September 05, 2013

The Evolutionary Origin of Language as Auto-Affection: Darwin meets Derrida

Scholars are surprisingly unsure as to why there is language at all. One okay, easy-read but fairly in-depth book about this is Jean-Louis Dessailes' (2007) "Why we talk: The Evolutionary Origins of Language."

The author argues that for a long time that hunter gatherers had language, without much in the way of technological or social advance, so it is difficult to see the adaptive advantage of having language. Greater social cohesion, catching free-riders, negotiation, and (the author's answer) the ability to brag politically, are some possibilities. The latter possibility, arises out of the authors observations that of all the supposed unique characteristics of human language, the one that genuinely remains is that we spend a lot of our time telling interesting stories, like we are saving up interesting, temporally separate pieces of information to brag to other people about later. This ability to brag can, like peacock feathers, be converted to social power. Dessailes theory of the evolution of language is thus very similar to that of Geoffrey Miller (2011) who argues that the origin of the, very large, human brain is similar to that of peacock feathers, since, in Dawkin's summary, "being clever is sexy" at 1 minute 35 second into this video.

All these answers, are to greater or lesser extent pragmatic, rather than illusory. My own answer is be adapted from Derrida's thoughts on self-speech, as "auto-affection". Another way of saying "auto-affection" is, as I think that Derrida makes fairly clear in his chapter on Rousseau in "of Grammatology", 'mental masturbation:' the fabulation of an other or dyad within the psyche so that one can enjoy the release of libidinal energy. This is a pretty distasteful theory, and I think that is partly why it enjoys little popularity or even straightforward exposition - Derrida is very cryptic about what he is talking about.

Language - symbolic (not iconic or indexical, see Pierce, 1894) signs - allows humans to represent themselves in a way that is arbitrary, depending upon a social system, not upon any similarity or physical connection between the sign and whatever it refers refer to. Symbols can leave the constraints of the environment. This Cousins argues (2012) allows us to think up new symbols, new ways of seeing and using things, and promotes social, technological advance.

Remember however that it is claimed by Dessailes that language was not accompanied by much technological advance from its birth in the palaeolithic. The age of language is argued to be, by Chomsky in this video, 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, long before the neolithic/agricultural revolution of about 12,000 years ago. That is for at least about 90,000 years or 90% of its history, we and our pre-human ancestors were using language, and making cave paintings, and seemed to have become religious as attested by the fact that we were burying our dead, but we were not doing a lot in the way of practical technological advance. This point is contentious. Other archaeologists claim that there was a continuous chain of social innovation, so the link between language and social innovation (Cousins, 2012) may well be correct.

The non-iconic, non-indexical nature of symbols, also means that they are "iterable" (Derrida) or repeatable, quotable, as such function in the complete absence of the author (Derrida), and further we can and need to understand them in communication, from the point of view of a real or internalised other (Mead). This ability to present ourselves objectively to ourselves may have all sorts of cognitive, or communicative advantages, but it also has imho a much more emotional, rather iccky, psychological advantage. Words as symbols, are like little mirrors; or self-addressed postcards (Derrida). They are a little bit of ourselves that we set apart from ourselves, that we see as if from the outside. Unlike sculpture which in the palaeolithic can and often does provide a first person perspective of self (McDermott, 1996), language, like mirrors, by the way it functions as part of social code, always provides a view from the other.

Returning to Dessailes book, he recounts that experimenters have been attempting to get primates to speak for a long time with quite a lot of success with some Chimps and with massive success with a particular bono bono called Kanzi.

The only primate to have evolved (autonomously learnt) to speak like a human is a bono bono (close relative of a chimpanzee) called Kanzi.

Here I quote from Dessailes book

gWhen Matata weaned Kanzi and had to be separated from him tor a time so as to be bred again, he was left alone. The research team thought they might be able to try teaching him what they had failed to teach Matata, though he had never shown an interest in her keyboard, except to push keys at random. But his behaviour once he was separated from his mother, upset this plan: as soon as he was left to himself, he spontaneously started to touch keys on the keyboard, not at random or in response to a prompt, but in a way that announced his own actions. For example, he would touch the lexigram for apple, then go an fetch an apple. This proved that not only did he know the meaning of the symbols on the keyboard, unlike Matata, but that he had learned them quite spontaneously. This observation was, to say the least unexpected.h p62

Wow! There it is. The evolutionary origin of language. I repeat that in large part this experiments succeed in not only teaching, but creating the situation where language almost spontaneously, *evolved in the lab*! I think that they should have paid more attention to the characteristics of Kanzi's language:

1) It was self descriptive - a self narrative.
2) It occurred in isolation, recently separated when the speaker was probably lonely.
3) It was therefore in a sense self directed, or perhaps spoken off to someone that Kanzi imagined might be listening/watching, or as Mead argues understood from the point of view of an other - in this case his mother Matata.

This is I think the advantage of language for the individual. It supplies the myth of a dyad, "presence", presence of the meaning of the words, which can only be achieved by the presence of others. Language is usually seen as a communicative or cognitive tool, and through it being able to see ourselves from the point of view of the other, a cognitive advantage. However, language allows us to be a narcissistic in a linguistic mirror, and through self-narrative, provide us with the illusion that we are never alone.

The origin of language in this auto-effective, self comforting behaviour, is not so preposterous when one considerer that the sage author of this book argues that language was originally for showing off to others, bragging, politically. Nor is it so strange when compared with the theory of Geoffrey Miller regarding the human brain: "being clever is sexy." In the theoretical absence of an environmentally adaptive, pragmatic advantage of language to the speaker, these white, modern, male authors propose that the listener (presumably a female) is duped. As even today, the 'WEIRD' (Heine, 2010) self-enhancer appears to dupe those around him, when in fact the merits of his so doing are intra-psychic: he dupes himself. Kanzi, likewise, is bragging to himself, being attractive, even sexy, to himself, and enjoying the resultant "auto-affection," enough to do so without any reward from the experimenters.

The advantage for the species is however pragmatic. That individuals from any species play this game, that they become split, narcissists in this way, results in state where all members are possessed or infested with the ghost of their parents. This state is useful when it is remembered, that since Dawkins, we realise that the unit of evolution is the unity of replication - the gene - and not the individual, which is merely a 'vehicle' for the gene. The behaviour of individuals needs to bent to the demands of a social, familial, or above all, genetic level. When the complexity of the individual vehicle reaches a level where the objectives of the gene and the individual are at odds, then all that genes and evolution can do (other than to regress to species with more socially dependent individuals) is offer the individuals illusions. When there is conflict, genuine conflict, then no truth, only attractive illusions, can be offered.

I am arguing thus that the advent of language facilitated morality, its advantage to the species, because it provided, to the individual, a form of proto-porn.

The earlier part of this blog post, and asking the question 'why do we have language at all, was inspired by Steven Cousins, who has his own answer.

Cousins, S. D. (2012). A semiotic approach to mind and culture. Culture & Psychology, 18(2), 149–166. doi:10.1177/1354067X11434834
Derrida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). JHU Press.
Derrida, J. (1987). The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. (A. Bass, Trans.) (First Edition.). University Of Chicago Press.
Dessalles, J.-L. (2007). Why we talk: The evolutionary origins of language. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from
Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature, 466(7302), 29–29.
McDermott, L. R. (1996). Self-representation in Upper Paleolithic female figurines. Current Anthropology, 37(2), 227–275.
Miller, G. (2011). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. Random House Digital, Inc. Retrieved from
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.@iIt is only the vocal gesture that is fitted for this fort of communication, because it is only the vocal gesture to which one responds or tends to respond as another person tends to respond to it. p 67j
Peirce, C. S. (1894). What is a sign? Theorizing communication: readings across traditions, 177. Retrieved from
Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S., & Lewin, R. (1994). Kanzi: The ape at the brink of the human mind. Wiley. Retrieved from;US9533108

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June 20, 2012

Loughner and Differance

The tragedy that i believe Jared Loughner caused was and remains abhorrent. I am not a doctor but from all accounts, and my impression of his videos, his face and above all his actions, I believe him to be insane.

However, it seems to me that Jared Loughnerfs use of the analogy between gold-standard and fiat currencies, and language may be useful for explaining Derridafs term "differance".

Derrida is well known for being particularly obscure and perhaps even more so than Loughner.

Derrida criticises the Western philosophy of the sign, which in Saussure for instance, consists of signifier and signified, the latter being an idea.

The Saussurian model is fairly straightforward. I have an idea. I choose an appropriate signifier, such as the word gchoose,h and I write it here. You then read my word choose and somehow replicate or at least understand the idea that I wanted to express.

Derrida claimed that this duality of the sign is merely a belief. Despite being one of the most radical critics of Western dualism, Derrida seemed to intimate that it may be an essential belief. He insists that nevertheless dualism does not conform to the reality of the situation. So rather than simply claiming that the world is not dual, that there is no other realm of ideas, of gsignifiedsh (Saussure) or irreels, (Husserl), that there are no transcendental entities, nor Platonic forms, Derrida rather attempts to explain how the belief in these entities came about, and how in Western philosophy the belief in their existence is maintained.

At the same time Derrida does to an extent present a new model of the sign. In place of the idea, Derrida argued I think that signification is always a standing in place of something else. Signs are essentially iterable - they can be repeated. And they can by repeated in other words, perhaps as other things. Signs function because they can be exchanged for other signs (and perhaps images, memories). Thus rather than there being a gdifferenceh between the signifier and the ideal signified, there is a gdifferalh or gdifferance,h a predicted chain of one thing standing-for something else standing for something else.

I donft know if I have understood Derrida at all correctly but this latter notion of gdifferanceh seemed particularly opaque.

However, it seems to me that Loughnerfs analogy between fiat currency and language presents a simple way of explaining the gdifferanceh that Derrida espouses. Loughner seemed to express disappointment that there was no gold standard for language, nothing upon which words are based.

Herein lies the analogy. Economists point out that we suffer from a money illusion, presuming that currency has an intrinsic value, but in fact fiat currencies do not have an intrinsic value but gain their value from an anticipated exchange value, or purchasing power. Similarly, we tend to believe that our words gain their meaning and value by being pegged to ideas, in the treasury of the mind (and if shared, gthe mind of godh) but in fact our language is a fiat language backed up only by the expectation of future exchanges . It is not something different, a gold standard, an irreel standard, an idea, but differance, an anticipation of exchange that gives both our words, and our currency value.

I am not sure how to cite Loughner, or even whether I should. However, if this is the sort of analogy he was attempting to make then I find it a persuasive and explicative one.

There reason why Derrida tends to come out in favour of dualism even as he deconstructs it may be because he recognises himself as part of the system. In "Voice and Phenomena" he argues that the prime motivation for believing in dualism and the idea, is that one of these ideas, that one might debunk, is the one corresponding to "I" when spoken to oneself: oneself.

Should anyone object to the above please let me know.

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January 26, 2012

Protecting Creativity or Symbolic Colonialism

President Obama recently spoke of protecting American goods, (AP, 2012) including from copyright theft overseas. The US has reason to be concerned. While Asia is often described as the factory of the world, north American companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Intel come up with many of the worlds most saleable ideas. North Americans, and Westerners in general, identify with their self-speech. Their bodies, and the material world in general, come in a poor second.

Making things is not something that Western culture has ever aspired to do. Making, or coining, ideas is however, something that Westerners strive to do well and are indeed very good at. Software, laws, logical architectures, theories, sales systems such as that of iTunes and MacDonald's are all made in the USA.

One of the problem with ideas is that they are easily copied. Not only that but other nations may have different attitudes to the copying "ideas". North Americans, identified as they are with their words, believe that words are free, unconstrained and unique. The symbolic field, the playground of the Western soul, is believed to be infinite, so each symbolic coinage is thought to be an act of creation.

More prosaic attitudes towards symbols see their world as a finite space with only so many permutations and combinations.

An examples of a finite symbolic space is that of domain names. The act of "inventing" a domain name and registering it is not necessarily creative. One might simply attempt to register all three letter domains and then sell them to the highest bidder. Westerners too are aware that coinages in the field of domain names are not so creative as to warrant full copyright protection and allow business with prior use of a letter sequence (e.g. the BBC) to recapture that domain name from any would be "domain name inventor." But what of other symbolic inventions? Examples of controversial patents include "1-Click Ordering" patented by Amazon. Is the ability to order a product using one click an invention, or is the attempt to patent merely a claim made upon an obvious permutation of a symbolic space, like an attempt to patent a domain name or word.

Attitudes towards patents of "intellectual property" or "symbolic inventions" will depend upon appraisal of the endeavour required to either "invent" or merely be the first to claim that set of symbols. Temporal priority is different to creativity and the extent to which each is involved is open to disagreement. To one person a patent may be an attempt to protect creative endeavour from subsequent theft, to another the same patent may appear to be a form of symbolic colonialism, akin to claiming "terra nullis" merely by setting foot upon it. Cultures may agree that simple priority -- being first -- is not enough unless it one is also creative at the same time but whether a particular creative act is seen as creative or merely going through the permutations in a finite field shows considerable cultural variability.

The Western view is partially clouded. Westerners see their "ideas," as being more ephemeral, and less merely the permutation of a finite set of symbols, than they really are and this logocentric bias is going to lead to conflict. I think that some nations, particularly the Chinese and Japanese, may also have a bias to see symbols are more limiting and finite than they really are but this only from experience. Either way, I am scared we are going to see copyright wars.

Associated Press. (2012) "APNewsBreak: Obama to Protect US Goods Globally." Downloaded from

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February 18, 2011

The Meaning Maintenance Model

I may have blogged about the Meanging Maintenance Model before but here it is again.

Steven Heine is a leading cultural psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia. In recent years he has branched out, or homed in, on the question of why people have culture in the first place.

His recent research concerns his "Meaning Maintenance Model" (MMM). MMM is in part an off-shoot of Terror Management Theory (TMT), a large area of research in social psychology, which focuses on the way that people react to thoughts of their own death. Thoughts of death, say TMT theorists, arouse in people a feeling of terror that they attempt to assuage, or "manage", by belief in "symbolic immortality". That is to say that when we are reminded of our death, we assuage our terror by attempting to believe that symbolically, our acts, values, importance, and culture are eternal. Heine takes this theory and turns it on its head, claiming, that it is not death that we are terrified of, but meaningless: situations in which we are unable to fit our experience into a meaningful framework, when we are unable to symbolise them.

While Steven Heine has aroused the ire of TMT theorists (eagre to maintain that it really is death that we fear), and represents a new paradigm in social psychology, the theory that humans essentially seek meaning, are homo-innuedus,  is not entirely new as Heine himself points out.

Vicktor E. Frankl wrote books entitled "The Will to Meaning" and "Man's Search for Meaning". There is at least one Neitzche aphorism along the same lines. Anthropologists too have proposed that the need-for-meaning is a fundamental cause of human behaviour. Sir James Frazer proposed that people believe in gods and the supernatural since such belief is preferable to not being able to provide a meangingful explanation for natural events. Edmund Leach, in Rethinking Anthropology and, in greather detail, Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger, explain the horror of things taboo, with particular reference to foods that are forbidden in the bible, as being directed towards those things that do not fit into cultural category systems. Crabs are bad, taboo, horrible, because they are sea animals that have legs (the definition of land animals) and Pigs are likewise since they are animals that have fingers like humans (who are not "animals"). Leach even argues that treakle and other glutinous substances arouse feelings of disgust because they are difficult to classify, as solids or as liquids. I have a friend who has a fear of custard.

Returning to death, it seems clear that at times people do not fear their own demise, such as in the case of "Kamikaze" (tokkoutai) pilots, suicide bombers and people that go into battle with little hope of surviving, since according to MMM, to them their actions are meaningful. Likewise I have heard it said of a rock climber who falling from a rockface to find the crampons that held his rope to the cliff give way, and in that instant presuming he was "a goner" felt a calm resignation but when subsequent crampons did not give way, causing the rock climber to bounce and swing at the end of his rope, to thrown not into death but uncertainty, suddenly felt again, great fear. There is a youtube video of a skydiver that found his parachute would not open and said after failing to release his secondary parachute, fairly calmly, "I'm dead. bye!" According to MMM, his fear would have worst when he found himself alive (he survived) after he hit blackberry bushes.

Recently I was reading the book of the experience of a Dr. Brook, who had severe throat cancer, who recounts the fear or anxiety that he felt above all in the face of medical uncertainty. Perhaps, being told "you are going to die" is less fearful than "you may well die" which is less fearful than "I am not sure if you are going to die" and less fearful still than the unspoken message from a doctor who does not even admit to uncertainty, representing an uncertainty about which the patient cannot even be certain about.

So, is the fear of meaninglessness our greatest fear? It would, to me and according to the theory, be nice to think so. But, fearfully, I wonder why is that people read absurd literature such as that of Ionesco or Kafka? I was a great fan of absurd literature in my youth. And returning to culture, why is that people, from explorers to tourists, go on expeditions, or travels, into the unknown, into cultures which they do not understand? Sometimes we like, we seek, meaninglessness.

Perhaps all these 'pleasure cruises into the unknown' are motivated by that which motivates nightmares. Freud, of pleasure principle fame, proposed that we see nightmares --surely not pleasurable, in the short term at least -- through the desire to repeat, and through repitition, conquer our fear. If so then perhaps people have
nightmares (and read Kafka, and go to far away cultures as tourists) to prepare themselves, ourselves, and thus feel less afraid of the thing that we really fear - meaninglessness. 

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October 10, 2010

The visual as supplment

The "logic of the supplement" is a really bad name for how some things can have an important role as a foil, scapegoat, sacrificee, or supplement, and be both of lesser and central importance at the same time.

Consider a supplement to a book. It is the bit on the end, extraneous to the main part of the book (and thus of lesser importance) but at the same time may complete the book and by completing the book, be of prime importance. Or again, a vitamin "supplement" is something that is an addition to ones normal diet, that may at the same time contain vitamins, and minerals and the most important thing that the makers of the "supplement" say we should eat. Or again, there are things that are sacrificed, or made into scapegoats that are at once of lesser importance/value and of prime value. Consider the Jews in Nazi Germany. They were treated as animals, far beneath the "Aryans" but at the same time, by making a scapegoat of the Jews, the Nazis were able to rally the Germans together in the face of the common "enemy within." It coule be argued that the Jews, as victims and scapegoats, were the impurity that made the pure Aryan race possible. 

In his commentary on Plato's Pharmacon, Derrida claims that writing, or visual symbols are a supplement in that sense in the West and that Western philosophers often make use of writing (or perhaps the visually meaningful) as a scapegoat. I find Derrida's writing very opaque but I do feel that the visually significant, and the visual, or corporeal is used as the "supplement" to the symbolic in the Western tradition. Western philosophers since plato, point to some visual/corporeal istance and say well it is lucky that we have language, and the meaning that we can trust. The the visually symbolic acts as a scapegoat, victim that purifies the symbolic, linguistic.  Some examples...Austin claims that some linguistic statements are "speech acts." Such as "I promise," or "I bet" is not only speech, it is also an act. The speech act is a piece of dirty speech, that involves itself in the world of things. And after going on about these "speech acts" for a while, Austin then claims, but of course, there is some speech which is not an act, is simply referential. Thus he purifies language and its ability to refer to things without acting upon them in any way, by using example of speech which is also an act, caught up in the phenominal world. Similarly, Plato, speaks of writing as a supplement to phonetic language which is imperfect in being caught up in the visual world, less so phonemes, and even less so speech in the mind which is pure, not written, purely linguistic and not like that dirty corporeal writing stuff. In my view, all statements are acts in a sense. All symbols contain a little corporeality. But by setting up an example of an extremely corporeal example Western philosophers can return to their veneration of language. Derrida likewise, goes on about how easy it would be for all of "res extensio" (that which is extended, that which can be seen) to be a dream and after going on and on about how all this visual stuff could be an illusion, he returns to langauge and his cogito as if it is purified from being a mirage, despite the fact that he may be dreaming in gibberish. I think herefore I am, may be "flutch brenden under cellophone."

In Lacan too, the mirror image of the self, acts as a supplement, and essential lesser part to the self narrative of the linguistic self proper. The image of self, is essential, and it is only at the intersection of linguistic and visual self reference that we have a self at all. But it is the lesser part, the part of self which which one should not identify, which language saves us from. The image is like the twist in the mobius strip. It allows language to return upon itself, refer to something that is the sorce of the language, refer almost to itself. The self image is the veneer that proves that the truth is going on inside.

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Making Sense of Scientology

 In a manner of speaking, I am a bit of a scientologist with a small "s," in that I am kind of religious, but also I am scientist. Or I am a scientist but also I am kind of religious. I am not sure what my religion is. I am interested in more than one religion. I try to understand what religions have to say from my sciency perspective. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what Christianity has to say, and perhaps even more time trying to make a sciency sense out of Shinto mythology. I like to think that there is truth in what Christians have to say (about people rising from the dead for instance) and what Shinto has to say (about the world being created by gods, for instance). That is hard work!

 Recently I have been having a look at what Scientology has to say, particularly the more extraordinary claims of Scientology, the ones that some people like to make fun out of, about Xemu, and aliens being blown up.

 Before I write about the really weird parts of Scientology, the first thing I like about Scientology is the self-analysis part of it. This comes before all the weird "space opera" (sic).

Scientologists, seem to like to get to grips with all the things that they do not like to get to grips with! That is to say, that usually there are a lot of things that we do not like to remember, and as a consequence we do not remember. Things that we are embarrassed about, things that we are ashamed of, things that make us cringe, things that make us well up with emotion. We have, in common parlance, hang-ups. We have things about which we have been criticised, actions that we do not like to admit, desires that do no like to admit to, desires that we do not know why we have, fears that we do not face, etc. From what little I know about scientology, in the early stages, initiates are encouraged to confront and examine this hidden things. They use skin conductivity as a measure of stressful hidden-ness. In other words, if I hook you up to a conductivity measuring device and ask you "We did you last hate your father" or "When did you last masturbate" or "What is your shame" or I have no idea but there are things that we don't like to talk about. We don't even know what they are ourselves. But if you are hooked up to a skin conductivity meter then there will sometimes be an indication of when the question has hit a nerve. That is to say that the meter will show when the question is one that we have difficulty facing up to. And why the hell not? Why don't we face up to everything? Why can't we speak about all these things and confess them, describe them, and leave them behind? When one faces ones fears and shames and complexes, they tend to turn to dust. Scientologists, I believe, encourage people to face up to everything. And to, in common parlance, "get over it". When I went for a personality test in Edinburgh about 22 years ago one of their members told me that they adress the fears and complexes of their members in pairs at a distances of a few inches. Imagine if someone got right in your face and talked, criticised, asked for answers to all your complexes at a distance of only a few inches. "So you have a small penis, what of it?" "you are a bald ageing twat", "You write drivel on the internet," "You are a filanderer, why?" etc.
 Perhaps that is all there is to scientology in a way? I have no idea. Perhaps all they do is to un-supress people? Free people, force people to confront, all their sweaty emotions, experiences, complexes, hang-ups. Is there a person that you have ever met that can confront themselves fully? I am not that person. I am not sure whether or not such a procedure would benefit myself or not, but I have sympathy with the endeavour. To be honest, I tend to "audit" people that I meet. I am in love with self-revelation. I like that sweaty feeling in myself and others, because I believe that it can be overcome.

 Leaving that aside. I am not sure if Scientologist really do address their "complexes" or not, what of the space opera? This is really weird. There are places on the internet where one can hear of a sort of "mythology" about Xenu, about aliens being blown up, and then attachig themselves to others. And about how we live in a world where peole are infested with aliens. I am not a expert on Scientoogy but the concept that we have been invaded by aliens is one that my sciency mind does not object to quite as much as it is common to do so.

  Okay so that was a long preamble. What I really meant to write about is the Xenu, aliens bit. I see the story as a sort of mythology. L Ron Hubbard was, or may have been, a modern mythologist.

  I want to add some more preamble. What scientology needs, its seems to me, or indeed what any religion with a mythology needs, is a theory of mythology, or a theory about language. A semiotics? Not sure. Anyway, on the face of it mythologies are generally whacked, crazy, stupid. "So a giant guy made the world in 6 days?" "So a primal couple gave birth to the world?!" Yada yada. It sounds really silly. People, like me, of a sciency persuasion, are of course inclined to think that these stories, mythologies are so much primitive trash. So, is there any way of saving mythologies? Well, I have a couple of ideas. One is more wishwashy than the other.

The first, the wishy washier one, is to say that there is a problem with language: that language is not up to describing the way the world is. Saying that is easy. But when saying that in the language which you are trying to say is limited leads to enevitable contradictions. These contradictions are enough to make readers tell you to take a hike. But Wittgenstien in one of his coloured books used some good metaphors. He talked about simplified languages, more simple than the one he, and I, are using. Imagine if you are a soldier. Soldiers, according to the films I see on TV, use hand signals such as fist to say things like "advance" or "whatch out to your left" or "try and out-flank the enemy." Now imagine that there are a group of soldiers in a war, say Vietnam, and they are advancing on what they believe to be a group of Vietcong. Then one of the hand-signalling soldiers realises that that are in fact advancing upon a group of Belgian tourists who have got lost in the jungle. That hand-signalling soldier does not have the hand-signals to say what is going on. He only has the signals for "advance,(a fist)" "crawl,(a level palm)," "out-flank(a two fingered pointing motion, say)." But then one of the soldiers realises that he is walking towards a group of Belgian holiday makers, who are trying to  light a barbeque. How does he signal this fact to his comrades? Well, I guess he might try and use really strange signals. Signals, like a three fingered pointing, punching, palming, wave that his comrades would say "Hey, this guy is, from the point of view of our code, making no sense." Perhaps mythologies, such as people rising from the dead, or a couple of gods giving birth to the world, or a Xenu space opera, are all similarly the result of someone trying to use a language that is limited to describe a situation that goes beyong the limits of that language.

Secondly, I have thought about parables. "Parables" as in the ones that prophets in the Bible like to use. One time there was a prophet that met a king that was stealing someones wife. Instead of saying "You are stealing someones wife and that is bad," instead he told a story about a sheperd that had a lot of sheep but all the same stole sheep from another shepard that only had a few. The story he told, the parable he told, was an irreality. There was no sheperd stealing sheep. But in order to convey what he wanted to convey he had to use a irreal story. Why is that sometimes a parable, a metaphoric story, works better than a straight forward explanation of things? It seems to me that when you are trying to explain NOT what is, but what is not, what the listener has not seen, a mistake on the part of the listener, it helps to use a NON real story. If the prophet had said "You are taking someone else's wife" then the king may have said "Yeah, sure. What of it?" and his REAL story would have had no effect.  But by talking about a story that is not real, he managed to get the king to see the mistake that he king was making. I wonder if mythologies may be like parables. Stories that are about IRREALITIES that make us see the mistakes that we are making. Normal stories are about the world. Parable stories (parabolic stories?) are about the mistakes, the world that we are not seeing.


So, however one understands mythology, whatever theory of mythology that one takes, it seems to me that really weird stories, i.e. mythologies, such as the story of Xemu, may be communicative even if they sound like BS.

Finally, returning to the weird mythology of Scientology. L Ron Hubbard said (1) that we are infested with aliens from the deep distant past. And (2) that we need to get rid of these aliens. Well, it seems to me that a lot of "scientists" also say that we, humans, are infested with aliens. That is to say that several psychologists argue that have 'others' within the self. Freud says that we have created a "super ego," based in some way upon our father or our idea or fatherhood, within ourselves. Jung says that we have an animus, that is somehow like a group of elders, guys, that populate our heads. Jamese Herbert Mead says that we create within ourselves a "generalised other" from an amalgam of the view points of ourselves that other people have. Hermans and Kempen (in their book "the dialogical self") argue taht this other is a multi-faceted, that we have relationships with a variety of others, fathers, mothers, friends, that we model within ourselves. All these so called "scientific" theories, by more-or-less respected scientists say that there are others within the self. Also, all these scientists do not recommend that we get rid of the others. Why not? They argue that the self, the self that we have, is dependent upon the internalisation of these others.

Buddhists recommend that people get rid of their "selves." Alas Buddhists do not talk too much about what is required of getting rid of the self. As far as I am aware, there is not all that much talk within Buddhism of "in order to get rid of your (false) self you must get rid of the others." But again afaik there is some talk within Buddhism of this sort of "other-ridding" endeavour.

I listened to a L Ron Hubbard speech about Xenu on the Internet. Towards the end he spoke about how he did not (seem to)approve of Christianity in a way, in that it perpetuated fractured, or "crucified" veiws of the self. All of the "Scientists" mentioned above, (not the Buddhists though) are from the Christian tradition. It seems to me that within Christendom, it is seen as normal and preferable to remain fractured, to keep those others in the self. (BTW I am conscious of the fact that I am using the word "self" to refer to two very different things). 

Anyway, I can see sense in the call to "get rid of aliens within the self," from a Buddhist perspective at least. In that respect, the space opera, the mythology of Scientology makes a little bit of sense to me.

Finally, okay, why not just use Freud, Mead, Lacan, Hermans and Kempen, to talk about the others that are within the self? I am not sure. But perhaps the stories that these "scientists" tell do not make the situation sound weird enough. Reading Mead (Mead is pretty down to earth sort of guy) it sounds all so common place and normal and rational that one should have a "generalised other" inside oneself. Perhaps the advantage of telling people that they are infested with aliens is that (like a parable) it drives home the idea that we, the listeners, should be doing something about it: we should be trying to get rid of them.

Posted by timtak at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

The Mystery of the Mirror

I am reading a book in Japanese by Takano Youtarou called something like "The mystery of the mirror." In the book the author attempts to explain why reflections in mirros are right left reversed, and not up down reversed. He starts by summarising a lot of other explanations of why this phenomena occurs.

Then he says that there are two things going on. But before I say what he says is going on I will mention my own take, because I want to be able to say "I have told you so", and because I think that my take will be similar, and I want to see how similar it is, and because I think that I will say something a little different. I do think that mirrors are mysterious in a way, but more because I think that humans are mysterious or rather in error about themselves, ourselves. I am a sort of Buddhist. I think that there is a mistake going on in human consciousness, and perhaps mirrors are one way of getting to the nub of the human error.

Anway.... What about images in mirrors? Are they right left reversed, but not up and down reversed? Takano stress that mirrors are mysterious because they are right left, but not up down, reversed. First of all... 1) I have trouble ditinguishing my right and my left. When I am told to turn left or right, the first thing I do is look at my wrists, and see which side my watch is on and I know that is the left side, so I know which way to turn. I am not sure why I find it so difficult to tell which is right and left but I know I do. 2) I don't find the right left thing in mirrors very notable. It is almost like I feel it is obvious (even though I am sure that the author is right, it is mysterious). 3) I think that we don't really feel a "reversal" all the time. If I were to ask a hundred people, what appears strangely right left reversed in mirrors, then I think that there would be two answers that come up a lot. 3.1) The guy in the mirror (me) is wearing his watch on the other hand. 3.2) Writing is reversed in the mirror - mirror writing. at the same time, (3 continued) when I look at other things (other than myself and writing), e.g. a mirror showing what is behind me, I don't really feel that it is reversed. It looks quite normal, and unreversed. If it were displayed the other way around I would be inclined to think it strange.

The reversal feeling seems particularly strong for myself and writing but not for other things. So, it seems to me that writing and me body are particularly similar in having a reversal feeling about them. Going back to Takano Youtarou's book, I was surprised to find that he says that the secret to unravelling the mystery of the mirror is to realise that there are two things going on: one is when viewing oneself, another is when view letters (or rather these are the two examples that he uses). "Eh?" I thought. I have read a little bit futher, where he goes on to explain the first of the two mysteries, regarding viewing onself, and here I agree...He says that when viewing oneself ones right hand is on ones right in the mirror, and ones left hand is on ones left in the mirror but from the point of view of the "the guy in the mirror" it is reversed. This reversal he calls a bodily frame of reference. If we take the bodily frame of reference of the "guy in the mirror" then things might be assumed to be reversed, but they are not. Hmm...To be honest I thought that was the important point, and in a sense the only point. So I am not sure how he is going to say that letters are different. On the contrary it seems to me that letters and oneself are very simlar, as mentioned above. Letters and oneself are similar in that it is particularly these things that appear reversed. He says further, that unlike our bodies, letters are *really* reversed in the mirror. A "[" in a mirror looks like "]" so this is a more real reversal, than the right-left reversal that we feel occurs because we take the frame of reference of "the guy in the mirror." Okay the above is really as far as I have got in his book. First of all, with regard to myself in mirrors, It seems to me that I am up down reversed too.

Takano makes it clear that the mystery of the mirror is that we are right left reversed but not up down reversed. This was the first thing that I objected to in his book. The cover of his book shows a picture of someone standing on a mirror. The feet of the person standing on the mirror are toward the top of the book. Especially bearing that in mind, it seems strange to me that he should say that we are not up down reversed. It seems to me that whether I am standing on a mirror or not, when I look down toward my feet, at my torso and legs, my feet are toward the top of my visual field and my chest is towards the top of my visual field. I see a "Y" shape. When I look at at my torso and legs in a mirror, I see an upside down "Y" shape. This may not at first be obvious. This is the Y shape that I see when I look down at myself.
Y shape
And this is the reverse Y shape that I see when I look at myself in a mirror. I am not quite this fat. The width at the top is due to perspective (in the previous image)!
Y shape
When I look down at myself, I see something branching out toward the top of my visual field.

When I look in the mirror toward my legs, I see my legs branching out at the bottom of my visual field. Hence it seems to me that my view of myself in the mirror is reversed in the up-down axis as well as the right left axis. Having said that, I do not feel myself to be up-down reversed in a mirror. But then again, I do not feel myself to be right left reversed in a mirror either (perhaps because of my inability to tell left from right). Anyway, it seems to me that mirrors reverse me at least in the updown direction too.

Then when Takno says that letters are really reversed in the mirror I also have a problem. What does Takano mean by a letter? if you think of a letter on a page, then yes, letters in a mirror do seem reversed. But I have a three year old son that plays with plastic letter shapes. It seems to me that if you put plastic letter shapes in front of a mirror then they are not reversed at all. This is because one sees the rear of the plastic letters. An interesting thing about letters is that the usually, apart from the three year old's letter toys, usually only exist on planar surfaces of an opaque page. In order to make normal, written on a page, letters appear in a mirror, one has to turn the opaque surface around to point at the mirror. In turning the opaque surface around, one is reversing the letters. If on the other hand you write the letters on a piece of glass, or on the mirror itself then the letters are not reversed. A mirror is usually a piece of glass in front of a thin film of reflective surface (the "tain" of the mirror).

If you write on a mirror, the letters are not reversed. If you write on a page and then turn the page around then the letters are going to appear reversed because you have turned them around. Perhaps this is what Takano means by the assertion that the mystery of the mirror is different when applied to letters and ourselves. Perhaps he is right. All the same, it seems to me that the reason why we feel mirror letters are reversed is for the same reason that we feel our bodies are reversed: that we are positing a guy in the mirror. That is as about as far as I have got in my observations.

Posted by timtak at 06:41 PM | Comments (0)

Others in Self

There are several theories of the human psyche that posit the existances of an other with the self.
Sigmund Freud says that we have a superego that is an internalisation of out father.
Jaques Lacan says that we have an Other (capital "O") that is, somehow, language perhaps but evolves out of our (m)other. Mother? I find Lacan prety opaque.
Mikhail Bakhtin writes about a super-addressee, a someone that is always addressed as even we communicate to others.
James Mead (by far the most common sensical of this bunch, but still not easy to grasp) says that we have, or I guess simulate, a general perspective on ourselves.
Christians believe that there is a God that is omnipresent even to our own minds I presume.
Hermans and Kempen are saying a similar thing to Mead except they feel that the various imaginary listeners that we internalise may not form a generalised other, but rather that we have dialogical encounters with a great many simulated friends.
Markus and Kitayama argue that the the self is interdependent, at least for the Japanese, with others, and our relationship with them, helping to form self.

I am not sure if it can be called a theory, but the founder of Scientology, LRH, spoke "Space Opera" about aliens invading the earth and human bodies. I have heard a recording of his jovial drawl, and amused approving sounds from his audience. I think that he must have been being alegorical. If so the notion that our bodies are in some sense invaded by aliens finds expression in the psychological theories above.

How about in fiction? In Star Trek there is a sort of pizza thing that attaches itself to people. I think that it attached itself to Dr. Spock. Dr. Spock was able to free himself of the paracitic, controlling, cranial pizza by flying towards a sun. In some episodes of Dr. Who there were some spiders that attatched themselves to the backs of humans that they then controled. Another "Dr. Who" book which starts at a point in time when the daleks are in control the worl. The daleks add a sort of hat or collar to humans by which they can control them. The "Dr. Who" book starts by recounting how a particular  human kills himself in order that he is no longer a slave to the daleks. In the Manga Paracyte (Kizeichuu), an alien rubber monster invades a young man's hand.

In thus spake zarathustra, Nietzche speaks of a dwarf sitting on his shoulder. Numerous pirates have a parrot on their shoulder, for some reason.

Posted by timtak at 06:37 PM | Comments (0)

Happiness tends to Zero

This post was inspired by the short film "Happiness Tends to Infinity," (recommended) by Yinka Selley.

I met an engineer in a design room in the Stanmore branch of Marconi Defence systems, a missile company at which I worked. The design room was a Porta Cabin and the interior decor rather bleak. The engineer sat behind one of those drawing boards equipped with a mechanical set-square-come-ruler-thing.

He moved it adroitly, across plans for missiles, I presume. Prior to working for Marconi, he had been in the Navy and had travelled the world. He had a different equation of happiness, which was based on one of Newtonfsf laws, the second I think. Newton's second law is often expressed as


or force equals mass times acceleration.

Of these the engineer equated force with happiness and velocity with materialistic states of being including health, and acceleration with changes in these states. I am not sure if how mass figured in the equation but perhaps it has something to do with attachment - the number of people with whom one shares things being a major, but not determining factor. The above equation can be rewritten as

Force = mass x (velocity2 - velocity1)/time

Which may be substituted for

Happiness = attachment x (state1 - state2)/time

In other words people feel happiness when they are ggetting thereh, but not when they have got there. Or that that states - such as being rich, being healthy, or whatever - do not himself or herself cause happiness or unhappiness. Happiness cannot be stored or accumulated. The engineerfs equation seemed quite plausible, at the time.

Bearing in mind that life tends to draw an arc, which ends in death, while on the rise our achievements bring us happiness as long as we do not achieve them, and in the longer term at least for the second part the general trend is down. Given a steady state, or one which is not changing much,

Happiness/Sadness = attachment * (state1 - state2)/time

If state1 = state2 then Happiness = 0

The engineer recommended marriage (this was the topic of our conversation, and how he had ended up in Stanmore) as a way of introducing waves (up and downs) into ones life, without which there would be no happiness, so he claimed.

Interestingly, this equation is almost the reverse of that proposed by Yinka Selley.

This does not mean that either is incorrect.

On the contrary, perhaps zero and infinity meet! In my limited experience of Buddhism the reduction of attachment is said to result in being ultimately free from suffering. This is pretty darn good. And sometimes accompanied by rapture. And, attachment and anticipation are clearly linked. I am not sure how.... perhaps attachment is anticipation frozen, or the attempt.

Posted by timtak at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2004

The Anthropic Ends of Science

Recently in the fields of cosmology and philosophy there are a lot of scientists and philosophers getting revved up about the anthropic argument.

The anthropic arguement (or rather arguements, since there are many of them) start from the assertion that the universe seems to be "finely tuned" for human life. In otherwords, had any of the 20 or so contstants of the physical universe been very slightly different, then there would not have been the conditions for life.

There are a number of papers on the Internet that describe the ways in which the universe appears to be  finely tuned, this excellent site introduces most of them indetail and this excellent summary covers the main ones.

Scientists and theologians give a number of explanations as to the reason for this apparent fine tuning.

In the physics and cosmology community there has been a tendency to explain the lucky chance of fine tuning through the assertion that this universe is only one of very many universes, perhaps an infinite number. And in most of the others life did not arise. We should not however be surprised, they argue, that there was one universe in which there exists the conditions for life. The assertion that there are  an infinite number of universes raises problems of its own. But, nonetheless, "the multiverse," hypothesis tends to be the response of the scientific community.

On the other hand, a great number of Christian theologians, are very pleasantly surprised by the recognititon of "fine tuning," and use it as proof that they were right all along. This paper, by a Dr Hugh Ross, a Christian, describes 16 ways in which the Universe was fine tuned to be a "fit habitat" for us to exist. Dr. Ross claims that the only way that this coincidence could have happened is if there were a divine intelligence at work creating a universe tuned to our needs.

Another way of refuting the fortutious-ness of the universe is to describe it in terms of "an observer effect." In other words, had the universe not been such as to support observers, then there would not have been anyone around observe the universe and note upon, or be thankful for the lucky chance.  Hence, in a sense, some argue, the universe could not have been any other way. The majority of the scientific community however, reject this arguement asserting that there could have been universes that did not become aware of their own existance by nurturing life. Hence, it is argued, it remains fortuitous that this universe is one which is observed.

Nonetheless, arguement in support of some sort of observer effect is quite strong. The fact that that the universe is fine tuned to our needs sure has something to do with the fact that we are the ones that is observing it. But what?

It seems quite possible to explain the fine tuning of the universe based upon the Buddhist assertions that the universe is illusory. Another way of putting this is to assert a Strong Athropic Principle, as a Strong Observation Effect: the universe is the product of observation, it is an observable world.

According to my understanding of the Buddhist world view, what we call "the universe" is described as being an illusion, due to the fact that it is "relative", or an anthropic interpretation of something more complex. Thus what we call "the universe" exists ony as one point of view and is not itself the ultimate reality. Hence, the answer as to why the universe is finely tuned would then become a direct product of the strong observer effect; we are observing an observable universe because "the universe" is an observation.
Mathematically, perhaps, is rather similar to the "multiple universe," answer to why the universe appears to be finely tuned, except that instead of proposing that there are many other universes existing lifelessly elsewhere, those other universe exist here all around us as aspects of the same ultimate reality that we cannot observe.  Under this interpretation, that which we call "The universe" becomes, not one real possible world among many, but our "observational world," our "interpretation of", our "handle upon," a reality which is far more complex.  Since our universe is only an observation, and not the ultimate reality, there is nothing in the slightest surprising about the fact that it is observable.

I find the Anthropic Arguement quite shocking because it seems to me to signal the end of science as we know it. Most scientists like to believe that they are unvieling being. And in a sense they are. But the existance of fortutious coincidences should encourage them to belive that their unvieling processes is radically bounded by the nature of human powers of observation, and that the universe they hae in their hands at the moment is only a theory about the universe and not "the real thing".

Very few people are aware of the relativity of their view of the world, so this is not only the problem of scientists, of course.


Posted by timtak at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2004

Einstein was Batty

As mentioned in a previous entry, science started to puzzle me when I was told that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light. This seemed to be particularly fortuitous since light happens to be the medium of our fastest sense.

Science purports to tell us about the universe, about the whole of everything in all its possibilities.  It thus seemed very strange to me that the universe in entirity should have a speed limit. Even if electro-magnetic waves can not travel faster than a certain speed surely there should be other waves, or things that move with a non-wave-like motion, perhaps with an "arfdarf" motion, should be able to move faster than light. Or even if matter cannot travel faster than like then shouldn't there be some "smatter," with an entirely different composition, that can travel faster than the speed of light. One would think that in the universe, there should be possibilities for a lot more than the theory of relativity  allows.

I am purposefully using nonsense words, like "arfdarf" and "smatter" since I wish to refer to things that we have not yet, and perhaps even cannot ever observe, or concieve of. If science is describing the whole of everything, then the rules it proposes should be big enough to cope with things that are beyond our understanding. But science insists that the fastest speed that *anything* can travel is the speed of light. Does this sound plausible?

The fact that we have an organ for sensing the fastest thing in the universe seems is a little strange. Dogs may rely on their sense of smell, bats upon sonar, but humans rely on a sense organ that uses the fastest medium in the universe. I am not sure what evolution will hold in store for the human race over the coming eons, but it would seem that in terms of our choice of sense medium, we are at the pinnacle of the possible.

This strikes me as being rather fortuitous. It also raises another possibility. Is it not possible that, rather than assuming that light travelling at the speed limit of the universe, we may instead postulate that light only travells at the speed limit of the universe that we may select. Perhaps there are lots of things that travel faster than light but we are simply not able to sense them. Not so fast....

Einstein's equations are both predictive and applied. The theory of relativity predicted the existance of compacted "neutron stars" at the end of their life. These were first observed in 1967, more than 50 years after Einstien put pen to paper. And Einstein's equations were used in the making of the atomic bombs that killed so many inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The theory of relativity is not one which can simply be shrugged off because the theory stands as a foundation of who we understand the universe.

Imagine Einstein was a Bat

Imagine the cosmology of a bat, assuming that the bat is blind, and that it is using sound waves to judge the distances between itself and the nearest objects in its universe. The bat is of course unable to see light.

Since (let us assume at least) bats are unable to sense anything that moves faster than sound, bullets and other things that travel faster than sound, must be difficult for bats to comprehend. The bat scientists might postulate that their brethren are liable to spontaneously explode when in the presence of human's with steel sticks. 

Or perhaps not? Would they realise that some things travel faster than the speed of sound? That would depend upon how they understood their universe, whether or not they understood it in a "batty" way.

A "batty way" of seeing the world is one which is based upon a sonar screen view of the world, where being sonar-detectable has conditioned the way that matter, time and space and velocity is understood. In this batty world view, matter, that which exists, would be defined in terms of its sonar-detectability. This is not to say that everything in their world shows up on the sonar screen. If the bats bumped into sheets of silk that do not reflect sound then the bats may presume that there are somethings that are sonar transparent. But these "sound-transparent" things will be understood upon the metaphor of other objects that do appear on the sonar screen. Other things, such as the colours of the setting sun, things that Bats will never become aware of, will not be given existance in their batty science. In other words, in a batty sceince, their understanding of space and matter would be governed by being detectable by sonar, and sonar-detectability will have got in at the ground floor of their world view.

We are told that, when Einstein was 16, in 1895, he asked himself a question which was to lead to the discovery of relativity.

"If I pursue a beam of light with the velocity c I should observe such a beam of light as a spatially oscillatory electromagnetic field at rest. However, there seems to be no such thing, whether on the basis of experience or according to [the theory of electricity and magnetism]. From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, judged from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest. For how, otherwise, should the first observer know, i.e.. be able to determine, that he is in a state of uniform motion?"

If we look carefully at this statement we can see that, while Einstein mentions field theory in passing it is not field theory that is the basis for his initial observations. The thrust of the arguement is based upon intuitive assessment of the conditions for observation, experience, and determinability.

Einstien's argument can be re-written from the point of view of a bat. If a bat flying at the speed of sound where to attempt to 'look' at the sound he were flying alongside, he would like Einstein say "there is no such thing," "on the basis of experience." Again, for the bat also, it would appear "intuitively clear that everying would have to happen according to the same laws as for a bat who was at rest. For how else would the nearly supersonic bat know, *i.e. be able to determine,* that he is flying so fast." As we can see, for the bat and for Einstien, the possibility of going at speed depends upon the determinability of that speed. And for determinability, both the bat and Einstein can only appeal to their best methods of determining.

This is not  a problem faced only by bats and Einstien. Einstien certainly did not create the problem. We all understand the world in terms of how we observer it. Einstien became aware of the fact observability was getting in at the ground floor of our understanding of space and time. Once we realise that our "space" is a light observable space, then it becomes apparent that some strange things will have to happen to objects that fly at close to the speed of the medium (light, sound) that is defining space, and speed itself. At speeds close to the medium that was used to define space and speed, then there will enevitably be the sort of bending of mass and time as described by Einstien.

But what I would like to assert is that this bending takes place in the "observable world" of the observer, because it the direct result of an observation effect. "The universe" being defined by Einstien and modern scientists is an observable world, or a humans' eye view.

That being the case then, we can ask "what would happen if we move a bat (or Einstien) faster than the speed of sound (or light)?" While it is very difficult to move at anything like the speed of light, it would be quite easy to move the poor unsuspecting bat at speeds seven times that of sound.  The bat, of course, would not be able to tell what is happening to him. It might even seem to the bat as if time stood still, or the bat is flying back in time, as it caught up with sounds that had flown off into the distance. To the bat, it would be a very mind expanding experience, that will not make sense to the bat. However the bat would make it to familiar places fast.

I do not think that it will ever be possible to accerate humans to speeds anything close to that of the speed of light. However if Einstien's theory is an observational effect then by comparison with the bat, in theory at least "hyperspace" is perhaps possible.


I read years later that Einstien knew he was batty. He gained inspiration for his theory of relativity from Ernst Mach, of Headless picture fame, who said (in his "the science of Mechanics) "Nature is composed of sensations as its elements.... Sensations are not signs of things; but, on the contrary, a thing is a thought-symbol for a compound sensation of relative fixedness. Properly speaking the world is not composed of "things" as its elements, but of colors, tones, pressures, spaces, times, in short what we ordinarily call individual sensations." (p. 579)
I.e. Einstien was aware that nothing goes faster light not because there is any speed limit of any kind, but because nothing goes faster than sensations, because that is what the world is. The world that does not faster than light is the world of sensations, it is our batty, human world.

It also occurs to me now, in 2012, that if special relativity is a batty, "sensational" effect then there should be some apparent retrocausality around. Consider the world of bats. Occasionally bats get shot by bullets traveling faster that sound. In the disucssion above I suggested that bats might "postulate that their brethren are liable to spontaneously explode when in the presence of human's with steel sticks," but they would also sonar the movement of the gun, and hear the bang as it goes off, *after* one of their brethren has been blow away. I.e. from a bat's point of view, there appears to be retrocausality, effects preceeding causes. On this batty "sensational" view of relativity, one would expect there to be some retrocausility occuring in our world too. Why isn't there more "spooky action at a distance"?   

It could be that retrocausal events are rare, just as bullets are rare in the world of bats. Or that there are retrocausal events but we are not noticing them, believing the events to be independent. Or it could be that we really are lucky enough to be able to percieve the fastest stuff in the universe, but that strikes me as being as implausible as the existence of god. Indeed a "sensational" theory of special relativity, in the absense of retrocausality, might even be used as a proof of the existance of god. If special relativity is based on the limits of our senses, and there are no retrocausal events occuring, then we really are at the limit, seeing the whole of the universe. Man would be the measure of all things. That we, an evolutionary blink away from goats, should be so lucky almost suggests divine intervention! My money is on the existence of superluminal hidden variables, such as "pilot waves."

That Einstien read Mach:
The above quote from Mach

Related Books and Articles
Albert Einstein "Relativity: The special and General Theory"
David M. Harrison "Special Theory of Relativity" (a superb introduction)
Thomas Nagel What is it like to be a bat?   [From The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974): 435-50.]
Sadly this article does not address relativity but it does address the problem of explaining things that are beyond the listener's power to observe.

Posted by timtak at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Preposterous Vanity

While I am fan of science there are some things about the scientific outlook that I find rather absurd or arrogant. I call this the following the arguement from humility. It is not my own. I first read about it in more than one aphorism of Friedrich Nietzsche.

(I) Science generally upholds a principle of non-contradition.

(II) Science demonstrates to us that humans are *uttterly* insignificant when compared to the universe. Science demonstrates we are in our size, our similarity to other things numerous, the time we have existed, and the fortuitousness of our existance, *utterly* insignificant.

Spatially, science tells us that we are extremely small. If the solar system were scaled down to the size of a house, then the earth would be much smaller than a grain of sand. But, we are told the solar system is itself a spec within the galaxy and the galaxy but a spec within the universe.

Temporally, we are also, apparently tiny in terms of the length of human history to date. If the life of the world were compressed to 24 hours then the arrivale of humans would occur three seconds before midnight. Compared to the age of the world the life of any individual human is of course fleeting in the extreme.  It is no surprise then that the world view of youngers (the basic tenets of science are taught at schools) and the world view of the ancient Greeks, are not so different from the world view held by scientists.

In terms of our uniqueness, we share 97% of the same genetic material with an earthworm, more than 99% with other mammals and about 50% with a banana.

In terms of our fortuitousness, we are, science tells us, the product of chance.

We are of a level of utter insignificance that, science shows us, boggles the mind. We are, science tells us, a virus that lives fleetingly upon cosmic dust. For all intents and purposes, we are dust.

(III) However, Science claims that this dust, that we are, knows a lot about the universe. That for instance we know the limits of the universe (the fastest speed "c", the smallest mass). Or that we dust that we are can conject about the origins and end of the universe.

Oh, let us laugh loud and strong! Such, preposterous vanity!

How could anything as small as the human pretent to understand something so vast as the universe? How could anything so short lived as the human pretent to understand the universe? Even though we don't believe that earthworms, cats, or even monkeys understand the universe, we are prepared to believe that we know the limits of the universe. While it is difficult to see how chance could have evolved something as complex as the eye, Dawkin explains how this could have been acheived in this recent book "Climbing Mount Improbable." However Dawkin is convincing with his explanation of the evolution of the eye, can he be so convincing with regard to the theory of evolution, or the theory of relativity. How could chance have created a mechanism that would understand creation?

It is true that sciences has acheived a lot. We have learnt to fly, make nice electronic gadgets, life enhancing medical equipment and some awesome bombs. However these achievements are only such as to allow us to double or triple our life expectancy, move around our speck of dust quite quickly or destroy ourselves still more quickly.

But that we have framed the universe in our equations, that we have understood it substance, its beginnings, is limits, it mechanisms, this "achievement" is reaching far beyond our time and place.

In my own field, that of psychology, we are shown the extent to which humans are inclined to overestimate themselves. It is called "self-enhancement," and it is so pronounced that only the those that are clinically depressed are inclined to understand themselves correctly.

Rather than assume that some cosmic bacteria has understood the whole of everything, it seems much more plausible to me to assume that this is a vain misapprehension.

This is not to say that science teaches us nothing. But that we should interpret the limits that it teaches us as being limits upon our world, the world that we can understand, the world that we observer, the world that we experience, the world that we mistake for the real thing.

Posted by timtak at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2004

Scrabble Brand Sentence Cube Game

Recently I played a game called "Scrabble Brand Sentence Cube Game," a Scrabble (r) spin-off provided by Selchow and Righter in the early sententies.

The game consists of 21 dice on the faces of which are printed short common words, such as "man," "leg," "walk," "kiss." The object of the game is to make sentences, which may be interlocking, within a given period of time (approximately 3 minutes) as timed by an egg timer.

Mis-reading the rules, and failing to note the bonus of 50 per sentences longer than 7 words, I presumed that the longer the sentence the merrier. And I did find it quite merry. Here are some of the sentences that I came up with:

"Baby saw how they live off a young beast and it is too bad his old lady did kiss, bare" (using 20 of the 21 dice)

"How bare a heart may he let love, my boy ran on up her new live work, not any cold felt" (using all 21 of the dice)

My, who is Japanese, wife managed
"They who time his old foot smell, laugh and ran out with a big part which felt new." (Using 18 of the dice)

Now, the thing is that while as a game, the "Scrabble Sentence Cube Game"
is not one I would recommend, I found making the largely non-sensical sentences to be particularly amusing - I laughed heartily - and even cathartic.

Now there is a certain sexual element to the above sentences that might, in a particularly inhibited mind, give rise to laughter. But it seemed to me that it was merely the ability to place words in grammatically correct but largely non-sensical order that caused my merriment.

Drawing on Freud's view of cause of laugher as the controlled return of the repressed, what repressed libinal drive might account for laughter at the ability to create nonsense?

From a Lacanain point of view, perhaps nonsense (the shaggy dog story?
the absurd?) may present the ultimate in comedy since it threatens what he calls the prohibition of the father. According the Lacan, the father prohbits not only that we give up our desire to be (re) united with our mother, but also that we confine ourselves, or even create ourselves, within the bounds, or topos, of language. After that moment that the father banishes us to the world of language, I am as I think myself, in language.

In this light, perhaps, the "Scrabble Sentence Cube Game" plays out the boundaries of the signified, and allows the return of something primally repressed: that we are, in , bounded by language and continually hopping from one signifier to another.

Or perhaps, simply, I simply have a purile sense of humour? There must be others like me. I recommend the Scrabble Sentence Cube Game to all those that are feeling a bit uptight and generally repressed.

Posted by timtak at 11:21 PM | Comments (2)

November 16, 2003

Buddhism anyone?

Do you believe in Buddhism? It sounds reasonable enough to me. I thought the other day that I ought explain Buddhism more. It is the sort of thing that needs explaining, cause there are so many people, even Japanese people or tibet people that probably think that Buddhism is a lot of codswollop.

Buddshism, I was taught, diverged from Hinduism when it taught that there is no self. The taught that the self is god. Or that the self is the world. "I am food, I am food," "I am the eater of food," "I am the navel of the universe." And if this doesn't sound unrealistic enough, the Buddhist came along and said that they did not believe in the self either. There is nothing, the void, chaos, or perhaps buddha nature.

This sounds very strange. How could anyone believe such a wacko thing? There is nothing? Or why is there supposed to there is some sort of ancient Indian lingering around here?

Buddhism is not so strange. First and foremost, Buddhism is just humble. The main thing that Buddhism is saying is that, however we view the world, our understanding of the world resembles real world as it is very little indeed. Our perception of the world, me, this keyboard, the room, my wife, our dog, all laid out in space, with three or four dimensions? This conception of the world, in the mind of a large bacillus, bears so little resemblance to the world "as it really is," that it is a joke. The real world...Nothing so prosaic as the bottle humands that we see in the first film in the Wachowski brothers trilogy. Perhaps "reality" has four thousand three hundred and five and a half dimensions, or it is a speck of trifle under the fingernail of a giant whose world exists as a spect of trifle. Perhaps time runs forwards and backwards, or perhaps it runs in both directions, or not at all. Perhaps there are many different types of time, or perhaps there are many different types of "many-ness," of mulitiplicity. Perhaps, just sticking to the dimensions, there are several oogle ways of their being plurality and the "number of dimensions" is very plural in all of them. What of thingness? Or space? These lumps of stuff that I presume spread out in field of light? This speck of a thing that is me, this microbe, presumes that my model of reality has anything to do with the real thing? Jest not!

But it all seems so real. There is me, and there is the keyboard. There is space and there is time. It should be noted that while I go about my day to day business being fairly confident about all this stuff being here, I am pretty much at a loss to what all these things really are. Space? Well space is space. But time? What is that when it is at home? And me? I have no idea what I am. Or rather I do. I have this "model." I think I am me.

Buddhism says it is all cobblers and tells us to flush our minds of the junk. Here I perhaps part company with the Buddhists. They are really sure that when one flushes ones mind of the myths of person hood and thingness, space and time, then one sees the truth, the absolute. It seems to me that this is very unlikely. By switching off my mind I may get as close to the world as is possible it still seems that it is a long way away.

Indeed perhaps the void Nirvana is just as far from the world as this state of caught-up-in-the-illusion ignorances is. After all my powers of conceptualisation are the best that I have. But then again, I don't think that Buddhism denies that. One does not switch off ones mind exactly but one sees it for what it is. Usually I do not do this. Normally I believe in the maps that I am making and think I am one of the symbols that I have created on my map.

Should one ever meet the map maker then I personally do not think that presto one will have seen all and known everything. One will not, as Plato claimed, have seen the froms which our symbols replicate. But on the contrary one will have seen the chaos that we are are trying to make sense out of. Seeing the chaos is probably a very enlightening thing. I am that much of a Buddhist. It is the ulitmate in Socratic Wisdom. If you get in a cave and or chant for long enough then you may get a glimpse, in a flash of inspiration, of the wierd enormity of the blamange that you are tring to make sense out of.

Whatever happens, I am very likely to be wrong about what the world is at the moment.

Posted by timtak at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2003

Mythic Education

It seems to me that the purposes, that the greater part of school education is
geared towards, is dumbing down or (more politely) "socialisation" and that
students that are heavily dd-ed or socialised, get certain rewards, such as
"good jobs," big cars and and desirable partners.

Now then, there may be some particularly hard nosed students that are able to
accept that the "content" of what they are is relevant only as 'pumping iron for
the brain,' so that then can prove how much they can brutalise themselves
(or "train their mind"). However, most students want to believe that the learning
content is useful, *not* just in the sense of being a means to get grades, jobs,
and cars etc.

Hence educators are faced with a dilemma.

Leaving aside purist attempts to be Rudolf Stiener, swimming teachers, heavily
vocationally oriented teachers and some language teachers; there are some teachers
that are in the lucky position of imparting content that is useful to students but I
would say that they are in the vast minority. Most of us are in the business of

Accepting this fact, the dilemma for me is, in order to get students to study
it seems necessary to *lie*. In order to help them to get all those consumer
rewards (that most of them want), praise, and good grades, it seems necessary
to lie, at least by omission, and encourage students to believe that the content
they are learning will actually be useful to them.

This dilemma was brought home to me recently after auditing the class of a
"very good", motivating teacher teacher. As well as having an excellent command
of his subject, he also told his students how much he loved the subject and how
much he wanted them to gain the same enjoyment that he gained from it.
The students were very enthused and grade-wise, he gets very good results.

1) The small percentage of students likely to use and enjoy the content of
what he was teaching are those that are like him, going to be teachers.
2) For most of the students the content is likely to be utterly useless to

However, by convincing the students that the content is useful/fun-to-non-teachers,
he achieves what many educators, his superiors, and the students themselves
view as good results. However, I don't think he was lying. He and many "good
educators" seem to be oblivious to the fact that what they are teaching is only of
use to people like themselves. They seem to be thinking "I am using and enjoying
this, so the students can too," without considering the different circumstances that
students are likely to face. My guess is that they are able to block the lives of
their students from their minds, partly deliberately, and partly

What I am wondering is, is there a teaching theory or ethic, that recognises this
dilemma, and looks at it full in the face.

I know of one: Esoteric Buddhism. It starts with the premise that it is necessary
to teach pupils not-the-whole-truth, saving the the-whole-truth for later since
fresh students would give up if you hit them with the big whammy at the beginning.
I really feel that there is a need for a theory of "esoteric education."

In the extreme, an Esoteric theory of education might encourage teachers to tell
their students that what they are learning is dreadfully important and so encourage
them to study. Then finally, it might recommend that teachers get together with
students, after the exams, and say "This was all pap, but you are going to go to
an Ivy League school, and get fat pay checks, so let us celebrate." Doing this
might be better than never telling them the whole-truth, in the manner of the "good
teacher" mentioned above.

It might be argued that it is valuable, for the students, to never be told the truth
of the inutility of what they are learning. Or that there is some sort of valuable
epifany to be had when the penny drops and the student realises that the content
of his or her studies had little utility other than to teachers. Even so, even if this
is a theory book that should be kept out of reach of children, for educators at least.

Finally, on a more positive note, perhaps it is possible to have what I would call
a theory of mythical education, where students too would be encouraged to engage
in the process of equivocation, and make their own dreams and myths.

In this, more democratic approach, teachers would be encouraged to give
students the techniques for learning, consistent with constructivist, "student centered"
principles, including the ability to equivocate for themselves.

For example, consider the case of someone teaching French to a group of students
that have little opportunity to use it. The teacher may

1) Overemphasise the opportunities to use and enjoy French blindly (the "good,
enthusiastic teacher")
2) Overemphasise the opportunities to use and enjoy French, as a lie
3) Tell the students the boring truth about the lack oppotunities to speak French,
that there are innumerable opportunities, but they are very unlikely to be realised.
Then instruct the students in ways of overemphasising the likelihood of these
opportunities materialising for themselves. There is nothing particularly insidious
about this. It is sometimes called "Image training," and the techniques are varied.
Just hanging a poster depicting France on ones wall, reading something about
France, seeing some French films. All these things may be encouraged by
"conventional" teachers, and this mythical education only puts a new spin on them.
E.g. the purpose of as making a penpal abroad is not "to practice French" (the
amount of practice will in fact be miniscule) but create the sentiment, the expectation,
the myth that one will have the opportunity to practice French. The purpose of
this education would be to provide students with the mythmaking skills required
to enable the students to dumb themselves down, in the recognition that his is
what they really want to do.

This sort of theory needs to be founded on a philosophy which recognises the
*utility* and healthiness of non-truth. I am thinking of Lacan's view of the mature self
(as misrecognition) and Neitzsche's appraisal of truth

Friedrich Neitsche 1876 The Birth of Tradegy

Posted by timtak at 03:25 PM | Comments (3)

August 14, 2003

Money Talks to Suzanne Vega

What nationality is Neil Diamond? I am not sure. But he made a lot of good songs. One of them is "Forever in Blue Jeans."
Forever In Blue Jeans is a nice song by Neil Diamond about a guy, with a deep voice saying that he would much rather be poor all his life (wearing bluejeans) if he can have his women by him, "by the fire," with the "sound of her sighs." Please have a listen to the song. I like the opening lines:

"Money talks,
but it don't sing and dance
and it don't walk."

Yeah, Neil, we don't need money eh? If we can just have a singing, dancing, walking, woman around then who needs that money stuff? Who needs the car, the house, the company (longer list)? Who wants to become a beetle?

Yeah, you bet Neil! I would like to do a bit of sex in front of a fire without having to pay! Are you kidding Neil? You sound as if you are being radical! You jest surely!

When I was young I believed him. I believed that it was simply a matter of choosing the "forever in blue jeans" option. As if I had that choice! So young, so naive! I walked through the streets of London, where I grew up, gazing at all those massive buildings (that someone owns), at all those Jaguar cars and shop windows and thought, in images, "I would live in a ditch with my darling."

Forget Neil young! I did not even want jeans! Jeans! What luxury! Give me a crust of bread, a place out of the wind and a partner, I will dance and make believe. I will play and play forever.

Little did I know that I wanted a female partner. Little did I know that I wanted into her panties. Little did I know that in order to get her panties off "by the fire" that I would have to earn, not as much as Neil Diamond, but more than the price of some second hand Levis.

I was not the only one to be bemused. The song "Marelene on the Wall" by a very intelligent American Suzanne Vega, is about a woman that "gives away the goods too soon," and does not talk about it later. What did Suzanne have to talk about? Why did she feel that her lovers are "soldiers" that "butcher" her? I think that Suzanne made a gallant attempt to not take part in the game.

A lot of Western women are not aware that they have to be prostitues. They don't have to be prostitues. But if they are not prostitutes then their children will get less education than those children whose mothers do prositute themselves. Again, if women are not prostitutes, and choose to work, then they are sure to meet the abuse and the severe brutalising competition of all those men that are working to pay their lovable prostitue back home. Suzanne was very brave, but she is changing. Get on down Suzanne!

Posted by timtak at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2003

The Myth of the Fall

You know the story of Adam and Eve? What did that apple eating mean? Why should finding out that you are naked have such dire consequences (death)?

This seems to be something that has been hidden since the beginning of the world. So I am not sure how to begin. The message, in nutshell, is that, a woman found some food and her sexuality, or her sexuality and some food. Or in other words, for humans, "apples is sex" and "sex is apples". So, what does this mean?

Here it is - the truth unfolds here at Jblog at last!

Men pay women (some money or apples) to get their kit off.

You knew? Well I guess we all knew. There is no big deal. But I think that the ramifications are massive. Indeed, that is all there is to it! That is all there is to life, art philosophy and religion! The bible? Kafka? Plato? They are all about the same thing. It is as simple as that!

It could have been the other way around. Women like sex too, but perhaps men like it a bit more frequently. If men had been smart and said "no way lady" then we could have been the ones that, like lions, get our food brought to us in merely as thanks for being male. But as it happens, Eve and a lot of other female humans can get fed by taking their kit off. "Kit" means clothes. Women get paid for their sex.

The long and short of this is that women have the option of being, and a most of them take it up, prostitutes. And so they are well advised to do, under the present circumstances, since this is the way of the world.

I am not saying that that it would be likely or preferable, but I happen to think that it could have been the other way around. That things ended up in this way is largely luck. Men ended up paying women for their sex organs. Or in a different way, men pay with their muscles and mind for the sex organs of women. And women pay with their sex organs for the muscles and minds of men.

The conclusion? The truth is that I am not sure that this is the meaning of The Myth of the Fall. But it seems to me that it is a damn good myth; that means that it is meaningful. And I think that the meaning is lingering around this neck of the woods; the myth has something to do with the disovery of sex, the concealment of sex, and the arrival of a new hithertoo forbidden source of food. It also means that we will die. Strange that. I think that it may also mean that we live! More on this later.

Posted by timtak at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)