The Verbalist

Aldous Huxley was. . . highly. . . educated, at Oxford, in history, religion, the classics,  literature and philosophy.  His brother Julian was a renowned biologist, his grandfather Thomas was the famous defender of Charles Darwin.

Aldous Huxley came  to call  himself a ‘verbalist’,  someone who did too much thinking, with words, and not enough perceiving  –  experiencing things as they really are –  with his senses.  He was a very successful verbalist,  a world renowned writer.  All of his privileged, upper class friends were also ‘verbalists’.  He found himself, however,  mostly, unhappy, and came to see in his friends and in himself, distressing egotism, obsessiveness,  and alcoholism.

In a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions.”

He sought to try to stop being verbalist.  He studied and wrote about mystical religion. He decided to try LSD, hoping for . . .something.

He got it.  It gave him intense perception, a profound awakening of his senses.

A large pale blue automobile was standing at the curb.  At the sight of it, I was suddenly overcome by enormous merriment.  What complacency, what an absurd self-satisfaction beamed from this bulging surface of glossiest enamel!”

“. . .the percept had swallowed up the concept.  I was so completely absorbed in looking, so thunderstruck by what I actually saw, that I could not be aware of anything else.. . interest in space is diminished and interest in time fell almost to zero.”

He found wonder and awe, a reverence for the non-verbal  – “the glory and the power of pure existence belongs to another order, beyond the power of even the highest art to express. . . an impeccable sense of gratitude for the privilege of being born into this universe.”

In, Brave New World, his most famous novel, he presents a verbalist world where rationality and thought control a society that values ‘stability’ above all else.  Words of propaganda are used for control.  Living requires soma, the state supplied tranquilizer.

We must be ‘amphibians’, he concludes – alive in both the worlds of perception and of thought.

 

We must have “education both in facts and in values, and in the abuses as well as the uses of language; and development of smaller, more autonomous units of government – ‘self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups.

In his last novel, The Island, a utopian answer to Brave New World, he writes of a ceremonial ‘Island Service’ of death in which the experience is fully embraced, with no sedation.

He died of throat cancer, in 1963, on the same day as John F. Kennedy.  In his final moments, his wife gave him IV LSD, as he requested.

 

Ancestor Hominin

 

Fossilized footprints of Neanderthal were recently found in the sandstone of an ancient beach in northern France, adults with children going one way, adults only going back the other way.  Starting forty thousand years ago Neanderthal gradually disappeared, the last of them living in caves in the north and eastern sides of the rock of Gilbraltar.

We are not sure why.

The Neanderthal made fire, made and used tools, and lived in nomadic groups. They were mostly ambush hunters, striking from woodland cover, with hand-held spears. They did not have  projectile weapons.  They may have had burials, and likely decorated themselves.  They may have had rudimentary art.

Their disappearance coincided with the arrival of modern humans, who came into Europe from Africa and the Middle East and hunted much the same food as the Neanderthal – elk, horses, reindeer, aurochs, bison, and the woolly mammoth. The Neanderthal were bigger and stronger than modern humans. We have no evidence of war.

“We should see evidence of the direct killing of neanderthals by modern humans – and we don’t.. 

We have always assumed that we modern humans were smarter.  We maintained larger groups.  The white sclera of our eyes empowered our social and verbal communication.  We had projectile weapons, and could better hunt in the open – courser predators . . . We could hunt in packs.  We hunted for furs as well as for food, used bone needles for sewing, and made better clothes.  Our shelters, and burial ceremonies were more elaborate.  We clearly made art.  And we harnessed the skills that reside in the genes of other species, for our own advantage.  We domesticated wolves, and our dogs were immensely helpful in hunting, able to run down prey, hold them at bay for the kill, and help defend against scavenger predators.

Perhaps we simply out hunted Neanderthal.

But maybe not.

Something else happened just as modern humans arrived – the Campanian Ignibrite Eruption, the largest volcano eruption in Europe of the past 200,000 years.  This happened in the Gulf of Pozzuoli, just west of the modern city of Naples, Italy, and just east of Mount Vesuvius.

Before the time of Pangea – the great universal continent formed when all tectonic land masses came together –  there was a great sea that encircled the globe, the Tethys Sea.  This sea became the Mediterranean Sea as the African tectonic Plate migrated north and collided with the Eurasian Plate to complete the super continent.   This collision created the the cliffs of the northern mediterranean shore, the volcanoes of western Italy. . . and the Campanian eruption.

The eruption sent volcanic ash 7000 km, in all directions,  covering all of Italy and  eastern Europe.  A volcanic winter followed, with cold temperatures over all of Europe, causing loss of game and the woodlands, changing the game of survival.

Modern Humans were able to get to Southeast Asia and Australia 50-70,000 years ago.  Cline Findlayson suggests that maybe Neanderthal were able to keep them out of Europe . . .until the Campanian Eruption.

More than the modern human mind, it may have been the modern human body, the more gracile, more energy efficient body from Africa, better at walking and running over longer distances, that favored survival for modern humans in the cold and open steppe terrain that Europe became.

“I maintain that humans are the most invasive species that has ever lived.”  The Invaders,  Pat Shipman.

Neanderthal do live on, their genes living on in the genes of modern humans.  They are our. . . ancestors.

Philosophers have tried to understand the nature of human nature for thousands of years.  Hominin ancestors like Neanderthal can tell us.

Neanderthal lasted for 400,000 years. . . . Will we?

Bottom Up

Sir John Cowperthwaite was financial secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 – 1971.

His administration did not collect any economic data during his tenure.”  Jairaj Devadiga

“if I let them compute theses statistics, they’ll want to use them for planning.”

During Cowperthwaite’s administration, Hong Kong grew “ from being only one fourth as rich as the United Kingdom in 1961, to being 40% richer by 1996′.

What should poor countries do?  His advice:  “Abolish their office of natural statistics”.

When management is driven by statistics. it leads to what is called. . . Surrogation.  Metrics get misinterpreted as goals.

Measurement, contrary to all conventional wisdom, leads to mismanagement.  

Case in point:  Soviet Russia

Fifty years ago, 180,000 whales disappeared from the oceans”.  Charles Homans.

This was due to Soviet fishing. “In one season alone, from 1950 to 1951, Soviet ships killed nearly 13,000 hump back whales.”

But Russia didn’t need whale fishing product.

The Soviet whalers . . . were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five year plans that drove the Soviet economy.  In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy – the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministeries – whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry

Gross fish tonnage was the metric goal.  Harvesting whales was the easiest way to tonnage.

No matter what, the plan must be met.”

It is common to think of society as a unitary whole with unitary motivations, something which requires central control, top-down, to achieve focused goals, driven by the statistics of outcomes.  “Mussolini made the trains run on time.”

Thomas Friedman:

“. . .when [one party autocracy] is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as china is today, it can also have great advantages.  That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”   

And yet societies in history that have flourished, and have been more adaptive and thus more stable,  have been more biologic bottom-up, ecological networks of distributed motivations, interests, and initiatives, with freedom of action and opportunity to learn from experience.

Margaret Thatcher:

”. . .  they are casting their problems on society, and who is society? There is NO SUCH THING as Society.   There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except thru people and people look to themselves first.”

Milton Friedman:

”Voluntary exchange is a way to get cooperation among individuals without coercion.  The reliance on voluntary exchange, which means on a free market mechanism, is thus central to the liberal creed.”

”Both sides to an economic transaction can benefit from it, if the transaction is voluntary and informed”.

  Matthew Ridley:

Innovative societies are free societies where people are free to express their wishes, and where creative minds are free to experiment to find ways to supply those requests . . .”

 

 

 

 

 

Stuff of Reality

What something is, is different from what something is not.   It is fundamental logical truth that when something is something, it can not also, then, be what it is not.

What physicists seem to have found, however, is that the very basic stuff of reality. . . is both what it is and what it is not.  It is both continuous and discontinuous. . . smooth and flowing like a wave, and discrete and moving like a particle.

Physicists today call this wave-particle stuff quantum fields.  Quantum fields are invisible ghosts of potentiality.  Undisturbed, they are undulating waves of continuous possibility.   Disturbed – ‘measured’ –  ‘observed’, they are moving particles and events.

Erwin Schroedinger discovered an equation that describes the state of a given quantum field and how it behaves.

There is no ‘energy’ in the Schroedinger equation, a central point that means that whatever is ‘waving’ in the Schroedinger wave equation is neither energy or matter.  It is terribly important that no one knows ‘what’ is waving in the Schroedinger wave equation.”   Stuart A. Kauffman.

Slam a quantum field with an intense point of energy.  This is what Particle Accelerators do.  With long tunnels of electromagnetic and superconducting powers, they drive particles to ever higher speeds, and focus them, with extreme precision, to collide into each other – “like aiming a rifle at a mosquito sitting on the moon“.  Leon Lederman  From how the bits of debris scatter, and where they scatter, physicists learn about quantum fields.

There are different kinds of quantum fields, it seems, quantum fields of gravity, of electromagnetism, and of nuclear forces.  They must be unified in some way.  This was something that Albert Einstein was trying to discover in the last thirty years of his life.

Peter Higgs, in Scotland, 37 years ago, figured that a certain other kind of field must also exist, a field that interacts with radiation and energy, and creates mass, and the material world that we can know.  When particle accelerators became powerful enough, in 2012, the Higgs field was found.

“Over the 20th century, we came to picture all forms of matter as accumulations of transient disturbances in ubiquitous fields.  Some of those fields, when cold, create space filling mists – the Higg’s field is one.  Like morning dew, they are spontaneous emanations, thrown off as the fields settle into equilibrium.”  Frank Wilczek.

Quantum fields seem layered, creating a giant jello cake Universe, in which some layers are like whipped cream and allow radiation unhindered to travel at the speed of light, the fastest anything can go, and some layers are like caramel, with resistance to movement causing mass and the gravity that creates the planets and galaxies.

The layers jiggle as events occur. . .  not totally randomly, but with predictable probability . .  and  with mysterious unity.  Where there is a bounce one way, there is somewhere else a bounce the other way.

There must be other layers. . . A field of consciousness. . .maybe?

“I’d expect complex biochemistry to be consistently biased in the direction that leads closer to consciousness, as gravitation biases motion towards massive objects.  I have no evidence for this idea.  It’s just the way biology seems to work.” David Gerlenter

And God said . . .

Science Priest

Isaac Newton got the concepts right, perhaps better than anyone else in history.    Mass is quantity of matter.  Momentum is quantity of motion. Force is change in motion. Change of motion is acceleration.  Mass is resistance to force.  Force equals mass times acceleration.

F=ma

This equation “is the basis of our mechanical, civil, hydraulic, acoustic, and other types of engineering; it used to understand surface tension, the flow of fluids in pipes, capillary action, the drift of continents, the propagation of sound in air and in steel, the stability of structures like the Sears Tower or one of the most wonderful of all bridges, the Bronx-Whiteston Bridge    Leon Lederman

Alone on his aunt’s farm, to escape the plague after graduating from college, he developed the laws of motion for both the planets in space and falling bodies on earth.  To explain his laws, he developed a whole new system of mathematics, the calculus, which gives dynamic change to geometry.  He is still the greatest scientist of all time.

He seemed to know that his mind was different.

Common people did not know how to abstract their thoughts from their senses.  Speaking always of relative quantities or measures, they are thus unable to discern the true, real world that lay beyond their perceptual cloaks.”

He was certain that his ideas were correct.

He was not much interested in convincing others. He avoided argument – the ‘legal sphere’.  Why waste one’s precious time?  He kept his discoveries to himself for almost 20 years, until Edmond Halley,  of Halley’s comet, pressured him to publish.

Born into the puritan tradition, an orphan raised by priests, he was a devout believer in God, and an exacting student of the Bible.

He was a ‘natural philosopher’ and that included theology.  Getting the concepts right meant getting God right too.  Be clear about God so as to be clear about Nature.  God is both immanent – in all things, and transcendent – above all things.   Absolute Space is the universal presence of God.  Absolute Time is the omniscient consciousness of God.  The Laws of Nature are Transcendent, like their creator.  Gravity, like God, is a omnipresent, a universal power, active everywhere.

The principles I consider, not as occult qualities supposed to result from the specific Forms of things, but as general laws of Nature, by which the things themselves are formed; their truth appearing to us by Phenomena, though their causes be not yet discovered.”

As We are in God’s image, our reason is God’s gift to us to discover the laws of nature.  And as God is unitary, so is truth.  Truth must be consistent and agree with observation.  Science, for Isaac Newton, was a religious calling, Our human reason can be trusted.

His great treatise,  Philosophiae Principia Naturalis Mathematica – the greatest book of science ever written – for him, was written in the tradition of Moses of the Bible.

And yet he remained humble, mindful of what he didn’t know.

Thus far I have explained the phenomena of the heavens and our sea by the force of gravity, but I have not yet assigned a cause to gravity. . . I have not as yet been able to deduce from phenomena the reasons for these properties of gravity, and I do not ‘feign’ hypothesis.”

Isaac Newton gave the same intensity that he gave to natural philosophy, to the study of Christian history.  Any polytheism is blasphemy,  and always leads to corruption. . .  in all things, in theology. . . and in natural philosophy.

His studies convinced him that the notion of the Trinity was wrong –  a giant conspiracy starting at the Council of Nicosia, with the falsely added 1 John 5:7, and 1 Timothy 3:16 verses to the King James Bible.  In his time, in England, denial of the Trinity was a capital crime.  He kept these views to himself.

Sir Isaac Newton didn’t like music, poetry, or literature.  He never married, and had no known personal companion.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey . . . ‘like a king’.

Alien

A fish won’t stare at you, but an octopus will.  They watch you, with their human-like camera eyes, as much as you watch them. They are the smartest animal that has stayed in the sea, the only invertebrate – animals with no backbone – with a large brain.   Though as primitive as shell fish, they have as many neurons as a dog.

Octopus are hunters and predators, but with no physical defense.  Unlike their ancestors, they did not retain their shells.  They can ink the water to escape, and do instantaneous camouflage, and a few are poisonous, but mostly they are mobile, and smart. . . brains over braun.  Two thirds of their brain cells are in their eight arms.  They can squeeze thru an opening as small as one of their eyes.

They are minds that swim.

Their squishy bodies, with no hard parts, are pure tasty, and quick, digestible meat.  They are hunted by all the predators of the sea.  Their life span is short, they die shortly after breeding just once.  Life is risky, they go for broke.

They are ingenious at escape, and always try.  They have been known to open a jar . . . from the inside . . . to get free.  They seem able to recognize particular individual humans.  When they escape, they are uncanny at picking the moment you aren’t watching them.

When you work with fish, they have no idea they are in a tank, somewhere unnatural.  With octopuses it is totally different.  They know they are inside this special place, and you are outside it. All their behaviors are affected by their awareness of captivity.”  Peter Godfrey-Smith

They have been found to have perceptual constancy –  they understand an object is the same object, from different points of view.  They have comparative memory analysis – they can bring past experiences to bear on present situations and decisions .  They have curiosity.  They will interact with something, even when they know they can’t eat it.  They do step by step action, like other animals with consciousness, they can navigate mazes.

They are not considered to be social, but divers have known then to ‘high five’ each other . . . !

They have three hearts and blue-green blood.

We humans are not just conscious, but also are self-conscious, we have awareness of ourselves along with our awareness of the world, an eerie sense of two-ness that haunts us, and we sense that the octopus has that too.

Meeting an octopus, is, in many ways, the closest we are likely to get to meeting an intelligent alien.” Peter Godfrey-Smith 

They may BE alien.  Scientists have very recently decided that since their genetics and intelligence are so much a leap from their origins that some of their DNA, literally, may have come from outer space, carried in the spray of meteors from outer space.

the genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity, with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo Sapiens. . . the possibility that cryopreserved octopus eggs arrived in icy bolides [in meteors] several hundred million years ago should not be discounted, as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth circa 270 million years ago.”   Steele, et. al.  Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, March 2018.

Thinker Speaker

All humans of normal intelligence can learn any language, provided they start at a young age.  After the age of five or six, a child can almost never become perfectly fluent in a language, and the ability to learn it can completely disappear soon after that.  After puberty, it is almost impossible to perfect the pronunciation of a second language.” Gene, Peoples, and Languages, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.

Do we speak because we think, or do we think because we speak?  How does our thinking depend on our language?  Did we become smart because we can talk, or can we talk because we are smart?

To Noam Chomsky, we speak because we think, and we think . . . linguistically . . .not because it helps us speak, but because it helps us think.  Life is about characters and  events, situated in the past, present, and future, and so is our thinking.  We function in social groups, with goals of survival, children, cooperation, and deception.  We live stories, and so we think stories.  Our minds are literary.  We are playwrights, and we are one of our characters.  Language is always and everywhere structured for stories.

For Chomsky, speech came later, an output of thinking, like a printer is to a computer.  Unlike for thinking, there are physical constraints on  speech delivery, so speech is less than thinking.  By speaking our minds with others, we expand our knowledge.  Speaking empowered thinking. Thinking and speaking feedback to enlarge our intelligence and our scope of  collective action.  The rest is history.  We vanquished the bigger and stronger Neanderthal, and everything else.  We have taken over the planet.

Noam Chomsky started linguistics in the 1950’s, when the human mind was considered a blank slate, to be filled up with culture and learning.  He noted, however, how easily and fast children acquire language without specific instruction.  They acquire the skills of language fare faster than it can be taught.  He wrote a ground-breaking work, Syntactic Structures, in 1957, in which he posited an innate language ability with  a ‘language acquisition device’ in the human mind – a universal, innate and hard-wired brain system that unfolds a language ability – in a child, as it is activated, not learned by  exposure to speech in the early years of childhood.

This was at last a theory of nature and nurture in human development, not one or the other.  Chomsky’s theory up-ended the blank slate foundational theory of social science, and launched the field of modern brain science.  He is, today, the sixth most cited person in scientific literature . . . of all time . . . just behind William Shakespeare.

People vary in their ability to convert thought into speech.  Chomsky, himself, is master thinker/speaker.  No one can speak more clearly, more comprehensively, or more spontaneously,    or enunciate streams of information as they support reasoned conclusions and opinions about very complex ideas, than Noam Chomsky.  He can drive people crazy.

Politics is a different matter.

This great linguist theorist of biological human language is a . . .  radical socialist anarchist. Famous for repudiating behaviorism, the blank slate theory of social science, he strangely applies behaviorist rationality to human political nature.  Seemingly blind to the biology of tribalism and political behavior of non-linguistic human nature,  he forever condemns illogical politics as immoral. . . .

Math and Truth

How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?”  Albert Einstein.

In 1939, at Cambridge University, Ludwig Wittgenstein was lecturing on the Philosophy of Mathematics.  By this time, with messianic certainty, he was adamant that mathematics was just a lot of linguistic convention, a bunch of tautologies based on definitions and word play.  He thought that seeking mathematical proofs, along with the quest to develop a mathematics without inconsistencieswas pointless.  He essentially taught against mathematics.

At the same time, Alan Turing, soon to be one of the great mathematicians of all time, was also at Cambridge, teaching a course in mathematical logic. He was also a student in Wittgenstein’s class.  He had proven certain mathematical truths that would eventually be very important for code breaking during the coming war, and for the future of computer programming. He could not agree that mathematical inconsistency didn’t matter.

The real harm of a system that contains a contradiction, will not come in unless there is an application, in which case a bridge may fall down or something of the sort.

Turing and Wittgenstein debated each and every class.  The other students  were bystanders. Wittgenstein would cancel class if Turing wasn’t going to show up.  Turing gradually realized that Wittgenstein considered debate. .  itself. . . as meaningless. He eventually stopped going.

The Vienna circle philosopher, Moritz Schlick, told his friend Albert Einstein of his allegiance to Wittgenstein’s thinking, finding all philosophy ‘superfluous’ and all metaphysical thinking meaningless.  Schlick was the dean of the Vienna school of ‘logical positivists’, philosophers who tried to believe that only observations, verified by experiment, could be considered real or true.  Theory and philosophy can never lead to knowledge.

Einstein, like Turing, could not agree.  He found the philosophers such as Kant and Mach very helpful.  He defended the role of both experiment and theory in scientific advancement.  It was not one or the other.  All living creatures used thinking in some way!  Concepts, as well as observations, theory as well as data, are necessary.

Physics is an attempt to construct, conceptually, a model of the Real World, as well as its law-governed structure.  You will be surprised by Einstein the metaphysician, but in this sense every 4 and 2 legged animal is, de facto, a metaphysician.”

Turing’s legacy is computers, Einstein’s is space travel.

Computers that have logically inconsistent programming will crash.

Space ships, with inaccurate calculations of fuel and trajectory, traveling millions of miles to encircle and land on asteroids,  will crash.

The SpaceX robot-guided Falcon 9 rockets ride into sun-synchronous orbit, deliver satellites to geo-synchronous orbit, at the speed of a bullet, and then return, decelerating from 120,000 feet per second to zero feet per second, in a matter of minutes, rotating elegantly from head-first to feet-first, and landing, intact, on a platform 60 square yards in size, floating at sea.

Mathematics, a product independent of human experience, is the pilot.

Tc(t)=Kpe(t)+Ki∫t∘e(t)dr +Kde(t)

Time and NOW

What then is time?  If no one asks me, I know what it is.  If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”  St. Augustine of Hippo.

Everywhere in archeology, in the pyramids of Giza, the stones of  Stonehenge, the observatory of Chichen Itza, or the temples of Angkor Was, humans have worshiped the heavens. But. . .  not the sun or the moon or the stars themselves.  No, humans have been worshiping their . . . predictability.  Humans express reverence for this mysterious truth of nature . . . the past informs the future.  And for their gift of memory, humans give gratitude to the . . . gods.

Rocks smash or get smashed.  Life can get out of the way.

Brains are predictive devices, and exploit the fact that recurrence is a fundamental property of the world around us.  Experience and memory allow the recall of similar situations and the deployment of previously effective actions.”  Nature, Vol 497, May 30, 2013.

Memory recall can be unconscious, but with consciousness, memories can more powerfully be re-lived.  This may be what consciousness is for.  Consciousness sorts the past, present and future, and with it comes a sense of a continuous, uniform, forward-flowing time.  Isaac Newton declared that this time was an absolute.  For Einstein, time only existed as a part of SpaceTime, not as an independent entity, and only a local one.

Only ghosts can hear the sounds of an eternally, uniformly occurring tick-tock.  Ask an intelligent man who is not a scholar what time is and you will see that he takes time to be this ghostly tick-tock  There is no audible tick-tock everywhere in the world that could be considered as time.”  Albert Einstein

For Nicholas Humphrey, the sensation of time is a tool of the mind for organizing memory and experience.

Suppose indeed that human beings travel through life as in a “time ship” that like a spaceship has a prow and a stern and room inside for us to move around“.  A History of the Mind,  2008.

And for artists too:

Thus, what happens in the thick moment of conscious sensation, Monet seems to be suggesting, is not that we blend past, present, and future but rather that we take a single moment and hold on to it just as it is – so that each moment is experienced as it happens for longer than it happens.  Seeing Red, 2006.

One physicist, Richard A. Muller, suggests that time very much does exist, and moves forward in the ongoing expansion of SpaceTime that has been happening since the Big Bang.

 “Just as space is being generated by the Hubble expansion, so time is being created.  The coninuous and ongoing creation of new time sets both thearrow of time and its pace. Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as Now.”  Now, The Physics of Time, 2017.

NOW may be what rides the crest of this wave of new SpaceTime continually being created  by our ever expanding Universe, and we, with our conscious awareness, as unique riders on this surf.