Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Back again.

My Father's Eyes (album)
My Father's Eyes (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've been using Wordpress for some time now (approaching 100 posts) but some of the things that one needs to do to create a post are beginning to annoy me. So I thought that I'd drop back and see how Blogger goes these days. It's around four years since my last post here I think.

English: my father's picture
English: my father's picture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The photos I've grabbed at random from Zemanta. First impressions are that image handling is better in Blogger.
In My Father's Den (film)
In My Father's Den (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Friday, February 05, 2010

What is the difference between two?

We talk about "two ducks". We also talk about "2 + 2".

It seems almost self-evident to me that "2" is a conceptual(?), mathematical(?) object in its own right. Any mathematician thinks about "2" and only thinks of "two ducks" in connection with a mathematical problem about "ducks". Mathematical "ducks".

"2" exists in the mathematician's mind, but the idea can be transmitted to another mathematician, so in some sense it is an objective thing. Of course I am assuming here that "2" in your mind bears some relation to the "2" in my mind. I can't be sure of that. But the mathematicians' agreement on proofs peripherally or directly related to "2" lends weight to the idea that there is some objective thing called "2".

It is evident however that "2" is not a physical object, like "those two ducks". You can't point at a "2" (except in the trivial sense of a cipher or numeral). You can point at two ducks. It appears that "2" is of a different class of thing to "two ducks".

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Anyone who's read a philosophy text or discussed philosophy is likely to have heard the word "ontology". Webster's dictionary (via Dictionary.com) says:

"That department of the science of metaphysics which investigates and explains the nature and essential properties and relations of all beings, as such, or the principles and causes of being".

There is an alternate definition which applies in the field of Artificial Intelligence which is a sort of formal definition of the relationships and concepts in a particular field or "domain", but I'm not going to consider that definition.

We can point to anything and say "That exists!" This is true(1) even if the "thing" we point at is an illusion or chimera. Even if we were strapped down, unconscious, with wires feeding impressions into our brains, those impressions would exist, would they not?

But when we consider a table, a 'real, physical object', isn't that different from, say, a unicorn, or a triangular square, or truth? Hmm, both 'real, physical objects' and 'imaginary objects' exist as mental states of the brain. I don't believe that there are any criteria by which we can reliably mentally distinguish between 'real' and 'imaginary' objects. That doesn't mean that there is no distinction of course.

I had a discussion with someone as to whether or not you could conceive of something without conceiving of its surroundings. My feeling is that a conceptual unicorn cannot be considered without its surroundings - a field, or a forest. The other person did not agree. My feeling is that this is an effect of concentration - if you look at a real object, its surroundings become less prominent to your awareness, but they don't completely disappear, and the same, I believe holds true for mental objects. If you mentally draw back from a mental object it is not (unless you choose to imagine it so) suspended in a void.

It is tempting to consider two levels of 'existence', mental and physical. A physically existent tree can be seen to be existent by more than one person - there appears to be an objective component, while the unicorn can be communicated but each person has their own mental object of a unicorn which is distinct from that of the other person.

But I don't like that idea. The easy way out is to doubt the physical realm - it is all in our heads. But the mere concepts of "our" and "heads" seem to indicate otherwise, both intimating something outside of the mental realm. Solipsism doesn't ultimately appeal, even though it is simple and requires nothing outside of the mind - economically in the extreme!

One solution, and I'm not sure if I like it, is to postulate an 'imaginary' realm containing things like unicorns and four-sided triangles. This would then bear the same relation to the mental world as the real world does - 'real' and 'imaginary' both somehow feed into 'mental' realm.

I'm not sure what I think the answer is. I'm not sure I've even got near the topic of ontology. I need to do some more reading!

(1) "What is truth?" cries Pilate as he washes his hands. Pilate asks the philosophical question of Jesus, but although many have tried, before and after Pilate, none have really answered the question to everyone's satisfaction.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Existential Angst

There is a term "Existential Angst", coined by the philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, to describe a fear of failing in one's responsibilities to God. This was later broadened to cover a fear of failing to reconcile one's responsibilities with one's abilities and principles. But I don't think that the description really does justice to the term "Angst".

I feel that the term Angst refers to something much more than mere fear. Munch's painting The Scream, which conveys to some extent the essence of angst, shows the sheer depth of the feeling. Mere fear, say of something physical, like the fear of dentists, is a real fear, but is not in the same league as angst. Mere fear does not include the feelings of helplessness, valuelessness and powerlessness, or lack of the prospect of any sort of respite, and the terror that induces in one, that characterise angst as portrayed in the painting. Did I leave out hopelessness?

When people talk about depression they talk about being "down" or "feeling worthless". While these are components of depression, they are relatively minor, I feel, compared to the angst. The feeling, which feels like knowledge, that you are worthless and that there is no hope to allieviate your helplessness is a strong part of depression that the usual definitions do not really bring out. Though they may touch on these matters.

Did I say no hope? The concept of hope finds no place in the sufferer's mind, his surroundings, the universe. Hope does not exist for him.

The Wikipedia entry for clinical depression is typically lacking. In part it says "A person suffering a major depressive episode usually exhibits a very low mood that pervades all aspects of life and an inability to experience pleasure in activities that formerly were enjoyed. Depressed people may be preoccupied with, or ruminate over, thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt or regret, helplessness, hopelessness, and self hatred".

All good stuff, but it leaves out the terror and the dread, the existential angst that is part of depression. It leaves out the very part that characterizes a depressive illness and the part that leads people to suicide as the only exit open to them. It leaves out the part where one looks into one's own soul and finds a festering pit, or a miasma.

But mere words do not convey the feeling and state of depression. They never could.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Almost a year.....

....since my last post. Oh dear....

Leonard Cohen

To this land comes Leonard Cohen,
The poet and songster from my youth,
Dark, dark poems and dark, dark songs.

Cohen's Hallelujah is a dirge,
A poem to the God left far behind
By a secular generation.

He did his best, it wasn't much,
He said, but it was enough
To be the voice of you and me.

A generation that changed the world,
From Vietnam to suburban streets,
Ban the bomb and protest songs.

Peace was our aim, it never came.
Cohen's was the voice that called,
It seemed alone.

But no, we listened in our millions
To the gravel voice that spoke,
The well turned word.

The world changed as a result of us,
But not in the way we thought.
And we and Cohen grew older.

The world changed and we did too,
Dropped back in but,
In our hearts we held the heady days.

When a glum and serious poet
Sang dark songs
When we looked for light.

(Copyright 2009 - Cliff Pratt)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reading about happiness

I've been reading about happiness. Those who know me will realise that I've been reading a philosophy book, and I'm waiting to see where it leads me. There's obvious cliches about happiness, such as it can be sought but not bought, and that it is something that can be aspired to but is often found when we are not looking for it. Also that the way to happiness is to through leading a meaningful, fulfilled life. And that while happiness can't be bought, a little money never hurt!

Religion teaches us that true happiness, or more correctly "bliss", is a state that can be achieved in the next world, but only partially in this world. So we can only partially achieve happiness in this world.

Hm, I could invoke the "rule of two" and inquire why we should stop at two world. Maybe if goodness in this world advances you in the next world, then 'super-goodness' in the next world would elevate you to the next world after that. But I digress.

Anyway, I'll plough on through the book and maybe update this blog with the thoughts that occur to me as I read it. Let's hope it's interesting!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Time traveller?

Someone pointed me at the John Titor site. For those who don't know, John Titor claimed to be a time traveller from from the year 2036. He hung around for a while and then, having announced his departure back to 2036, he disappeared from the Internet. He claims that the events in this time frame are subtly different from the timeframe that he originated from. In other words, his memory of events (coming from 2036) is different from the events that actually happened in this time frame. He attributes this at least in part to his anomalous presence in this era.

Superficially this appears feasible. But we Martians have been investigating time travel since before Earth had a civilisation, and the view that we have come to is substantially different from that espoused by Titor. Our science indicates that there is only one 'time frame'. If an event happens it happens, whether or not a time traveller was present or not. You cannot return to kill your grandfather before you were born, because if you did, then you would not be born to return to kill your grandfather. There is no paradox there, just physics.

Our Martian science indicates that the Universe is strictly deterministic - if an event happens, there is a cause, and time travel has to obey that law. A time traveller is caused (born!) because of events which he/she can't negate. At first glance this seems asymmetrical but it isn't because the existence of a time traveller can't negate an event which happens earlier because that would negate his existence at the time that he goes back. Er... Well, the words don't work too well, but the maths does, believe me!

Martian time travel theory doesn't disallow the existence of time travel. It just put logical limits on it. While Martians have built time machines, it's pointless to travel back just to do something that (from your future point of view) has already happened.

Oh, some people (Martians) have tried to go back and change things, but whatever they do, they always end up causing what they try to prevent! However, there is a school of thought that say that some of them did manage to change things and that, ever after, up to the point that they came back from and beyond, that is they way that it always was.

Most Martians however think, as do most Earthians, that the universe is 100% deterministic, and that what happens is determined and cannot be changed. From the metaphysical point of view that means that the time traveller is observed in 2001 because he disappeared from 2036 and events from then on caused him to disappear in 2036.

Some Martian philosophers think of time as a ribbon and time travel as if two points of the ribbon (2001 and 2036) are brought together so that the time traveller can slip from one era to the other. Martian philosophy is unclear about what dimensions the 'ribbon' could be curved and bent in.

Where does that leave a Martian philosopher with regards to Titor? Titor claims that things are different because of his presence. This does not accord with Martian philosophy. However Titor may be claiming this because he is trying cover up for the inadequacies of his knowledge of the past. No time traveller is going to know everything about his/her past.

He may be hiding unpalatable events from the future, to protect himself from disbelievers in the present. However he does mention things like a civil war in the US that happens in 2005, which has apparently not happened. He could have remembered incorrectly but one would have thought that he would have remembered such significant events. Unless we don't remember such events as civil war, or the events are reported as less significant events that are later identified as 'civil war'.

But overall, we Martians, and I think I speak for a significant number on Earth, would assess Titor as either a clever construction or a deluded individual. A deluded individual would not have 'disappeared' so abruptly, I feel, so on balance, I'd think that Titor was a clever construction, abandoned by his creator when things became boring.

A real time traveller? No, I don't think so.