Category: Life


I am reading Autopoiesis and Cognition by Humberto Maturana and Fransisco Varela for my thesis, and a significant connection has leapt out to me from page 10. This section is written by Maturana, and his fourth point about living systems states:

“Due to the circular nature of its organization a living system has a self-referring domain of interactions (it is a self-referring system), and its condition of being a unit of interactions is maintained because its organization has functional significance only in relation to the maintenance of its circularity and defines its domain of interactions accordingly.”

This passage expands upon the nugget of wisdom supplied by Kurt Gödel as appealed to by Robert Rosen. Recall that Gödel was able to conclude that mathematics is incomplete from the use of self-reference, as a contradiction can be generated within a set of meta-mathematical statements. Although Rosen appeals to syntax and semantics in Anticipatory Systems, the broader sense is about the differences between natural systems and formal systems. My ultimate goal is to articulate this relationship and its implications in more general terms, with a particular focus on comparing AI and machines to humans and animals. So far, I’ve been able to sketch some themes and ideas in relation to Rosen and this relationship, and much more work is required to be able to put into words the ideas which only exist as intuitions. For now, however, I will document the process of how this all comes together because the externalization of ideas will foster their articulation.

Though Rosen appeals to language, language is merely an attempt at portraying elements of the world as understood by its author or speaker. Maturana’s passage is the missing link in a wider explanation of the phenomenon in question. Where does this incompleteness come from? Why is it that AI cannot ontologically compete with human intellect? The answer has to do with scope and the way wholes can be greater than the sum of their parts.

In biology, organisms are made up of various self-organizing processes which aim to support the continued survival of the individual. Although comprised of nested levels of physiological processes, a person is greater than the sum total of his physicality. In some ways, the idea of self is highly complex and philosophically dense, but seen through the lens of biology, the self refers to an individual as contained by its own body. All living things have a boundary for which processes take place inside, delineating it from the rest of its environment as a unit. Arguably, the nervous system evolved to provide individuals with information about its internal and external environments for the sake of continued survival. By responding to changes in the environment, the individual can take actions which mitigate these changes.

Physiological processes can be described by a sequential series of steps or actions taken within some system. In Rosen’s terms, a formal system can be generated from a natural system, however, it generates an abstraction which ignores all but the elements necessary for producing some outcome or end state. For example, when it comes to predicting tomorrow’s temperature, some geological elements will be taken into consideration, such as wind patterns and atmospheric moisture levels, however, other aspects of the Earth can be ignored as they don’t influence how temperatures manifest. Perhaps something related to plate tectonics or spruce tree populations. When scientists generate weather and climate models, they only include variables which impact the systems they are interested in studying. The model, as described by mathematics, can be seen as a set of relations and calculations which provides an output, and in this way, exists as a sequence of steps to be taken. If one were to write out these steps, they’d have something which resembles an algorithm or piece of computer code.

If additional information is required which has not been accounted for the model, it would therefore be inaccessible as it remains beyond the scope of the existing model. In some cases, the model can be expanded to include this variable, say including spruce tree populations, however, Rosen’s point is that no amount of augmentation will provide a model which completely represents the natural system in question. It will always contain aspects which cannot be properly accounted for by formal systems, and the example he uses is semantics. This becomes apparent with indexicals, as ‘me’ or ‘today’ is rather difficult to articulate without appealing to the wider context or situation where it is used. To understand when or who is being referred to, the interpreter must appeal to their knowledge and understanding to fill in the blank, moving beyond the words themselves.

These ideas of circularity and sequential steps had me thinking of the rod and the ring again. I made a connection to this apparent duality in another post; lo and behold, here it is again. In fact, I’ve made reference to a number of blog entries within this very post, and as such, we see self-organization and coalescence here too. All of these writings, however, are made up of a series of passages, sentences which attempt to present ideas in a sequential form. As a relatively formless mass, for now at least, the ideas presented here and in other posts currently exist as a nebulous collection of related topics. One day, I hope to turn it into a more linear and organized argument which doesn’t frustrate the reader as much as it surely does now. “Where are you going with this…??” Something to do with nested systems, parts and wholes, and how self-organizing systems can be described as a series of linear steps without being reducible to them.

How to expand outward beyond the current scope? Self-reflection. In fact, our capacity for self-reflection was probably made possible from our social nature. Others act as a mirror for which we can see ourselves through the eyes of someone else. The mirror-image is metaphorically reversed though, as we see ourselves from a new perspective, one coming from the outside-in rather than the inside-out. I’ve been thinking about Kant’s transcendental self lately but this is a topic for another day.

All of this is for an argument about why we shouldn’t give robots and AIs rights and legal considerations. They are simply not the kinds of things which are deserving of rights because they are functionally distinct from humans, animals, and other living beings. Their essential nature is linear and sequential, not autopoietic. This distinction is not just other but ontologically lesser, a reduction arising from formal systems and human creation. As such, they pale in comparison to the complex systems observed in nature.

Belief is a Relationship

Like many philosophy students, the list of books I would like to read is quite long and only continues to grow. One of them is Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary which discusses the difference between brain hemispheres and the specializations of each. He’s also written papers on the subject, one of which being ‘Cerebral Lateralization and Religion: a phenomenological approach’ which I have read. Overall, it’s very interesting but there is a particular section which struck me as rather significant for epistemology and mental health.

On page 328, under the heading ‘Knowledge, belief, and truth’, McGilchrist discusses the different kinds of knowledge handled by each hemisphere. While the left hemisphere specializes in collecting bits and pieces of information from a “general, impersonal, … and disengaged stance,” the right hemisphere specializes in uncertain, personal, and experiential knowledge which “resists generalization.”1 In this case, “the whole is not best understood by summing the parts.” He mentions this distinction is similar to the difference between the French terms savior and connaître, as although both of these terms directly translate to ‘knowledge’, the kind of knowledge they refer to is unique. One refers to an experiential knowledge while the other refers to propositional knowledge. The German language also notes this distinction with the words wissen and kennen.

McGilchrist goes on to explain how ‘belief’ is also subject to this differentiation. Though many use this word to refer to cognition and propositional knowledge, the etymological root of the term uncovers a kind of experiential knowledge. Particularly, ‘lief’ in Middle English describes a person who is “beloved, esteemed, dear”2 or, as McGilchrist states, as “someone in whom one believed.” Similarly, in German, the word ‘lieben’ means “to love.” Furthermore, the French word for ‘belief’ is croire, as derived from the Latin term credere, meaning to “entrust to the care of.” McGilchrist states that “belief is about a relationship” where the “believer needs to be disposed to love, but the believed-in needs to inspire another’s belief.” This cannot be determined in advance but instead “emerges through commitment and experience.”

In contemporary uses, ‘belief’ often indicates an uncertainty about truth, however, this reconceptualization is a relatively recent one. McGilchrist states that “belief does imply truth” and appeals to the German term treu which means ‘faithful’ and is also related to ‘trust’. The relationship he points out here is one characterized by trusting another, where one believes in another, and as such, trusts in them. Truth and belief are relational, deriving value from the context in which they are used or appealed to, in addition to being embodied and actively involving commitment. Today, however, we often think of ‘truth’ and ‘belief’ as detached and disembodied, where ‘truth’ is independent of our own selves, “immutable and certain.” McGilchrist characterizes this shift as an understanding rooted in right-hemispheric thinking to a left-hemispheric one, and he warns that “belief and truth cannot always be achieved by simply sitting back and waiting passively for information to accumulate.”3 Instead, “some truths become understandable only when we have made a move to meet them.” [emphasis added]

So to summarize, both ‘knowledge’ and ‘belief’ come in two different flavours: one which is propositional and cognitive, and one which is experiential and relational. ‘Belief’ is not a weaker version of knowledge but an outcome of an activity grounded in love and acceptance. It is relational, as these feelings or dispositions arise from the interaction between the person who believes and the thing they believe in, uncovering or identifying truths from this committed relationship. This thing to be believed in may be another person, however, it also applies to the self. By accepting and appreciating your own thoughts and feelings as worthy of attention and consideration, we build up an understanding of ourselves as individuals, allowing us to realize our potential. If I believe I will graduate, I trust that I will take the steps necessary to complete my project and sufficiently defend it. I trust myself because I have accepted my strengths and weaknesses, allowing me to push forward when challenges arise.

In spiritual or religious contexts, this relationship is oriented outward to a domain or entity residing beyond the material world, however, it can also refer to a relationship to oneself. In Gnostic traditions, generally speaking, individuals come to know a divine or non-material domain only when one turns their attention inward to reflect on experience and understanding. In this way, a weaker form of ‘belief’, perhaps glibly characterized by a blind faith in some divine force or entity, can be strengthened by relying on one’s own knowledge and understanding to form a bridge into the world of the immaterial and unknown. By going through oneself, individuals can access a world beyond the physically experienced one to uncover truths which would otherwise be occluded by the physical world and its various authorities. Occult knowledge may be purposefully hidden, however, it seems this may simply reflect the reality of where this knowledge naturally resides. To reach this domain, the path one must take is through a healthy relationship with the self, where the beginning of this path is in acceptance and the analysis of one’s experiences and understanding.

The reason I wanted to discuss this segment from McGilchrist’s paper is because it highlights a fallacy in our modern, scientific world-view, one which suggests that truth is to be found from without. Certainly there are instances where this is the case, as the rate of gravity has nothing to do with my experiences of it, however, subjective experiences of gravity do play a role in how it has been scientifically conceptualized. Our perceptions of the physical world provide us with a window into understanding the natural processes which occur regardless of our actions; a falling tree will still make a noise even if there is no one around to hear it. That said, the information uncovered from this invariant viewpoint is by no means the end-all-be-all, and by solely focusing on a scientific point of view, we diminish the ways in which these natural processes impact and influence our own understanding. Instead of remaining open to experiencing and contemplating strange anomalies and inexplicable phenomena, a preoccupation with objectivity and scientific theory closes one off to other experiences and knowledge.

Therefore, to believe in yourself is to remain open to experiences of all kinds. Beliefs are capable of carrying just as much truth as knowledge, and are thus not necessarily a weaker or less certain form of knowledge. If doubt does manage to creep in, use it as a tool to for reflection to better understand your own experiences, rather than appealing to this newer sense of ‘belief’ to discount your thoughts and feelings.

Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, UK
Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day on May 8, 2024

Works Cited

1 Iain McGilchrist, ‘Cerebral Lateralization and Religion: A Phenomenological Approach’, Religion, Brain & Behavior 9, no. 4 (2 October 2019): 328,

2 Douglas Harper, ‘Etymology of Lief’, in Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 8 May 2024,

3 McGilchrist, ‘Cerebral Lateralization and Religion’, 329.


While the concept of minimalism has received plenty of attention over the past decade or so, maximalism seems to only lurk in the shadows in negative connotations. Consumerist attitudes are considered to be irresponsible and gluttonous while under threat of overpopulation, allowing the less-is-more attitude to gain traction. Its tenets have been published in books and created as new kinds of products, generating new behaviours surrounding many facets of life, from an aesthetic style to purchasing habits and leisure time. In the busy modern age, minimalism resonates with those orientated toward simplicity and efficiency, saving on materials and time to accomplish some task or goal.

Reductionism is an approach to the generation of explanations which describes natural phenomena in terms of a more fundamental phenomenon.1 The word reduce is derived from Latin reducere which means “to bring back” and in this way, a phenomenon is explained in terms of more basic physical phenomena and interactions. For example, mental activity can be explained by neural activity which is essentially biochemical reactions following the laws of physics based on the movement of electrons. Reductionism in biology, however, is still the source of philosophical debate, as there are different ways of considering whether certain phenomena can be ontologically, epistemologically, or methodologically reduced to other scientific theories.2

Science, in a nutshell, involves the study of the natural world to identify causes for observed events or phenomena. The “why-questions” which result from our observations aim to uncover causal relationships between various aspects of our world, and from this improved understanding, enable us to manipulate aspects of the material world for our advantage. To identify the necessary causal factors, a reductive explanation is generally helpful for establishing fundamental laws or regularities, however, it also risks oversimplification. When generating a mathematical model of some natural phenomenon, certain variables are necessarily ignored if they are not directly responsible for an observed effect. For example, the mathematical model of a pendulum does not consider air resistance, as this variable is generally unchanging and produces negligible effects on the pendulum’s movement. Of course, there can be cases when this claim is false, and air resistance is an important factor to consider, in which case scientists or engineers will incorporate this variable within the model.

Although reductionism may be helpful for scientific endeavours, other domains of inquiry instead benefit from the opposite approach. One which expands outward to examine a number of causal factors responsible for some outcome or event, encompassing the study of various levels of physical reality. For example, the study of human history benefits from collecting reasons as to why changes occur or certain events arise, rather than narrowing reasons down to fewer causal factors. Doing so risks overlooking significant elements which contributed to the occurrence of some shift or event. These elements include leadership, military strategy, sociocultural norms, and geographic properties, just to name a few.

This concept comes from hermeneutics, the study of interpretation of artifacts like arts and literature, historical testimony, and other subject matter requiring an understanding of human actions, intentions, and beliefs, and actions.3 The hermeneutic cycle involves the adoption of new perspectives when interpreting or judging a particular work,4 and when performed repeatedly, open one to even more. This circular approach contrasts the foundational approach which interprets from a vertical structure of beliefs,5 appearing reductive in their explanations. As such, the application of maximalism to both artistic works and general epistemology entails an openness to ideas and perspectives, expanding outward to collect many interpretations.

This notion of vertical and circular can be abstracted from this context of interpretation, and identified in other domains like social structures and physical reality in general. The line and circle are everywhere in our artifacts, experiences, and throughout human history. From binary numerals one and zero, a switch set to on or off, a barrier which can be open and closed, a maximum and a minimum; the zenith and nadir. Furthermore, when viewed in the third dimension, a circle becomes a line when it is rotated 90° to view its width from the side.

The Code of Hammurabi shows a rod and a ring; photo by Mary Harrsch

Additionally, biological organisms implicitly love maximalism, and arguably, our modern consumer culture has merely given in to basal animalistic tendencies. From a biological perspective, these motivations and needs are to be expected given an organism’s need for a continuous supply of fuel. Human societies established organizational structures to mange a surplus of resources, as a result of agriculture and storage. From the mere-survival perspective, maximalism is a point of view which necessarily requires more resources because it fosters a sense of security and peace of mind. This security enables individuals to shift their attention to other endeavours for goals like making art and playing games.

Banquet Still Life by Adriaen by van Utrecht, 1644

So while one should adopt a maximalist perspective when it comes to ideas and interpretation, a minimalist perspective toward the material world is ideal. To go without challenges one’s own mind and body, and as a result, influences the relationship between the two. This reconfiguration of the body and mind will be met with benefits down the road, however, faith is required to understand that one’s discomfort and suffering will eventually yield positive effects or outcomes. It’s as simple as “no pain, no gain” but be sure not to dislocate your shoulder trying to lift a weight which is too heavy for your current abilities.

Works Cited

1 Raphael van Riel and Robert Van Gulick, ‘Scientific Reduction’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta and Uri Nodelman, Spring 2024 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2024),

2 Ingo Brigandt and Alan Love, ‘Reductionism in Biology’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta and Uri Nodelman, Summer 2023 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2023),

3 Theodore George, ‘Hermeneutics’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2021 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2021),

4 George, sec. 1.3.

5 George, sec. 1.2.

Mr. Plinkett’s Bookshelf

One of my favourite websites is because I find etymology useful for interpreting texts and understanding the intentions of the author(s). When I visited the site today, something caught my eye that I was not expecting to see: Doug and Mr. Plinkett

A connection between a character from YouTube and a website about etymology? How?

The bookshelf; how did RedLetterMedia get an image of Doug’s bookshelf? Doug is the creator of and the blog post’s author, Talia, recognized it from video calling with him. She reached out to RLM on Patreon but has yet to hear back. If she does, I hope she provides us with an update.

I cropped the YouTube screenshot from the blog post and ran it through the reverse-image search function on both Google and Bing. Google only finds the original image from the blog post and Bing doesn’t even find that. Given the video was originally uploaded in 2009, this is to be expected, since even if Mike had source the image from a different website, it’s unlikely that this website and the image are still up today.

If we want to speculate further, one option is to think about whether they may know one another or have a mutual connection. According to Doug’s biography, he’s from southeastern Pennsylvania which is a fair distance from Milwaukee, so a personal connection is unlikely but is not impossible either. Did Mike have a video call with Doug at one point? Or did Rich or Jay source it through one of their connections? Do they even remember how the photo was found? We will have to see.

I like one comment by Sara posted at the bottom of the blog entry that reads “I’m a passionate fan of both Etymonline and Red Letter Media and this has made my day!” While I wouldn’t say that this discovery necessarily “made my day,” it is a humorous and unexpected moment. Especially considering I referenced one of their memes at the end of my qualia video.

Here, Rich is featured in a philosophy meme about Nihilism and Existentialism. This one did make my day when I found it on Reddit years ago. The silly text overlay at the top is my addition and is one of many Richisms that have developed over the years. There are several RLMemes that have emerged actually; they’ve been at it a long time and appeal to a particular demographic which grew up alongside the internet. Given I am a part of this demographic, I also love internet mysteries, so cheers to one more.

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,

2 ‘8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar’, Dictionary.Com (blog), 2 February 2022,

3 GHD, ‘9 Different Types of Love According to the Ancient Greeks’, Greece High Definition (blog), 16 December 2020,

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,; Zoë Randolph, ‘20 Facts You Might Not Know About Valentine’s Day’, Mental Floss (blog), 3 February 2022,

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,
  2. Elizabeth Paton, ‘The Hot New Accessory From the Paris Runways: A Robot Baby’, The New York Times, 22 January 2024, sec. Style,

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)


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 none, 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.”


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,

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