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Posts Tagged ‘thought’

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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Our society wastes a lot of time crafting clever but completely inaccurate models of the world looking for shortcuts to wealth, fame, power, peace, prosperity, liberty, or whatever…

That strategy can never work.  All things that lead to the above goals are computationally irreducible systems.

The most efficient strategy, and here comes the bad news… is to jump in, do stuff* and see what happens.

 

*stuff =  take to the streets, code something, write that book, run the marathon, quit that job, join the peace corps, send the letter, have the talk, etc.

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‘Thinking’ as a class of potential behavior is hard to study and thus, makes it ripe for speculation and interpretations beyond the data. As things are today, thinking is made more significant because it is presumed that humans are the only ones that do it making is a signature feature on what is human and what isn’t. “Mind”, “consciousness”, thought and all sorts of covert related properties are offered as evidence that humans are different and somehow more substantive than other animals. The past and existing organizations of what is going on inside the ‘vault’ [read: brain, head, mind, neural node, CNS] have been dismal. Answers are as elusive as they were 2000 years ago and are made more mysterious for some by being out of reach.

We have made no progress in regards to our understanding of what goes on there and how those things relate to subjective or empirical states of man or our institutions, including governance and law. They have suffered most while we hack away at deciphering the muddled mess of metaphysics and logically indefensible postulates that are put forth to explain how man behaves and why.

the verbal community has not yet been able to connect with what is going on that the community cannot experience. Any reinforcements that are delivered are not contingent on specific behavior because they can’t be seen in time or space. This comes to create a response class that looks like behavior that is reinforced on a VI schedule independent of a specific response on the part of the target organism. Yes; the prime requisite for development of superstitious behavior is non-contingent VI delivery of a reinforcer.

thinking may occasion in a person a fixed gaze, unblinking or reduced eye blinks, change in gate, or time insensitivity to many external stimuli, changes in galvanic responses and lowered heart and breathing rates. However, these are not thinking per se but may be part of what is inferred to be happening when one is doing any covert behaviors including thinking. All are part of other behaviors as well as behaviors with parameters of their own.

In describing thinking there is a lack of external conformation possible that any observer or the free-floating reinforcements can access. Thus, there is no connection between a specific covert behavior and a potential reinforcer. Thus, there is no way to show an increase in the future probability of occurrence of a target covert behavior occurring when the potential reinforcer was delivered.

Our covert behavior [including thinking] has several problems as a behavior class.

  1. it is not sensed and can’t be verified or falsified
  2. it does not have standard units of measurement
  3. results will depend on the way it is measured
  4. it is experiences through filters that transducer it to something else based on history and context
    1. vocabulary
    2. environment context
    3. culture
    4. in articulation of aspect (what parts are of interest – dreams, impulses, value, etc.)
    5. unknown empirical properties

Ultimately, the products of processes generated from within the ‘vault’ of the listener are routed and locked there. Everyone will continue to investigate how and what is going on there with whatever methods that can be mustered. Today the neurosciences are taking their shot at deciphering the relationships between what is going on inside our head and what we experience. To that end they are using 19th century models of man and behavior mixed with decrepit autonomous man inklings and sophisticated 21st century technology and chemistry. For some there is value in how they postulate the working of man and his mind. Those values are the same as postulated 2000 years ago and haven’t benefited our species as much as science methods have benefited biology, chemistry and anthropology. The value to science will depend more on changes in approach to man than the power of the magnet used in a portable fMRI.

Any set of the things related to what happens when someone is thinking is all just that, related to thinking for that person and not thinking itself. All the covert events can be related to things associated with other behaviors done when a person is not thinking as well as when some are thinking. The set of responses become associated as events related to a state that may be referred to as ‘thinking’ for that person who, when asked, “What are you doing?” or “Why don’t you answer me?” may report, “I was thinking…” and otherwise communicate something the other person will probably relate to as a set of private covert actions (events) that can be arbitrarily called ‘thinking.’

Of course it is very true that if thinking were an operant the people in the examples above would not have to ask, “What are you doing?” or “Why don’t you answer me?” If thinking were doing something overt, the observer could learn from observing or measuring behavior and would know the answers to those questions after learning to discriminate what was/is thinking and what is something other than thinking.

Psychotherapists, bosses, clergy, spouses, friends, parents etc., all have a version of why we do what we do. They have a story about what relationships exist between us and the world around us; the environment. There is a good chance that, after some time experiencing a person, that each could be right. Of course their story is riddled with inaccuracies as well seeing how they only see what they were trained to see. Seems impossible but consider that each of us has a VERY broad and complex behavior repertoire. Our complex behavior allows us to behave differently and distinctly in the different environments and contexts of different people. Sometimes the people we are, how we behave, overlaps. Sometimes they don’t.

SUMMARY

Great thinkers as well as the delusional philosophers, pontiffs, despots and princes and even the man and woman on the street have been reinforced for reporting their internal covert musings in subjective and fantasy terms focusing on the exhaust of the human thinking process – emotions and feelings. These 3 thousand years of focus has outdistanced the empirical study of thinking by overlooking histories of the individuals and the use of the least productive research methods NOT found in 17th century science! In the not-so-grand scale of things, it is more interesting for the lay person and the scientist alike to be enamored by the fantasy than by the environmental contingencies. We pay for that interest every day we live on this earth.

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