Posts Tagged ‘language’

The Language Of Freedom

June 11, 2011





While puzzling over how to respond to INspired Ink’s post, “The Here and Now”– A Post A Day 2011 post, I stumbled upon the following 2008 post of mine and thought it special enough to post again (my response to Ink’s post was a single paragraph response from the below post).

The Reciprocal Relationship Of Content/Form Interdependence

What’s Going On With These Posts—Are They Random, Directed, Or Something Else?

I think I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. If there’s a common theme running through these posts, it’s my quest to understand what I don’t understand. That said, in this post the suggestion is that I understand something, or, to put it more gently, what I haven’t understood so far, begins to make more sense if understood in the following way:

The subject of freedom is a major theme in my writing. Freedom, depending on its context, means many things to many people. Operationally speaking, though, we first encounter freedom as the freedom to act. Satisfying our biological needs frames this freedom. I associate Aristotle with this freedom because he was the first to recognize, as far as I can tell, the importance of the sensation/understanding connection. Freedom is not just a sensation, however. The freedom to avoid the unpleasant and pursue the pleasant has the indirect effect of creating the environment out of which all other freedoms are expressed.

On another level, a higher level, phenomenological freedom expresses the question that theoretical freedom answers (the freedom to be logically consistent). This answer, scientifically speaking, is verified through its reliable predictions as they relate to our aesthetic experience. This answer, sociologically speaking, allows for behavioral change and emotional growth. In other words, as a dynamic process, freedom (or lack there of) is continually being discovered in the “universal limiting space that defines it.” As knowledge accumulates, for instance, life’s expectations and goals may change. The value and meaning of relationships may change. What at one time was sought for pleasure and comfort may, with increased understanding, become unpleasant, and so on and so forth.

But there is another kind of freedom, one that escapes categorizations. This is Buddhist freedom– a freedom we cannot sense, a freedom that is by definition indeterminate. Even so, paradoxically, much has been said (and written) about this freedom. Fortunately, the Japanese sage, and student of Zen Buddhism, Nishida Kitaro, has discussed Buddhist freedom without venturing outside the “limiting space” framework of freedom.

Nishida went looking for “pure experience” and found it in the “absolute free will” emerging from and returning to absolute nothingness. Since Nishida wanted to communicate this realization, he created his own logic, the logic of basho, because he believed the only way to communicate ultimate reality—true selfhood, was through a rational methodology. To be fair, I think his logic referenced existence more than analysis, but when you need to communicate the reality at the center of the creative world, where “absolute free will” lives in the “eternal now,” analysis by itself just can’t do the job. Anyway, three categories distinguished Nishida’s logic: basho of being, basho of relative nothingness, and basho of absolute nothingness. (Most of my information on Nishida comes from the book, Great Thinkers Of The Eastern World, Ian P. McGreal, Editor, p. 384-5.

For me at least, basho logic seems to be describing three different levels of interconnectivity—the interconnectivity of three different “pulses of freedom.” The basho of being becomes the limiting space of existence while the basho of relative nothingness becomes the defining characteristic of that limitation. The basho of absolute nothingness, on the other hand, is the glue and ultimate reality that Nishida is trying to communicate. In this interconnectivity a dual purpose is at work. As the ground of everything, the logic of basho works to support and restrict all beings. Upon achieving a state of self-realization, however, one experiences the absolute interpenetration of nothingness with all the particular existents in the universe. According to Nishida, everything that Is, is within the interconnectivity of basho, and, at bottom, the “self as basho” identifies itself with all the existents and beings of the world. The “self as basho,” “self as absolute nothingness,’’ wakes to perfect freedom, perfect wisdom and perfect bliss.

The fact that language will not (can not) permit a description of “fully enlightened beings,” is what inspired Nishida to create his basho logic. Was he successful? I cannot say, but I’m glad he tried because the second major theme in my writing is to search out a language rich enough to express all of freedom’s ramifications. Next week’s blog, in fact, will be a good indication of just how far I’ve come in achieving that goal. Like Nishida, I believe that a sufficiently strong freedom language will incorporate logic, albeit a logic referencing existence and analysis, and the concepts of interconnectivity and interpenetration. This language will require also (for me at least) the concepts of transformation and reciprocity, more specifically, the reciprocity that exists structurally in content/form interdependence.

One of the things I’ve found intriguing is how certain conceptual forms can go through various transformations without loosing meaning, e.g. 2 means two, two also means 1+1=2, two also means 4-2= 2. In logic, in a like manner, A and ~A cannot exist at the same time (the law of non-contradiction wherein a statement and its negation cannot both be true and false at the same time), but, ~~A then A (the principle that any proposition implies and is implied by the negation of its negation) is perfectly true, e.g. it is the case that not, not A implies A.

Transformations like above are not limited to analysis. For instance, suppose that my own self-awareness was a product of mind and something else. Suppose also that this something else not only defined (formed) self-awareness, but also was responsible for the interconnectivity of my self-awareness across time, which is to say past mind events connect present mind events and present mind events connect future mind events in the same way that form interpenetrates content, i.e., the reciprocal relationship of content/form interdependence.

Self-awareness as a structured reciprocal relationship is not simply a product of my imagination; it surfaced for me after reading a book by Jean Piaget. Before I describe what I found in his book on Structuralism, here’s what the Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Vol. 6, p.306) has to say about what he studied: “Piaget examined the development of not only abstract concepts such as classes, relations, and numbers, but also physical concepts like space, time, atomism, conservation and chance, all of which he has regarded as constructed from behavioral activities.” My search for a vocabulary rich enough to describe freedom’s ramifications increased ten fold after reading Piaget.

The Psychologist, Jean Piaget, put the origin of structure and the symbolic content that it generates, in an organisms capacity for action. For Piaget then, the knowledge of our objective and subjective experience begins in the recognition and coordination of sensorimotor activity. By locating the source of cognitive structure in the sensorimotor activity of babies, Piaget opened up the possibility that “structure” was grounded in “nature”– not in “mind.” Through his investigations, he was able to show how the subject and object poles of experience are “products” of experience. In fact, what we typically call “normal cognitive skills,” for Piaget, is a product of necessary developmental stages, i.e. sensorimotor, representational, and formal operative. Only after the individual passes through theses stages does one acquire “normal cognitive skills.” The subject pole and object pole of a child’s experience remains undissociated early in the sensorimotor stage, but after passing through the stage of formal operations the child (8-12 year old), in his/her capacity to invoke reasoned judgments and deductive thought, is then able to conceptualize what is not perceived (e.g. principles of conservation, reversibility, transitivity, etc.). For Piaget then, cognitive-awareness is not something we are born with; rather it is the product of an ongoing developmental process. This is important because it tells us that logic stems from a sort of spontaneous organization of activity,– that the pre-condition for knowledge is an assimilation of a given external into the structures of the subject,– and that out of these subjective structures arise, phoenix like, the genesis of self-awareness. Thus, not only do we find the relationship of context/form interdependence in the ongoing activity of accommodation/assimilation of environment, we also find it in the relationship that binds natural structure to cognitive structure.

The mental event structure that we cognitively experience as “movement into the future” becomes (according to the way I understand Piaget) a product of the externally given context/form interdependent relationship of accommodation/assimilation. In the externally given accommodation/assimilation structure, accommodation is understood to be a change in the assimilated product of environmental interaction, i.e. acting on the past to create a present, and, likewise, assimilation is understood as an action actively reproduced in such a way as to incorporate new (accommodated) objects into one’s own assimilated experience, i.e. actualizing the potential to intelligently navigate a course through an uncertain future, thus, this externally given “structure” of accommodation/assimilation becomes (when subjectively internalized) what Piaget calls the center of functional activity, or, the context/form interdependent experience of “self” moving from past, to present, to future. However, to introduce a caveat that I believe any anthropologist would agree to, the capacity to dissociate one thing from another is itself a product of social evolution. The “self” experience of today is not the “self” experience of archaic people. Social consciousness is intimately connected with its environment, and only gradually, through the process of reification, does that environment become externalized as an object of consciousness. In other words, today what is perceived in clarity and sharpness was, for archaic people, perceived as a relatively undifferentiated whole. The evolution of mind then, in addition to evolving structurally, “in time,” also evolves linearly, “across time.”

The question that still needs to be answered is where exactly is Piaget’s “self” located? According to Piaget, “the center of functional activity is not located in the traditional ‘me space’ that we so often take for granted; nor is it located in the ‘lived space’ that is described in the works of various existentialists; nor is it located in the positivists physico-chemical brain activity,” Nietzsche’s will to power, Marx’s economic determinate, or Durkheim’s normative order etc. Rather, Piaget locates his “constructionist self,” in general terms, “somewhere midway between the nervous system and conscious behavior (because) ‘psychology is first of all a biology.”’ To be more specific, however, Piaget locates the “constructionist self” in the structure of content/form interdependence. Piaget explains:

“But what manner of existence is left, then, for the mind, if it is neither social, nor mental in the subjective sense, nor organic?

…If it is, as Levi-Strauss says, necessary to ‘reintegrate content with form,’ it is no less essential to recall that neither forms nor contents exist per se: in nature as in mathematics every form is content for ‘higher’ forms and every content form of what it ‘contains’….

This uninterrupted process of coordinating and setting in reciprocal relations is the true ‘generator’ of structures as constantly under construction and reconstruction. The subject exists because, to put it very briefly, the being of structures consists in their coming to be, that is, their being ‘under construction.”’ [Piaget, Structuralism, p. 112]

If Piaget is right, and intelligence is an extension of natural structure then intelligence arises, phoenix like, from natural structure, but, suppose intelligence (rather than arising from structure) was, just as Piaget believed, contained in the structure of content/form interdependence, and here’s where it gets somewhat tricky,
what if this content/form interdependence became self-conscious, and, this self-consciousness then became the “start up” of human intelligence, and/or what Piaget calls the center of functional activity.

This is a bit much to take in, to be sure, but that is what I will write about in next week’s blog. In closing, I want to end this blog with a modern day description of self-awareness, one that also upholds the idea that human intelligence is a product of context/form interdependence.

Identifying Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophy as structuralism is, I am aware, pushing the envelope. However, an authority on structuralism has proposed this option (without, I might add, elaborating on it.) “One might go as far as to say…that structuralism is analogous to Sartre’s view of consciousness — it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” [Jean-Marie Benoist, A Structural Revolution, p. 1] In Sartre’s book Being And Nothingness, his chapter on Being-For-Itself is subtitled “Immediate Structures of the For-Itself.” [Jean-Paul Sartre, Being And Nothingness, p. 119] Structure is not hidden in Sartre; it’s just that on the whole Sartre’s book is a polemic against reading structure as anything more than appearance.

In the representation of Sartre’s thought as “consciousness is what it is not, and it is not what it is,” we find reciprocal movement, the same reciprocal movement encountered, in Piaget’s content/form interdependence. Specifically, Sartre defines the consciousness of the transcending For-itself (our self-space) as: “Consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” (Ibid. p. 801) [As far as I am concerned this for-itself concept, and much of what is also written in Being And Nothingness, is as much a product of the thought of Simone deBeauvoir, Sartre’s life long confident, as it was the creation of Jean Paul Sartre. Throughout the writing of the book she (PhD in Philosophy) was his sounding board, and editor. Unlike Sartre, she stayed committed to this philosophy until she died.) In an extrapolation on Sartre’s definition of consciousness, Benoist describes the relationship inherent in consciousness as: “it is what it is not, and it is not what it is.” My own reading of this relationship is: being-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is. In either case, however, we end up with a description of content/form interdependence.

This double movement is represented on many levels in Sartre’s exegesis on being and nothingness. This double movement becomes very specific in Sartre’s description of his pre-reflective Cogito. In so far as we find ”nothingness” at the center of Cogito, consciousness per se must be understood to be set apart from itself, therefore, Sartre’s pre-reflective Cogito will always form one pole of our conscious experience while the “objects” of consciousness will take their place at the other pole of conscious experience. This condition, where the pre-reflective Cogito becomes the preexistent structure for conscious awareness of objects, is another way of arriving at what Piaget called the center of functional activity. Depending on where “you” focus your concern, the content of consciousness is either pushed to the front of consciousness (the unreflective consciousness), or, the object of consciousness is pushed into the background, as the “negation of consciousness” is brought into the foreground (the reflected upon object of consciousness).

Together, our pre-reflective Cogito and the object of consciousness form our conscious experience of the knower-known dyad– content/form interdependence. In so far as this double movement turns on the pivot point of pure negation, the known exists for the knower, but the knower can never be fully known. As self-consciousness rises in consciousness, it is denied the possibility of becoming fully self-aware. This result, the incompleteness of self, brings us back to Sartre’s original definition of consciousness, or, “consciousness is such that in its being its being is in question in so far as this being implies a being other than itself.” This center of functional activity, this content/form interdependence that makes thinking possible, this symbol-generating movement of free thought that emancipates language, myth, science, and morality, pushes and pulls self-awareness down the road that hopefully leads to a more civilized society. In the absence of this center of functional activity, “thinking” is restricted to the manipulation of signs—mere sensual indicators, minus the symbols that carry the significance of those same indicators. In other words, in the absence of this center of functional activity, language becomes severely limited, if not impossible.

Self-consciousness emerges where the center of functional activity– begins. This experience comes with a price. As individuals, we are condemned to be free. In the words of Sartre, we must perpetually “confront the world and self as a lack,” and, because of this, we cannot escape responsibility for our choices. Irregardless of how we choose to act, we must take responsibility for our choice. For Sartre, responsibility lies in the chosen act and therefore can never be separated from the person who chooses. If, on the other hand, we happen to be living in the episteme that the postmodernist Foucault characterized as, “belonging to the questioning of that to which one belongs,” then responsibility becomes absorbed into the power/knowledge relationship of “responsible to whom for what ends.” Certainly Foucault argues this position and, I might add, it is not a coincidence that Foucault characterized the modern episteme as “man’s obsession with what eludes him.” Just as I am sure that Foucault read Sartre, I am also sure that Foucault’s description of epistemes is off the mark and here’s why:

While Sartre has delineated the not-self and the consequences that follow from not-self in our everyday world of social interaction, he stops far short of identifying the structure of his pre-reflective Cogito— the content/form interdependence that constitutes self-awareness—with what Piaget called natural structure. The short answer here is that content/form interdependence encompasses both nature and human consciousness– as the “innate structuring capacity of all structures,” and this will be the subject of next week’s blog.

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God’s Footprint–The Quasi-Physical Event Aspect Chapter Two

December 2, 2009

God’s footprint, grounded as it is in the Logos of Existence, is shaped like a piece of pie, the edges of which meet where the observer’s edge of the pie and the opposite edge of the pie (the physical event edge) come together. The pie crust separates the observer from macro level physical events. In other words, without macro level physical events human intelligence would cease to exist (no piecrust, — no pie piece, no determinism, — no human intelligence). The comprehensibility of a micro level event is different from the comprehensibility of a macro level event because, in the same universe, the physical duality that constitutes micro level comprehensibility is different from the physical duality that constitutes macro level comprehensibility. Events on the macro level of the universe are more deterministic than events at the micro level of the universe because the entire universe is comprehensible by people who can comprehend—you, me, and the scientist. In quantum mechanics the loss of space time localization coupled with the realities of wave/particle phenomena have forced some physicists to abandon the concept of a deterministic universe. However, when viewed from the perspective of God’s footprint, one does not give up anything. Just like in the physics of relativity where yardstick lengths and rates of ticking clocks are tied to the observer’s frame of reference, so to, in God’s footprint, the comprehensibility of universe is tied to the frame of reference of different dualities— e.g., ~~b (wave/particle duality), ~bb (accommodation/assimilation of living creatures duality), and, b~b~bb (the physical event/human intelligence duality).

As I was saying in the beginning chapter of God’s Footprint, the physical event/quantum side of the pie piece is embedded in the aesthetic continuum, — or the feeling/sensing side of experience as opposed to the cerebral experience where we encounter the “ideal meanings” that get used in the interpretation of the phenomena that we ascribe to nature according to law. How this translates into the physical event/quantum side of the pie piece is contained in the ongoing story of what can loosely be called “the strange behavior of quantum phenomena.” In order to get a better idea of what is entailed in the quantum event, I’ll let another dialogue (written a while back) speak to this issue. In this half-imagined conversation, three strangers meet at a California state campground. In this conversation, Don, the skeptical university student, Jade, the newly graduated science teacher, and me, the vagabond bicycler, are discussing Fritz Capra’s book, Tao of Physics.

“What are you guys talking about anyway,” said Don, “Catch up to what? How can a scientist catch up to science?”
“Catch up to the universe,” I said. “Science–the scientist– has to catch up to what’s happening in the universe. There’s no going back to Kansas anymore. That’s what Capra was telling us in his book. We just don’t live in a world divided up into the squeaky clean categories of mass and energy anymore, not to mention cause and effect.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Don. “It sounds like you guys, Capra included, have been smoking too much of that hookah weed stuff.”
“Not really,” Jade replied, “Capra is a well respected physicist who just happens to be on the cutting edge of new age thinking. He really knows what he’s talking about.”

Jade’s right,” I said, “The new physics has turned waves into particles and particles into waves. Hell, we don’t even know for sure if the world exists separate from the way we look at it. According to Capra, at the quantum level, the universe looks and behaves differently from the way we typically perceive it. At the level of the very small, we loose track of independently existing things. Physical phenomena appears, at that level, to show signs of being interconnected, which means that we are interconnected with everything else, which means that the sages of the East were right all along. Ultimately, we are all part of some mystical ‘Oneness,’ but we just don’t know it. In reality, we’re just one big happy family.”

“Quantum physics says all that,” replied Don, “I don’t mean to be a party pooper fellows, but didn’t anybody ever tell you that the splitting up of that “small stuff” is what resulted in the ‘now you see ‘em, now you don’t’ cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I mean the family that bombs together doesn’t necessarily stay together, let alone live in bliss!”
“Well, yeah,” Jade replied, “I guess it doesn’t hurt to keep a perspective on things. I think what is being said here is that the world that gave us a better bomb, on a fundamental level, just doesn’t exist anymore. It exists locally, yeah, but even so, we still can’t go back to Kansas. Everything has changed.”
“Like what exactly,” replied Don.

“Like we can’t think of the universe as just a collection of objects anymore,” Jade responded. “Rather, it’s more like a complicated web of relations. Some physicists even go as far as to say that it is a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole. And that is what Dave meant when he said that Eastern mystics were there first. In fact, Capra is saying the same thing. According to him, even the language used by physicists and the language used by mystics is starting to sound the same. Nagarjuna, a second century Buddhist, preached that things were nothing in themselves; instead, they derived their being from a mutual dependence with other things. A particle physicist might use those very same words to describe the results of a cloud chamber experiment that records the trajectories of colliding particles. Under certain conditions, an elementary particle is no more than a set of relationships that reach outward to other things. The world, on that level, is no more than a complicated tissue of events that determines the texture of the whole.”

“Big deal,” snapped Don. “So what the hell is all that supposed to mean? Physicists still do physics don’t they? They still make weapons that kill don’t they, weapons that when sold produce mega bucks for the seller. Who cares where destruction comes from; it’s still destruction, right!”

“Wait a minute.” I interrupted. “We need to start over, I know what you’re getting at Don, and I totally agree. And I know Jade does too. That’s why I said that it takes time, lots of it, for the implications of new concepts to be fully digested. Maybe a hundred years for all I know, but digested they will be, and when it happens the world will be better off. That’s all I’m trying to say. What’s happening in physics today is a far cry from what happened in the past, and its telling us new and exciting things about the universe, and maybe even about ourselves! This new vision does not exclude, it includes, and therein lies the hope. When humanity is brought into the mix with everything else, a whole new ballgame arises. The center of balance shifts, and overtime, possibilities open, even if in the short run, the rules remain the same. If you ask me, humanity will be in for immense benefits if this new vision catches on. Think about it. What’s happening in science today is the rediscovery of our lost identity, and that can’t be all bad.”

“How many beers are left?” said Don.
“What?”
“If we’re gunna start over,” Don replied, “and if you’re gunna get metaphysical on me, I need to know just how patient I want to be. So how many beers patient will I be?”
“Well,” said Jade, after checking the twelve pack, and handing everyone another beer, “I’d say about two or three, depending of course on how patient you want to be!”
“That sounds about right,” Don said. “Educate me. I’m ready now.”
“Jade, you’re the science teacher. You start,” I said.
“You don’t need me,” Jade shot back, “you need Neil’s Bohr or Warner Heisenberg.”
“That sounds good,” I said. “Start with those guys. Think of it as practice. After all, in the classroom you won’t have such a patient audience. We won’t heckle. Go for it.”

“All right already, enough,” Jade said. “As best I can remember, it all started with Max Planck’s black body radiation experiments at the turn of the century. He discovered that radiation or light propagates in discrete packets. Those packets are called the quantum of action. The energy in a quantum of action varies, but its discreteness doesn’t. That discreteness is known as Planck’s constant. Particles in classical physics evolve in a continuous manner, and in three dimensions of space, but in atomic physics that just doesn’t seem to be the case. With the discovery of the quantum of action, there was a merging of the dynamic state of the elements under study with their localization. The particles’ independence dissolved, as it became impossible to simultaneously determine position and momentum, an impossibility for which the uncertainty relations of Heisenberg became the precise expression. After the uncertainty principle, Cartesian space and time co-ordinates ceased to be applicable, and physicists were forced into learning new rules for a new game. In fact, all the conjugate variables of analytical mechanics–energy, time, momentum, position, had to be dealt with as approximations; they had to be dealt with in terms of statistical analysis. Ultimately, with the loss of space and time localization, physicists were forced to abandon their concept of a deterministic physical universe.”

“Oh yeah, and what about Einstein,” Don said. “Did he abandon the concept of determinism? What happened to his space and time?”
“Well, not exactly,” Jade replied. “His space and time are still there, only it’s not just his space-time any longer, it’s everybody’s.”
“I’ve always wanted to know about relativity. Fill me in why don’t you.” Don said.

“I’d really like to except it’s all a little fuzzy for me, too,” replied Jade. “I really don’t understand much about it. That’s a whole different physics, one that doesn’t fit in well with quantum mechanics. That was the problem that haunted Einstein his entire life. He never stopped trying to solve it. And if he couldn’t do it, don’t expect help from me. You’re right, though; Einstein never did give up his belief in a deterministic universe. In his physics, determinism was preserved, while everything else fell apart.”
“So tell me about it,” Don said. “If a ball is still a ball and we can calculate its velocity and position in Einstein’s universe, then what do you mean ‘everything fell apart?’”

“Basically,” replied Jade, “relativity doesn’t come into significant play until you’re working with velocities at close to the speed of light. When those speeds are approached, compared to say, the speed of a bullet, space and time measurements become radically different when measured relative to each other. In Einstein’s Special Theory Of Relativity the space and time measurements of the system under study are tied to the frame of reference of the observer. A yardstick and a clock traveling at close to the speed of light will measure thirty-six inches and identify twelve o’clock to an observer in that reference frame, but when the same yardstick and clock are measured against other frames of reference, say like here on earth, earth clocks will run slow and yardsticks will measure less than thirty-six inches. Sir Isaac Newton’s absolute space and time collapsed under the weight of Einstein.”

“Oh yeah, now I understand,” replied Don. “Bullets are small compared to the sun, so their length is measured with a short yardstick while sun spots are large compared to bullets, so they’re measured with long yardsticks, right!”
“That’s not exactly what I said, Don. Measuring rods traveling at close to the speed of light,” said Jade, “when compared to measuring rods here on earth measure short, and the same goes for clocks, they run slow. And, vice versa, when earth clocks are compared to clocks traveling at close to the speed of light, then those clocks run slow. I don’t know why. I’m not an Einstein. I guess it has something to do with the constancy of the velocity of light, but other than that it’s a mystery to me, just like it must be a mystery to you. Look, I can see we’re not getting anywhere here, especially since I’ve already admitted I don’t know much about Einstein’s theories. Let’s just say that by using Einstein’s equations, a person can figure out how to measure both the length and speed of an earth bullet and the length and speed of a bullet traveling at close to the speed of light and then communicate that knowledge to an alpha centurion—provided that the alien understands the equations. Once again, I don’t now how that can be done, but I do know it has something to do with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which further develops the concept of the space-time interval. A space-time interval, when measured relative to different reference frames, does not vary, but don’t ask me to explain that because I can’t.”

“Fair enough,” Don replied. “Don’t explain.”
“Now that I think of it, though,” said Jade, “I need to put just a little perspective into what I just said.”
“Do you really?” said Don.
“Have another drink, Don,” Jade replied.
“Determining the change of change in different reference systems,” Jade continued, “is no small accomplishment, but there is something even more amazing going on here. Einstein’s equations let us in on an astounding universe, a universe absolutely different from the one that Euclid mapped out for us a couple millenniums ago. The universe discovered by Einstein even astounded Einstein, but it wasn’t the oddness of it all that astounded him, it was the simple fact that it could be discovered in the first place! He said, ‘The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.’ If you ask me, that statement says it all.”

“If that’s true,” Don interrupted, “then Einstein must have died a pretty frustrated man because based on what you’re telling me here, nobody is even close to comprehending a universe that is free of contradictory laws. What’s comprehensible about that?”

“We don’t know everything, Don,” Jade replied, “but we do know a hell of a lot more than we used to. We are beginning to understand ‘who and what we are’ in a whole different light. It’s true that our knowledge is limited by statistical analysis at the quantum level, but it works, and it works well. That, according to Bohr and Heisenberg, was pretty important all by itself. According to the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, the model attributed to Bohr and Heisenberg, it doesn’t matter what’s going on at the quantum level, what matters is that in all possible experimental situations we can, within certain limits, predict the outcomes. Understanding reality, according to the Copenhagen Interpretation, lies beyond the capabilities of rational thought. The laws governing individual events are, at the quantum level, completely discarded. Only mathematical laws governing aggregations apply. According to quantum mechanics, it is not possible, even in principle, to know enough about the present to make a complete prediction about the future. Even with the best possible measuring devices, it is still not possible.”

“You talk as if Bohr and Heisenberg are gods,” said Don. “To me they’re just two more scientists, two among many, doing their job! I’m sure there are different opinions out there. Einstein certainly didn’t agree. One day another Einstein will come along and see through it all, and on that day the Copenhagen Interpretation, or whatever you call it, will be no more. What are you suggesting anyway, that all progress stops because you want it to? I don’t think so, and I’m glad.”

“You could be right,” Jade responded, “but overcoming all the history that’s still building in quantum mechanics is a daunting task for anyone. Einstein wasn’t the only physicist who disliked the theory. Many have tried to dislodge the Copenhagen interpretation. In every instance, however, the physical world has intervened and said, ‘Your questions are meaningless.’ No physicist likes being told that. When a wave behaves like a particle and a particle behaves like a wave, the concepts that used to define the physical world no longer apply. Nature now requires a marriage of ideas that in the past were designed to live apart. Neil’s Bohr just got tired of fighting the inevitable. That’s when he started seeing things in a complimentary light.”

“Complimentary what?” said Don.
“That was Bohr’s big contribution to quantum mechanics,” replied Jade. “He basically said that there are no waves out there. There are no particles running around, either. That strange animal that interacts with the experiments, the quantum of action, is all there is. Because Bohr believed that, he introduced the idea of complementarity. He considered the particle picture and the wave picture as two complementary descriptions of the same reality, each description being only partly correct and having a limited range of application. For Bohr, the entity ‘electron,’–just like the other elementary entities of physics—had two irreconcilable aspects, which must be invoked in order to explain, in turn, the properties of the entity. To give a full description of atomic reality, each picture is needed, and both descriptions are to be applied within the limitations given by the uncertainty principle. In fact, when the queen of England knighted Bohr for his work in physics, he was forced to pick a family coat of arms, and so he picked the Chinese symbol of Tai-chi. Because he believed that reality had to be visualized in both its complimentary and contradictory aspects, but not at the same time, he felt that, at least at the level of the quantum of action, the basic idea of Eastern mysticism’s yin/yang reality had been confirmed.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” I said, “I remember reading somewhere, maybe in Capra, that in the Buddhist relationship between form and emptiness, cooperation exists. That relationship cannot be conceived as a state of mutually exclusive opposites because it represents two aspects of the same reality. From one perspective it appears to be contradictory, but from another perspective it becomes the unifying aspect of that very same reality. Just like at the quantum level, where an event, in order to be wholly an event, exhibits both contradictory and complimentary aspects, so too in Buddhism, the void and the forms that are created from it, exist in a dynamic unity. But, there’s something that still bothers me. What about that observer-generated reality stuff that Capra talked about in his book? How does that fit in with the quantum of action? What’s that all about, anyway?”

“That’s just another aspect of how phenomena manifests at the quantum level,” responded Jade. “The classical notions of space, time, causality–objective reality, break down at the quantum level. Remember there are no waves propagating. According to most physicists, the wave function is not quite a thing, it is more like an idea that occupies a strange middle ground between idea and reality, where all things are possible but none are actual. An electron is not a particle either, it is more like a process, always forming, always dissolving. It can’t be detected until it interacts with a measuring device and even if it does interact we don’t know if it interacts with the device per se, or if it interacts with the last link in the chain of events that define the experiment—the consciousness of the human observer. The physicist, Erwin Schrödinger, devised a thought experiment to illustrate that point.

“You put a cat in a box with some poison gas. When the gas is released, the cat dies. The release of the gas is triggered by radiation decay. The decay is totally arbitrary. In classical physics, the cat dies at the time of the decay, but in quantum mechanics the cat dies when the observation is made, when the last link in the chain of events that defines the experiment occurs. At the time of observation when the box is opened the wave function collapses and possibility becomes actuality. Of course, common sense tells us that can’t be true, but that’s precisely the point, common sense breaks down at the quantum level, things are ‘different’ at that level. So the question remains, ‘Is it, or when is it, necessary to include human consciousness in our descriptions of the world?’ Or, put another way, ‘what role does measurement play in an experiment?’ Does it provide a description of the world under study or does it actually create that world?’ Quantum Mechanics has a hard time answering questions like that.”

“Maybe one day that situation will be better understood,” I said. “But until that day comes, talk about ‘objectivity’ is probably best left to the Buddhists. They don’t have a problem with ‘independent reality’ because there isn’t any; for them, everything is interdependent. My subjective world and the objective world are, for an enlightened Buddhist, just words referring to mutually conditioned relations woven into one fabric; subject and object are not just inseparable, they are indistinguishable.”

“Funny you should point that out,” responded Jade, “I mean, that words interfere with reality, because many physicists believe the same thing. Many physicists believe that the wave function is not an accurate representation of what’s really going on ‘out there.’ Rather, they believe the wave function is an abstract creation whose manipulation somehow yields the probabilities of real events that happen in space and time. But that’s only part of the story, and perhaps a small part, too. In fact, the mathematician von Neumann, the same guy who developed a mathematical proof rejecting the notion of hidden variables in quantum mechanics, believed the problems surrounding quantum phenomena had nothing to do with nature, but, rather, they had everything to do with language. We impose, with our symbolic thought processes, the categories of ‘either-or.’ Language does not allow a mixture of A and not A. The boundaries of discourse, rather, are set by discriminating A from not A. Outside that boundary nonsense rules; where ‘separate parts’ are not applicable, language cannot go. Classical physics discriminates between A and not A, therefore, moving particles and waves can be analyzed. A pictorial description of nature is never a problem there. At the atomic level, however, it is not possible to visualize or describe waves because they are not there—they are purely mathematical constructs. Where things are not things, quantifiers like inside, outside, before, after, between, or connected are not applicable. Where language and logic do not apply, nothing more can be said.”

“It seems that physicists,” I replied, “at the quantum level at least, find the same road block that the Eastern sages discovered long ago; at that point, the language of neti neti, the language of not this not that–is all that’s left. At that level all investigations end, and we are left with mere words that say nothing.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite so negatively,” Jade responded, “after all, at that level, something else comes into play; that is, if you are a sage—isn’t that where infinite wisdom and infinite creativity begins?”

“Okay, then maybe we’ve come full circle,” I said. “We’re back to the endless transformation of energy that the yin, yang symbol represents.”
“For sure, Neil’s Bohr would agree with that,” Jade replied, “but I think a little poetry is more appropriate here. After all, who better to entrust a description of the indescribable then the poet! If my memory holds, in some Upanishad it says, ‘He on whom the sky, the earth, and the atmosphere are woven, and the wind, together with all life-breaths, Him alone know as the one Soul.’”

“Yo! Fellows,” Don interjected, “We’re out of beer. No more beer, no more poetry, pleeease. Thanks for the beer, though. Don’t take offense, but somehow listening to you guys made me feel like I was waiting for Godet. If you ask me, it ain’t going to happen. Goodnight, see you in the morning!”

The Voice Of The We Of Divinity

November 18, 2009

Change of plans, instead of posting the statistical evidence (weak evidence) that I gathered in support of the existence of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self, I have decided to describe the relationship that exists between the not-me-self and divinity. This relationship is complimentary and symmetrical, like the coming together of the right and left hand gloves.

Understanding the below post requires a lot of jumping back and forth from description to diagram–a difficult task–on the other hand, the few quotes from Buber’s “I And Thou” book at the bottom of this post say everything I am trying to communicate here–in the fewest possible words! FYI a click on the above diagram enlarges it; also, clicking on the before/after posts above or the related posts below expands the meaning/significance of this post.

In last week’s “end of story post” (the We Voice of Humanity) I wrote: [“Otherness”, when understood from within the context of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self’s self/other relationship, manifests multi-layers of “otherness”. “Otherness” is always embedded in a whirl of “otherness” and unravels in layers. (Footnote. The implicative affirmative of the not-me-self occasions “otherness” first in the form of the common values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group, that is, the products of symbolic interaction. A second layer of “otherness” is encountered when the self engages the novelty, impulsiveness and spontaneity — the creative potentials of self-determination — in the self’s option to affirm, reject, and/or qualify the common values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group. A third layer of “otherness” occurs in the “thickness of description” used to validate intersubjective positions concerning values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group. And, a forth layer of “otherness” is occasioned when the “ought,” as in non-relative ethics and morality, is applied to intersubjective positions concerning values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group.)]

In the “We Voice of Divinity,” I will talk about what I didn’t talk about in the last post; that is, I will describe that layer of “otherness” which is occasioned when the “ought” (as in non-relative ethics and morality) is applied to intersubjective positions concerning values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group. However, in order to talk about “that,” I must first talk about a new way of understanding the observer/ observed relationship, and that discussion begins now.

“Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”
(Einstein, Ideas And Opinions, p. 225)

For me at least, the above diagram, speaks directly to this Einstein quote, as it also speaks to the issues of why nature responds so strangely when certain questions are put to her, questions like: Wave or particle? Why is the universe comprehensible as opposed to incomprehensible? Is nature independent of the observer? Why, on the quantum level, do we find a physical reality with no uniquely determinable location, a physical reality that exists in several states at the same time, a physical reality structured by a mathematical equation? Nature’s response to these types of questions becomes less strange, I believe, if we look through the prism of this new look (understanding) of the observer/ observed relationship.

Science, doing science, is limited to the reductionist, physical/cultural, self-boundary, or the dark blue quadrant. The pink horizon of self is part of that quadrant, but I have made it pink for labeling purposes. In other words, when I look up from my computer screen, I see a physical world of cinder block walls, tile floors, furniture, colors etc. My five senses inform me of this world and science informs me that there is more to these sensations then what my five senses are telling me about the nature of the world. The unfortunate thing about science is that, in most cases, it tries to reduce all other quadrants, life and mind, to the physical/cultural platform—not possible.

The red horizon of self is a product of the overlap of the mind/life platforms—the green quadrant. This quadrant, in addition to representing life, also represents emotional life. Emotions are a defining characteristic of the plant/animal kingdom (yes, a quirky group of scientists have produced evidence that plants have feelings), but emotions are not just a product of the green quadrant. Emotions are informed by the mind and that is the difference that makes a difference. J.E. Creighton puts it like this:

“In the development of mind, feeling does not remain a static element, constant in form and content at all levels, but…is transformed and disciplined through its interplay with other aspects of experience. Indeed, the character of the feeling in any experience may be taken as an index of the mind’s grasp of its object; at the lower levels of experience, where the mind is only partially or superficially involved, feeling appears as something isolated and opaque, as the passive accompaniment of mere bodily sensation… In the higher experience, the feelings assume an entirely different character, just as do the sensations and the other contents of mind.” (Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key, A Study in the Symbolism of Rite, Reason, and Art, p. 100)

The yellow self-horizon is also a product of the overlap of the mind/life/reductionist platforms, but its content—the purple quadrant, is restricted to the psychological, sociocultural, self-boundary of human discourse. This purple quadrant deviates somewhat from the standard science model, which lumps the “self “into the “physical stuff” of body/brain/mind— the blue quadrant. However, there is some disagreement here. If you were to ask a “structuralist” or a “symbolic anthropologist” if the mind can stand alone, their answers would be interesting. Here’s how the philosopher, Ernst Cassirer, addressed this question:

“Man has, as it were, discovered a new method of adapting himself to his environment. Between the receptor system and the effector system, which are to be found in all animal species, we find in man a third link which we may describe as the “symbolic system.” This new acquisition transforms the whole of human life. As compared with the other animals man lives not merely in a broader reality; he lives, so to speak, in a new dimension of reality.” (An Essay On Man, p. 25)

Cassirer, also adds:

“All knowledge of the world and all strictly spiritual action upon the world require that I thrust the world back from itself, that in contemplation as in action it gain a certain distance from it. Animals do not know this distance: the animal lives in his environment; he does not place himself over against it and so represent it. This acquisition of the world as idea is, rather, the aim and product of the symbolic forms ––the result of language, myth, religion, art, and theoretical knowledge.” (Cassirer, The Phenomenology of Knowledge, p. 276)

The reductionist/ life/mind platforms are connected and separated by bridges that hold everything together. The self, or our experience of self, starts at the horizons of the overlapping quadrants and proceeds inward via our experience of these quadrants. Concerning the bridges, just to give a little perspective here, in Chinese mythology, the jovial Chuang-tzu, when asked what supports the turtle that supports the world, (the world sits on the tortoise shell), replied, “Its turtles all the way down.” Well, in this cosmology, the world doesn’t sit on tortoise shells, instead, the universe hangs suspended, all the way up and all the way down, in logic, the Logos that structures existence.

Here are the labels (by the numbers) of the layered sequencing of platforms—reductionist, life, mind—that constitute self.

1 R—The reductionist, mass/energy, platform.

2 L—The life, biological/reproductive, platform.

3 M—The mind, symbol/meaning, platform.

4 S—Human self—is not an entity, rather, it is intersubjective boundary horizons.

5 The reductionist, physical/cultural, self-boundary.

6 The life, biological/emotional, self-boundary.

7 The mind, psychological, sociocultural, self-boundary of human discourse.

8 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the life platform to the reductionist platform.

9 The connecting bridge that separates and connects the mind platform to the life platform and to the life platform’s limiting condition—the reductionist platform.

In my concluding post next week, I will expand on what it means to have a “self,” as I continue to talk about the connecting bridges that define this “self.” I will also discuss the connecting bridge that is not in the diagram above, the bridge connecting Divinity to everything else. Stay tuned. I leave you with a few quotes from Martin Buber’s book I And Thou. Buber, based on the quotes below, was very much in tune with the implications that follow from the new look of the observer/observed relationship.

“…in every You we address the eternal You, in every sphere according to its manner. All spheres are included in it, while it is included in none.” (p. 150)

“Of course, God is ‘the wholly other’; but he is also the wholly same: the wholly present. Of course, he is the mysterium tremendum that appears and overwhelms; but he is also the mystery of the obvious that is closer to me than my own I.” (p. 127)

“…in truth, there is no God-seeking because there is nothing where one could not find him. How foolish and hopeless must one be to leave one’s way of life to seek God: even if one gained all the wisdom of solitude and all the power of concentration, one would miss him.” (p. 128)

“The word of revelation is: I am there as whoever I am there. That which reveals is that which reveals. That which has being is there, nothing more. The eternal source of strength flows, the eternal touch is waiting, the eternal voice sounds, nothing more.” (p. 160)

“The encounter with God does not come to man in order that he may henceforth attend to God, but in order that he may prove its meaning in action in the world. All revelation is a calling and a mission.” (p. 164)

“God embraces but is not the universe; just so, God embraces but is not my self. On account of this which cannot be spoken about, I can say in my language, as all can say in theirs: You. For the sake of this there are I and You, there is dialogue, there is language, and spirit whose primal deed language is, and there is, in eternity, the word.” (p. 143)