Saturday, January 07, 2006

Spanner in the Works

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

  —Yogi Berra


Blogger The Tetrast said...

Thanx for reminding me of that one, I think it's about to come in handy for me on the everything list. Berra trumps everything.

Saturday, January 07, 2006 3:33:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Ah! That "everything list" looks interesting. Just from browsing here and there through those most recent postings, I'd say both the intellectual level and the civility level are well above what I've come to expect here in the blogosphere.

My own blog being a refreshing exception, people are always civil here— due, I think, both to my blog being relatively unknown, and also to the caliber of the small band of readers it's attracted. Well, that plus my own tendency to make many of my more controversial comments over on other people's blogs. I see some fascinating discussion of religion and belief on the "everything list": to find my own recent (and not quite so high-octane) cogitations on such topics, one would have to ferret out comments of mine on IB Bill's IndustrialBlog, or in various scattered places on Dean's World.

I could be posting pieces like these on my own blog, but somehow generally I don't; and I must confess, it makes me feel a bit like a pyromaniac who's careful never to light a fire in his own house. ;-) Oh well, one of these days I may have to blog about the similarities I see between myself and the Hopi medical student Kendrick Fritz in William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways...

Thanks for directing me to another interesting list!

Monday, January 09, 2006 6:30:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

The everything list is supposed to be about Max Tegmark's theory of a four-level Multiverse and some other things. (Tegmark's picture interests me because certain of its aspects remind me of my four-fold structures.) Nowadays the everything list seems to focus on computation-as-basis-of-everything theories, especially by a poster named Bruno Marchal. Currently I'm arguing that Bruno's proposed field of study into machines' "faith" in their own logical consistency should not be identified with theology. Among my main reasons is that Bruno seldom talks about God. Maybe he should call it "pistology" (Greek pistis = faith, belief, and apparently sometimes, true opinion, from peitho^, "I persuade") or something like that. But then I doubt that because that's on the basis of the idea that all knowledge is episteme, deductively drawn from firm principles. I tend to think that there are simply too few words like "knowledge" and "belief" to cover all the pertinent distinctions. Well, I don't mean to light any fires here. Incidentally, Bruno's "machines" include us. I don't understand his computation theories at all well.

I read your diasporized comments and I tend to agree with them. I'm a CSICOP fan from way back and want no truck with the Uri Gellers etc., but there's more to life and experience than that which Edward Dahlberg called the "fanged dogs of reason" and "matter in motion, loathing itself." Not that I always feel that way about reason or matter (and I'm "nicer" to matter than Peirce is, harumph!) It's "rationalism" that worries me sometimes. It keeps tending to deductivism, oversimplification, and sometimes helps pave the way, like in Europe, to policies that behave excessively like bulldozers and steamrollers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

"Fanged dogs of reason" and "matter in motion, loathing itself": I like that! Yes, I myself think highly of reason and rationality, but rationalism is the problem, and as those two phrases suggest, rationalists seem so often to be such rigid, angry individuals— I wonder where that comes from??!

As you gather from my scattered comments, my problem with rationalism is indeed that it conduces strongly toward oversimplification, reductionism, and dealing with everything as a deduction from "clear and precise" principles. Also toward a peculiar tunnel vision— what the poet William Blake called "single vision and Newton's sleep." Quite simply, rationalism is inadequate to life as we actually experience it.

Which brings me to that fellow out of Blue Highways, the Hopi medical student Kendrick Fritz, whom Least Heat Moon met at a university down in the Southwest. Fritz was very much at ease with modern science and medicine. He was also at the same time deeply steeped in the traditional Hopi ways and the traditional Hopi religion. He was planning to finish med school, and then return to the Hopi lands ("I don't call it a reservation, because we were never commanded to leave our ancestral lands to which the Hopi gods led us")— return to the Hopi lands, and work there as a doctor.

Which, don't you know, sounds rather like my own life plan, to several signficant digits. :-)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 3:05:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

BTW, Tegmark's "computation-as-the-basis-of-everything"— if we turn that the other way around, "everything-as-reducible-to-computation," does it have in Tegmark's mind some sort of relevance to the likes of Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity, etc.? I ask because on another blog I've recently been following (and doing my best to stay out of) some debates on Singulatarian topics.

Well, perhaps staying out of them at the cost of coming back and lighting some pyromaniac fires on my own blog. If it isn't already obvious, three out of my four most recent blog posts (the Berra quotation, plus this morning's meditation on change, plus that rather lengthy SF short story) have been more or less sparked by my reaction to those Singularity debates. Including my portrait, in that short story, of a late-21st-century world (in fact, sort of a late-21st-century hippy-dippy-1960s world) some years after the Singularity was singlehandedly averted by the master 1337 h4x0r of all time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 3:54:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

One quick remark for the moment at least -- I was just saying that the everything list, at least since I joined, has tended to be focused on computationalism. Tegmark does not, so far as I know, hold the computationalist view, though for all I know he holds with assumptions about life and intelligence which make the computationalist view possible. Tegmark's deal is that EVERYTHING exists, everything imaginable as long as the given thing isn't contradictory in some sense, exists in some multiverse or other, and that mathematics is real and is, in some sense, Level IV of THE Multiverse.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 4:18:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Oh, okay. I guess I've got the Singularity on my brain lately. :-)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 4:35:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

I remember reading about the Singularity a number of months ago. It certainly made an impression on my imagination, but I didn't know what to make of the idea. I never know what to make of these things because I'm so utterly unsure of what consciousness is in relation to the physical. If the Singularity is about us amalgamating somehow with nanobots, then I do have to wonder whether consciousness would survive.

Now a world of schooners, windmills with narrow winding stairs, and crystalline computers is very picturesque. It reminds me of certain early episodes of the "new" Outer Limits which I just happened to watch and which involved beautiful women in one or another sort of post-industrial age, and my mind wanders.... Well, I'm a city boy, I never knew anybody "healed," just people who managed to cause or receive permanent dents with decreasing frequency.

I've wondered about the harshness of some "rationalists." We've all wondered at the ruthlessness of certain "rationalists." Communism is some sort of descendent French extreme rationalism. A sign of Anglo-Saxon culture may be that, upon learning of the Terror and Robespierre, one feels faintly like one is fact being reminded of it; one always knew; it's the thing that one's against.

But the kind of rationalists that we had in mind in speaking of anger, fanged dogs, etc., are not the Robespierre type. They're more like versions of us who've embraced rationalism and its sense of freedom -- and its impatience with people who keep all that other cluttery baggage. What's that about? I think that such rationalists feel themselves not rationalist enough, don't know how to purge themselves of remaining irrationality, but attack it wherever they think that they see it, with a mocking sardonic ridicule which fails to achieve Frenchness because it is too "earnest" and American. Yet something in the unpurged supposed irrationality and "cluttery baggage" is the very thing that keeps them from becoming Robespierres, or sociopaths, or whatever. I don't think that they appreciate of what long cultural struggles they are the products, they would credit everything positive in themselves to one or another Johnny-Come-Lately rationalism. (I don't think that the picture that I've been painting applies to Randites or "objectivists," by the way, but I haven't known them well enough to guess what IS the case with their rationalism.)

My paternal grandfather told me that the biggest thing that he'd noticed in the course of life was immense change, and that I should realize that. I felt that I had always realized it, but I couldn't convince him of this. To this day I think it's not that he saw that I didn't really realize it, instead it's that he was one heck of a stubborn old grandfather.

The fact is though, as the Singularitists know, in some ways technological change is accelerating, especially thanks to computer power.

And it's this that makes the world increasingly dangerous, the world's security conditions increasingly unstable. So I can feel that nostalgia for the pre-electronics world of schooners and windmills and TVs with only three or four channels receiving anything (though in NYC we've had seven VHF broadcast channels for as long as I can remember). Well, for me that counts as "the old days." Standing in the evening with my grandfather in Times Square, watching the non-electronic lightbulb news ticker along the Allied Chemical Tower, and drinking a mysterious beverage which my grandfather recommended called "Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Soda." It's all flying out toward the edge of the galaxy now, and at least nothing can make it not have happened.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 8:26:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

Okay, I've got hold a formulation of Marchal's claim at here, and it goes way beyond AI in scope. "...IF we assume the computationalist hypothesis in the cognitive science then the physical science cannot be fundamental and are derivable from the 'laws of mind'. With the comp hyp. the laws of mind can be taken as the laws of computation and omputability." It also involves things like "quantum immortality" such that you live forever because there'll always be a universe in which a version of you survives. I consider this stuff even farther out than Tegmark's theory and certainly lack the background to judge it technically.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 1:52:00 PM  

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