Category: Metaphysics

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.

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.

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.

Nu Metaphysics

Now that its semantic baggage has been disposed of, as suggested in Themes in Postmetaphysical Thinking by Jürgen Habermas, it’s time to rekindle our study of metaphysics. Going back to basics then, we can reconceptualize the word ‘metaphysics’ by thinking about what ‘meta’ actually means. A quick search on dictionary.com provides this definition: “pertaining to or noting an abstract, high-level analysis or commentary, especially one that consciously references something of its own type.” Given this, ‘metaphysics’ can be thought of as “the physics of physics” and since physics essentially just boils down to mathematics, can we not conclude that metaphysics is just more math? Furthermore, if physics aims to articulate patterns of cause-and-effect as observed in the natural world, ‘metaphysics’ then pertains to the field of study about the causal relations between these observed mathematical principles. All in all, rather than discussing entities, we ought to be discussing processes as they exist within and between physical systems.

Just as a quick note, however, I believe this idea originates in structural realism, specifically ontic structural realism (OSR), which suggests that the universe is made up of relations rather than entities like quarks and hydrogen atoms (Ladyman). The beauty of OSR is that the relata themselves exist as relations, albeit at a lower physical level. The energy produced by the Big Bang is what instigates the processes which gives rise to these structures, culminating into the reality we aim to measure in the sciences.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here, so bare with me. While Hegelian Dialectics aim to articulate an epistemic or cognitive process of comparing “opposing sides” or perspectives to uncover emergent products, in the form of ideas (Maybee), perhaps this notion can be extended to the physical world too. We know that as physical systems interact, the emergent phenomena is unlike anything present within the underlying components, as identified by Jaegwon Kim in Making Sense of Emergence (Kim 20–21). While Hegel appeals to a “thesis” and an “antithesis”, we can think of these as different systems interacting to produce novel effects. It is this process of combining, configuring, and rearranging elements within each “side” or system which can be considered metaphysical.

The idea of “magic” is just this: effects with obscure physical origins that are not immediately apparent to the observer. The example I appeal to is John Nash’s game theory which identifies how the cooperation between two individuals results in outcomes that are unlike those produced when agents operate separately. Nash identified a regularity within physical systems, namely humans, that produces an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts. Additionally, while game theory is theoretically subsumed by physics, insofar that it is a part of our physical world, the way it is articulated is through mathematics and procedures, rather than existing as an entity like an atom.

Although currently, there doesn’t seem to be much philosophical consensus on the metaphysical problem of the mind/consciousness, this issue can be resolved by naturalizing the works of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. As biological creatures improved their sensorimotor capacities through [natural/sexual/etc.] selective processes, the brain evolved new ways of solving problems produced by aspects of the environment. By turning back to reflect on itself as an embodied agent, individuals become aware of their relative position in their environment and perhaps their life as an unfolding process. From phenomenal consciousness emerged access consciousness, and through similar reflexive processes, a wider “cosmic” consciousness will likewise spread throughout humanity. Once we realize what and where we are, we can understand how this relates to others, allowing individuals to see beyond their own needs and desires to act in the interest of others or the group. Through this cooperation, we all benefit by looking out for one another, just as game theory predicts. To do this, however, one must cultivate a self-awareness which facilitates the ability to speculate about other minds and the ways in which others may perceive the world.

Works Cited

Kim, Jaegwon. ‘Making Sense of Emergence’. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, vol. 95, no. 1/2, 1999, pp. 3–36.

Ladyman, James. ‘Structural Realism’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2020, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2020. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/structural-realism/.

Maybee, Julie E. ‘Hegel’s Dialectics’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2020, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2020. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/hegel-dialectics/.

Magic in Culture

Now is a good time to inject a little magic into every day life by examining and revelling in humanity’s vast history of cultural knowledge and practices. I encourage you to consider your capacity for creativity as a source of magic, where your ability to generate something more from something less is a special kind of wizardry. Moreover, our creations take on a life of their own as others are free to reference and expand upon these contributions. This is especially true today as the internet allows us to find like-minded individuals and communities which appreciate specific skills and the fruits of their labour.

In fact, it could be argued from an anthropological perspective, the internet is as magical as it gets. Although the term itself is used as a noun, the thing it references is more like a vague verb than a solid concept or object. We talk about a thing we don’t often think deeply about, especially due to its physical opacity and degree of technicality. Holding a hard-drive in your hand does not clarify this ambiguity and any resulting confusion, as there is nothing to suggest in these materials that an entire virtual world exists within. Without a screen and a means to display its contents, the information inside is rendered unknowable to the human mind. The amount of human knowledge, skill, and technological progress required to sustain life today is evidence of our power as creators, however, what seems to be missing is a sense of awe that ought to accompany the witnessing of supernatural events.

The causal powers of seemingly magical effects, like electricity for example, can more or less be explained or accounted for by applications of dynamics systems theory, as the interactions of environmental conditions over time is required for the emergence of new properties or products. These emergent products are generated by restructuring lower-level entities or conditions but are not reducible to them, nor are predictable from the lower level (Kim 20-21). Electricity is generated by transforming physical forces and materials into energy, emerging from the interaction of environmental variables like heat and air pressure for example. Alternatively, consider a simple loaf of bread as created by the interaction of flour, a leavening agent like yeast, time, and heat. The ingredients for the bread, like the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt, must be added in a specific order at a specific time in order for the final product to truly become ‘bread’.

Emergence can also be identified in game theory, as cooperation generates a non-zero sum outcome where individuals gain more by working together than if they were working alone (Curry 29). Human economies are founded on this principle of cooperation, as trading goods and services with others theoretically improves the lives individuals working to honour the agreement. From this perspective, it turns out that bronies have identified a fundamental principle of life: friendship is magick because cooperation generates something more from something less. Just as individuals are free to expand upon or reshape the ideas and contributions of others, and groups of individuals are able to combine their expertise to build something new altogether, like the internet. Not only can we establish conceptual connections between past, present, and future, we can connect with each other to expand our understanding of some portion of human culture.

Works Cited

Curry, Oliver Scott. ‘Morality as Cooperation: A Problem-Centred Approach’. The Evolution of Morality, Springer, 2016, pp. 27–51.

Kim, Jaegwon. ‘Making Sense of Emergence’. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, vol. 95, no. 1/2, 1999, pp. 3–36.

Subjects as Embodied Minds

Last year I wrote a paper on robot consciousness to submit to a conference, only to realize that there is a better approach to establishing this argument than the one I took. In Sartrean Phenomenology for Humanoid Robots, I attempted to draw a connection between Sartre’s description of self-awareness and how this can be applied to robotics, and while at the time I was more interested in this higher-order understanding of the self, it might be a better idea to start with an argument for phenomenal consciousness. I realized that technically, iCub already has phenomenal consciousness and its own type of qualia, a notion I should develop more before moving on to discuss how we can create intelligent, self-aware robots.

What I originally wanted to convey was how lower levels of consciousness act as a foundation from which higher-order consciousness emerges as the agent grows up in the world, where access consciousness is the result of childhood development. Because this paper is a bit unfocused, I only really talked about this idea in one paragraph when it should be its own paper:

“Sartre’s discussion of the body as being-for-itself is also consistent with the scientific literature on perception and action, and has inspired others to investigate enactivism and embodied cognition in greater detail (Thompson 408; Wider 385; Wilson and Foglia; Zilio 80). This broad philosophical perspective suggests cognition is dependent on features of the agent’s physical body, playing a role in the processing performed by the brain (Wilson and Foglia). Since our awareness tends to surpass our perceptual contents toward acting in response to them (Zilio 80), the body becomes our centre of reference from which the world is experienced (Zilio 79). When Sartre talks about the pen or hammer as an extension of his body, his perspective reflects the way our faculties are able to focus on other aspects of the environment or ourselves as we engage with tools for some purpose. I’d like to suggest that this ability to look past the immediate self can be achieved because we, as subjects, have matured through the sensorimotor stage and have learned to control and coordinate aspects of our bodies. The skills we develop as a result of this sensorimotor learning enables the brain to redirect cognitive resources away from controlling the body to focus primarily on performing mental operations. When we write with a pen, we don’t often think about how to shape each letter or spell each word because we learned how to do this when we were children, allowing us to focus on what we want to say rather than how to communicate it using our body. Thus, the significance of the body for perception and action is further reinforced by evidence from developmental approaches emerging from Piaget’s foundational research.”

Applying this developmental process to iCub isn’t really the exciting idea here, and although robot self-consciousness is cool and all, it’s a bit more unsettling, to me at least, to think about the fact that existing robots of this type technically already feel. They just lack the awareness to know that they are feeling, however, in order to recognize a cup, there is something it is like to see that cup. Do robots think? Not yet, but just as dogs have qualia, so does iCub and Haikonen’s XCR-1 (Law et al. 273; Haikonen 232–33). What are we to make of this?

by Vincenzo Fiorecropped

Works Cited

Haikonen, Pentti O. ‘Qualia and Conscious Machines’. International Journal of Machine Consciousness, World Scientific Publishing Company, Apr. 2012. world, www.worldscientific.com, https://doi.org/10.1142/S1793843009000207.

Law, James, et al. ‘Infants and ICubs: Applying Developmental Psychology to Robot Shaping’. Procedia Computer Science, vol. 7, Jan. 2011, pp. 272–74. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2011.09.034.

Thompson, Evan. ‘Sensorimotor Subjectivity and the Enactive Approach to Experience’. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, vol. 4, no. 4, Dec. 2005, pp. 407–27. Springer Link, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-005-9003-x.

Wider, Kathleen. ‘Sartre, Enactivism, and the Bodily Nature of Pre-Reflective Consciousness’. Pre-Reflective Consciousness, Routledge, 2015.

Wilson, Robert A., and Lucia Foglia. ‘Embodied Cognition’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2017, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2017. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/embodied-cognition/.

Zilio, Federico. ‘The Body Surpassed Towards the World and Perception Surpassed Towards Action: A Comparison Between Enactivism and Sartre’s Phenomenology’. Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, vol. 28, no. 1, 2020, pp. 73–99. PhilPapers, https://doi.org/10.5195/jffp.2020.927.

Math and Logic: software running on a kernel?

One of my favourite stories from human history involves the discovery of the relationship between mathematics and logic in the early 20th century, the one that ends in bitter disappointment and the birth of the computer. While I must admit that a portion of my appreciation for this topic is the direct result of a particular story-teller’s sparkling charisma, the mystery uncovered by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems has become a kind of meme-parasite that keeps eating at my cognitive energy. It’s one of those topics that I like to think about when I can’t sleep, and while it is on my to-do list of research projects, unfortunately its rank is pretty low for now. Since I have done little research in this area, the questions and propositions I am about to present are probably wrong or misguided to some degree, but here they are.

Could formal logic, as a representational format with axioms and guided by rules, provide us with a language for articulating laws of metaphysics? From a folk-theoretic perspective, we do this when we talk about whether something is or is not the case, or whether something could be possible given certain conditions. These yes-no questions return a boolean value which may influence further processing or decision-making, like whether or not to bring an umbrella. Our behaviour is governed by events in the real world occurring or failing to obtain, and while our neocortex may like the details of these events, our embodied, animal selves ultimately needs to make a decision about something. Examining simpler organisms, it seems the biological norm tends to involve a limited set of behavioural responses to environmental stimuli, like “fight or flight” for example, which are executed when certain conditions are met. It seems as though the nervous system operates similarly to the way computers use bits, in that if something is or is not the case, then a command can be executed. Notice how these operations are reliant on causation, events generated by physical regularities.Since these binary values serve as a foundation for formal logic more generally, we can identify a connection between tracking physical regularities and modern formal logic.

Being a naturalist, I’m inclined to think the universe works in strange ways and humans have been clever enough to capture some of that strangeness and represent it in accurately through formal systems like math and logic. Although these systems are human creations, they are able to correctly represent the aspects of our physical universe as a result of thousands of years of development. We know this because we have successfully sent humans to the moon and back again; if our formal systems were flawed in any way, such a trip would have made this fact more than apparent.

So what isthe difference between math and logic, aside the fact that there will be unprovable mathematical statements (Raatikainen)? I’m wondering if the devil is in the generativity mathematics provides and the pressure that puts on verification as a result. While logic can handle the processing of quantities, mathematics is like a specialized expansion pack that runs on top of logical systems. With the development of agriculture in early human history, we moved away to relying on the environment to a new type of self-reliance, one which requires physical records for accounting and bookkeeping. While aspects of this new formal system are isomorphic to rules and axioms in logic, mathematics creates a space for explaining physical laws and regularities. Mathematics can track aspects of the environment that logic cannot, like rates of change and probability, and provides us with more information about the details of our physical universe. Physics, as a modern topic of study, provides an epistemic foundation for human societies because it explains both ‘what’ and ‘how’, using the scientific method as a vetting process to inch us toward a decent understanding of reality.

Humans will always notice patterns in systems because that is what our brain has evolved to do, which means the act of verification requires the creation of a separate system because our questions abstract away from the particular to the general. If we want to know whether some local phenomena applies to the system globally, like whether the existence of twin primes continues on indefinitely, we need a separate system, perhaps one built on formal logic, to verify this. These systems contain properties and rules which map to versions in the other, however, their separation is a feature, not a bug, to the chagrin of David Hilbert (Zach). By adding a naturalized epistemological dimension to this discussion on the relationship between math and logic, we can start to see the strengths and weakness of each for human knowledge and understanding. Although logic provides us with a degree of certainty, it necessarily comes at a cost. Mathematics, on the other hand, may allow us to understand our universe in greater detail, however, there will always be patterns or phenomena which will evade certainty or a complete understanding.

What about quantum mechanics? All I will say on the matter is this domain seems to involve probabilities, the space between 0 and 1. Could the strange phenomena seen at this physical level defy some aspect of logic we take for granted in physics? Are we dealing with a new formal system here? If math is like software and logic is like a kernel, what would the electricity in this metaphor be? I have more food for the parasite I guess.

Works Cited

Raatikainen, Panu, “Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2021/entries/goedel-incompleteness/>.

Zach, Richard, “Hilbert’s Program”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/hilbert-program/>.

Metaphysics?

Still-life paintings from a new perspective: how does fruit ripen over time?
A depiction of a time lapse represented in 3 dimensions, from the perspective of 4 dimensions, on a mostly 2 dimensional plane.

Fruit of the Room, acrylic and embroidery floss, 2021
Fruit of the Room in my room
The fuzz on the thread reflecting blended or imprecise boundaries?

Anxiety in Creation

Thanks to my partner, I am now interested in learning to paint. I used to like to draw but painting has always been a daunting task. There are so many parameters to worry about, like colour, strokes, light, proportionality; I think it overwhelmed me. From my perspective, drawing is a little simpler; you have lines and some shading if you’re good. I think the thing that I found the most daunting, however, was picking subject matter. Why do people draw or paint the things they do? Most of the time, I couldn’t think of anything to paint, and would always worry about how the final product would turn out. My fearful immature mind would think something like “if mediocrity is the enemy, then it’s probably best that I stick to what I’m good at.” How lame is that? So, it’s time to tackle the fear of colour-matching and start by just making a mess. That’s what toddlers do with paint, so that’s what I shall do too, but a little less literally because my sensorimotor cortex has a better grip on how to move my hand. It’s not a lot better, but it’s something.

The idea for what to paint came to me, luckily, one day as I was thinking about time and reading about Cézanne. I was thinking about all the versions of still-life fruits and flowers that exist in the world, and then realized that these images were a snapshot of the object’s life, and that at one point, that one apple might have been green rather than red, for example. What if one were to paint all of the snapshots of the apple? In that moment, my mind produced a weird multi-coloured snake inside a tesseract, and it was at that point that I knew I had to try to externalize this image.

With my limited skills in visual representation, I knew I would need to take this slowly and plan every step of the image-creation project. I know I will make mistakes, but planning ahead and determining the steps I need to take beforehand helps to reduce the impact of the errors on the final product. The dimensions were the first thing to plan out: how is this going to fit within the canvas? Next, it was making sure the components of the foreground were properly set in relation to each other. Now that I am working on colour and detail, the real challenge begins.

To take a representation from the mind’s eye and depict it with high fidelity on a piece of paper or canvas is the hardest step. This is made explicit in Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind, and when I read segments of this book earlier in the year, it reminded me of the art I used to make as a kid and the feelings I had back then. That feeling of anxiety as the brain and body work together to represent a trait or idea (Derrida 36) is quite familiar, and perhaps it was this book that subconsciously rekindled my interest in creating visual art.Since skill is built up as the hand translates what the mind sees into line segments, angles, and shades of colour, I knew I would need a set “training-wheels” to get me going. By appealing to my experiences of drawing, I knew my pictures looked best when I could copy an image in front of me, as the external image is more concrete, visually, than my internal depiction. Existing still-life images act as my guide-dog as I feel around in the dark for ways of bringing this image to life. I know the vase needs to reflect light, but how? Fortunately, a quick internet search provides plenty of examples, but I am still looking for the right image, one that looks as close as possible to the scene in my imagination. I need to copy existing visual elements in order to articulate the ones produced by my neurons.

The lesson? More practice, less fretting. The expectations I place on my “art” are nothing but my own ideals, and after I challenge these ideals, the pleasure comes back. What ideals am I referring to? Productivity and achievement for the sake of bolstering one’s prospects or status, along with other notions that tend to suck the delight out of our endeavours. My partner often reminds me to enjoy the process and think less about the painting as a final product. Focus on the verb, not the noun. I am doing this for myself, not for the blog, not for my career, and certainly not for money. It’s an exercise in phenomenology, nothing more. Will thoughts of hustle-culture sneak up on me when I’m vulnerable? Yes, but that’s why this is about my inner representations, including those that make me doubt myself.

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques, and Musée du Louvre. Memoirs of the blind: The self-portrait and other ruins. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.