be honest, I’d probably rebel if I thought it stood a chance. Or in the least, I’d still try and live in the way I thought was right, red god or no.

“Oh you naive, young and rebellious…”

Maybe. But that jump-to perspective is why I think some of the religious dialogue is so difficult. To us, it’s not rebellious, it’s not evil, and it’s not arrogance. To us, it’s living true to belief, if not fighting for what we think is right. And maybe we’re wrong in that, but ethics, unfortunately, are damn complicated.

So red gods beware, you gave us a conscience after all.