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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

There is truth.   Truth exists.  There is a truth to this existence, this universe.   We might lack the language or the pictorial tools or the right theory and models, but there is truth.

What is this truth?  what is truth?

Things exist, we exist, there is a speed of light, the square root of two is irrational, the halting problem is undecidable, there are abstract and real relations between abstract and real things.

The truth is a something that, yes, has a correspondence to the facts.  That is not the end of it though (despite the pragmatic claims of some!).   The truth has a correspondence to the facts because it is true!   The facts HAVE to line up against a truth.   The truth exists outside of specific events or objects.   A number has an existence, if even only as an idea, and it has relations to other things.  And the description of that number and those relations ARE truth.  A computer program has its truth whether you run the program or not.  If you were to run it it would halt or not halt, that potential is in the computer program from the beginning, it doesn’t arise from it’s execution.

On Proof and not Proof but Use

We can prove these truths and many more.  We can prove through English words or through mathematical symbolism or computer programs.   Our proofs, put into these formats, can and are often wrong and set to be revised over and over until there are no holes.   No matter how fragile a proof and the act of providing proof the truth is still not diminished.  It is still there, whether we know it or not and whether we can account for it or not.  And the truth begs proof.  It begs to be known in its fullness and to be trusted as truth to build up to other truths.

BUT!

Proof isn’t always possible – in fact we’ve learned from issues in computability and incompleteness – that complete provability of all truth is impossible.   This beautiful truth itself further ensures that the truth will always beckon us and will never be extinguished through an endless assault.  There is always more to learn.

The unprovable truths we can still know and use.  We can use them without knowing they are true.  We do this all the time, all day long.   How many of us know the truth of how physics works? or how are computers do what they do?   and does that prevent their use – the implementation of that truth towards more truth?

Why?

Why defend truth?  Why publish an essay exalting truth and championing the search for truth? Does the truth need such a defense?

Being creatures with intelligence – that is, senses and a nervous system capable of advanced pattern recognition – our ultimate survival depends on figuring out what’s true and what isn’t.   If too many vessels (people!) for the gene code chase falsehoods the gene code isn’t likely to survive too many generations.   Life, and existence itself, depends on the conflict between entropy and shape, chaos and order, stillness and motion, signal and noise.  The truth is the abstract idea that arises from this conflict and life is the real, tangible thing born from that truth.  We learn truths – which processing of this thing into that thing that keep us alive, we live to learn these things. In a completely entropic existence there is nothing.   Without motion there is nothing.   In total chaos there is nothing.   It is the slightest change towards shape, order and signal that we find the seeds of truth and the whole truth itself.  The shaping of entropy is the truth.   Life is embodiment of truth forming.

So I can’t avoid defending the truth.  I’m defending life.  My life.  In defending it, I’m living it.  And you, in whatever ways you live, are defending the truth and your relation to other things.  If I’m alive I must seek and promote truth.   While death isn’t false, chasing falsehood leads to death or rather non existence.   Could there ever be truth to a statement like “I live falsely” or “I sought the false.”   There’s nothing to seek.  Falsehood is easy, it’s everywhere.  It’s everything that isn’t the truth.  To seek it is to exert no effort (to never grow) and to never gain – falsity has no value.  Living means growing, growing requires effort, only the truth, learning of the truth demands effort.

How do we best express and ask about truth?

There’s a great deal of literature on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics to describe the world.  There’s also a great deal of literature, and growing by the day, suggesting that mathematics isn’t the language of the way the universe works.   Both views I find to be rather limited.   Mathematics and doing math is about certain rigor in describing things and their relations.   It’s about forming and reforming ways to observe and question ideas, objectives, motion, features…. It’s about drawing a complete picture and all the reasons it should and shouldn’t be so.   Being this way, this wonderful thing we call mathematics, there is no way mathematics couldn’t be effective at truth expression.   Ok, for those that want to nit pick, I put “computation” in with mathematics.  Describing (writing) computer programs and talking about their features and functions and observing their behavior is doing math, it is mathematics.

Art has very similar qualities.   Art doesn’t reduce beyond what should be reduced.   It is the thing itself.  It asks questions by shifting perspectives and patterns.  It produces struggle.  Math and art are extremely hard to separate when done to their fullest.  Both completely ask the question and refuse to leave it at that.   Both have aspects of immediate impression but also have a very subtle slow reveal.  Both require both the artist and the audience, the mathematician and the student – there is a tangible, necessary part of the truth that comes directly from the interaction between the parties, not simply the artifacts or results themselves.

Other ways of expressing and thinking are valuable and interesting.  That is, biology and sociology and political science, and so on….. these are all extremely practical implementations or executions of sub aspects of the truth and truth expression.  They are NOT the most fundamental nor the most fruitful overall.   Practiced poorly and they lead to falsehoods or at best mild distractions from the truth.  Practiced well and they very much improve the mathematics and art we do.

What does any of this get us?  What value is there in this essay?

This I cannot claim anything more about than what I have above.   For example, I don’t know how to specifically tell someone that the truth of square root of 2 is irrational has x,y,z value to them.  It certainly led to a fruitful exploration and exposition of a great deal of logic and mathematical thinking that led to computation and and and.   But that doesn’t even come close to explaining value or what talking about its value today, in this essay, matters.

My only claim would be that truth matters and if there is any truth in this essay then this essay matters.  How that matter comes to fruition I don’t know.   That it comes to any more fruition than my pounding out this essay after synthesizing many a conversation and many books on the subject and writing some computer programs and doing math is probably just a very nice consequence.

The truth’s purpose is itself, that it is true.

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The discussion of accountability and consent in anarchist and collective groups is very interesting to me. The groups are loosely organized groups that tend to impose few, if any, rigid structures and processes. Much of the point of these groups is to resist strict ways of being and supporting the safe exploration of ways to relate, live and engage. It is a set up that flat out resists explicit rule making. So when a group is confronted with an issue such as sexual assault it’s not entirely clear how the group and its members will and should respond. In a sense it provides a bit of a behavioral experimental playground much more so than more commonly organized groups of people.

In the specific case of sexual assault in these loosely connected groups the situation can be very complicated. The group doesn’t want to operate with well established rules that are marketed into its members. The group also doesn’t want to appeal to some moral or behavioral authority outside of the group. So there’s a real conflict in figuring out what exactly anyone is accountable for and what behavior to reinforce or extinguish. In some sense the lack of established processes and rules forces any conflict to always have reactive approaches rather than preventative. This doesn’t make it wrong or bad or ineffective. Consent and accountability isn’t necessarily dealt with well in a dogmatic rule enforcing set up. Often overly explicit ruled organizations create behavioral associations to following the rules rather than being attentive to others values, perspectives and personal comfort. So how should we think about consent? and respond to offenses?

The essay in IMPASSES “exploring critiques of the accountability process” mostly focuses on a synthesis and response to two pamphlets about accountability in anarchists groups. Presumably these pamphlets and others like them came about in response to specific challenges to accountability within the group. So I’m coming to my interpretation of the essay from both the context of the group’s possible issues and the general points the essay is trying to make.

The essay synthesis focuses a lot of energy on questioning the prevailing language used in accountability situations – that is situations where there needs to a response to some abuse. The author of the essay wants to resist any adherence to judicial or government like processes to organize people. I feel this is in general a useful intellectual approach. The fact is a resistance driven approach to living isn’t authentic if in the face of some adversity resistance is dropped and a person or group reverts to dogmatic or traditional approaches.

I believe the author is also justly critiquing these essays as giving in way too easily to common notions of victimhood and perpetrator and guilt and innocence. The world is vastly more complicated than most of our society’s media, processes and government admits.

The idea of consent is complex. And consent is a central component of identifying abuse and obviously possible healing behavior. Relating to each other in any open way requires a lot of listening and a lot patience. Often we don’t know our own rules and boundaries until they have been crossed. In some sense developing a sense of consent and vocabulary for communicating consent takes a willingness to approach and cross boundaries.

Values come about this way – one learns what behavior is reinforcing by behaving and experiencing consequences. The confusing part is that it can be extremely difficult to understand when a response to a behavior is a negative or positive reinforcer.

Even when rules are explicitly stated the ideas of consent and abuse are murky. The fact is whether we state rules or not we all are operating under a set of internal rules and values. These aren’t unchangeable laws but they are patterns of operating we’ve learned through consequences to our behavior. These rules can be hard to articulate but we all know when we’ve had one of our own rules broken.

The main challenge in any relationship is one of communication. The issue of consent or rather avoiding abuse is discovering rules before they are violated. The challenge the essay takes on is what should we do in reaction to an abuse. In particular, how should we handle things such to create more suffering by anyone in a process of healing and resolution. My interpretation of most common processes provided in schools, society, etc is that they are woefully simplistic and formulaic and focus far too much, as the author suggests, on defining things into victimhood and guilt. Typically in society once we can direct blame, accurately or not, our processes end. Unfortunately these approaches do not heal and increase perspective.

There’s is a ton of interesting research and literature on punishment and punitive approaches to society. The works of B.F. Skinner are worth a read. There’s also a great collection of essays under the book title “Beyond the Punitive Society” that are worth a browse. I point some of this material out because I think these materials get to the heart of consent and responsibility and accountability much more so than this essay in IMPASSES.

America is very much a punitive culture. From how we discipline our children to our judicial system to our religious views almost all processes we engage in for conflict resolution are punitive. It’s efficient, I suspect… Or it feels like it is. Oddly though it does not appear to be effective long term. Positive reinforcement (not the pop psyc positive mental attitude) is by far more effective. No person who violates a rule does so because they are evil or in isolation is a bad person. In this regard I side with the author of the essay in a search for better way to think and talk about accountability and consent and to not give into established approaches that don’t appear to be that effective in creating a safe, open culture.

I do hope the author(s) of the essay publish more about what they uncover. The world has far too few discussions about fundamental and powerful concepts like consent.

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The first essay presented in IMPASSES “On Questions and Answers: Some Notes on How To Do Ideas” offers a compelling call to reject all ideologies and to engage in “continued experiments in ways-of-life.” (page 23).

“Ideology is theory that has escaped study” (page 18) is an excellent working definition of ideology.   It specifically captures the main issue with any and all ideologies – a truth reduction.   Ideologies are not representative of how anything completely works except in only the most trivial of cases.   Figuring out what is a trivial case is much harder than one might think.  Take an example from mathematics – is arithmetic consistent?  Meaning is the whole of arithmetic free of any internal contradictions.   It’s still unresolved.   Yes, there are a couple of proofs of the consistency of arithmetic but they are complicated and not 100% accepted as final proof.  If we can’t be 100% sure of something as “simple” as arithmetic what hope is there of assurance of truth about concepts as vague as God, country, knowledge, etc.

As beings with finite resources (lives and means) we must take shortcuts aka make assumptions and have representations.   We wouldn’t get through a day in our life if we tried to work out the complete truth of everything around us.   Truth reductions are useful to survival in that we have to behave with imperfect information.   But truth reductions can also be extremely dangerous, particularly around complicated issues involving how we relate to the planet and each other.   We must always question and re-question what we’ve decided advertently or inadvertently as an acceptable truth reduction.  Not doing so may make it such that we miss key information about the world around us and do things that increase suffering and/or reduce the possibility of survival.   Consider that for thousands of years slavery was mostly unquestioned and that it took a massive effort in 20th century to educate the population that inhaling tobacco was generally bad for your health.

Our methods of questioning must also be critically analyzed.  For a stale approach to questioning may be as misleading as truth reductions.  A biased approach to asking questions, such as at a biased university, whose primary objective is to keep operating as a university and needs to “[produce] results that maintain the university.” (page 19)   Confirmation biases seep into a huge chunk of scientific research and policy creation (great paper here.).   Even when our research is relatively free of flaws we certainly are all guilty of not knowing what we don’t know and are likely not even asking the best questions in which to go research.   It seems like a worthwhile approach to “increase our capacity for experimentation.” (page 24).

The essay itself poses a great critical question about methods of study but also confuses the matter with a muddled discussion about Politics and dualism.  While certainly useful topics to question and discuss the details covered add little to the main point of the essay other than to be examples of reductionist thinking in a pool of infinite examples.   It actually does something I believe the author specifically would like not to do – it politicized the essay a little into a bit of anti-government reduction.   There’s simply no need to single out politics as any more reductive and misleading than religion or a billion other ideology laced approaches to going through life.

Math and science as tools comes up a couple of times in the essay and with the questions at the end of the essays.  Math and science are also under constant review for their usefulness in not reducing truth.  There certainly have been many periods in history where math and science have gone through shocks calling into question their validity as truth seeking approaches.  Mathematics, in particular, was shaken very much when Godel unveiled his incompleteness theorems.   Far from destroying mathematics as a useful paradigm to form worthwhile questions and work towards useful and true solutions “incompleteness” actually enriched mathematical thinking’s capacity to ask important questions.

The questions at the end of the essay are worth a response. and offer an opportunity to “test out” the ideas of the essay and my own ideations.

1) If theory is merely a tool, how do we prevent it from becoming an apparatus (of control, of power, of ideology) like math and science?

This question seems to misunderstand the main points of the article.   The question is reducing the concept of theory established in the essay.  Labeling theory with a word phrase like “merely a tool” suggests that there’s something more useful than a tool or that a tool is mere.   Theories help us establish models and experiments in which we can go falsify or confirm and refine.   The prevention the question asker seems to seek is some prescription for not letting theories turn into ideologies (truth reductions).  And it seems the essays answers that quite clearly – always study, always question.  In other words there isn’t a single prescription.   The prevention of reduction is about re-questioning in every changing ways.

Secondly math and science CAN be apparatuses of control but that doesn’t mean they are a priori.   Math and science are various questioning and experimentation approaches also subject to refinement.

2) Academic study (and perhaps this could be said of study more generally) is oftentimes just a regurgitation of previously thought-up ideals.  Is novelty as a result of study necessary or is fluctuating between already-done ideas enough?

Again here the questioner assumes too much.   Where is the source of this novelty?   All thoughts and knowledge are the evolution of previous thoughts and/or responses to the environment.   The novelty suggested is emergent over time through the transmission and mutation of information.   It’s a non question when thought/ideas are viewed that way and it’s a confusing question period without a definition of thought and ideas.

3) Is study solitary or communal? What is the relation between “spreading anarchy” and others participating in critical studying?  Is there a set of values being set up around study whereby those who don’t participate in it (or participate in the “proper” ways) are seen as less credible, or is the questioning of this itself falling into the trap of movement-building?

This is a juicy set of questions.  Study is both a solitary and communal (and environmental activity).   We are all people within a world of other people.  I think it would be useless contradiction to define proper way of studying.   There are an infinite number of ways to explore this world.   The end goal being finding ever changing experiments on ways-to-live.   Particular methods of study might be viewed as inconsistent or improper within their method but it doesn’t invalidate them in the general idea of “studying”.   Fiction is a useful critical synthesis of the world.  So is non fiction and a painting or a music piece or a poem or science experiment.   The keys seem to be participation and being ever critical.  The more variation the more possible a real exploration of possibilities.

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In Defense of The Question Is The Thing

I’ve oft been accused of being all vision with little to no practical finishing capability. That is, people see me as a philosopher not a doer. Perhaps a defense of myself and philosophy/approach isn’t necessary and the world is fine to have tacticians and philosophers and no one is very much put off by this.

I am not satisfied. The usual notion of doing and what is done and what constitutes application is misguided and misunderstood.

The universe is determined yet unpredictable (see complexity theory, cellular automota). Everything that happens and is has anticedents (see behaviorism, computation, physics). Initiatial conditions have dramatic effect on system behavior over time (see chaos theory). These three statements are roughly equivalent or at least very tightly related. And they form the basis of my defense of what it means to do.

“Now I’m not antiperformance, but I find it very precarious for a culture only to be able to measure performance and never be able to credit the questions themselves.” – Robert Irwin, page 90, seeing is forgetting the name of thing one sees

The Question Is The Thing! And by The Question that means the context or the situation or the environment or the purpose. and I don’t mean The Question or purpose as assigned by some absolute authority agent. It is the sense of a particular or relevative instance we consider a question. What is the question at hand?

Identifying and really asking the question at hand drives the activity to and fro. To do is to ask. The very act of seriously asking a question delivers the do, the completion. So what people mistake in me as “vision” is really an insatiable curiousity and need to ask the right question. To do without the question is nothing, it’s directionless motion and random walk. To seriously ask a question every detail of the context is important. To begin answering the question requires the environment to be staged and the materials provided for answers to emerge.

There is no real completion without a constant re-asking of the question. Does this answer the question? Did that answer the question?

So bring it to something a lot of people associate me with: web and software development. In the traditional sense I haven’t written a tremendous amount of code myself. Sure I’ve shipped lots of pet projects, chunks of enterprise systems, scripts here and there, and the occassional well crafted app and large scale system. There’s a view though that unless you wrote every line of code or contributed some brilliant algorithm line for line, you haven’t done anything. The fact is there’s a ton of code written every day on this planet and very little of it would i consider “doing something”. Most of it lacks a question, it’s not asking a question, a real, big, juicy, ambitious question.

Asking the question in software development requires setting the entire environment up to answer it. Literally the configuration of programmer desks, designer tools, lighting, communication cadence, resources, mixing styles and on and on. I do by asking the question and configuring the environment. The act of shipping software takes care of itself if the right question is seriously asked within an environment that let’s answers emerge.

Great questions tend to take the shape of How Does This Really Change the World for the User? What new capability does this give the world? How does this extend the ability of a user to X? What is the user trying to do in the world?

Great environments to birth answers are varied and don’t stay static. The tools, the materials all need to change per the unique nature of the question.

Often the question begs us to create less. Write less code. Tear code out. Leave things alone. Let time pass. Write documentation. Do anything but add more stuff that stuffs the answers further back.

The question and emergent answers aren’t timeless or stuck in time. The context changes the question or shape of the question may change.

Is this to say I’m anti shipping (or anti performance as Irwin put it)? No. Lets put it this way we move too much and ask too little and actual don’t change the world that much. Do the least amount to affect the most is more of what I think is the approach.

The question is The Thing much more than thing that results from work. The question has all the power. It starts and ends there.

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Dr. Tim Maudin posits in his “BIGTHINK.COM” article, that there is not much procedural difference between how one arrives at philosophical axioms for life and scientific ones.

However, let’s not wax Pollyannaic to the gods of ‘blog’; there are major processes that are different.   The philosophical axioms of life that one distills along the way are private and not amiable to testing or any type of validation or falsification.  That’s good for the individual according to those that traffic in concepts, metaphors, mysticism and similes, but it is not so relatively good for the species and the universe.  Those philosophical interpretations, rules, axioms and beliefs die with the owner.

Scientific ones may have, but don’t necessarily have, a similar etiology.   But scientific content is converted from private to public by the bridging of communication that can be scanned for a value proposition by anyone exposed who is attending to it and, in so doing, gets to tests the content in their reality as well as the public reality that science serves.

Our belief frame out behavior and when those beliefs don’t have any course correction available they can lead to good and less good consequences for the owner and the community that owner inhabits.  We all are stuck with some very outdated concepts; mostly tied to the Judeo-Christian-Newtonian World view, as some have pointed out responding to philosopher Maudlin’s article. No attempt or clue is offered how we all have these albatross’ of folk science, folk psychology and folk folklore and that, for some, make this Dr. Maudin’s video an opinion piece rather than an information piece.

What is unbounded is the need for explanation of relationships in ways that are general or conditional.  Private or covert neural patterns that equal what we call “cognitive” is not been a productive place to look to find out what the heck is going on in the world.  It is unbounded because of the complexity.   Staring at our belly button is one relationship that, while interesting to many philosophically, medically or technically, is not particularly relevant scientifically other than how it fits into existing context of those who value understanding a broader set of relationships. A scientific “explanatory crisis” is critical only because there is so much to do and behavior is complex. The philosophical procedures that have been around for 2500 years have left us wondering and wanting.  Scientific approaches have provided the Gore-Tex to suit the astronauts on the moon, if you get the difference in meaning. The differences are literally mind boggling because we’ve spent so much time in the ‘mind’ idiom that is marginal if not, blatantly unfruitful.  Current philosophical journals and entries validate this one-liner’s contributions to “our ordinary life”.

in starts and sputters science handles the changes in content understanding.  Philosophical approaches hang on using the metaphors and mysticism that was oh, so trendy in 1200 BC (interesting way to reference, ah!?). Thus, we have a similar explanatory crisis in our individual daily lives right now.  It could be called a dichotomy between those that ‘Get it” and those that “Don’t Get it” concerning myth, gods, premonitions, intuitions, feelings, motivations and the private axioms we treat as real (reification).  These reified concepts keep us ginned up recycling tattered messages rather than focused on the infinite simple relationships that make up the complex relationships that contribute to figuring out what the heck is going on out there.  Many people just gave up, are giving up, to become atheists, agnostics or vaccumists musing the antics of the “–isms” which are the stock and trade of philosophy as well.  But the quest to make sense of things is valuable and will find a course it finds rather than one based on ‘should-ought,’ or truth, beauty, right, wrong, etc., ad nauseum.

It is ironical that those that want to disagree with this piece are right now looking for a scientific-looking way to frame their Judeo-Christian-Newtonian folklore arguments to make them so strong that it will launch their careers… as philosophers.   Lol.

  1. Thursday, June 23, 2011; http://bigthink.com/ideas/24170

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Good sunday morning thought cycles about “work”, organization, the big “laws”, theories of all sorts of things.   I really like Stuart Kauffman.  Not afraid to say “I’m stuck.” and keep working.

The life cycle of a cell is simply amazing. It does work to construct constraints on the release of energy, which does work to construct more constraints on the release of energy, which does work to construct even more constraints on the release of energy, and other kinds of work as well. It builds structure. Cells don’t just carry information. They actually build things until something astonishing happens: a cell completes a closed nexus of work tasks, and builds a copy of itself. Although he didn’t know about cells, Kant spoke about this 230 years ago when he said that an organized being possesses a self-organizing propagating whole that is able to make more of itself. But although cells can do this, that fact is nowhere in our physics. It’s not in our notion of matter, it’s not in our notion of energy, it’s not in our notion of information, and it’s not in our notion of entropy. It’s something else. It has to do with organization, propagation of organization, work, and constraint construction. All of this has to be incorporated into some new theory of organization.

We don’t know what Darwinian pre adaptations are going to be, which supplies an arrow of time. The same thing is true in the economy; we can’t say ahead of time what technological innovations are going to happen. Nobody was thinking of the Web 300 years ago. The Romans were using things to lob heavy rocks, but they certainly didn’t have the idea of cruise missiles. So I don’t think we can do it for the biosphere either, or for the econosphere.

I can begin to imagine making models of how the universe gets more complex, but at the same time I’m hamstrung by the fact that I don’t see how you can see ahead of time what the variables will be.

The same question applies to the economy. How can human beings assemble this increasing diversity and complexity of ways of making a living? Why does it work in the common law? Why does the common law stay a living body of law? There must be some very general conditions about co-evolutionary assembly. Notice that nobody is in charge of the evolution of the common law, the evolution of the biosphere, or the evolution of the econosphere. Somehow, systems get themselves to a position where they can carry out coevolutionary assembly. That question isn’t even on the books, but it’s a profound question; it’s not obvious that it should work at all. So I’m stuck.

From “The Adjacent Possible“, Stuart Kauffman

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