Author: Molly_G

Happy Valentine’s Day

This time last year I was teaching the course Metaphysics and Mind and one class happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. To contrast any negative connotations of the holiday, like loneliness and consumerism, and their heightened reality in the modern era,1 I wanted to think about love in a different way, in a Greek way. As cliché as it might be, I discussed the eight Greek words,2 along with a Latin word,3 for ‘love’ to demonstrate a range of different ways to potentially interpret the holiday. There are a few terms that should not be celebrated though, as they refer to negative behaviours or outcomes.

Eros: physical attraction and sexual desire, related to the gods of passion and fertility. The Greek god Eros becomes the Roman god Cupid, both of which shoot arrows at both mortal and immortal beings, generating overwhelming feelings of desire.

Philia: an affinity for something or someone, like a friend or family member, which generates deeper and longer lasting bonds than eros. It is associated with trust, shared values, and a spiritual connection which leads to a platonic affection for another. To Plato, the ideal romantic relationship is one which combines eros and philia to create a “friendship between lovers.”4

Ludus: a Latin word for game or play and associated with flirting, teasing, and seduction. It is a carefree, playful love which lives in the moment and is noncommittal. It can also be used to refer to non-sexual forms of enjoyment or sensory pleasure, like dancing, or activities involving a degree of risk like mountain biking or rock-climbing.

Philautia: self-love, both good and bad forms. It arises from how one views and feels about themselves, and can be related to self-compassion but also to egotism. Similar to self-esteem, there are healthy forms of self-love and there are unhealthy forms as well, including arrogance or a sense of superiority. Aristotle states that healthy philautia is a prerequisite for loving others, however, an unhealthy kind philautia places themselves before others. He claims that to accomplish this, we must be accepting of ourselves and our limitations, neither dependent on others nor in competition with them.5 So given that philautia is fundamental for healthy romantic relationships, this form of love is an especially good one to celebrate today.

Mania: the kind of obsessive love often witnessed in stalkers, and as such, is not a good kind of love. It is associated with feelings of anxiety, jealousy, and possessiveness, and in extreme forms, “madness” or mental illness. This is one of those versions of ‘love’ that shouldn’t be celebrated.

Agape: unconditional, sacrificial love; a selfless love felt toward strangers and ideally, all of humanity. Acts of charity and altruism are based on agape, and is integral for keeping groups and societies together, especially in hard times.

Storge: a devoted love usually associated with family, especially towards children. It refers to situations where love is one-sided or requires an acceptance or tolerance of certain situations. Another example of this form of love can be identified in the devotion to serving in the military. The conditions or situations one puts themselves through may be motivated by a love for something abstract or seemingly nonreciprocal, such as a love for one’s government or country or way of life. In the case of children, infants are both physically dependent and somewhat unable express or indicate feelings of gratitude, requiring devoted parents to understand that it is only temporary.

Pragma: a practical love based on duty, obligation, or logic, as in the case of arranged marriages. It is another form of selfless love which considers the needs of others and requires continual effort and dedication. Like agape, this form of love results in feelings of contentedness and satisfaction, resulting in deep bonds that can withstand challenges.

Meraki: this modern Greek word refers to doing work with love, especially creative work.6 When applied to work generally, it refers to a feeling of dedication or devotion that motivates you through laborious, tedious, or repetitive work.

It is important to note that more than one version of love may be experienced at a given time, like agape and storge in relation to family members. There may be cases when it is difficult to categorize feelings or determine which term is most appropriate, potentially arising from an interaction of different forms of love.

So today, and every day for that matter, celebrate all the good forms of love, especially the ones that see you through the hard times like pragma, agape, and storge. Although the historical origins of this holiday may be associated with marriage and fertility,7 I argue that a contemporary interpretation can involve other forms of love as well. I recommend avoiding the celebration of mania because it leads to negative outcomes, as is the case with an over-inflated sense of philautia. Healthy forms of love, however, are just as significant and worthy of celebration as eros, so I hope you take time today to celebrate your loved ones. ♥

Illustration by Albert D. Blashfield from Cupid En Route, 1918

Works Cited

1 K. D. M. Snell, ‘The Rise of Living Alone and Loneliness in History’, Social History 42, no. 1 (2 January 2017): 2, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071022.2017.1256093.

2 ‘8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar’, Dictionary.Com (blog), 2 February 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/e/greek-words-for-love/.

3 GHD, ‘9 Different Types of Love According to the Ancient Greeks’, Greece High Definition (blog), 16 December 2020, https://www.greecehighdefinition.com/blog/9-different-types-of-love-according-to-the-ancient-greeks.

4 ‘8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar’; GHD, ‘9 Different Types of Love According to the Ancient Greeks’.

5 ‘8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar’.

6 GHD, ‘9 Different Types of Love According to the Ancient Greeks’.

7 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Valentine’s Day’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13 February 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Valentines-Day; Zoë Randolph, ‘20 Facts You Might Not Know About Valentine’s Day’, Mental Floss (blog), 3 February 2022, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/655048/valentines-day-facts.

Schiaparelli – Spring 2024 Couture

I learned about the Schiaparelli Baby from a video created by a channel I follow, and I wanted to mention it here because it’s funny and makes me think of a bedazzled iCub. I especially appreciate the use of electronics hardware with Swarovski crystals1 but am sceptical about whether it’s really a robot2 or just a doll that looks like a robot. I was hoping it was a real robot because I want to see it walk, it would probably cross the weirdness threshold into uncanny valley territory.

Its face is a little creepy, the copper coil eye seems both vacant and aghast.

The look following the baby, however, was far more impressive:

Although it could be argued that the baby serves as a depressing commentary on modern families in consumerist societies, the dress, on the other hand, is less of a tragic metaphor and more of a gaudy item of clothing. It’s commentary doesn’t explicitly discuss the deterioration of social relations Even then, the chaotic glam-tech maximalism really resonates with me, but if I were to wear it, I would replace the collarbone phone for a Nokia 3310.

Works Cited

  1. Sarah Mower, ‘Schiaparelli Spring 2024 Couture Collection’, Vogue (blog), 22 January 2024, https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2024-couture/schiaparelli.
  2. Elizabeth Paton, ‘The Hot New Accessory From the Paris Runways: A Robot Baby’, The New York Times, 22 January 2024, sec. Style, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/22/style/robot-baby-schiaparelli-show.html.

Chaos in the System

As an argument against iCub’s ability to understand humans, I wanted to appeal to the work of Robert Rosen because I think it makes for a compelling argument about AI generally. To accomplish this, however, my project would start to go in a new direction which renders it less cohesive overall. Instead, the Rosen discussion is better served as a stand alone project because there is a lot of explaining yet to do, and maybe some objections that need discussing as well. This will need to wait but I can at least upload the draft for context on the previous post. There are a few corrections I still need to make but once it’s done, I will update this entry.

Instead, I will argue that the iCub is not the right system for social robots because its approach to modelling emotion is unlike the expression of emotions in humans. As a result, it cannot experience nor demonstrate empathy in virtue of the way it is built. The cognitive architecture used by iCub can recognize emotional cues in humans, however, this information is not experienced by the machine. Affective states in humans are bodily and contextual, but in iCub, they are represented by computer code to be used by the central processing unit. This is the general idea but I’m still working out the details.

That said, there is something interesting in Rosen’s idea about the connection between Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and the incompleteness between syntax and semantics. In particular, what he identifies is the problems generated from self-reference which leads the system to produce an inconsistency given its rule structure. The formal representation of an external referent, as an observable of a natural system, contains only the variables relevant for the referent within the formal system. Self-reference requires placing a variable within a wider scope, one which must be provided in the form of a natural system. Therefore, an indefinite collection of formal systems is required to capture a natural phenomenon. Sometimes a small collection is sufficient, while other times, systems are so complex that a collection of formal systems is insufficient for fully accounting for the natural phenomenon. Depending on the operations to be performed on the referent, it may break the system or lead to erroneous results. The chatbot says something weird or inappropriate.

In December, I presented this argument at a student conference and made a slideshow for it. Just a note: on the second slide I list the titles of my chapters, and because I won’t be pursuing the Rosen direction, the title of Chapter 4 will likely change. Anyway, the reading and writing on Rosen has taken me on a slight detour but a worthwhile one. Now, I need to begin research on emotions and embodiment, which is also interesting and will be useful for future projects as well. The light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed a bit but it’s still there, and my eyes have adjusted to the darkness so it’s fine.

This shift in directions makes me think about the relationship between chaos and order, and systems that swing between various states of orderliness. Without motion there would be rest and stagnation, so as much as change can be challenging, it can bring new opportunities. There is a duality inherent in everything, as listed as one of 7 Hermetic Principles. If an orderly, open system is met with factors which disrupts or disorganizes functioning, the system must undergo some degree of reorganization or compensation. The explanatory powers of the 7 Principles are not meant to relate to the external world in the way physics does, but relate to one’s perspective of events in the outside world. If one can shift their perspective accordingly, they operate as axioms for sense-making, their reality pertaining more to epistemology than ontology. We can be sceptical as to how these Principles manifest in the physical universe while feeling their reality in our lived experience of the world. They are to be studied from within rather than from without, and are thus more aligned with phenomenology than the sciences.

Metaphorically speaking, chaos injected into any well-ordered system has the potential to severely damage or disrupt it, requiring efforts to rebuild and reorganize to compensate for the effects of change. The outcome of this rebuilding process can be further degradation and maybe even collapse, however, it can lead to growth and better outcomes than if the shift had not occurred. It all depends on the system in question and the factors which impacted it, and probably the specific context in which the situation occurred, but it might depend on the system in question. Anyway, we substitute the idea of ‘chaos’ for ‘energy’ as movement or potential, thus establishing a connection to ‘light’ as a type of energy. Metaphorically, ‘light’ is also associated with knowledge and beneficence, so if the source of chaos is intentional and well-meaning, favourable changes can occur and thus a “light bringer” or “morning star” can be associated with positive connotations. Disrupting a well-ordered system without knowledge or a plan or good reasons is more likely to lead to further disorder and dysfunction, leading to negative or unfavourable outcomes. In this way, Lucifer can be associated with evil or descent.

This kind of exercise can help us make sense of our experiences and understanding, but they also give us into a window into the past and how other people may think. Myth and legend from cultures all over the world portray knowledge in metaphors which inspire those who come upon them for generations since. The metaphysics are not important, it’s the epistemology from the metaphors which can explain aspects of how the world works or why people think certain things or act in certain ways. It exists as poetry which needs interpreting and there is room for multiple perspectives, so not everyone appreciates it which is understandable. It is still valuable work to be done by someone though, and the more people the better.

Rothschild Canticles p. 64r (c. 1300)

Artificial Neurons

Progress on my dissertation is going well, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I ended up appealing to Robert Rosen’s distinction between natural and formal systems, as well as his appeal to Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, for my argument about why computerized robots will ultimately fail to generate social competencies.

Rosen presents his own reformulation of the McCulloch Pitts neuron in Anticipatory Systems, and I thought it might be helpful to include it in my dissertation to further illustrate the differences between physical neurons and formal neurons. In it, I only use an image that I created from this document but I thought it might be a good idea to upload my LaTeX document here to make it clear that I have not merely copied the image from Rosen’s work. Yes, the formatting isn’t great but I’m claiming that it’s a feature and not a bug, as it demonstrates that I learned [only] the fundamentals of LaTeX for my project.

Works Cited

Rosen, Robert. Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical, and Methodological Foundations. 2nd ed., Springer, 2012.

Civilian Duty

For a while I thought I didn’t like fiction, despite reading plenty of it voluntarily as a kid. I prefer to read non-fiction most of the time, unless I’m tired and don’t feel like focusing. In comparison, fiction feels like watching a movie. This isn’t meant as an insult, as there is a great deal of artistry and technical skill that goes into making a movie. Fiction can transport its readers to different worlds and capture the imagination, the pleasant escapism quite literally diverting.

Speaking of which, when I saw the movie Starship Troopers several years ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the satire and thought it was a lot of fun. I learned it was originally a book published in 1959 and made a note to check it out sometime.

Earlier this year, while going through boxes of books looking for something, I stumbled upon it; it belongs to my partner and he said it was good albeit different than the movie. This is true but it’s still an interesting read. Set in the future, the protagonist’s teacher for History and Moral Philosophy goes on a diatribe about the previous civilization: ours.

From chapter 8 of Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein:

“They had no scientific theory of morals and they tried to live by it… by their theory was wrong–half of it fuzzy-headed wishful thinking, half of it rationalized charlatanry. The more earnest they were, the farther it led them astray. You see, they assumed that Man has a moral instinct.”

“Sir? I thought–But he does! I have.”

“No, my dear, you have a cultivated conscience, a most carefully trained one. Man has no moral instinct. He is not born with moral sense. You are not born with it, I was not–and a puppy has none. We acquire moral sense, when we do, through training, experience, and hard sweat of the mind. These unfortunate juvenile criminals were born with non, even as you and I, and they had no chance to acquire any; their experiences did not permit. What is ‘moral sense’? It is an elaboration of the instinct to survive. The instinct to survive is human nature itself, and every aspect of our personalities derives from it. Anything that conflicts with the survival instinct acts sooner or later to eliminate the individual and thereby fails to show up in the future generations. This truth is mathematically demonstrable, everywhere verifiable; it is the single eternal imperative controlling everything we do.

“But the instinct to survive,” he had gone on, “can be cultivated into motivations more subtle and much more complex than the blind, brute urge of the individual to stay alive. Young lady, what you miscalled your ‘moral instinct’ was the instilling in you by your elders of the truth of your own personal survival. Survival of your family, for example. Of your children, when you have them. Of your nation, if you struggle that high up the scale. And so on up. A scientifically verifiable theory of morals must be rooted in the individual’s instinct to survive–and nowhere else!– and must correctly describe the hierarchy of survival, note the motivations at each level, and resolve all conflicts.

… [the teacher is still speaking but it’s not necessary to add here]

“The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual. Nobody preached duty to these kids [juvenile delinquents] in a way they could understand–that is, with a spanking. But the society they were in told them endlessly about their ‘rights’.

“The results should have been predictable, since a human being has no natural rights of any nature.

Mr. Dubois had paused. Somebody took the bait. “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’?”

“Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights’. Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. …”

… [the teacher gives examples like a man drowning in the Pacific; “The ocean will not hearken to his cries.” Nature doesn’t care]

“And that was the soft spot which destroyed what was in many ways an admirable culture. The junior hoodlums who roamed their streets were symptoms of a greater sickness; their citizens (all of them counted as such) glorified their mythology of ‘rights’… and lost track of their duties. No nation, so constituted, can endure.”

(Heinlein 123–26)

It seems we indeed lack a scientific theory of morals, and what we have instead is a form of utilitarianism which is calculated by appealing to relativistic and epicurean attitudes toward life. This moral code, or patchwork quilt, is not a framework and as such, does not produce social virtues. Without them, societies as dynamic systems of human interaction, gently decays. We become a collection of sick, atomized animals guided by an economic shepherd until we die.

There is no endogenous moral instinct, instead it’s learned and reinforced through the people one is surrounded by. The moral instinct is duty generated from a number of motivations, all derived from our instinct to survive. We work together because we benefit from cooperation. The truth is indeed mathematically demonstrable, everywhere verifiable. Truths, or fragments of them, are detected by various religions, cultures, and peoples over human history. Many are covered by metaphor, requiring an alternate reading or perspective to identify and understand the message.

Later on in the book, a different teacher states:

“Service men are not brighter than civilians. In many cases, civilians are much more intelligent. That was the sliver of justification underlying the attempted coup d’état just before the Treaty of New Delhi, the so-called ‘Revolt of the Scientists’: let the intelligent elite run things and you’ll have a utopia. It fell flat on its foolish face of course. Because the pursuit of science, despite its social benefits, is itself not a social virtue; its practitioners can be men so self-centered as to be lacking in social responsibility.”

(190)

The analysis continues on page 193:

“But this universe consists of paired dualities. What is the converse of authority? Mr. Rico.”

… “Responsibility, sir.”

… “To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority… other than through the tragic logic of history. No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was socially responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority.”

Social virtue is not the same as social benefit. What kinds of social virtues do we have, and which moral framework are they appealing to? Do we have good reasons, empirical reasons perhaps, for adopting this framework? Probably not.

We are not responsible to each other, there is no duty to each other in our current system. We are isolated and placated by the destruction of standards, left alone to do what we please and able to shut out those who disagree with us. The problem is this lack of responsibility and is thus the real cause of depression, as no reward can be found from inaction. Ultimately, the challenges with their pain and suffering is required for growth, allowing us to appreciate the small things in life. Hardship is not meant to be avoided, it’s meant to be addressed head-on because in doing so, wisdom can be acquired. A moral code requiring a duty to one’s fellow man lifts everyone up through trial-and-error, and those who cannot pull themselves up must be lifted up by others. Of course, a duty to others must be balanced with a duty to oneself.

I wonder if the movie is different from the book because the book paints us in a rather negative light. “We can’t show that to our paying audience, now, can we?” Instead, the future is depicted as somewhat absurd with a goofy militaristic society. While the book does depict a strict legal system, this is due to the belief that a moral sense is taught and reinforced since it is not an instinct. Without striving for something greater, our animalistic traits can flourish and take over the mind. Because this often leads to self-serving behaviours and apathy, this degradation is not ideal for human societies. We are social beings that require a particular set of principles to live and act well. It’s not easy but it is worth it.


Satellite Science Fiction cover by Alex Schomburg (circa 1958)

Works Cited

Heinlein, Robert A. Starship Troopers. Penguin Publishing House, 2006, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/298329/starship-troopers-by-robert-a-heinlein/9780441014101.

Moving On Up

Given my last post, I should probably explain myself. I still don’t know what I’m doing but maybe simple acceptance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We have the power to change our circumstances, so why not give it a go? A saying I often think about is “ships aren’t built to sit in harbours” and while one can avoid risk this way, you also don’t get to see far off lands either.

Time to rebuild. What do I know? I know what I feel; phenomenology is a good place to start. I still stand behind everything I stated regarding qualia. There may be aspects to my hypothesis that might change or there might be something I’m missing, however, to state that the entire idea is wrong is a hastily generated conclusion.

There is probably more to consciousness than can be captured by our current scientific understanding, however, one must tread very carefully when moving in this direction. Figuring out what this involves and how it works is my new pet project and hopefully I can make some headway. I’m not in a rush though.

Here’s the big reveal: I read the CIA document titled Analysis and Assessment of Gateway Process in addition to Itzhak Bentov’s book Stalking the Wild Pendulum. Luckily for us, Thobey Campion has done some very important investigative journalism regarding the missing page 25 from the CIA document; thank you very much for your work Thobey. I strongly encourage you to read the Vice article about it while it’s still available. I have a hunch that this article won’t be around for a long time but hopefully I’m wrong.

I want someone to explain the physics to me like I’m 5 and stick around for a lengthy Q&A session. I want to know how this works in a way that connects to our current understanding of physics. Bentov’s book seems to get about halfway there but doesn’t explain all the details necessary to generate a full explanation of the phenomenon. If you know of anyone who has written about this, please email me because I’m very interested in exploring this further.

Page 25 is truly the most important page in the CIA document because it reiterates a certain truth that serves as the bedrock for creating the Philosopher’s Stone: self-awareness. Unwavering, unfiltered, unapologetic self-awareness.

“It was axiomatic to the mystic philosophers of old that the first step in personal maturity could be expressed in the aphorism: “Know thyself.” To them, the education of a man undertook, as its primary step, achievement of an introverted focus so that he learned what was within himself before attempting to approach the outside world. They rightly assumed that he could not effectively evaluate and cope with the world until he fully understood his personal psychological imbalance. The insights being provided by Twentieth Century psychology in this context through the use of various kinds of personality testing seem to be a revalidation of this ancient intuition. But no personality test, or series of tests, will ever replace the depth and fullness of the perception of self which can be achieved when the mind alters its state of consciousness sufficiently to perceive the very hologram of itself which it has projected into the universe in its proper context as part of the universal hologram in a totally holistic and intuitional way. This would seem to be one of the real promise of the Gateway Experience from the standpoint of its ability to provide a portal through which, based on months if not years of practice, the individual may pass in his search to find self, personal effectuality, and truth in the larger sense.”

The appeal to holograms here might rub some the wrong way, however, I think this has something to do with Kantian metaphysics. Specifically, that everything is just sense data, and while we don’t necessarily need to go full Berkeley, we must always remember that our experiences are simply appearances, not objective data. Where does certainty come from? The synthesis of a first-person perspective and third-person perspective. Do not simply defer to what everyone else says but do not ignore it either.

This I know. As do many others, many (most?) of which have lived before I or Bentov or anyone else around today. What I might add, though, is that it always takes two to tango. Men and women together as fully-developed agents even when it generates a conflict. When done in good faith, the outcome is so much more, so much greater, than either one alone.

Lost and Found

So much has happened since my last post and I can confidently say that I have no idea what I’m doing anymore and don’t really care either. Because it doesn’t matter. It’s freeing, you should try it.

What I do know, however, is that introspection and love are pretty much the only things that really matter. The cake is a lie.

I hope you are doing well, all things considered; I am thinking of you.

Thank you dear squirrel, whoever you are

Perfection as Asymptotic

Graphing the equation y=1/x produces some weird behaviour as x approaches 0; the limit is ∞ since it is impossible to divide by 0. The invisible line that seems to appear at x = 0 is called an asymptote, and therefore, anything that is asymptotic approaches “a given value as an expression containing a variable [which] tends towards infinity” (‘Definition of Asymptotic | dictionary.com’). Math jargon aside, the idea is that as the value of x becomes increasingly small, its corresponding y value will increase exponentially as the function seemingly “avoids” x = 0, where x can be either a negative and positive number.

This is what I imagine is taking place when reading about Kant’s idea of perfection in The Metaphysics of Morals. In part one of Doctrine of the Elements of Ethics, specifically Book II Section II §22, Kant explicitly states that ‘perfection’ refers to a continual striving toward an ideal, as he states that it is not possible to actually reach a final point or destination of some type (Kant 241). Therefore, we ought to orient our efforts toward the notion of betterment or personal growth, rather than actually achieving a state of perfection. As my partner puts it, “perfection necessarily includes the imperfections.”

Then by chance, if there is such a thing, some of Kant’s sentiments implicitly appeared in a book I finished recently about the work of Carl Jung by Mary Esther Harding. In the conclusion, she states “we should never forget that the world is made up of individuals, and that the one thing within our reach is our own development: it should not be neglected however much it may cost” (Harding 217). Personal growth is not easy, but it is the one aspect of our lives we have the most control over, despite how challenging it may feel in the moment. As such, we have a duty for striving toward a vague idea of perfection, all the while knowing that it is not meant to be achieved, which should come as a relief to many. One’s duty is to continuously try to do one’s best, and should that be insufficient or fail in some way, to reflect on it and accept it for its reality rather than feeling bad about it. According to Kant, this effort is what makes us more virtuous (Kant 242), and indeed, as one improves their skills in any domain, we are justified in having faith that our efforts do pay off eventually.

Although the word ‘virtuous’ is a quite rich and complex, or loaded, depending on one’s perspective, one way of thinking about it can be through the idea of a musician: Hilary Hahn is a virtuoso (virtuosa?) at the violin because she has this particular skill, but also because she “excels in musical technique or execution” (‘Definition of Virtuoso | dictionary.com’). Anyone who has trained in music or sports deeply understands that the only route toward improvement is practice, and as one continues to work, their abilities improve. Hilary will still make mistakes from time to time; she isn’t perfect but she understands that the only way to improve is to keep practicing until she can play Paganini or Sibelius as perfectly as possible on a given occasion. Never forget that the word ‘perfect’ is also a verb, as in “to perfect one’s skill”, and that because we will always be fallible and imperfect humans, are still vulnerable to making mistakes under certain conditions, like fatigue. Rather than worrying about “being perfect”, we ought to worry about striving toward betterment instead.

Maybe one poetic interpretation of the graph above is to view the x-axis as the number of mistakes made, while the y-axis represents one’s skill level: as the number of mistakes approaches zero, it can never actually be zero, and at the same time, one’s skill level only grows in value, approaching a never-ending concept like infinity, suggesting a boundlessness which is far more important, in my mind, than never making a mistake in the first place.

The moral of the story is that all the blood, sweat, and tears will pay off when one earnestly works toward one’s goals, provided acts of self-reflection about this progression are honest. If not, it will be difficult to determine just how to tailor one’s efforts in such a way which reduces certain mistakes or shortcomings. If one can accept that ‘perfection’ is not a final destination or state, but an activity, it seems as though just about anything is possible, albeit over an indefinite amount of time.

Works Cited

‘Definition of Asymptotic | Dictionary.com’. www.dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/asymptotic. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

‘Definition of Virtuoso | Dictionary.com’. www.dictionary.com, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/virtuoso. Accessed 13 Oct. 2022.

Harding, Mary Esther. The I and the Not-I: A Study In The Development of Consciousness. Princeton University Press, 1974.

Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Whitepill 4: Prayer

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

It might be beneficial for secular individuals to incorporate a habit of prayer into their lives, ones which do not appeal to any system of beliefs. If there is no one listening, then you’re all alone to do and say what you must.

  1. Give Thanks – for the things you consume to keep you alive and happy. People grew the plants you eat, and different groups of people picked, processed, shipped, and ultimately sold them to you from a store or warehouse. Animals give you their bodies, children, or products like silk or honey. There doesn’t need to be guilt if there is acceptance and appreciation. Give thanks to yourself for cooking or preparing the food you eat, and be sure to always express your gratitude to others who make food for you. This type of prayer can probably be applied to anything, not just food and consumables.
  2. Apologize – because it’s all internal, there is nothing you can’t say or address. There may be incidents from 31 years ago involving people you haven’t spoken to since. Apologize for things big and small, accept a mistake or transgression was made, and tell the person using their name that you are sorry for hurting them. Ask for forgiveness and think about why they might hesitate. We all make mistakes but how we apologize makes all the difference.

These actions will likely help you feel better as feelings become externalized and accepted. Any effectiveness from prayer results from the inside, not the outside through events or situations. Prayer directs your attention to parts of the self that need recognition, both the good and the bad. This emotional grounding and releasing internal tension is where the magic happens.

The contents of religious texts and world-views offers all of humanity metaphors for ideas which relate to some aspect of the world as we know it. Because the human brain learns from narratives and stories, they can be used to form new conceptual connections for the purpose of depicting certain ideas. While the contents of the story may be fictional, their meanings or lessons may still contain objective significance to be yet uncovered.

Whitepill 3: Free Will

Part of a series on ways to survive this dystopian nightmare

According to neuroscience, free will is an illusion (Heisenberg 164), and those interested in preserving this notion argue that we can instead consider it a social construct (Feldman; Then & Now). This suggests it simply feels like we have free will, when in actuality, we are operating under a sort of probabilistic determinism. This feeling of free will is what Sartre describes in Nausea (Sartre 362), however, he summarizes the point nicely in Being and Nothingness as well: “nausea… is not knowledge; it is the non-thetic apprehension of the contingency which he is” (Sartre 366). By non-thetic, he is referring to one’s visceral, immediate experiences that conscious awareness can later reflect on. In a nutshell, the awareness of life’s fragility emerges from sickness at the thought of just how easy it is to terminate one’s existence in certain situations, like walking close to a steep drop or cliff side (Sartre 56). These bodily reactions indicate some degree of significance to possible courses of action, where their perceived reality influences how decisions are made. Our belief in free will enables us to act responsibly by motivating us toward some action or goal, and this belief is beneficial for self-esteem and personal growth.

From an objective or third-person perspective, reality likely operates under a probabilistic determinism, where events and decisions are roughly predetermined as an outcome of prior circumstances. To some, this determinism should be welcomed with open arms, as it frees individuals from over-focusing on their decisions and futures. This generally applies to those in industrialized societies with individualistic attitudes, as it may alleviate some of the emotional burden people face as they try to navigate such a complex and threatening world. That said, letting go of one’s need for control or fear of losing it must be met with balance, since passively relying on external factors for guiding action is likely going to lead to depression. Without an intrinsic drive and a goal, introduced by belief in free will, it becomes too easy to stagnate and fall into hedonistic patterns of living. Belief in free will introduces a beneficial responsibility for perspective and action.

In this case, and probably most, the cognitive dissonance that arises from this supposed paradox is a feature and not a bug. Believing in free will while knowing some alternative reflects objective reality creates a contradiction to be resolved, serving as an engine to drive reasoning. Equilibrium indicates a body at rest is not engaged in activity, and mentally, without a mismatch of some kind, there is no activity to fuel mental operations. When encountering paradoxes, they should act as cues to orient one’s perspective and consider things from a new point of view.

Because life is inherently lived from the first-person perspective, and because humans are able to reflect on the world from an abstracted, third-person perspective, we are able to choose different strategies based on the circumstances and their contextual factors. We can know one thing while simultaneously respecting the significance of an alternative idea, based on what is felt rather than as suggested by empirical consensus. To state that free will is an illusion is to suggest the subject matter of phenomenology is an illusion, and when we consider how effective these perceptions are for getting stuff done, I don’t know that the word truly applies. The pond in the distance is either water or a mirage based on whether you are able to approach the water, where the brain receives additional information to determine its reality. Biological organisms react to changes in the environment to mitigate their actions to ensure their survival, and therefore, subjective perceptions reflect aspects of the external world. Therefore, free will is not really an illusion because one’s choices and actions still impact others for better or for worse, even if they were likely to perform that action anyway. An individual is still the physical source of some action and must therefore take responsibility for their consequences.

Be the self-fulfilling prophecy you want to be. As probabilistic in nature, rather than fixed or logically necessary, determinism is still speculative and as predictions still have yet to obtain. In each moment, you have the capacity to do what you think is best for yourself and others.

Update (Aug 6):
Ultimately, however, it’s not up to you but that’s a good thing because we are all learning and growing.

Works Cited

Feldman, Gilad. ‘Making Sense of Agency: Belief in Free Will as a Unique and Important Construct’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, vol. 11, no. 1, 2017, p. e12293. Wiley Online Library, https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12293.

Heisenberg, Martin. ‘Is Free Will an Illusion?’ Nature, vol. 459, no. 7244, 7244, May 2009, pp. 164–65. www-nature-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca, https://doi.org/10.1038/459164a.

Sartre, Paul-Jean. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, 2nd ed., Routledge, 2015, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203827123.

Then & Now. Free Will Is Political. 2022. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5wFFRBBG7M.