Pedagogy of the Existential Genius

November 8, 2007

This post is an outgrowth of the conversation between A. Carrozza and I in the comments of my opening post, The Plight of the Lonely Genius. The question is, why can’t wisdom be taught?

At this point in the dialogue, we’ve failed to disagree on any major points, but I wanted to give the conversation a chance to develop into something interesting, so I’m making a post.

Wisdom: The ability, developed through experience, insight and reflection, to discern truth and exercise good judgment. (Ironically enough, a definition from Wikipedia, which was the most appropriate for the circumstance).

The definition is a useful starting point, but does not capture the breadth of the actual concept. Maybe this is a semantic debate in disguise. We’ll see.

Carrozza opens:

Human beings are not the logical, open-minded rationalists that they pretend to be. There’s an invisible dimension to human cognition that runs parallel to logical thought. For lack of a better term, let’s call it “belief” or “non-rational conditioning.”

To summarize the post, Carrozza sees wisdom in the context of a dichotomy between itself and mainstream beliefs. Humans delude themselves with the notion that we are primarily rational and logical, when in fact we are governed by superstition that is evolutionarily advantageous.

He provides the following example of wisdom, which he lifts from Zen philosophy:

  1. All things are interconnected and interdependent, therefore nothing exists independently from anything else.
  2. The universe is in a constant state of flux, and nothing exists in the same form for more than an instant at a time.
  3. Thoughts and the words that define them are static, grossly overly-simplistic, cognitive “maps” of an infinite, multi-dimensional, dynamic reality. They have utility in the same way that a street map has utility

He asks why, given these simple, largely self-evident principles, does Zen take a lifetime to master? His answer: “…all of these principles run counter to our culturally-defined and biologically-hardwired cognitive programming. Wisdom has to swim ‘upstream.'”

The reason, he supposes, if that the mind must be stripped of its assumptions and biases, and that this is the path to “wisdom.” Having described the rigors of Zen practice, he goes on:

My sense is that, most likely, these traditional practices serve to bend, fold, stretch and— hopefully —“crack open” the unconscious (innate and culturally conditioned) premises and assumptions that define and rule a zen novice’s life and and thought processes.

My response:

I call that conditioning the “animal brain” — it’s very much at odds with enlightened thought, but I don’t see the dichotomy as being so adversarial.

My position is that the animal brain is programmed by evolution, or “the frenzied, fearful belief in some eternal enemy,” and that human behavior on the whole tends to be governed by this animal within. My position is that “wisdom” isn’t so much running against the mainstream per se, as it is conquering the animal and bringing its passions and focus in line with the higher values of interconnection and the like.

In summation: “…I don’t think it’s like two sides of a coin, as much as it is to two steps in a process.”

Carrozza splits into two topics here, one about mysticism, and one continuing this line of discussion. I’ll focus on the latter, and split the other into a separate post.

He opens by drawing a distinction between the knowledge of wisdom, and the thought process that allows it to be useful, likening it to a farmer using seeds (knowledge) but needing good soil, or in the opposite case water being poured onto a duck’s back.

He expounds on this distinction, then brings up a related issue: most of the information disseminated to us is wrong. He uses this point to argue that direct experience is necessary for deep, reliable knowledge.

My response, is this:

I see what you mean about wisdom being able to be taught both in the Zen sense, and the sense of subject mastery altering one’s thought process, but I think that is a trick of semantics.

Maybe it’s by definition that the two are not the same. If we allow that “wisdom” related to a topic can be acquired by traditional study of the topic, then we’ve failed to discern between wisdom and expertise. The term becomes meaningless if wisdom is both the soil and the seed. There is clearly a correlation, but I think it’s worth separating the ideas in our mind.

Expertise does create changes in thought process. I remember clearly when I was very young, first learning to program — the moment it clicked was when I had to create a conditional statement with multiple clauses, for some reason the act of differentiating between and combining “AND” and “OR” in my mind provided me with clarity and insight that would inform my entire thought process.

Now, many years later, I occasionally dream in code, which is a sensation that a person who hasn’t mastered a subject will probably not know. I have mastered several subjects, and in each case I have been hit with that same sort of clarity. Thinking in terms of movement and equations, thinking in terms of sounds and vibrations.

These epiphanies force one to realize that our mentally abstracted view of the world is both profoundly limited, and entirely arbitrary. Were we born with a slightly different chemical makeup, we would have monumentally altered views on spatial relationships, color, tone– the list goes on.

So, I find that the act of using knowledge to break into new ways of thinking is a wizening experience, but the knowledge one gains in the subject matter isn’t inherently enlightening.

I think that’s where the seed and soil connect: the process of expanding outward into mental territory one hasn’t traveled before is precisely the process of becoming wise. One fuel for that expansion is subject matter knowledge. I would argue that the more dominant fuel is experience.

…Which brings us to the next point, which is that learned knowledge alone is not sufficient to produce wisdom, as you were saying with the young, misinformed genius. This is the realm of the mystic: to experience, as directly as one may, the fabric of the world surrounding him. To allow the universe to ply his mind, to let it bend his perception until he sees the back of his own head, and realizes that perception has nothing to do with the raw material of reality, and everything to do with the internal state of he that perceives it.

What a marvelous duality: an idea so radical as not to be believed or even comprehended by the anyman, yet so mundane and true that it is one of the most celebrated and ancient beliefs that we as humans still carry to this day, dating back to at least the dawn of history.

Unless a third person jumps in here to disagree, I can’t see this line of discourse going that much further, because I think that Carrozza and I are both of the mind that wisdom, by definition, is a measure of how mystically enlightened one is. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.

In either case, I’ll be posting the discussion about mysticism in its own post, so stay tuned for that.

22 Responses to “Pedagogy of the Existential Genius”

  1. A. Carrozza Says:

    Yes, I agree.

  2. A. Carrozza Says:

    If you are interested in the topic as well, I’d love to see “perception” get it’s own post. In my own experience, it goes to the heart of EVERYTHING, and much of the literature of mysticism involves the process of perception.

  3. Sally Daniels Says:

    I have the answer to why wisdom can’t be taught.
    Wisdom actually can be taught. Because one can read the quotes of the people who have lived much longer than you have. You can learn another persons wisdom, and in doing so, appear wise.

    But. I will sum it up simply. I was homeschooled after grade 3. Started college at 15, finished at 19, and the grad students left me…unimpressed. I was always more interested in musicians. Perhaps because our hearts were beating from the same drum. (Best way to describe it.)

    For the life of me, in all my years of hurried experience…when I have been chomping at the bit to GO, GO GO, well…why wasn’t everybody else? Why can’t everybody else be as open as I am, or as up front about what the truly want or needs in terms of goals or friendships and relationships?

    I realized something. Having never been to school long enough to see how “normal people live”…I don’t have an active understanding of how the majority of their actions are ROOTED IN FEAR.

    It’s impossible for me to have a true UNDERSTANDING of the mechanics of how fear works, because I have never been truly afriad.

    How can I be afraid for games that people play when I can intuitively sense their underlying psychological problems? When I understand how the drugs they have taken have damaged their brain making them slow to the punch, when I understand that the alcohol they drink makes them less capable of love, and when I know that a large part of commentary people make towards my life, is due to something that is missing in their own life?

    Due to my intuitive understanding of peoples psyches…because I UNDERSTAND, and I KNOW WHERE THEY ARE GOING, and WHERE THEY HAVE BEEN, I am not afraid of what I have a knowledge of.

    But! Because I have basically always had this intuitive sense of how people interact, fear was impossible. I was the lion, and the sheep were running from me.

    The reason though…that 99% of the population says “no book you read can make up for life experience”…well, it’s because all of their actions are rooted in fear, and rooted in them having to EARN APPROVAL from others. It’s because sheep have to learn how to side step all of those peoples fears, one by one by one. It takes normal people years, decades, even, to navigate through the fear of all the things people do that they don’t understand.

    But you, oh intelligent soul, are both logical, and intuitive, and having been born with both graces…have no need to be afriad. The ONLY THING you need, to operate in their world, is that you have to understand that, UNLIKE YOU, they will always be afraid. And if you want to get by without resistance, you might have to feign fear yourself. Everybody else wears a mask all the time, and you have to pretend that you do too, just to say that, you are but a lowly sheep like them, part of the herd and, therefore winning of group approval.

    You could just be a lion. But the sheep would hate you, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?

    To navigate through fear, to acknowledge they exist in others, means you earn their calmness, their openness, their “revealing secrets” to you that you already intuitively knew and understood anyway.

    My only question is…if other people have managed to navigate through life the way I have, seeing (and bypassing) peoples fears…if I have never had any fear…and I have no fear of simply diving head first into something…then where are the other people who are as fearless as I am due to their acute intelligence?

    Because I can tell you, I have met some intelligent people in my life, but the only ones who have remotely interested me, are the ones who seem to be able to operate without fear of failure, or fear of rejection. To know when to act without hesitation is possibly the greatest gift anybody could give me, because I’ve almost never encountered somebody…who didn’t act without hesitation upon figuring out…that I was smart, and had something more to offer, than a “pretty face.”

    As a side note though…that Lawyer guy, who posted about how you needed to go to grad school to find peers?I guarantee they won’t be nearly as smart as you, because if that lawyer had half a brain, he would understand that out of every 100 people, on a pure intelligence level, you’ll only be able to identify with LESS THAN ONE. Colleagues are very different from true peers, and a smart person knows the difference.

  4. LG Says:

    What you posted really spoke to me Sally, I appreciate it. I think it’s worth ripping into, to clarify and heighten what you’re saying for both our sakes’.

    I think you broke from “wisdom can be taught” into a more general rant, about living in fear, and operating in a society that runs on it.

    I’ll say that I only partially agree with you — I think people have varying motivations, and fear is one of the main ones, but it’s not the only one. There is also apathy, and love.

    I don’t have the time to fully flesh out my thought, but I’ll post back here soon!

  5. Afraid to give a name Says:

    First of all. I want to thank you LG, even though I can’t put into words what exactly I’m thanking you for, I just wanna say thank you! I also wanna mention that English isn’t my first language so please excuse the typos and limited vocabulary.
    I have an unconcouis disinclination to calling myself a genius, so I’m just gonna call myself intelligently diviant so that I can claim to relate to your posts and those of others, especially Carrozza and Sally.
    So here is me: intelligently diviant, raised in a middle eastern country where about 70% of all the material taught in public schools were made of religious crap. Unfortunately I went to a private school where religion was actually somehow more emphasized 🙂 Anyway I managed to grew up with an unexplained interest in commonly uninteresting things such as math, physics, astronomy, music, languages and aetheism. I went to college abroad where I basically learned how to (and how not to!) use different kinds of drugs, also picking up the arts of accounting and marketing in the process. Now I occupy a prestigous government post which duties I could perform while drinking and laying face down getting a massage (I don’t actually do that, but you get the idea).
    The reason I decided to write here was to vent, and also to express acceptance and relatedness. I like you guys! Reading what you write makes me feel much much better because it assures me I’m not a lone case of insania.
    this is hardly an argument, it is more of a thought; I think wisdom (being a genius,high IQ, etc) has a lot to do with the mechanism of thought itself. Most thoughts are conveyed verbally within one’s head. A few thoughts are presented as an aural memory where your brain recreates the effect of listening to a certain sound (e.g. playing musical notes inside your own head). Other, usually more sophisticated, thoughts are presented as photographic memories; e.g. you see the monalisa with your mind’s eye. The list goes on to include all of the five senses. However I think the most important medium of thought and the one that differentiates smart people from lay people is the one where thought is conveyed as an abstract concept, as a relation or a host of complex relations between different elements, as a mathmatical system that is dynamically changing to relfelct thought-expermints you are making. LG I think the dreams you mentioned fall into this category, sometimes I have similar dreams. It is especially interesting when I can pinpoint the moment my mind switched to “abstract thinking”. For example I would be dreaming about crossing a very loose dangerous-looking bridge; images of diffent parts of the bridge show up in a sequence, then the noise of the wind and the creaking of wood fills my mind, and then, all of a sudden, my mind start thinking abstractly about support points, leverage, torque, gravity, etc. It does so in a weird way that is very hard for me to put into words right now. It is not verbal, visual or aural. It is somethine else entirely. The ability of a brain to have this kind of thinking, and the freqeuncy such thoughts occur could be an element that differentiates intellegntly deviant people.
    Thanks for listening and sharing!

  6. Afraid to give a name Says:

    So as an answer to the question: why cannot wisdom be taught? Here is another question: why should it be taught or attained in any way? Why is it that we value wisdom and truth to be so absolutely important? Maybe we should entertain the possibility that wisdom, logic, and thought itself is only a delusion. Here is an argument that supports this bold statement:

    This is a proof by negation that proves that logic, and apparently wisdom, as most people would understand is meaningless:

    1) Assume the following definition of logic: it is the human brain’s attempt at recreating events and arrangements by discerning truth from falseness.

    2) Only one of the following two possibilities is true unless premise 3 is false:
    a) All particles in the universe, including those of the human brain, follow a set of laws of physics. Deviation is not only impossible, it is undefined. Everything could be predicted with infinite accuracy given initial conditions of the universe. (ignore the uncertainty principle, it is irrelevent to the argument). In short, humans have no will.
    b) The previous statement is not true. Under certain circumstances events do happen that are uninterpretable/unpredictable by laws of physics. Such truely random events form the basis for the existence of human will, i.e. humans can spawn events in their brains that are random and unexplainable by physics.

    3) Options “a” and “b” are mutually exclusive. This is pretty direct; e.g. if only one event in the universe is random, then the whole universe is random.

    4) But:
    a) Option “a” (no human will) leaves no room for logic as defined to have any meaning. That’s because it makes the observer a part of the experiment and the whole observation just another event that cannot be isolated from the system. That means that it is impossible for any conclusion the observer extracts to be unbiased.
    b) Option “b” (pro-human will) is not better as it introduces randomness to the system. Which makes logic look pretty funny.

    5) Hence if logic was to have a meaning, the definition in “1” must be discarded.

    If you discard that definition, you are left with something weird that is not logic as we know it.

    I feel that I have unnecessarily made an easy issue very complicated. So here is a quick summary:
    We either have will, or we don’t. If we do, that means electrons in our brains do not follow laws of physics, which contradicts logic,
    but if we don’t, that means electrons in our brains wouldn`t help us discern truth from falseness, they only do what they have to do to comply with laws of physics.
    In either case, logic, and wisdom for that matter, is meaningless

  7. Ken Says:

    Thank you for your insight, Afraid. I’ll bite:

    1) Your definition seems unclear. In what way do we wish to recreate events and patterns? What is truth and falsehood?

    I think the definition has something to do with discovering the particular evidential entanglements of our reality such that we can predict how it will behave. It’s a complicated business that I don’t have time to give a full treatment to, but let me direct you to One of the main authors, Eli, has been writing on this topic for many moons, and his insight is penetrating. Read it all!

    2) I can’t accept your premise B. This isn’t really how quantum uncertainty works. I think, as Eli would say, you’re confusing the map with the territory — quantum uncertainty exists in the mind of the observer, not from an extraphysical, unexplainable source.

    In addition, the uncertainty for a particular observation is finite. There is a range of possibility — like an electron cloud. The electron isn’t “everywhere” just because the observer cannot locate it. In fact, he can locate it as a matter of degree; he is able to provide a confidence interval for its location.

    It is true that this isn’t the rock solid capital T Truth we’re taught in grade school, but as I press onward I find that nothing really is. Everything is true only to a given confidence interval — some approach 1, others not so much, but nothing seems certain, yet all seems to fit inside some probability framework.

    That’s why it seems premature to state that
    a) We can’t know anything with infinite certainty
    b) Therefore we can’t know anything at all

    It doesn’t follow.

    As for the actual question of will, what does it mean? How will your expectation of future events change if you were to start believing in free will? Alternately, if you already do believe in free will, how would the world be visibly different if everyone were a slave to physics?

    We have this vague sense of what “Free Will” is, but my feeling is that it’s a nonsense question. I’m willing to be proven wrong by being shown the physical phenomena that are affected.

    Looking forward to your response.

  8. Afraid to give a name Says:

    Thanks for the elaborate response, Ken! I would like to clarify a couple of things:

    I think my poor writing style and wording has caused confusion. Because one of the remarks you mentioned is totally off. I’m talking about the one related to quantum uncertainty. This argument is actually more primitive than to include Heisenberg uncertainty. In fact the uncertainty principle is not mentioned at all except inside prentices with the intent of ruling out a possible confusion. Now including Heisenberg uncertainty to this topic yields very interesting ideas, but that is another subject.

    Secondly, that definition of logic is of course lacking. In fact this is why it best serves the purpose of the argument. However, I do believe that discerning truth and falsehood is the most basic tool of logic. Without it, nothing can be concluded or rejected. That said, here is why such a limited definition is perfect for the argument: this argument uses logic in its most basic form (discerning truth and falsehood) to conclude that logic is meaningless.

    Now please bear with my clumbsy attempt to rephrase the argument at the risk of repeating myself to a genius 🙂

    This is an outline of it:

    1) Logic discerns truth and falsehood (Assumption)
    2) Using this discerning tool, we know for a fact that one of following two options is true : (a) OR (b)
    3) The two options mentioned above are mutually exclusive, only one is possible.
    4) both options lead to situations where discerning truth and falsehood is meaningless
    5) Therefore (1) must be false.

    It remains now to define (a) and (b):

    (a) A universe where laws of physics do not leave a margin for randomness, i.e. the concept of contingency is always true, i.e. every event has one and only one cause.
    (b) A universe where laws of physics do leave a margin for randomness, i.e. the concept of contingency is NOT always true, there exist event(s) that lack a cause.

  9. Afraid to give a name Says:

    Your objection:
    “That’s why it seems premature to state that
    a) We can’t know anything with infinite certainty
    b) Therefore we can’t know anything at all
    It doesn’t follow”
    is right on the heart of the matter. However here is a counter to it:

    “The proclaimed problem with logic is not related to its limits. Not related to how “accurate” or “certain” it is bound to be. Instead, what the argument points out is a problem with the applicability of logic in the first place.
    More concretely, if option (a) is true, logic is meaningless because it is reduced to an event that is molded into a fabric of events that makes up the universe. Logic is bound by laws of physics which govern electrons representing neural signals. If logic is bound, then discerning truth is meaningless. For example if there is a truth named X which lies in the dark region where laws of physics prevent your brain from entering by means of imposing limitations on your neural signals, then you will always be ignorant of that truth X. And not only that, but you will NEVER know what similar truths maybe lurking in that dark region. This fact leaves any Y which you may hold to be true: untrue!
    On the other hand, if option (b) is true, logic is left with the task of dealing with events that happen without cause, without a possible interpretation/prediction. Logic is undefinable in that kind of universe. It would also be impossible to draw a line between “normal events” and random events”. That is to say: it is impossible to divide the universe to two parts, one where laws of physics must apply, and another where laws of physics may not apply. Because all you need to break the necessity of laws of physics in the WHOLE universe is a single random event. Hence primese (3).”

    Sorry if I’m poorly choosing words again. Hope you can make sense of all of this. I rarely meet people that could. I think the argument above is very shaky and counltless objections can be proposed. I hope you find it as interesting as I do!

    Thanks for your great insights, especially the one about “confidence intervals”, very well written and so true (in my opinion). I’m gonna have to follow up on that later!
    Next thing I’m going to do is read Eli’s insights that you recommended.

  10. Afraid to give a name Says:

    Okay so here is a question that is not so irrelevent to the topic: How would you define a random event?

    If you were a programer, and I were to give you the latest top notch equipment and software and the simple task of writing a program that could choose a random number, would you be able to?

    Obviously not, right?

  11. Ken Says:

    Randomness isn’t defined by its cause, randomness is defined as a “process whose outcomes follow no describable deterministic pattern”. The distinction is that random events can very much have causes that we can determine, even if the outcomes can never be determined.

    Whether it’s even sensical to talk about outcomes that could never even be hypothetically predicted is the root of this question. For every process that we think of as random, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it is actually predictable if we have fine enough resolution. For example, we use atmospheric noise as a way of getting random numbers. It maybe that if we had perfect data about the beginning of the universe and the laws that govern it, we could predict those “random” numbers, at least within an interval.

    Maybe it’s that interval of uncertainty that allows room for will. We can only act bounded by the laws of physics, but the laws of physics don’t determine outcomes with absolute precision. Can we control the inputs to the degree that the grey area can be meaningfully described as “will”?

    Probably not, but I don’t really have a way of testing. I have to ask again though — what are the actual, physical changes you expect to see given a world with free will and given a world without free will? If you believe in determinism, and if someone were to develop an absolute proof that free will existed, what changes would you make in the way you live your life?

  12. HAL Says:

    With regard to your bold assertion that logic and wisdom, as most people would define them, are meaningless– I’ve paraphrased and summarized your argument (below), so that I can respond to some its assumptions:

    1) “Logic (and wisdom) discern truth and falsehood.

    [COMMENT: Okay. No problems.]

    2) Using this discerning tool, we know for a fact that one of following two options is true: (a) OR (b)

    (a) A universe without randomness; every event has one and only one cause.
    (b) A universe with randomness; there exist events that lack a cause.

    3) The two options mentioned above are mutually exclusive. Only one is possible.

    [COMMENT: This isn’t a critical point but it lays the foundation for a later argument. In a causual, non-random universe, it isn’t actually necessary that every event has on and only one cause. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible for any event to have one and only one cause. ALL events have multiple, and essentially infinite, causes. As Buddhism teaches, everything in the universe is interconnected and interdependent. Some events have a bigger effect on a given phenomenon than others, but the linear “A causes B” thing exists only in our simplistic cognitive modeling of the universe.

    For example, John was born because his parents had sex. But he was also born because of Prince, John’s father’s old roommate’s mother’s health, and the 1988 grape crop in Southern France. (John’s father invited his mother over to his place to drink wine and listen to Prince albums while his roommate was away visiting his family for the weekend. If his mother didn’t like the music and/or the wine, then the mood wouldn’t have been set and nothing would have happened.) Of course, there are a million other “causes” that had to be in place for John to have been conceived, not to mention born. ]

    4) Both options lead to situations where discerning truth and falsehood is meaningless.

    Option “a” (no free will) makes the observer a part of the experiment and the whole observation just another event that cannot be isolated from the system. That means that it is impossible for any conclusion the observer extracts to be unbiased. This leaves no room for logic, as defined, to have any meaning.

    [COMMENT: Continuing the previous line of thought, it goes without saying that the observer is part of the experiment and that the observation can’t be isolated from the system. Since everything in the universe is interconnected and interdependent (to some degree or other), the observer and the observed are, in absolute terms, the very same thing. However, this doesn’t preclude “unbiased observation.” I can’t exist without the Sun and the Earth. I can’t exist without the other stars in our galaxy. I can’t exist without the oceans and rivers and plants and animals. However, I CAN perceive and think in a functionally “objective, unbiased” rational manner. Being influenced by the things around me (and the things that I am observing) is not the same as being corrupted or biased by them. My perception is subjectively defined and delimited, as are my modes of cognition—but that doesn’t mean I can’t think logically and reason scientifically.

    Furthermore, even if I am a robotic machine— a mindless slave to the causual laws of physics— I can still use logic and apply wisdom in dicerning truth from falsehood. I don’t need free will to do that. An android can be perfectly logical and can behave wisely. A computer can discern truth from falsehood. Free will isn’t necessary.]

    Option “b” (free will) is no better as it introduces randomness to the system,which makes logic look pretty funny.

    [COMMENT: I would suggest that “free will,” as the term is commonly used, doesn’t require randomness. People often throw the randomness thing into discussions of “free will” because “random” is conceived as the opposite of “conditioned or programmed.” However, what most people who defend the notion of “free will” mean by “free will” is quite different from random response/reaction. It’s actually more like magic or miracles.

    For example, Tom was raised by a drug-addicted Mother who was constantly in and out of mental hospitals, and a violent alchoholic father who beat him daily. He grew up in poverty, constantly exposed to crime and violence, and with no healthy role-models and no formal education. Yet, he is expected by God to use his “free will” to be a model citizen. If he doesn’t magically become something completely and utterly different from what he has been conditioned to be, he will burn eternally in Hell.

    This isn’t about randomness, it’s about miracles— about breaking or suspending the laws of physics. Randomness would be mugging old nuns on Tuesday and giving the money to charity on Wednesday. Or getting straight As in May and getting Fs in June. Kind and loving one minute, and violent and abusive the next. Randomness is not a “choice,” and when people talk about “free will” they typically mean making choices that transcend the laws of physics and causality.

    What’s meaningless isn’t logic or wisdom— it’s the concept of “free will.”

  13. Afraid to give a name Says:

    Hey Hal. Thanks for the great discussion! I will be posting something later on. I think I have much to say!

    P.S. I realize it’s been a few months, but I have only now found out that someone has replied.

  14. Afraid to give a name Says:

    So I’m going to talk only about one of the points you raised for now, I will continue later. In fact I think that most of the points you raised are prime examples of how humans are delusional
    when it comes to analysing logic because most of the input they receive is meaningless, consider the following argument for example:

    [This isn’t a critical point but it lays the foundation for a later argument. In a causual, non-random universe, it isn’t actually necessary that every event has on and only one cause.
    In fact, it’s pretty much impossible for any event to have one and only one cause. ALL events have multiple, and essentially infinite, causes. As Buddhism teaches,
    everything in the universe is interconnected and interdependent. Some events have a bigger effect on a given phenomenon than others, but the linear “A causes B” thing exists o
    nly in our simplistic cognitive modeling of the universe.

    For example, John was born because his parents had sex. But he was also born because of Prince, John’s father’s old roommate’s mother’s health, and the 1988 grape crop in Southern
    France. (John’s father invited his mother over to his place to drink wine and listen to Prince albums while his roommate was away visiting his family for the weekend. If his mother
    didn’t like the music and/or the wine, then the mood wouldn’t have been set and nothing would have happened.) Of course, there are a million other “causes” that had to be
    in place for John to have been conceived, not to mention born. ]

    It is a necessity to think abstractly here. If you would do that, you would realize that any event must have one and only one cause in order for logic to have a valid domain,
    and every cause must have one and only one resulting event, as otherwise no causal relationship can be argued to exist between any events. Here is an example, we have cause A,
    let it be an apple falling from a tree, and an event B, water splashing from the lake below. If event A were to have any other results than B, there has to be an event X which explains why
    B happend instead of the the other outcome. In other words, A is no more a direct cause of B, something else, X, is. If X was argued to not exist, we would be standing right were modern
    physicts are standing today in regard to quantum mechanics; they know it explains things, but they don’t know why.

    On the other hand, it is simple logic that every event C must have only one cause. This cause can be defined as the last primary event that preceeded C. If we had two events, A and B
    that are candidates for being the cause of C, then the real cause is easily distinguished as whichever came last, A or B. This is important in human logic because otherwise it would
    be impossible to trace a cause for an event that happend in the past, therefore impossible to infer information about the future. Of course you could use language,
    our misleading convictions, to argure that the water splashed from the lake because a farmer planted the apple tree next to it 20 years ago, or for that matter because planet Earth
    formed and created a gravitational field, but human logic is based on the concept that the water splashed because billions of electrical fields sorrounding the molecules of the apple
    repelled against billions of electrical fields sorrounding the water molecules. These billions of events could have all been avoided had a molecule on the branch that held the apple NOT
    absorb a photon radiated from the sun, which when absorbed, resulted in the branch breaking and the apple falling. If we conveniently define a cause of an event as the last event which
    omission would result in a different outcome, then the real cause for the water splashing is the absorption of the photon. In your example, perhaps John was born because the
    imprengnating sperm absorbed a quanta of energy milliseconds before hitting the egg, resulting in a successful penetration which wouldn’t have happened had the sperm failed to absorp
    that quanta of energy.

    I’m not saying that I believe this concept is true, I’m saying that human logic is based on it, and that attepmts to manupilates words and ideas in order to by pass that concept are irrelevant.

    The most important field of science relevant to this kind of arguments is quantum mechanics. If you are further interested in this discussion, I would post some thoughts regarding how
    quantum mechanics relate to this topic.

  15. Afraid to give a name Says:

    Hey Ken! Sorry I got caught up in a few things and did not check your blog for quite some time now. As a quick answer to your question:
    “what changes would you make in the way you live your life?”
    The answer is nothing, probably no changes at all. A good point is made that thinking too much about whether you have free will or not is time-wasting. So why would anyone do it? It is one of these questions that are invencible, how was the universe created? What’s there outside the universe? etc

    But to include personal aspects is quite irrelevent to the arguement now isn’t it? Plus, I think whether or not humans have free will can be objectively tested in a lab one day, using a Super God Computer that can calculate evolution of all matter particles and energy fields in a thinking brain over a time period. Of course humans would habe to put together the Grand Unified Theory first, which, if obtainable, would solve millions of problems, the problem of free will being the least important.

  16. Afraid to give a name Says:

    By the way, here is how i think “randomness” is best defined for purposes of this argument:

    A random event is such that when humans are given full information about the universe and laws of physics, they would still be unable to account for it using logic, neither would they be able to predict its occurance in the future with infinite accuracy. (please let’s leave mr. Heisenberg aside for now because all he does is complicate already complicated issues)

    it doesn’t matter if it follows an abstractly meaningless mental pattern humans recognize (being good despite being conditioned not to be) or not (mugging nunns on Tuesday and giving to charity on Wednesday or even getting spontaneously combusted) 🙂

  17. Ken Says:

    It’s interesting — I don’t have time to give a full argument right now, but I was thinking while you were writing that you must not be familiar with the work on quantum mechanics. The fact that you brought it up at the end of one of your posts makes me curious.

    Are you physicist or do you understand the math at that level, or are you approaching it from a more popular-science perspective?

  18. Afraid to give a name Says:

    Well i’m not a physicist, but i do understand the math behind quantum mechanics very well, im a self-rightous math geek 🙂

    By the way are you familiar with Bell’s theorem? It is very relevant to the topic here.

  19. Afraid to give a name Says:

    How is quantum mechanics relevant to the question of whether randomness as defined above exist in the universe or not?

    Obviously the indeterministic nature of quanutm physics is what is relevant here. This indeterminism is a direct consequence of the principle of wave/particle duality, which is a corner stone of quantum science. A wave description of a miscroscopic particle forces us to let go of the infinite accuracy we want to obtain. Wave/partice duality is extremely necessary as it provides the only valid explanation for experiments such as the famous double-split experiment. Another one of the ABCs of quantum mechanics is the uncertainty principle. At its heart is the statement that it is impossible to measure a microscopic system without disturbing it, as an interaction between the observer and the system is bound to cause disturbances, e.g. the position of an electron and its momentum can never be simoultaneuosly (pardon my spelling) measured with infinite accuracy, because the least disturbing measurement device would be a photon, but a short-wavelenghed photon is too energitic and will cause
    momentum change, while a low energy photon is too long-wavelenghed to detect an accurate position. In the mathematical formulation this is incorporated through the notion of non-commuting operators, simply put, A.B doesnt equal B.A, if A is the experiment of measuring momentum and B is the expermint of measuring position.

    But what does this really mean? is this lack of determinism due to absence of causes at the quantum realm? Or is it that there is no lack of causes, but nature places an impregnable boundary between us and them?

    If you flip a coin, the indeterminism can be argued to result directly from your lack of information about the mass of the coin, its shape, the force applied, the torque, the air resistence etc. Hence if you were able to calcualte all of these with infinite accuracy, there would be no more indeterminism. But since it is impossible to make an infinitly-accurate calculation, no such thing is possible. Now someone could argue that it could be possible to calculate how much inaccuracy results from the relations mentioned above, and then determine whether or not such inaccuracy (usually exrememly small) could have an impact on the outcome. This is actually what modern science does, e.g. quantum perturbation theories, and it is what humanity has always been doing since the start of logic, e.g. Aristotles’ analytics. In a sense, these methods save our logic, since without them, nothing is certain. (e.g. do all people die? can you answer even if you have not seen all people dying?)

    Now allow me to argue that there are two possibilities:

    A) Quanum “fuzz” – e.g. the electron cloud, is a result of there being no causes that make an electron exist at, for example, point A rather than point B. It is just pure randomness, and no matter how much information you’re given the quanum fuzz would still exist.

    B) No. Such causes do exist, it is just that nature places such a limit on our knowledge regarding these causes that to us, it could seem that there are no causes at all. Such ideas are usually reffered to as proposals of hidden variables.

    Which is true?

    It is reassuring to think that there is really no difference between the two options from the human point of view, that such a question will never make a difference, let alone be answered. But it is possible to counter this argument with the following amusing statement:
    It does make a difference and here is how: If option A is true, then the ensuing randomness garuantees that even if the odds of humans making a leap in their logical understanding is almost non-existant, such leap is bound to occur in an infnite universe. Hence we would ultimately know what kind of universe we exsist in given that option A is true.


    Option B feels grim to me. It makes me feel depressed to dwell on the consequences of it. A universe in which we are only perfectly ordinary collections of matter. Bound by what bounds matter, and severely restricted in our logic, judgement, by the un-escapable fact that we are a part of what we are making experiments on. Strangely enough, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, seen by most as the classical, rigid way of seeing the subject, is in the spririt of………no, not option A as you might think, but option B. The Copenhagen interpretatoin (I feel that I’m committing spelling crimes all over the place here) points out that quantum mechanics doesn’t explain things, it explains the interaction between observers and things, and furthermore it states that this is the best that we could get, that no reality exist regardless of the observer, the tree isn’t there when no one is lookin, schroedinger’s cat is both alive and dead. The ugly thing is backed up, in a certain a way, by Bell’s theorem, (please read about Bell’s theorem if you have time, it is regarded by one great physicist (not sure who) as the most profound scientific achievement of the 20th century.)

    Sorry for taking so long, and a lot of thanks for reading and listening.


  20. Afraid to give a name Says:

    So this should be the last long post I`m gonna torture you with. I feel that I should apologize for the way I presented the choaticly organized argument above. More specifically, for the way I one-sidedly made the points and counter points and counter-counter points without paying close enough attention to what others where pointing out 😦
    I feel that I have effectively shut everybody up and started talking to myself.

    I hope you understand that the society where I live is pretty different to yours. Not trying to make excuses here but really, when you live in such a society as mine, where people are extraordinarily backwards and freedom of speech is missing, you are constantly confronted and silenced by medicore arguments, medival belief-systems, and an incredible amount of scientific ignorance. This can build up to an un-healthy sense of passive superiority inside your mind. You start shutting your ears and mind to what others are saying, perhaps as a defensive means. And when you meet decent people from other, more enlightend, blessed societies, you have a pretty good chance of coming off as arrogant. I felt that very much when I lived in the U.S. It was amazing to me how smart, almost genius, individuals where all over the place, and to my amazement, a good proportion of them had happy, successful lives, and a healthy way of verbally communicating their ideas.

    Here is what I’m not trying to do: make you feel guilty, or make myself feel self-pity :)) but what I’m trying to do is apologize to the blogger and everybody else really for making this discussion somewhat one-sided.

    Thanks 😉

  21. Regina Says:

    The question is, why can’t wisdom be taught?

    Wisdom, Truth can be taught it is simple. Love
    Love is the truth and love is the wisdom. It permeates everything it is the governing force in the complete universe multiverses. When you dissolve your fears, illusions, fantasies your perceptions change then you know Love is all there is. Perception one by one. I’m talking about unconditional love not the infatuated love people associate with.

    There is an order in the entire universe and it is permeate by order, G.W Leibniz in the Discourse on Metaphysics explains this When you see the order of your own perceptions you begin to gain insight into Wisdom and Truth. Yes Yes Yes it can be taught.It already exists inside us. It’s sitting there waiting to be uncovered.

    I am also a genus and I am also dumb.

    I love all your insight in Quantum Physics. When the particle and the antiparticle merge together is that when the Photon is produced. What is the Photons Form?


  22. Alan Says:

    The mystics of most religions emphasise the importance of the ‘spirit of genius’ (different meaning in ancient days) conquering the weakness, or as I prefer – the indignity – of the flesh, the beast.

    To many mystic followings, such as gnosticism, Theosophy, the 4th way (Gurdjieff) it is the only meaning, the only purpose, of earthly existence.

    Quantum philosophy (what is called physics, but still a mystery, as the brain is the neurologists), suggests we exist within a matrix of multiple – even infinite – co-existing “realities” whose realisation is dependant on each being.

    Though we feel we had no decision in the outcome, we are still responsible for it.

    What I meant to say, I agree, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom requires understanding. Understanding what you know (and dont know)

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