Gnomish: On human understanding

Posted: September 14, 2010 by tallbloke in Philosophy

Yes, it IS black and white. Look closer and you can see the dots

Imagery is not adequate for argumentation- a monkey can be taught to use sign language- a metaphor is defined as the use of imagery- it is therefore semiotic in nature- semiotics can never support the use of logic- observe that “I see” refers explicitly to the perceptual level of consciousness where logic can not be done- observe that “color” is an optical referent- not a conceptual one- we can deduce, if two people disagree – that AT LEAST ONE OF THEM (and possibly both) is WRONG- no further deduction possible on the face- the notion of “somewhere in between” is the fundamental cornerstone of moral relativism…
(besides- gray is by definition “black and white “)
but no concept can be described in terms of the sensory apparatus. That’s why we have words- they are the only tools that can serve for the purpose of critical analysis- as long as they ARE words- i.e. they have definitions- because otherwise, they can be credited with no more meaning than an animal grunt.

Rodin: The Thinker

Rodin: The Thinker

One can not “explain” without words, or “understand” without logic— example
Take two words: BRASS and GRASS
They LOOK very much alike… both black marks on a piece of paper… same shapes, mostly- but the difference between their meaning is great- furthermore, neither one looks like what it represents….
Monkeys can be taught sign language because the symbols involved have a resemblance to the referents- perceptual in nature – NOT suitable for logic because not to the necessary degree of abstraction to perform falsification.

For a word to be a word it has to have a definition.
Definition comes from the Latin: fine, meaning limit or end-
If it is out of bounds it is not the thing. If within the limits it is the thing

The definition of the word green is NOT a catalog of all possible green things- it is the set of distinguishing characteristics.
What makes it GREEN, no matter to what degree, is a set of characteristics which if it possesses them it is and if it lacks them it isn’t-
Green can be defined by a range of wavelengths- very objectively

Human nature is distinguished by the requirement that the individual learn everything he knows and think to survive.
He starts out tabular rasa and as he acquires knowledge of his world and of himself, he, unique amongh the animals, decides what he is and through rehearsal, by thought, word and deed, becomes what he defines himself to be.
Please observe the self-referential nature of defining oneself- this is the recursion that must be achieved to BE human… this is the fundamental and distinguishing characteristic of HUMAN NATURE
A definition only has to have and must only have the set of DISTINGUISHING characteristics
that is, it must form an identity
An individual’s definition of himself can not contradict any definition which applies to all humans because the individual is a subset of all humans.

Here is a trick I learned/discovered:
Because a person is most familiar with one particular person, he uses that person as the standard for evaluating others- i.e. “human nature” in general
So if you ask someone to define “human nature” he will automatically, through what psychologists term “self-projection” give you a definition of his very own character… and when he does, listen to him- he MEANS it.
In the act of defining human nature, so therefore, he defines himself

Philosophy: the love, study or pursuit of wisdom (i.e. the knowledge of objects and their causes- the 3 classical philosophies were ‘natural’ (classification of objects, taxonomic in nature), ‘metaphysical’ (the next level of abstraction: identity, time, space, causality- underlying principles- ontological in nature) and ‘moral’ (the study of right and wrong). Bear in mind, that these are abstractions- I mean, that they are abstracted aspects of reality. And reality is a package deal.

For the moment, let’s deal with ‘morality’, the science of choice. Any question of value presupposes a living thing. The issue of value does not apply to things that have no choice. So the issue of value presupposes an answer to the questions “of value TO WHOM” and “FOR WHAT purpose”. The act of performing evaluation presupposes a STANDARD by which to establish a thing’s (or act or belief) place in a hierarchy of values- the presumption being that one thing must be better than another for some living thing for some purpose. It is possible to say something is good or bad for any plant or animal, but let’s confine our discussion to human beings in particular because plants and animals don’t really have much ‘choice’ in their actions (alternatives, sure, but they don’t make a science of it- they follow preprogrammed instructions which, for the most part, are unalterable and habits acquired by operant conditioning.
A value is that which is good (for someone for something) you could substitute the noun “good” as a synonym. The opposite of a value is an evil, something which is bad for someone for something. Observe that something can only me meaningfully evaluated in context. That is to say, without specifying the context, any discussion of good or evil is meaningless. (and if we keep our definitions precise we can do the most wonderfully simple logic with them)

Virtue is the means by which something of value is gained or maintained. Vice is the means by which something of value is negated.

I now paraphrase Rand- she did this very well:

For a plant, the values its nature has set it to pursue are the sunlight, water, nutrients, etc., which further its survival (as a plant, of course)

To the extent that its behavior succeeds in achieving these values, it thrives (and makes baby plants to perpetuate its species)

To the extent that its behavior fails to achieve these values, it declines (and if it’s not up to making the occasional margin calls that a changing climate or whatever makes- it dies.)((the operant principle of evolution is not best described as “natural selection” but as “rejection”. Death is flunking out- if the behavioral responses stored in the plant’s DNA do not correspond with realities of its existence it gets cancelled- as I said, nature abhors a contradiction))

Similarly, an animal has a specific nature that its preprogrammed knowledge has set it to pursue. To the extent that its behavior succeeds in achieving the values its nature requires, it thrives and reproduces more of its species. To the extent that its behavior is inadequate, it dies.

A plant or animal is incapable of choosing to destroy itself. Faulty programming never gets THAT faulty because it gets cancelled when it falls below the threshold of adequacy.

A human being is NOT preprogrammed in any specific way to pursue the values its nature requires. The DNA contains only sufficient information for its manufacture in the context of a mother’s womb. Only the most basic reflexes such as sucking and gripping are built into a human infant’s repertoire.

This lack of programming is part of the nature of a human being. It is part of human nature that the entity must employ its brain to determine the values that are consistent with its nature. That, obviously, means that it must know something about its own nature. Knowing its own nature, therefore, is a value required by its nature. To the extent that it succeeds, it thrives (absent interference of other organisms) To the extent that its definition of its own nature is inadequate or mistaken, it declines (absent intervention)

So we can define “good” as that which the nature of an organism requires for its existence (as consistent with its nature) and “evil” as that which contradicts its nature.

So far, we’ve defined good and evil, virtue and vice, and specified the distinguishing characteristic of human nature. Essentially, then, the foundation has hereby been laid for an objective morality.

Claude Shannon

Claude Shannon - image: courtesy Bell Labs.

Information theory was invented by a Bell Labs genius named Claude Shannon. He was studying signal to noise ratio and found it necessary to define ‘signal’ and ‘noise’. He invented the word “bit” to signify the “atom” of information.
By transferring the concepts of thermodynamics (entropy, specifically) he was able to develop a coherent view of information in the abstract.

Now, entropy is significant for the reason that it IS the ‘arrow of time’, which is to say, it is the only aspect of existence which goes one way only. To illustrate: if you were to film a baseball game where the pitcher throws the ball, the batter hits it, it flies out to center field and is caught by a fielder- then run the film backwards and you will find that NO LAWS OF PHYSICS ARE VIOLATED in the reverse. All energy and matter are conserved. It is perfectly legitimate to conceive of the fielder ejecting the ball from his glove in the reverse trajectory, hitting the bat with it and having it bounce off the bat straight back to the pitcher. Not very likely, admitted, but possible, nonetheless.

What if we filmed an aquarium, though, in which we drop a bit of ink? In forward motion, the ink diffuses throughout the water and dissipates. If we run this film in reverse we would see ink accumulating at the point it entered from all through the aquarium and it would be obvious that this just doesn’t happen!

This is an example of entropy- in the sense employed, the tendency of concentrations to diffuse, whether heat or any other form of energy. The downhill slide of any system into randomness. Randomness, in this sense, means disorder, which is characterized by unpredictability.

In information theory, the opposite of randomness is redundancy. To illustrate: English is about 50% redundant- you could cross out every other letter of a message and most likely still make perfect sense of it.
Or you could cross out every other word, even, and (unless it’s a critically informative word) still make sense of the message.

DNA is the storage medium for biological organisms on this planet (or RNA, too). The function it serves is to store the information which, when expressed in the appropriate context, returns an organism. The organism also contains the DNA it started with and the means to express this information again. This phenomenon (calling up a copy of yourself) is called recursion.

Observe that a subroutine of this nature must reverse entropy- diffuse elements are gathered and organized into a concentration- THIS IS A REVERSAL OF INFORMATION ENTROPY and is the distinguishing characteristic of a living thing. The systematic reversal of entropy by recursion is an excellent definition of “LIFE”. To stop the recursive system is to kill.

Charles Darwin, another BIG thinker, described the gold standard of evolution as ‘survival of the fit’. That means, that a recursive anentropic system that can express itself in its context will survive. (competition is not strictly necessary)

Later scientists established that DNA was the storage medium for the data necessary for the recursive system.

Significant virtues are required to achieve the value of successful recursion: The data required for the program of recursion must be stored in some way, it has to do the recursion, i.e., reproduce. Given that it performs its function in some context, and given that the context can and does vary (climate, available fuel…) the data must be alterable to suit a changing context (mutation).

Observe, now, that information can be stored in various ways. In fact, some organisms have evolved a specific organ devoted to that function. It is called a brain. The function of a brain is identical in principle to the function of DNA- it stores data, it reproduces copies of the data and it mutates.

In a human organism, the whole batch of brain-stored data may be named “philosophy”. It is taught to the offspring. It is revised as necessary to accommodate any change in context. The remarkably good thing about the philosophy is that it can reproduce in the mind of anybody else- it is heritable by others besides the biological offspring. And a person can change his mind overnight! DNA requires a lifetime to be ever so slightly revised. DNA requires the manufacture of a complete new organism to be copied. So, the brain recapitulates the functions of DNA with this twist- it’s faster and more responsive to changing context. Thus it achieves the identical values of DNA on a higher level of abstraction. The gold standard for a conscious organism is “persistence of the truth”- essentially a recapitulation of “survival of the fit”.

The same constraints bring about natural rejection: in evolution, if it doesn’t work, it goes extinct…with philosophy, if it’s false, it doesn’t persist.

Where natural rejection is the principle that brings about extinction, logical contradiction kills an inadequate philosophy.

Now, human beings’ distinguishing characteristic is that they survive by means of philosophy. This is their chief tool of survival. We don’t wait to evolve specialized appendages- we make tools, we don’t drown or flee from floods (I know, I know- leave off the qualifications for now) we build dams, we don’t burn or flee from a fire, we put the fire out!

Now, having a mind means having a new, better storage medium for our survival data- it must, of course, be consistent with the layers below or it won’t work properly. If you think poison is food, you’ll enjoy eating it, but you’ll die from it.

You can get a donkey to follow a carrot on a stick because his brain tells him the carrot is out there to be grabbed. You can teach a dog not to do something by inflicting pain that is a natural consequence of his action, but applied according to an arbitrary rule. These animals are incapable of developing a sufficiently long chain of associations to include the greater context.

Once a brain is sufficiently complex to create associative chains of great length, a new phenomenon is possible: abstraction, or high level conceptualization.

Language is a level of abstraction above the level of associative response. It is qualitatively different for the reason that logic can be performed by it. Contradictory ideas can be rectified and reasoning can be done.

Furthermore, with language you can speak to yourself- you can hear yourself speak. Remember recursion? Once language is achieved and brought to this level, the possibility exists for a “soul”, which is to say, a concept of self in context of a universe.

For an organism to be able to distinguish between things which are good for it and bad, it is more useful to have some sort of sensory apparatus than to rely strictly on death for feedback! Thus, senses have evolved.

It is the function of the senses of the most primitive organisms to automatically evaluate the things it encounters. There is a single axis along which things may be automatically evaluated- pain, for the bad, pleasure, for the good. This is hardwired into an organism.

An organism that has evolved a brain can store associations. At this stage, associative chains, formed from experience, can develop. These associations serve to govern BEHAVIOUR (a chain of responses). A behavior associated with pain is likely to be extinguished. A behavior associated with pleasure is likely to be repeated.

B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner did excellent experiments and established that the optimum timing to form the strongest association is 0.4 seconds. This corresponds to what is visible on an EEG with humans, called the N400- a 400 millisecond delay to any unexpected experience. It is the trace of a new association being formed- a “data write”, if you will.

Humans are the organisms who form the longest associative chains. With a highly evolved language, a human is able to make explicit reference to the pleasure/pain value of the associations he has formed.

Remember that it is a distinguishing characteristic of the human, that he must define for himself, according to the standard of value in his philosophy, what it is that is good or bad for him in any situation or in general.

This means, in a practical sense, that if a person THINKS something is good for him, and it’s not contradicted by immediate physical pain (within 0.4 seconds), he will feel pleasure over it.

If he associates something with physical pain or thinks something is bad for him, he will feel pain over it.

Thus, emotions are the psychological analogue of physical pleasure or pain. The different terms used to describe them merely make reference to the context, for example: If you feel psychological pain and can identify the agent of it, it may be termed “hate”.
If you feel psychological pleasure (which is to say, identify something as good for you) as a response to something it may be termed “love”. The absence of something you think is good for you may be referred to as sadness, etc. The axis is the same pleasure/pain, but with humans the associative links may be abstractly defined by the recursive process of “deciding” – something that involves telling yourself what is good or bad.

It is important to observe that emotions are PASSIVE RESPONSES and that they can depend on a moral evaluation. They are NOT CAUSES.

Romantic love- the kind of pleasure that is derived from another human being in a highly specific context can be nicely defined as well: “the respect and admiration one feels for someone who possesses the virtues and values one most admires in oneself”. In this special case, the person whom you love represents what you believe is the best of you. Why this is more potent than any other type of pleasurable association is the total consistency.

Consciousness occurs on three levels. Sensation, perception, and conception.

Sensation refers to the afferent impulses of a sensory neuron. These signals never reach the brain but are mediated and processed by perception. To illustrate: there are 100 million sensory neurons in the optical apparatus. Only 1 million neurons carry the information down the optic nerve to the brain. The retina itself preprocesses the sensory data into percepts, i.e. perceptual entities dealing with extensity, intensity and juxtaposition. Similar figures apply to the auditory apparatus. Sentience refers explicitly to the sensory apparatus.

A percept is an array of sensory data taken as a whole. Perceptions are distinguished by the fact that they are done in parallel, as a frame or snapshot.

Concepts are sequences of percepts. The dimension of time is therefore incorporated into the consciousness at this level. Associative chains are the elements of conceptualization. Concepts can encompass any phenomenon including concepts themselves. It is even possible to develop concepts that have NO real world value (i.e. fantasy) or they may even have values contradictory to the reality (lies).

There is a logic gate called an inverter- it looks something like this (the logic symbol)

———–|>0———

The left hand side is the input, the right hand side the output- the horizontal lines represent the wires and the triangle with the “o” for a nose represents the inversion function

You have only 2 possible inputs, 0 or 1
The function of an inverter is just as it is named- to invert the signal- so if you have a 0 on the input, the output will be a 1 and vice versa, ok?
Now, what happens if you wire the output right back to the input?
In words, you might say, “everything I say is a lie”

Follow a cycle through the inverter- if the input is 0, then the output is 1- if the output is one and goes to the input, then the input is 1 if the input is one, then the output is 0
If the output goes to the input then the input is 0 if the input is 0 then the output is 1

Its; “everything is the opposite of itself”; the same as saying “everything I say is a lie”
Ok- this is the binary explanation of what I call “the mystery of mysteries”

Remember: “death is life everlasting”?

Or, “love your enemy”

Or “property is theft”

See the form of the inverter plugged back into itself?
– the flawsophers actually do teach their students that knowledge is impossible- another one of those “mysteries”

or that there is no such thing as an absolute
or “You can’t know anything- because you can’t know everything- we know this!”
or “people are too stupid to run their own affairs – therefore, they should run each other’s”
it’s no mistake that they have attacked the very root of man’s nature- his cognition. They make monsters…
and the only way to make sense of that is to enlarge the context- subsume the phenomenon under a label: “mystery” or “self-contradictory” and then you can handle it properly-

you know what happens if you actually do the wiring of a inverter’s output back to its input?
it oscillates as fast as the gate delay will allow- a totally unstable system- it works just fine as an oscillator-

Aliester Crowley

Aliester Crowley

now, the purpose of installing one of these in a persons mind is to generate the processor consuming oscillations- it prevents any competing thinking from happening. It is done deliberately for the purpose of messing up a person’s mind. Then they can’t perform critical thinking to falsify a lie and can be “flocked”
“mystics”
read “the book of lies” by Aliester Crowley- a mystic who was so bold that he even named his game out loud. He knew there was nothing to it except the unique POWER OF MYSTERY. He was one of the few mystics who truly and well understood what he was about. I don’t think most of the “religious” leaders really understand, but are victims of it themselves- but they pass it on.. Crowley was not plagued by puzzlement- he very well knew- had enlarged the context- and defined himself as a parasite- the “mysticism” was his chief tool of survival.

After a lot of experience in proving to yourself that people are fools, it’s not even considered parasitism by the practicioner – the fools are considered a different species: prey.

Definitions of terms which may have been used in this essay:

Philosophy: Love of understanding
Metaphysics: study of the nature of existence
Reality: the largest possible context of existence
Sanity: a metaphysical view that corresponds one to one with reality
Consciousness: identification
Understanding: Conception of an implication or set of implications
Logic: procedure of non-contradictory identification
Concept: a set of implications
Idea: a concept or set of concepts
Thinking: manipulation of ideas
Language: a system of words for communicating ideas
Implication: the relationship of a cause and its effect
Label: to define a symbol – or- the token for an idea or concept
Symbol: A perceptual unit designating a set of implications
Word: a symbol with a definition
Definition: The set of those properties or characteristics that distinguish a thing from all other things, i.e. a distinct set of implications
Truth: an idea that can not be contradicted by any other implications within its context
Science: the systematic discovery of truth
Virtue: the means used to gain or keep something of value
Value: synonym for “good” – something that is consistent with the nature of an organism’s wellbeing
Sacrifice: the exchange of something of value for something of lesser value, i.e. the negation of a value
Bad: contradictory to the nature of an organism’s wellbeing
Love: the admiration and respect one feel for someone who possesses the virtues and qualities one most admires in oneself
Art: the perfection of symbols into a consistent concept
Beauty: The degree of consistency among observed implications

Comments
  1. tallbloke says:

    There’s a heck of a lot in this essay. Thanks Gnomish for sharing your work with us. I gather you wrote this a long time ago?

    One thing I picked up on was your comment regarding paradoxical ideas used by mystics to mess with peoples minds. In the far east, these ‘Koans’ are regarded as useful ways of getting the subject beyond dualities into a higher plane of thinking. Maybe that’s useless gibberish to some, but a practical result for others.

  2. Great! Are you a Robot?

  3. Gnomish says:

    ‘the sound of one hand clapping’
    is heard when you smack the goof who’s messing with your head.

  4. Verity Jones says:

    Wow. I am so tired I can hardly string two words together and only about a third of that went in, but still wow. I’ll come back and read it and really appreaciate it when I’m clear-headed tomorrow. Thanks Gnomish for sharing it and thanks tallbloke for posting it.

  5. tallbloke says:

    Heh, so can we take it you stick firmly to rationalist ground? Is that enough to circumscribe the sphere of useful human thought? Or just the sphere of scientific thought?

  6. tallbloke says:

    “survival of the fit”

    Darwin talked of the survval of the fittest. This is often misunderstood as meaning the strongest or healthiest in a population, but Darwin actually meant those living things which are best adapted to the niche they occupy. Adaptability is therefore a ‘virtue’, and humans are particularly adaptable, living quite comfortably in conditions ranging from Arctic to Equatorial, from desert to jungle, and from coastline to highland. What makes this possible is the human ability to adapt their immediate environment to a greater degree than other animals do: building kayaks, creating shade and draught, changing water courses etc. Some other animals have unique abilities: Beavers dam building, birds nest building etc, but humankind have taken this further to a general ability to problem solve and predict.

    It seems to me that this is one of the principle reasons humans are among the most successful of the higher organisms on the planet.

  7. Suibhne says:

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  8. Verity Jones says:

    tallbloke says:
    September 15, 2010 at 6:47 am

    “Darwin talked of the survval of the fittest….”

    Punctuated equilibria and all that.

    Careful – you’ll end up with an evolution thread 😉

  9. tallbloke says:

    Hi Verity, well, the ‘can science explain the scientist ‘ thread has turned into a genetics debate, so why not? 🙂

  10. gnomish says:

    Hi guys.
    I just got deported from canada so I’ll be out of service for a while.
    I do have adventures!

  11. Gnomish says:

    HARR!
    that cost ’em. 🙂
    that’s how I vote – by turning tax dollars into pure harmless waste.
    while they mess with me, they aren’t messing with anybody else.
    If they got your money, honey, I got their time.
    2 chauffeurs, lodging and meals – in Canada, I’m entitled to frustrate Canadians who are not entitled to think.
    (Remember Cheech & Chong- how the Mexican illegals called the migra every xmas to get a ride home for the holidays? I liked that story, so I pirated it.)
    Shrug powah!
    Ciao for nao!