Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Of Mnemes and Semes

The Philosophy of the Experiential

In a previous entry, I kicked the notion of qualia around a bit and ended up with the notion of the aestheme, a term paralleling words such as phoneme or grapheme and basically decomposing to aesthetic morpheme. What with semes in the mix too, it looks like rhyme is the name of the game here, but hey, works for me. Besides, qualia sounds like a fucking Roman slave, so fuck that. Ancient Greek suffixes FTW!

Anyways, having taken yon wee digression through suppositional logic, ontological bootstrapping and a defense of atheism from an accusation of faithiness ("It's just like truthiness... only now even less true!") I figured I'd get back on the road I was wandering down from Plato's cave via universals, entity, narrative, sensation and ideation to... well, I guess with this all being kicked off by reading PKD's Exegesis, it's the morphological realm I'm trying to get back to, but reconstructed in terms of virtuality rather than spirituality -- eschewing any non-physicalist essentialist flummery of the mental that's really just a reiteration of that perennial pseudo-substance, spirit. It's a useful metaphor that pseudo-substance, and as a poet I'm happy to throw it into the mix, but it is just a metaphor. What we really need to be talking about are the actual substantia of aesthemes and semes, the stuff of our sensation and ideation considered as narrative.

This takes us then into the territory of some other -eme words, into the domain of mnemes, semes and memes.

From Max Stirner's '"spooks" to Richard Dawkins's "memes," the last century or so has seen the emergence of the notion of the culturally active notion. Vide my post on narrative and entity, particularly with those two opponents of institutional dogma, it seems to me an anagnorisis of the antagonist in their personal narrative. The stories have started to come out in which story itself is the enemy -- grand narratives and discourses gone bad. It's not hard to see my own concern with story writ large in Vellum and Ink, where it'd be a mistake to look at all the metafictional shenanigans as mere postmodern gameplaying, art about art. If, as I suggest, the very identification of entities is an artifact of experience as narrative, then to take fiction as subject for fiction isn't about retreating inside the ivory tower to ponder the ivory tower itself; it's about heading into the labyrinthine foundations of it all -- ontology, epistemology, ethics... all of these as branches of aesthetics, not as the philosophy of beauty but as the philosophy of the experiential.

It's a territory pointed at by Hume in the notion of ideas developing from impressions -- ideation from sensation, to stick with the parlance I've been using. And with qualia reconstructed to aesthemes now, maybe we can start to lay down at least a broad overview of that terrain, something a little less fuzzy than "senses" and "ideas."

A Brutal Balletic Battle

First things first then, when we talk of senses we're talking a whole lot more than the famous five. We're talking about the external senses that model the environs: sight; sound; smell. We're talking about the threshold senses that sit on the effect horizon of the entity, where the external and internal are mutually defined in a relation not of simple transition but of intrusion: smell; taste; touch; heat; pain. We're talking about the internal senses that model the entity itself: pain; kinaesthesia; balance/acceleration; nausea; orgasm; other interoception faculties.

But we're also talking, I'd say, of the attitudinal senses that do so in a way that brings ideation into the picture via import long before we have the semic structures we'd generally think of as ideas: joy; sorrow; anger; fear; esteem; disgust; intrigue; surprise. Elsewhere, I've made some (highly) speculative sorties into the notion of an affectspace broadly comparable to colourspace, constructed from something akin to opponent processes. And I've blathered as to how I reckon such stuff might build up into a proper agency. So I won't reiterate that. Suffice to say, I reckon there's an interzone between interoception and introspection, a degree to which we seem to model psychophysiological responses -- e.g. the fight/flight response -- in a sense of our own stance, so to speak, affect as attitude. And with this we have the basics of modality -- epistemic, alethic, boulomaic, deontic. We have sensation becoming judgement, an inherent import in the ongoing articulation rendering it ideational.

We're even talking, at this base level, of what I'd term reflective senses, a framework of aesthemes with the rather elusive quality of the tail a dog tries to catch in its teeth, aesthemes we have to spin round on ourselves to try to pin down, leaving us a little dizzy in the process: duration; recollection; capacity; realisation; metasensation. Is the sense of time really a sense in its own right? I'm not wholly sure, to be honest, what it's fair to call a sense here and what it isn't. But note that studies of the experience of déjà vu seem to indicate that there's a distinct aesthetic "tag" fired during the act of recollection, a sense of being in the state of recall; the theory is that déjà vu is basically revealing this in the dysfunction, the accidental misfiring of that aestheme when no recollection is taking place. What I'm suggesting by talking of capacity as a sense is the similar sensation known as presque vu, the "tip of the tongue" sense of being right on the verge of getting it, a sense of tension, of potential on the cusp of realisation -- realisation which has its own "tag" in that "Eureka!" sensation.

Which would also, I might add, give us anagnorisis -- recognition -- not as some anodyne abstract ideation, some purely intellectual identification of sense with memory, but as a raw sensation of import, as a potentially profound charge of meaning loaded into sensation, bound to it. We begin to see a rethinking of thought itself here, I reckon, away from the sort of procedural mechanics implied by the association of thought with intellect, toward a turbulent dynamics which is so overshadowed by the mechanics of semantics introduced by language that we tend to dismiss those processes as the liminal undercurrents of intuition. Where we're talking of mentalese, maybe we need to forget the syllogisms of propositional logic, I mean, imagine instead the dialectical agon of suppositional logic, a brutal balletic battle driven and driving onwards by and through the flux of activity.

Maybe what I'm suggesting is that my theory of narrative modalities with its alethic, epistemic, boulomaic and deontic quirks is only a reflection in fiction, a virtual articulation, of the dynamics of mind itself -- ideation as the thematics of sensation, as a fundamentally visceral feature of animal existence. A dance from stance to stance to stance, whirling, catapulting, diving, blasting ever-onwards. Where ego is, there id could, can, would, will, should, shall, must, might, may be. Deep among and emergent from all else that could, can, would, will, should, shall, must, might, may be.

From Id to Ideation

Still, this is a reconfiguring of ideation so far from the common usage of the term, so far from our general notion of ideas, that it's maybe a stretch too far to even apply the term. I'm sorta thinking that volition is a better fit, to be honest, for this volatile involution of sensation I can't help but imagine as swashbuckler -- amoral agency immersed in the moment, living the buccaneer's Tao of libido unbridled but complexified by the inherently social desires wired into that libido, the essential empathy, the lust for care and camaraderie, that turn rat into rogue, rake, rapscallion. If readers of Vellum & Ink recognise Jack Flash in this description, you're not wrong. That archetypal figure is my own articulation of a recurrent symbol of the id.

Not of the id in the Freudian sense per se, I should note, and not an archetype in the Jungian sense per se. I don't really gell with Freud and Jung's essentialising and compartmentalising approach(es), the treatment of these aspects of sentience as innate organs. Me, I'm treating the libido not as some hidden pool of repressed desire, the id not as some secret subconscious agent, but rather casting these as wholly conscious, wholly substantiate in sentience, not existing outside it, under it. Libido is simply volition in this model, the "unconscious" mind only determinedly disregarded volition.

Which is to say: we don't want without knowing that we want; all we can do is drown out the desire, distract ourselves from it, repress it by rendering it liminal. For me, the idea/image of id as discrete unconscious mental organ is an artifact of an effect horizon projected onto self-structuring sensation, like a dance at a ceilidh. The point of this is that a shadow archetype is, I reckon, an alternate idea/image of the same volitional matrix, or of a particular facet of it, cast as monstrum. Indeed, these archetypes themselves, I'd argue, can and should be decomposed, understood not as some Major Arcana of set universal tropes but as articulations in a recombinatory symbolic language.

But we'll come to that. To get there, first we have to get to the idea of recombinatory symbolic language. For all the semic underpinnings of sensation, even the inherent import I'm tracing out in affect as stance, comparing to the epistemic, alethic, boulomaic and deontic modalities of statements, it doesn't seem quite right to cast these aesthetic processes as semiotic. We still don't, as I say, have what we really think of as ideation. But add the practical faculties of manipulating experience, recall (i.e. memory) and recombination (i.e. imagination) -- with the senses of recollection and capacity as aesthetic tags for these perhaps? -- and maybe we've got the stuff of ideation proper, constructed out of impression as per Hume. The stuff that semes are made of, one might say.

From Mnemes...

I'm inclined to bring in Richard Semon's notion of mnemes at this point, memory traces left by external-to-internal experience as permanent records invoked by the recognitive faculty on encountering comparable experience. Coming to this second-hand, I can't say how literally we're meant to take the term "trace" there, but from my understanding, memory appears to be distributed -- theorised as holographic by some even -- so we're not talking potato prints in the brain. Whatever the theoretical specifics though, those mnemes were also dubbed engrams by Semon, the term that survived into neuropsychology -- and was co-opted to the complete bollocks of Scientology -- so I reckon there's an opportunity here to leave the technical details of engrammatic memory to the actual scientists, and resurrect this obsolete term which fits neatly into the old -eme scheme. In other words, I'm going to nick Semon's term out of the trash, shake off the questions of actual mechanism, and treat the mneme as virtual entity so I can develop it a little.

In that Notes from New Sodom column linked above, see, it strikes me now that what I was reaching for was basically the mneme, but as node in a network, inherently interconnected, the whole mnemic archive of the memory correlated for isomorphisms on the fly and under constant revision. Isomorphisms in events parsed into the effect horizons of beings, doings and attributes thereof. The narrative dynamics of modality permeating it all, imbuing the collective entities so circumscribed with import as antagonist, obstacle/tool, goal and so on -- those roles perhaps decomposable to modalities indeed, the quirks of real-life.

I seem to be muddling around in territory I also explored in a post from a couple of years back riffing on the idea of notation versus signification, connotation versus denotation, import versus content. Approaching the same basic idea from this angle, it might well be easier to get at what I'm aiming for there by mapping that contrast of notes versus signs to mnemes versus semes. We'd begin then with the memory trace invoked by an encounter with comparable experience as the basic note, a recognitive sensation struck by repeat sensation -- the mneme as the first taste of cocoa recalled by the second, as both recalled by a third, the cumulative effect rendering the mneme a palimpsest of reiterated impressions. We don't just have a note; we have multiple voices singing that note. From here we get associations, connotations, deep import -- the marshmallows in the cocoa, the pyjamas worn at bedtime, the mooching dog, the feeling of warmth -- the complexifying effect rendering the mneme a collage of resonances. We don't just have a choir singing the same note; we have harmonic notes being sung, massed voices forming a rich chord.

The mneme of /dog/ as a gestural totality then, the palimpsest of all instances of recognition, like multiple photos morphed/blended into one another, blurred to crude morphology. With the memory trace of a dog, all dogs, functioning as icon, here we have the beginnings of semes as mnemes made classes -- or something like classes -- invoking the mneme of dog akin to instantiating a virtual object of that class. That core note would be anchorpoint in the collage of all associated mnemes -- e.g. /fur/ or /barking/ -- most of these liminal, tangential, but many integral, so inextricably co-notative we can say that this mneme is an attribute (e.g. /fur/) or method (e.g. /barking/) of that (e.g. /dog/). The boundaries of any mneme are just a matter of effect horizon, after all: what are the edges of a memory?

... To Semes

Bearing in mind that the associative recall of these palimpsested and collaged impressions is taking place within the context of the volitional dynamics driven by affect, assuming a capacity to let mnemes invoke mnemes in free associative chains, I reckon you have all you need for an ongoing recombinatory articulation of iconic semes that can cut loose in the creative and strategic process of ideation, as the stuff of memory becomes the stuff of imagination.

Now we just need a forced association of /dog/ with "dog", an integration of these similar to that between /dog/ and /fur/ or /dog/ and /barking/ but established arbitrarily, reinforced by repetition, so that one connotative binding can become a binding of signification. With repetition, the ideational mneme /dog/ gains the acoustic mneme "dog" as a value in the list of values set for the attribute of mnemes that invoke it, so to speak. Maybe the acoustic mneme rises to the top of that list because that association is hammered home. Maybe it's a separate list for arbitrarily invoking mnemes, for arbitrarily invoking acoustic mnemes. Maybe it's a distinct attribute of mnemes that are used to invoke it in a specific way, mnemes used purely as symbolic pointers to that mneme, as handles for it.

So the acoustic mneme becomes a seme where it is used as handle for an ideational mneme, for the sake of efficiency in articulation. Articulation may be more ergonomic if the largely attribute-less acoustic mneme "dog" is all the imaginative faculty needs to to deal with in a given instance. If you're mainly just dealing with the "dog" mneme as a semic handle for the ideational mneme /dog/, if you're leaving the ideational mneme itself on the shelf, it's like dealing with an index card representing a scene in a novel rather than the actual MS pages. It's less cumbersome, takes up less space on the desk. And the more one is focused on the process of structuring mnemes rather than on any individual mneme in its own right, the more logical it is that we'd want a technique for backgrounding /dog/ like this.

So we end up back at "universals" where the ideational mneme of /dog/ is left indeterminate, non-particularised because the invokation of it that takes place with the use of the seme "dog" is superficial. We don't really need to deal with the full import of /dog/ when we're reading or writing something like, "The dogs bark, and the caravan moves on." But of course if we do stop to deal with the ideational mneme in its own right, to hold it in our imagination is to keep the note ringing, focus in on it to find the resonances of specifics. Hence the old arguments that if we try to fully imagine a universal, we always end up imagining a specific instance of one: it's just a matter of how fully is fully.

And if a seme like "dog" does have this ideational mneme not as a simple denotational content but as a complex connotational import, we're dealing with a system that's not just complexified by différance. It's not simply that meaning is based on difference and always already deferred, not just that we can't pin the referent of a seme down because it's defined ultimately by negation, by distinction from all other semes in the system. It's that the deep import of a seme, the connotative charge, renders it always already a unit of story, of a superposition of stories. My /dog/ sits in a superposition of stories that involves eating socks, biting black plimsolls, digging under fences, puking in the back of cars, barking at the words "horses" and "squirrels," and various other details just too damn specific for you to share. What "dog" means to me is not what it means to you, and what it means is linked to what "socks" and "plimsolls" and "fences" and "cars" and so on mean, the totality adding up to one big superposition of stories. As one of PKD's favourite terms in his Exegesis renders the personal world as the idios kosmos, we each have a personal world of signs, an idios semiocosm, so to speak.

Not that my idios semiocosm is so wildly idiosyncratic it's wholly alien to yours. Stories are shared after all, passed on from one person to the other. But that takes us from mnemes and semes to the third of those -eme words mentioned at the start: memes. And to the whole notion of a story I tell you about dogs not just reconfiguring the deep import of "dog" for you, but doing so in such a way that you're driven to pass that story on, reconfigure the deep import of "dog" for others.

But I'll leave that to the next installment of Duncan's Crazy-Ass Philosophy of the Experiential.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Atheism Is Not a Faith

Seeing an acerbic comment on Twitter the other day on the "atheist faith" having religious features in the shape of apostolic figureheads and a persecution complex, part of me thinks I can appreciate a skepticism as regards some hardline proselytisers who scorn all doubt of their position being the only legitimate position. Part of me, on the other hand, is well aware that I am myself a fairly hardline proselytiser of atheism, on the whole sympathetic to the positions of Dawkins, Hitchens and suchlike and yet reject wholesale the notion that my brand of atheism constitutes anything one can legitimately deem faith. So I figured a little post on the how so of that superficial contradiction might be in order.

Simple answer: as I'd reckon it, there are three different brands of atheism, three different types of foundation for a disbelief in God, only one of which just might be deemed to have the characteristics of faith. And even in that case, I'm not convinced the term "atheist faith" is really applicable.

So, what are these brands?

OK, first is what one might call the Probability Atheist. The probability atheist holds that the supposition of God may not be amenable to disproof, but finds it too implausible to sustain credulity. Basically, we have Bertrand Russell's Celestial Teapot here. As far as the probability atheist is concerned, the believer's claim is on the same level as a claim that there's a teapot in orbit around Jupiter. The atheist lacks the technical capacity to disprove this empirically, epistemically, but where the agnostic shrugs and implicitly treats the two possible states as equal possibilities, the atheist factors in the extravagance of the claim and deems it unjustifiable.

This is not a position of faith. To call it such is to shred the meaning of the term by conflating confidence and conviction. The probability atheist is not operating on a conviction apropos of nothing that there is no teapot in orbit around Jupiter. It's just that when the question arises they have zero confidence in such a random conceit. This is not a 50/50 likelihood any more than a notion that there's a golf cart in orbit around Saturn, or a leper colony circling Alpha Centauri, or whatever random whim one might come up with.

A probability atheist might well feel that it's bizarre characterising their position as "atheist" let alone as "atheist faith." One doesn't have a special word for people who don't believe in Santa. Start down that road and we end up all members of an infinite number of "faiths" defined wholly by the absence of belief in every potentially articulable supposition. You don't believe carrots would explode on contact with formaldehyde when the moon is in Gemini if enough people were picking their noses at the exact same instant? Let's not pretend your confidence in the implausibility of that conceit is some sort of active faith, that it would be more balanced and reasonable of you to withhold judgement in the absence of evidence for or against.

Next is what one might call the Logic Atheist. The logic atheist holds that the supposition of God may not be amenable to disproof, but finds it too incoherent to sustain credulity. Here the atheist goes further, unpacking the complex idea of God to basic features, two or more of which are deemed incompatible -- as if one were to note that the claim specifies the teapot as the work of Josiah Wedgwood but also asserts it to have been formed in orbit around Jupiter along with the planet's other satellites. A logic atheist might argue, for example, that volition is decision is selection of state is limitation of being -- i.e. that an agency is inherently finite, that thinking X, doing Y, being Z means thinking, doing, being those specific possibilities as opposed to all others. This, they might argue, is incompatible with the characterisation of God as infinite. The supposition can be dismissed, they hold, because the specifications are simply invalid.

This is not a position of faith either. To call it such is to conflate validity and soundness, casting a decision that one model is invalid as a decision that another opposing model is sound. There is a position of conviction here, but it is simply that the supposition is oxymoronic. Probability isn't even a question if your supposition amounts to a "colourless green ideas sleep furiously" style claim that just doesn't make sense.

Here the atheist might more happily own the label "atheist." It's not just a matter of a default position of skepticism as regards all random conceits, not just that a wholly arbitrary whim isn't automatically considered to be on an equal basis with its negation. Here the theist position has been given the time of day, serious consideration afforded it as a serious notion. It's just that on scrutiny, for the logic atheist, it doesn't hold together. An infinite spirit characterised as thinking is not something that can be believed in by them any more than they can believe in an idea characterised as sleeping. You don't believe that colourless green ideas sleep furiously? Again, let's not pretend that your inability to sustain the contradictory notion is some sort of active faith.

Finally is what one might call the Principles Atheist. The principles atheist holds that the supposition of God is incompatible with established principles of how reality works and dismisses it as wholly unreasonable on that basis. Confidence of the unjustifiable status of the supposition is bolstered to conviction by reference to principles taken as self-evident -- as if one were to note that teapots are man-made, we cannot yet put things in orbit round Jupiter, and so a teapot cannot currently be in orbit around Jupiter. Rather than focusing on inherent self-contradiction, the principles atheist points to the features of the idea that cannot be reconciled with inviolable assumptions as to how reality works.

This is a position of faith in so far as the specific principles in play are not as inviolable as assumed, however it is not a faith of atheism but rather a faith in those principles. As an analogy, we can contrast the probability skeptic who dismisses ESP as an unjustifiably extravagant claim to the principles skeptic who dismisses ESP as physically impossible; where the latter is operating on a conviction that all perception works by established physical principles, the former could sustain the conceit of perception working by unknown physical properties but sees no justification in doing so given the repeated exposure of purported evidence of ESP as fraudulent. The point is that with the latter, the faith is not in an idea that ESP does not exist but in a specific model of How Things Are which the supposition of ESP cannot be integrated with.

This is where I can appreciate skepticism as regards hardline proselytisers who do sometimes come across as dismissing the notion of God largely because it has no place in their grand narrative. But if we're talking hardliners for whom the notion of God is at odds with a fundamental article of faith, a sort of Grand Order of the cosmos which has no place for agency, we're talking a form of realism in its Platonic sense as the faith, not atheism. The faith is that certain principles are eternal and essential realities, that they cohere as a Grand Order underlying all things, with all things being generated non-volitionally from that order; hence any crude demiurgic creator figure is rejected because it clashes with this belief. To call this "atheist faith" is like doing the same with some strands of Buddhism which are no less atheist and for the same reason -- there's an active faith in something else. It's hardly fair to either a Hindu or a non-Christian to conflate the two. Being a non-Christian doesn't make me a Hindu. Being an atheist doesn't make me a cosmorealist, to coin a term.

This is where the characterisation of atheism as a faith becomes a cheap tactic, in fact, and profoundly wrong-headed, as there may even be a form of faith in play that has nothing to do with the epistemological stance as regards God's existence. Many of those most actively proselytising atheists who tend to provoke the "atheist faith" judgement are actually probability atheists and logic atheists driven to advocate that position more passionately by principles that are entirely tangential. The ethical principles of empathy and universal fraternity at the heart of humanism are irrelevant to an epistemological judgement on God's existence, and where this is the driving justification for vehemence in promoting atheism -- a pragmatic/ethical judgement on the danger of religion -- it's pure knavery to cast anti-religious ethics as pro-science epistemology. Principles are in play, but it's probability/logic atheism plus principles, not principles atheism. That "atheist faith" is actually a deep belief in the principle of integrity.

Do I hold to a faith in empathetic integrity? Hell yeah. Do I have an unshakeable conviction in the efficacy and necessity of honesty and sympathy? What the fuck do you think? Of course I do. But this is not a matter of being an atheist but of being a humanist. Such a humanist "faith," after all, can take religious forms -- I'd say the Quakers are a good example -- as easily as it can take secular forms. Hardly surprising. I mean, as ethics go it's something of a no-brainer it seems to me. And one should have little problem with an accusation of zeal in that respect, I'd think, if it was articulated honestly: "But humanism is also a faith -- in the efficacy and necessity of empathetic integrity!" I doubt most hardline atheists would object to that.

"You have a profound emotional commitment to integrity that excludes consideration of certain beliefs!"

"Well, duh."

The dishonest spin put on that accusation to make it a matter of epistemology rather than ethics is another story though. When people describe atheism as a faith, they're not acknowledging the ethical humanist principles that make a bolshy motherfucker like me carp on about God being dangerous bollocks because of the fricking dangerous part. No, what they mean is "You have a profound emotional commitment to the idea of God not existing that excludes consideration of certain beliefs!" To which I say, nope, you're not fucking getting it.

That wholly misses the point of atheism founded on epistemological principles in which principles atheism is anathema, something I'd argue as firmly as I would my own logic atheism. If I were simply a probability atheist -- who's fundamentally no more than an agnostic ultimately come down on one side of the fence -- I'd argue just as strenuously that you're not fucking getting it. Yes, I'm quick to dismiss an unjustifiable or invalid supposition that God exists, but I do so for the same reason I'm not a Buddhist or cosmorealist -- I'm a skeptic. A cynic after the manner of Diogenes. It's about doubt, not belief. Where I might argue my epistemological position with little compromise, it's because I reckon that pussyfooting around faith-based morality's propensity for justifying murderous fucking atrocity would be spineless fucking cowardice on my part.

But rather than tackle the rejection of articles of faith in favour of suppositional logic, the "atheism is a faith too" snipe refuses to recognise this stance is even being taken, conflating probability and logic atheism with principles atheism, erasing the difference in order to erase skepticism. It's a bullshit pretence that the doubt of skepticism is simply the fuzzy uncertainty of equivocation, that it cannot be actively interrogating, challenging, rejecting the unjustifiable and the invalid. In trying to recast skepticism as agnostic fence-sitting by recasting negative judgements that one model is unjust or invalid as positive judgements that a negative of the model is sound, it is an attempt to limit doubt to the zero impact of withheld judgement. Sorry, but no. Calling skepticism a type of faith is just self-serving sophistic wank.

If the pretence that the only legitimate doubt-based stance is equivocation is self-serving to a believer, so too is glossing over what real belief there is -- in integrity. The "atheism is a faith too" snipe is also expediently refusing to recognise the humanist faith in which probability and logic atheism generally arise -- may well do so despite explicit statements by the probability and logic atheist that their advocacy is ethical, not epistemological, that while they judge the notion of God unsustainable, it is the corrosive effects of that notion that lead them to oppose it. They might well argue a position born of skepticism on purely epistemological grounds in a philosophical discussion. But their committed advocacy in general is a matter of humanist ethics. Disregarding such straightforwardly professed imperatives, the believer positing atheism as a faith is now not simply saying, "You're not really skeptical if your doubt isn't equivocation" but is saying, "You're not really ethically committed to integrity; your passion is a product of epistemological faith."

There's more sneakiness here too arguably. A probability or logic atheist, if asked straightly, will most likely deem their judgement of God's non-existence an outcome of their ethical commitment to integrity. As a skeptic, they might well say, they would profess agnosticism, allow the possibility of God, precisely because to be a skeptic is to eschew unfounded faith, were it not that they simply can't in all honesty sustain a conceit they consider either unjustifiable or invalid. Ethics precedes epistemology. The humanist ethical principle is fundamental, with honesty written into integrity, and it's playing out that ethical principle in the interrogative, doubting philosophy of skepticism that has led to the epistemological position. The "atheism is a faith too" snipe fundamentally reverses this, casts epistemological position as fundamental base, the ethical commitment to action as an outcome of that belief. For the humanist skeptic in the shape of the probability/logic atheist, that's simply an underhanded denial that the sort of philosophy they're advocating even exists.

Your average probability/logic atheist is, I mean, someone who faced up to the discourse of religion with all its historical weight behind it, a discourse in which ethical judgement essentially depends on faith in received wisdom as absolute truth, a discourse in which epistemology precedes ethics, in which the belief in How Things Are plays out in moral dicta taken as facts within that system of thought. Humanist skepticism is the application of doubt on the very basis that faith is unsustainable. Morals conflict. Unless one develops strategies of diverting attention from the conflicts, the only moral thing to do is to critique the received wisdom, the faith. Honesty and empathy come into play as the simple principles by which one does just that, developing ethical judgement. Integrity becomes the base principle that drives the epistemological enquiry necessary to informed ethical judgement. And so, operating on that core principle, taking doubt as the all-purpose tool to apply across the board, one ends up questioning the whole underpinnings of religion, the ultimate supposition at the heart of faith. The probability/logic atheist finds that supposition unjustifiable/invalid and along the way has very likely ended up applying their ethical nous to the socio-political mechanisms of the religions rooted on that supposition. Thus they end up proselytising for the very thing that began their journey -- the application of doubt to faith.

To say that this is a form of faith in and of itself is to miss the point by a mile. In the way it misrepresents the position it seems wilfully obtuse, in fact, a sophistic twisting of the doubt-based strategy in order to refuse its very possibility, insist that ethical judgement is and can only be a matter of submission to epistemological faith. It's a short step from this to the oft-articulated prejudicial assumption that without some sort of unshakeable conviction in absolute authority, atheism must be amoral in its nihilism, a sort of baseless ethical anarchy -- the presupposition that an irreligious epistemology of doubt is by definition morally unprincipled. This is the sort of thinking that makes atheists bizarrely more distrusted in the US than gays, on par with rapists, because if atheism is not a faith how could its adherents possibly be kept in thrall to a faith's moral dicta?

There is no doubt, in this mentality, that is not mere wooly-minded equivocation. There is no capacity to even be a humanist skeptic, basing one's judgements on honesty and empathy, in a constant process of interrogation. If you think that sort of ferocious doubt is "faith too," you don't have the understanding of the faculty necessary to apply it. There is no fucking conception of integrity if you cannot imagine epistemology subject to it. And without an idea of integrity, this is the sort of thinking that makes reactionaries cling to patently unjust moral dicta (e.g. regarding miscegenation or gay marriage) because the autonomous ethical thought -- the doubt -- that challenges these dicta is seen as corroding absolute authority, eroding the certainties of faith. Such challenges to the moral order are "threats to the fabric of society." Integrity itself is fucking forbidden fruit.

And yet I'm not convinced that a believer playing the "atheism is a faith too" card is actually as wholly oblivious to the possibility they're denying as they seem. I might even go so far as to say they're seldom that oblivious. Where the humanist skeptic in the shape of the probability/logic atheist hears in this a twofold assertion that 1) "You're not really skeptical if your doubt isn't equivocation," and 2) "You're not really ethically committed to integrity; your passion is a product of epistemological faith," this is essentially a button-pushing snipe that impugns that skeptic's intellectual honour. It's a claim that advocates of this philosophy do not meet their own standards, do not meet their own principles -- which rather implies a recognition of what those standards are.

What I mean is I hear in this an accusation of failure which doesn't so much deny the problem of faith -- the potential for wrongness which warrants the doubt which underpins a philosophy of humanist skepticism, which leads in turn to a position of probability/logic atheism -- doesn't so much deny that as tacitly accept the problem, tacitly accept that it is a problem one might tackle with a suppositional logic based on doubt and suspicion, tacitly accept that the atheist is, in principle, aiming to do just that; and the accusation rather seems to do so in order to simply say, "but you fail." In "atheism is a faith too," I hear "but you're just as bad, so there." Like one of those homophobic, racist, misogynist fucks you find on the interwebs, sniping that "the PC brigade" fail their own principles by being "intolerant" of his homophobic, racist, misogynist bullshit, the believer sniping about the "atheist faith" rather seems to me to be employing a cheap deflection strategy guaranteed to irk.

From an agnostic it might have some legitimacy -- though I think there it's largely a lazy dismissal of tiresome demagogues from one who's perfectly entitled to their neutrality but who ought to know better than to collapse all forms of disbelief into dunno and never! -- but from a believer it just seems dishonest. Don't bother to deny the problem -- the epistemological and ethical vacuity -- of your faith, just accuse the very philosophy which confronts it on principle of being exactly what it is opposed to. Paralleling the "reverse racism" accusation designed to simply derail the discourse, this is an accusation of "reverse faithism."

Somebody calls faith out in no uncertain terms on being an utter and complete travesty of reasonable belief where it seeks to eradicate doubt as to whether one should be stoned to death for putting one's cock up another man's arse? Somebody passionately, uncompromisingly, says your faith is a fucking unconscionable lie, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster at the heart of it not just an absurdity but a criminally fucking reckless one, so pardon me but I'm going to do everything in my power to wipe that bullshit from the arse of reality and flush it to oblivion where it belongs?

Quick! Throw some more bullshit at them! Call their atheism faith! They can't help but take that as an accusation of everything they're condemning, and with any luck they'll be so incensed we can throw the tone argument at them and flounce away, wanking ourselves off over how thoroughly we've delegitimised their case.

So, yeah... while I'm no great fan of principles atheism by any means, and can appreciate how tiresome many find the ideologues who've made it their mission in life to rid us all of the scourge of God, that's pretty much my opinion of the whole "atheism is faith too" notion.

It ain't high.


Friday, December 16, 2011

The Wolf and the Three Wise Monkeys

Once upon a time, there was a Big Bad Wolf, a cultivated guy, top hat and tails, but a bit of a cad, a cur, a bounder, not a bad sort per se, but of dubious scruples and instatiable appetites, a propensity for exotic narcotics and avante garde Swedish art magazines featuring young male cyclists in sundry stages of undress. He came to me, he did, in the bathroom mirror one day, saying, Where the fuck’s my fairy story, scribbler?

Snickety-​​sharp teeth aglint in his grin, eyes of steel, he was switchblade, poetry, fury. What was I to do?

Full story just published in Scherezade's Bequest #14 over at Cabinet des Fées. Go read the rest.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Digression into Ontological Bootstrapping

Position, Supposition and Presupposition

For a while now I've been toying with the notion of what I call a suppositional logic, a model of reasoning protocols that doesn't so much drop the strictures of logic as thrashed out over the centuries as take a step back to consider that tradition in the context of natural language with its epistemic and alethic modalities, modalities of actuality and possibility. That's to say, the reasoning processes of deduction and induction don't cover the whole system with their premises and conclusions. Doubts and suspicions are a fundamental part of the reasoning process, I'd say, interrogation a driving force in reason. So I'm inclined to try and integrate uncertainty.

So, as a sortie into that, I reckon we could look at three types of logical moves, positive and negative: the epistemic position ("is (not)"); the alethic supposition ("could (not)"); the alethic presupposition ("must (not)"). The first then:

  1. +§1: There are unicorns in Africa.
  2. -§2: There are unicorns in Africaº
  • i.e. There aren't unicorns in Africa.

These are statements with an epistemic modality, true/false values to be verified epistemologically. The degrees sign is meant as a reversal of the up-down value of the period, because it's sort of a signifier of statement as is, and this fits with my approach to the other logical permutations -- to treat them as interrogatives and imperatives -- in question or not in question. I mean, one can take that position and make a supposition of it by introducing doubt, with the same positive/negative permutations.

  1. +§: There are unicorns in Africa? (implicit "Verdad?")
  • i.e. There are unicorns in Africa, aren't there?
  • i.e. There could not be unicorns in Africa, but I suppose there to be.
  • i.e. Suspicion: a positive supposition allowing the negative supposition possibility.
  1. -§: There are unicorns in Africa¿ (implicit "Really?")
  • i.e. There aren't unicorns in Africa, are there?
  • i.e. There could be unicorns in Africa, but I suppose there to not be.
  • i.e. Doubt: a negative supposition allowing the positive supposition possibility.

The reflection of natural patterns of interrogation should be clear, I hope -- the logical utility, even, of challenge as putting an alethic spin on a position. Where we want to establish knowledge, aren't these the questions we ask ourselves and/or others? That's how this very sentence is performing it's reasoning, isn't it? This one could not be using that logic, but I rather think it is. It's not a wholly ludicrous suggestion, is it? I mean this model could be flawed, but I don't think it is.

You see what I did there, right?

This seems to me a pretty straightforward and rational approach to reason, one that recognises a fundamental feature of inquiry at the heart of it. A position, I'd suggest -- i.e. I suppose this to be so -- is not reasoned unless there's supposition involved. It might be true or false or unverified; that's an epistemic matter -- whether the straight articulation maps to actuality or not. If it's established as an epistemic fact, that's all well and good, but that's experience, not reason. Where we talk of reason, what we're dealing with is this, I think, the application of doubt and suspicion to permute position into supposition. The step beyond the epistemic judgement of actuality into the alethic judgement of possibility. Laying a supposition down but allowing for the possibility that it's unsound.

Then you can start to apply logic as we more commonly know it -- inductive and deductive reasoning. Well, first you can look to confirm a context-limited suspicion or doubt -- by checking all of Africa for unicorns, say -- and thereby establish the alethic supposition as sound, turn it into an epistemic fact, the straight articulation mapping to reality. But again that's experience, not reason. Reason is about what you can do if that's impracticable. You can look to justify a suspicion or doubt with evidence, each instance where the supposition holds true increasing the probability until, by the suppositional leap of induction, you deem it just. Not sound, but just. Or you can look to dispel a suspicion or doubt by finding a fact that contradicts it, look for specific ways to do so and try them out until you succeed and, by straight deduction, can deem it unsound. Which brings us to the third type of logical move, presupposition:

  1. +§: There are unicorns in Africa!
  • i.e. There must be unicorns in Africa.
  • i.e. There could not be unicorns in Africaº
  • i.e. Acceptance: the supposition of a suspicion, with doubt dismissed.
  1. -§: There are unicorns in Africa¡
  • i.e. There must not be unicorns in Africa?
  • i.e. There could be unicorns in Africaº
  • i.e. Refusal: supposition of a doubt with suspicion dismissed.

Presuppositions are alethic imperatives, rejections of uncertainty and therefore statements of necessity, positive or negative. A presupposition is a supposition of a supposition. We can define a simple principle with all presuppositions and all alethic models based on them, indeed, the Presupposition of Soundness, which is quite simply: the supposition that a supposition holds across all contexts.

They can be understood as the repudiation of a doubt or suspicion but not on the basis of disproof. We're talking the necessity of "must" or "must not" here, of "always" or "never," not the simple "is" or "is not" of a contradictory fact. If the doubt or suspicion had been dispelled you'd have a position in the proven fact that it was/is unsound; you'd have an epistemic fact of an alethic model being unsound. To repudiate is not to dispel; rather, in dismissing the negative you adopt an attitude of acceptance or refusal, generate a supposition of a supposition, a supposition that the supposition holds across all possible contexts. This may be just according to inductive logic applied to the weight of evidence, but the presupposition is by nature a type of supposition.

There's a double edge to presuppositions for this reason. They are simultaneously a) dismissals of the possibility of being wrong, and thus a dangerous limitation of thought, and b) assumptions of potential principles, and thus extensions of thought into the speculative. They are at once a) unproven generalisations from which the most creative conceit of a model may be constructed, and b) formulated as rules and thereby constructible into models following the most rigid strictures of validity.

Working only with these gives you the traditional sort of logic -- combinations of presuppositional premises allowing deduction of presuppositional conclusions. Crude suspicions and doubts can be broken down into elementary presuppositions, reconstructed as rigorous alethic models in a search for the invalidity of an incoherent notion, a simpler lynchpin supposition that can easily be shown unsound. The utility of this approach where it abstracts out terms like "unicorn" and "Africa," formalises terms like "there" and "in," systematises the whole construction of valid abstract alethic models is... well, it's the utility of the theoretical underpinnings of science. Nuff said.

Ontological Bootstrapping

One key reason I'm inclined to break it down this way is the inherent reminder of the distinction between soundness and validity, that however coherent the presupposition, it's a type of supposition. No matter how coherent the alethic model, veracity is still an issue. A fundamental one here actually: epistemic verification is empirical observation of applicability in one context, but presupposition says it holds across all. Repeat verification can establish it as just, but it cannot be considered sound unless you verify applicability across all contexts. Hence the epistemological strategy of falsification. Where you encounter an argument that such a system is sound, I'd say, there's a good chance you're dealing with ontological bootstrapping.

The bootstrapping of ontological arguments (e.g. for the existence of God) is based on a simple trick. A presupposition can be written into a model that applies to the model itself: for the model to be valid, it must be sound. If the model can be shown to be valid, it follows that the articulation maps to actuality, is applicable across all contexts. With any valid model one constructs, it's possible to add this presupposition without affecting the validity, and thereby conclude that the model must be sound.

This presupposition only needs to be obscured. A hidden validity check can be coded in a presupposition: for the model to be a model of God (i.e. valid), it must be sound. This can then be further obscured by indirection: for the model to be a model of God, it must be perfect; for it to be perfect, it must be sound.

So, to pick as examples, two ontological arguments for the existence of God, Anselm's and Descartes, which boil down as follows:

Anselm: This is a model of that which is superior to all we can imagine. If the model is not sound, then we can construct a model of that which is superior (etc.) by dint of its model being sound. If we can construct such a model, it must be sound. Therefore, that which is superior (etc.) must exist.

Descartes: This is a model of that which is perfect. That which has an unsound model is not perfect. If the model does not premise its own soundness, it is not a model of that which is perfect. A model of that which is perfect which does not premise its own soundness is therefore contradictory. According to this model then, the model must be sound.

Descartes doesn't even hide it -- he explicitly sets out the model as invalid if doesn't have the "it must be sound" premise -- but the validity check in Anselm is maybe less obvious. If the first model is not sound, the thing is, it is not a valid model of that which is superior (etc.). If we can construct a second model of that which is superior (etc.) by dint of its model being sound, the first model is a contradiction in terms -- an ultimate model surpassed by the second model. In other words, for the model to be a valid model of that which is superior (etc.), it must be sound.

Shorter Anselm: If the model of the greatest idea is not sound because it must be, then it is not the model of the greatest idea.

Shorter Descartes: If a model is not sound because it must be, it is not a valid model of perfection.

In both cases, the bootstrapping rests on a sleight-of-hand recasting epistemic veracity as alethic necessity. The position that the model asserts (God exists) cannot be verified in one context let alone across all, so we cannot say it is sound. Without repeat verifications we can't even apply inductive reasoning in a suppositional leap and say that it is just. So instead a presupposition is written into the model whereby if it is valid, the supposition that it holds across all contexts is the only valid conclusion. Assuming it is valid, the model presupposes its own soundness.

The Model of Perfection

We could dismiss this bootstrapping out of hand simply for the circularity, but I think it's worthwhile looking at it in terms of suppositions and presuppositions just to lay bare the core problem with any such strategies.

What exactly is being done? The Presupposition of Soundness is being wired into the alethic model itself, along with a premise that if the model is valid, this must be sound. As laid out above, the PoS is the supposition that a supposition is true across all cases. It's definitive of all presuppositions and since all presuppositions are sound if and only if this is, it's decisive for all presuppositions. Since "for the model to be valid, it must be sound" makes this decision a product of deduction, with any such premise we have a supposition that an alethic model can establish the soundness of its own Presupposition of Soundness by presupposition.

If we expand this though, what do we get? The supposition that an alethic model (a system of suppositions of suppositions holding across all contexts) can establish the soundness of its own Presupposition of Soundness (the supposition that the supposition holds across all contexts) by a supposition that a supposition holds across all contexts.

Since a supposition that a supposition holds across all contexts is simply that supposition with doubt dismissed, however, we can collapse all this convoluted circularity to:

The supposition that a system of suppositions (an alethic model) can establish the soundness of the supposition that it is sound across all contexts (the Presupposition of Soundness) by supposition.

But "the soundness of a supposition that [a system of suppositions] is sound" is simply the soundness of the system, and a system of suppositions that "can establish its soundness across all contexts" must be sound across all contexts, so we can go further, reduce this to the bare essentials, where we find the basic logic of the bootstrapping trick comes down to the Presupposition of Soundness itself, Anselm and Descartes only asserting their own dismissal of doubt as regards their alethic models:

The supposition that a system of suppositions is sound across all contexts.

The problem I'm poking at then is not just the circular logic of bootstrapping but the more fundamental error of sliding modalities due to conviction and obfuscation, the confusion of position, supposition and presupposition. In part, the point is that theoretically any model could have this ontological bootstrapping wired into it. Note how neither the long form nor short form of Anselm's or Descartes' arguments specifically mention God. One might easily apply notions of perfection, greatness, completeness to a model of absolute evil:

This is a model of the perfect evil. That which does not exist has no power, but if evil has no power, it is not capable of corrupting. That which is not capable of corrupting is not perfect evil. A model of the perfect evil is therefore incomplete unless that evil is capable of corrupting. Since that which is capable of corrupting must exist, the perfect evil must exist.

Or, indeed, we can ontologically bootstrap a system of presuppositions shorn of the anthropomorphic mumbo jumbo altogether:

We can imagine a Theory of Everything that surpasses all other theories we can imagine in terms of completeness and consistency, validity and truth. If this theory is not perfect in any of these respects, it leaves an aspect of the universe undescribed and/or irrational. But if there are contradictions, gaps and/or falsehoods, this is not a Theory of Everything. We can however imagine a theory that surpasses it in any of its flaws by being perfect in all respects. Since truth is one of the requisites, this Theory of Everything must be true.

It's all about the model of perfection, it seems. We don't want to believe in perfect evil, of course, but damn we want to believe in that which is superior to all we can imagine, that it's the paragon of models, complete in having all the properties we want it to have, that it is true because it must be true, that it must be true because it is a perfect unity. But ontological bootstrapping is shoddy logic even in a wholly informal system based on supposition. You can define your faith into truth by insisting that your Presupposition of Soundness must be sound because of the validity of your presuppositions, but that ain't gonna make it so.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Flame-Grilled Fillet of Quale

Some Hypothetical Hoojamaflips

So the last few posts have taken swings at universals and objects, and out of that I've found myself fucking around with an idea of narrative as how we ideate sensation into entity -- which begs the question of just what sensation is. I guess that puts qualia next in the firing line, these hypothetical hoojamaflips in which the physicalist philosophy (where there are no kinds of things other than physical things -- or as I'd put it, where existence is actual instantiation, duh,) is challenged by the mystery of our mentalese. There's a distinctly queer quality to the experience of the colour red, if you think about it, to all such framework features of our inner modelling of the world. I can never see your red. You can never see mine. We can't describe them to each other. So we encapsulate the pure subjectivity of the stuff we call sensation in the notion of qualia, characterised (c.f. Dennett) as ineffable, intrinsic, private and directly experienced.


I'll freely admit to the mindfuckery of sensing a colour and being entirely unable to say for sure if my experience of that is identical to yours, but I'm not sure these qualia are as much of a problem for a physicalist view as they're made out to be. Do we assume they're entirely isolated from the cause-effect chain of shit-going-on we call substantia -- mere epiphenomena -- or do we imagine them participants in it in some way? If we're assuming they're pure epiphenomena, the thing is, that makes them strange but irrelevant, simply a weird virtual after-image of the flux of activity. No big deal. And if we're assuming they're participants...

Well, that latter view seems more of a piece with how most would cast these hypothetical hoojamflips called qualia. So I reckon it's worth interrogating.

As I see it, this is to assume: 1) that the sensation/ideation experiences are composed of qualia; 2) that these are affected by physical action, reception processes within body being read by mind; 3) that they affect physical action in turn, inception processes within body being written by mind. If this is what you mean by qualia though, I'm definitely not worried about this being a problem for a physicalist view because the quale is physical, simply not materially detectable. If the qualia-structure -- the sensation/ideation as construct of qualia -- is causally connective to the brain activity, I mean, this is physicality whether or not the intermediating activity is materially evident.

Let's break it down:

Brain, Mind and Nous

What we have in this notion of qualia is (1) the brain-state as a system modelling reality, and (2) the mind as some sort of alterior covert/remote system, engaged with this so as to (a) translate that brain-state into qualia, (b) perform sensation and ideation, (c) translate ideation back into brain-state to instigate action. If we cannot detect the mind's engagement in terms of matter or energy, we must assume it carries out read/write operations via (3) an entirely unknown medium that is not discernible as either -- call it nous.

There are two scenarios of mind here: (A) a "covert" system where the sensation and ideation operations intermediate between reading and writing brain-state are also carried out in that medium, meaning nous and qualia are identical; (B) a "remote" system where nous is an interface, passing brain-state readings back to mind for them to be modelled in qualia, and enacting modifications of brain-state as decided by the mind, in order to instigate behaviour. In neither of these, I should specify, am I making any assumptions about how the mind processes sensation into ideation. The word operation is not meant to imply something computational. The only assertion here is nous as mind's read/write interface to brain-state.

Whether mind is covert or remote doesn't really matter. In both scenarios, the assumption of a wholly undetectable nous leaves us with a material brain-state modelling reality, and a discrete immaterial mind eavesdropping on it, doing the sensation and ideation via hidden qualia, and whispering instructions for actions that appear spontaneous because the cause is beyond our ken. Either way, we get the properties assigned to qualia -- ineffable, intrinsic, private and directly experienced.

While the result is basically the same then, the separate functions of the system -- external interfacing and internal processing -- are best dealt with separately, so as to not muddle them. So let's take the latter scenario, treating the nous as distinct from a remote mind, the hypothetical hoojamaflips of sensation and ideation entirely isolated from the material state of the brain. We should bear in mind that the messenger and administrator could just as easily be the same thing here, but we'll keep them distinct for the sake of clarity.

X-Rays and Microwaves

As with an x-ray then, we can imagine nous being sorta fired through the brain, being somehow imprinted by its passage such that it returns a reading of the brain-state, which is modelled in qualia by the remote mind. In this theory, the mind then processes sensation into ideation, and fires back signals which imprint changes in the brain-state so as to produce action -- like the microwaves feared by wearers of tinfoil hats, only in this form of thought-control it's your mindthoughts controlling the meat-puppet.

X-rays and microwaves then, is what we've got, but in the non-physical form of a hypothetical nous.

Now, we can posit that the brain-state is entirely unaffected by the read operation in terms of matter and/or energy, or at least that no effect is detectable because the nous is not just an entirely unknown medium of interaction but one which has no effect in those terms, not in this sort of process. However, in so far as we're hypothesising the transcription of brain-state into nous-state, we are positing a physical process. And with the nous performing a write operation on the brain-state, it doesn't matter if the medium/mechanism is not discernible as matter or energy. Regardless of the cause of sudden change in the system being unknown, by casting that change as effect we are most assuredly positing this also as a physical process.

The crucial fact here is that while we can imagine reception and inception being mediated by nous (and mind) activity outside the effect horizon of the brain, and while we can imagine this interfacing nous to be practically undetectable and theoretically unimagined in our current paradigm, we are still describing an entirely physical system by definition. In establishing an effect horizon to the material brain-state, we've established an effect horizon for the nous. We can't see it pushing the buttons, but in so far as we're positing that the buttons are being pushed by something other than the brain's own dynamics of button-pushing-causing-button-pushing, we are positing a system acting upon it physically.

Further, as a remote/covert system isolated from us by the fact that its mechanism of causal input and output connectivity is this unknown nous, (and working under the presumption that we can't otherwise detect the mind any more than we can the nous,) that mind becomes a black box system to us, but it is no less physical for that. We are establishing an effect horizon here too, circumscribing this conceit of a thing which is affected by the nous and which affects it in turn. It's a completely enigmatic physical system, but it's still a physical system. Since we're treating mind as distinct from nous, we're essentially positing a fourth medium in which the activity of mind we call qualia occur -- let's call it aether -- but with this, as much as with nous, we're saying that it is physical the moment we have it interacting with nous.

The hypothesis of qualia does not challenge a physicalist philosophy then, only extends it by positing additional physical media of interactivity -- nous and aether -- which are undetectable because they're neither matter nor energy. You can imagine your mind to be that remote black box operator working the meat-puppet over psychic wifi, but this only asserts as yet undiscovered physical forces that are no more evident to us than x-rays and microwaves to a caveman.

Operating on a physicalist philosophy, I simply shrug. I find your hypothesis implausible, but I have no problem believing that there are physical forces we haven't learned to detect yet.

Entirely Effable Energy

In fact, in so far as energy can be considered the ability of a physical system to do work on other physical systems, the nous being posited is not even a new physical medium but is actually an unknown form of energy. It's not electromagnetic, not kinetic, not potential or what have you, so it's not detectable as such. But if we have brain-state changes being externally caused, then we have work being done on that system, and where we have work we have energy. On the off-chance that such an actuality is discovered, I hereby dub it noetic energy.

This is where the qualia argument against physicalism only really causes problems for itself. The actual thesis under consideration is that a noetic energy as undetectable to us now as x-rays and microwaves once were can be used to take readings from brain-state; that this is done by a similarly undetectable system which translates these into qualia; that the system performs sensation and ideation with these qualia, and then uses noetic signals to write brain-state, translating thought into action.

Since the mind is a system doing work on the noetic interface, interacting causally with it, the hypothetical aether must also be considered fully physical in this way. Which is to say, if the qualia-structures are not themselves substantiated in patterns of noetic energy, they are substantiated in whatever aetheric substance the noetic energy is interacting with. This is to say that the hypothetical aether as conceived is a type of matter, weirder than dark matter or anti-matter for sure, but matter nonetheless. If the anti-physicalist should claim nous and aether to be non-physical on the basis of their elusiveness, we need only point them at the tachyon.

I suspect many hardline materialists would dismiss these fancies of noetic energy and aetheric matter out of hand as the pseudo-science used to sell snake-oil, but my own skepticism is willing to entertain the fancy long enough to make a point: if true, this model of qualia simply means the physical processes involved are not evident to us at this time, not practically detectable; theoretically, we're dealing with entirely effable energy.

Since the brain is essentially a noetic energy detector in this theory, we have the beginnings -- if only that -- of a method of empirical investigation, indeed. If it interacts with the physical world, we can study it. And if it's theoretically possible to discover the properties of this mysterious noetic energy just as we discovered those of x-rays and microwaves, who's to say the mysterious aetheric matter of mind is not equally discoverable? There's eminent testability here. If you can crosswire the noetic connections between my mind and brain and yours, a good part of your theory will be proven to me by the fact I'm walking around in your body. If the two of us can meld the aetheric matter of our minds, we can compare qualia directly.

Go on. You show me yours, I'll show you mine.

The Return of Pixie Farts

Theoretically, of course, one could insist that these hypothetical physical systems -- noetic energy and aetheric matter -- are essentially undiscoverable despite their interactivity with the currently observable physical system of the brain. But in so far as such blank refusals of the possibility of observation rest on the systems being non-physical, this is simply the return of pixie farts. The wholly hypothetical physical effects with no discernible cause are fancies of unevidenced actuality. The alterior physical system imagined to be interacting to cause those fancies is a pure phantasm of noetic energy and aetheric matter. In the incoherent denial that such a physical system is in fact a physical system, that noetic energy and aetheric matter becomes pixie farts.

Pixie farts are detectable in a notion, by the way, by the bootstrapping circularity of non-physical existence claimed on the basis of elusiveness, elusiveness claimed on the basis of non-physical existence.

We can flense some of philosophical blubber here with Occam's Razor, try and get a coherent model. We can drop the aether out of the equation by collapsing the remote mind to the covert mind. We can rationalise the silliness of a meat-puppet remote-controlled by microwave mindthoughts by imagining the mind a system directly interfaced with the brain hosting it, reading its state via qualia-structures made of noetic energies, performing its sensation and ideation in that medium, firing its commands back in the same medium. Still, unless we have an agenda in denying physicality -- e.g. in order to assert the eternal life of spirituality -- there is nothing about qualia that conflicts with a physicalist philosophy. Rather, any presumption of interaction with the material brain-state renders the anti-physicalist position self-contradictory, a mumbo jumbo of a noetic force that isn't noetic energy. A little Zen paradox may be useful for grappling with the complexity of existence, but this is just simplistic spiritualism sustained by disregard of inherent contradiction and implicit motivation.

The Arcane Singularity of Aesthemes

Having laid bare the physicalist view implicit in the hypothesis, we're left with a crux question: In so far as the coherent notion of noetic energy renders the ineffable and private nature of qualia simply a product of our current inability to detect and manipulate such energy, is there even any reason to hypothesize an additional physical force if the existing physical system is sufficient to produce the same ineffable and private qualities in and of itself?

With any virtual reality-modelling system substantiated in the brain activity, the phase-spatial framework would most likely be intrinsic (or mostly so.) Setting an effect horizon between the virtuality and the entity hosting it, instantiated virtual objects in such a framework would not be so much directly experienced as they would be direct experience itself. Such a virtual construct would necessarily be private. All that's left is the ineffability, and that seems little more than the inscrutability of alphabetic figurae without any obvious connection to the phonemes they represent.

In other words, the qualia are indistinguishable from semes in an entity's virtuality.

The framework of perceptual colourspace is a good example of why any virtual phase-space might have this ineffable quality. As our vision translates the stimuli sent from rods and cones into a simulation of physical space, what it does is code each position in that phasespace with a semic qualia derived from another phasespace. The latter, colourspace, is constructed from opponent processes -- red-green, blue-yellow, black-white -- the oppositional nature of each pairing rendering that phasespace three-dimensional. Which is to say, stimuli in an opponent process are mutually inhibiting, this being why it's normally impossible to see a reddish-green or a bluish-yellow (unless the mutual inhibition of opponent processes is artificially switched off.)

Essentially, your vision translates mixes of light wavelengths into tensions between the opponent processes, degrees of displacement up or down (whiteward or blackward,) to or fro (redward or greenward,) and this way or that (blueward or yellowward.) The point is that, in sensing a shade, your nifty little faculty of visual modelling is just reckoning a position in that phasespace. To render any set of co-ordinates in the model, all it needs is six semiotic benchmarks of orientation that can be dialled up or down to signify how far to go in that direction. Since this is a 3D modelling of a 2D system (wavelength and intensity,) with none of the dimensions mapped one-to-one, this can only be achieved with semes that are non-representational, symbols rather than icons. And it seems to me they need to be what one might term discretely rendering.

What does that mean? Imagine a six-figurae alphabet -- L, D, R, G, B, Y. Every word is formed of three letters -- L or D, R or G, B or Y. In each word, each letter is inked to a degree of intensity between so faint as to be imperceptible and as bold as bold can be. The shape of figurae is irrelevant; all that matters is the boldness and combination of letters. That's how a shade is rendered as a position in colourspace. Or rather it would be if not for the fact such figurae would also render shape as shape -- and that would be a problem. A letter L would render a right-angle as much as the L-value. A letter Y would render a fork as much as the Y value.

It's not just that the shapes of the figurae are irrelevant because they render nothing, only need to be distinct. Actually, to abstract the letter-shape, treat it as pure structure, the structure of these figura can't even be a shape, because it has to be completely irrelevant. If relevance is the applicability of a rendering, the structure of a figura has to be wholly inapplicable as a rendering of a spatial construct, shape. It can't be applicable as a rendering of any construct in other framework.

Switch to another sense, scent, switch the six-figurae above for a single O. We can imagine this inked to a degree of intensity to render a sound's pitch, but again that structure would be a problem, any letter of such shape rendering a spatial construct, a circle. Ultimately, we can't use an existing construct in any other framework. We can't take the structure of an ammonia aroma and use the intensity to render a sound's pitch, or we have a figurae which is meant to be rendering sound's pitch rendering the olfactory construct, the smell of ammonia.

This is what it means then to say that each symbol is discretely rendering. It is a figura assigned to one dimension in one phase-space where, in the simplest situation, the "inking" of that figura's structure renders a real-world magnitude. That structure must not applicable as a rendering of a construct in another phase-space, whether it be the spatial construct of a shape or whatever. Turning it the other way about, as a result, the structures of all figurae are not simply unique but irreducible: any articulation of symbols in any framework is necessarily incapable of replicating by composition one of these fundamental semic structures -- which I hereby dub aesthemes.

Take a system modelling its environs in its own internal state, with schematic rather than directly mimetic renderings, wholly symbolic frameworks like the red-green opponent process evolving to model the world -- to make sense of actuality, one might say, with virtuality. Allow for a focal recursiveness in the virtuality, a modelling of the modelling the model -- sounds like a sense of sensing sensation, like a sentience, no? And how does that entity circumscribed by a self-imposed effect horizon of self react when it focuses in on its own fundamental semic structures? How does it make sense of those? Isn't that entity faced with exactly the arcane singularity of aesthemes that we call ineffability in qualia?

Such a wholly physicalist model doesn't find that ineffability a problem, I'd say. If anything, it predicts it, offers a coherent and comprehensive of how a material system might, via virtuality, produce all those features some would claim are "problems" for this approach... even as they themselves resort to fancies of noetic non-energy and etheric-non-matter in their spiritualist non-explanations.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Narrativve, Anagnorisis and Entity

Narrative as Experience, Experience as Narrative

So where to from here? (From here, here and here, that is, if you haven't been following along.) We've got substantia as a start point -- stuff actually instantiated within the frame of events, the flux of activity, material spatiotemporal reality. We've got the entire vocabulary of objects abandoned for one of collective entity as a conceit based on effect horizon. Before we even begin to abstract this stuff in terms of objects and classes then, picking out isomorphic relations between this and that gallimaufry of events, we have to abstract it to entities.

This is where the writer in me kicks in, and I trace that abstraction not to the organisational process of analysis, sorting the world into this form and that just because it's anal that way, but rather to a more organic process, one that's all about the events, at heart, but from which these conceits of entities naturally emerge: narrative.

An example: Across a series of innumerable feeding events, as experienced by a newborn babe, isomorphic relations are blatant; each episode is the same story retold. The narrative begins, as any conventional does in Todorov's schematics of story-structure, with disruption to equilibrium, in this case an event of hungering. There are ramifications to this event, bad ones, woes and miseries, which proliferate, exacerbate. However, those tensions invoke a focused reaction, a concerted engagement, an event of wailing. Still, the hungering continues, grows even, but the agon is fierce -- a new event of wailing comes, even bigger and bolder. Finally, the back-and-forth leads to a turning point -- anagnorisis! recognition! -- and the key event of feeding can take place, a victory, a resolution, a satiation. Equilibrium is restored.

This is the recurrent narrative as experience, the recurrent experience as narrative. It's the story blatant in the flux of activity, in the isomorphic relations. Hopefully, the wording captures the notion that at its base level this narrative is about pure dynamics. The disruption is a force acting on a dynamic homeostatic system. When we say "woes and miseries" this is not to imply a coherent Me that suffers as subject, just an inherent negativity to the disruptions born of disruption, the spreading destabilisations of the system. Nor does engagement imply a heroic Me consciously setting out to deal with the problem; rather it's that in the destabilised system, a focus of tensions at any point may render that the locus of homeostatic restorative (re)action. The agon may be considered a clash of forces, the finale less a victory of X over Y than simply a resolution of the tension.

In the previous post I said that there are no objects in the world. Here, there are still no objects in the world, not even the conceit of collective entities yet. But maybe we're moving toward it.

Entity out of Anagnoris

To me, the notion of anagnorisis -- recognition -- suggests that the very thrust of narrative may be the parsing of isomorphic relations into entities: the antagonist of the hunger; the protagonist agency forged in the crucible of the situation itself; a great other, monstrum or numena, to be conjured and bound, a congruity of sights and sounds that ultimately will be read, as the story is made sense of, not just as a coherent set of Doings but as a Being-Which-Does; and of course a prize, the taste of milk and the congruity of associated sensations, the isomorphic relations that make each finale the same finale, the outcome become a goal, the goal become another entity, bottle or breast.

The dynamics generates logical effect horizons, I mean, delineating antagonists and protagonists, obstacles/tools and goals. To say that a focus of tensions at any point may render that the locus of homeostatic restorative (re)action is to describe how agency emerges in the isolation of a portion of the system as agent, in the establishment of an effect horizon. Likewise entity, the conceit born from the moment of recognition, of re-cognition of narrative role.

Some tweaking of the classical notion of anagnorisis is in order here though. Arguably, where traditional poetics conceive of one point of anagnorisis in a narrative, we might be better to talk of multiple potential moments of anagnorisis. A recognition of protagonistic function can be seen as a typical feature of Field's plot-point #1 at the end of Act 1 in his Three Act Structure, I'd say. In Field's mid-point (halfway through Act 2) and plot-point #2 (end of Act 2,) we can see a recognition of antagonistic source, of ultimate goal, of obstacle/tool or any combination thereof. Indeed, the resolution itself may well be a point of anagnorisis in any of those senses.

Ditching the formalism of Field's stereotyped structure actually, I'd suggest that anagnorisis in those four flavours (and I don't exclude the possibility of other flavours) may come at any point, in any order, in any combination, and that where it does that's what a plot-point is. As establishment of an effect horizon, anagnorisis logically slingshots into peripeteia; it's essentially an identification of one or more of the key causal forces in the narrative as entity, automatically rendering it a new target of action. (As an aside, the Thickening of Clute's narrative grammar of horror is based on thwarted anagnorisis, I'd say, an ongoing disrecognition that renders the agon a futile flailing at wrong targets, building to a crunch point of complete revelation.)

Anyway, what this boils down to is, I reckon, a model of narrative dynamics as a sort of analytic framework readily projectable on the substantia, entity and agency established in the (natural) conceit of effect horizons. If we want to really get to grips with this rough model of ideas (i.e. conceits of entity) being processed from impressions (i.e. the flux of virtual activity we call experience), we need to get into the nitty-gritty of sensation and ideation.

Which I guess means there's another post to follow.


Monday, December 12, 2011

There Are No Objects in the World

Pixie Farts and Particles

Hmmm. I seem to be slowly drifting into a philosophical kitbashing mode here. This is what happens when you read too much of PKD's Exegesis (... so to speak. As if one could ever really read too much of the Exegesis. Feh!) Anyway, fuck it. Let's run with the whole freeform ontological jazz riff, see where we get to from Plato's Cave and an OOP-principled take on universals and particulars as classes and objects. Cause why the fuck not?

So, as per the previous post, I don't buy the whole notion of a realm of ideas, the flummery of ascribing existence to universals. I look at universals and I see class-structure, and not as the pre-defined library of a coder outside time, but as the analytic produce of an objHuman. I see the hierarchies of such class structure developing with the running of this program called reality as fairly blatant signs that "universals" are in fact anything but; they're as ephemeral as fireflies in the grand scheme of things, the flux of activity itself developing such that sub-classes of CPerson -- CHunter, CSmith, CTailor, CCarter -- have been thrashed out over a whole history of diverse cultures of CHuman objects. Eternal Platonic forms? Dude, these types of human are not capable of being defined as classes until they exist as instances, not capable of existing until the objects they require for this or that key method exist -- spear, forge, clothes, wheel -- until the method is so codified and culturally integrated it can become a speciality. Existence precedes essence here because essence is made the fuck up.

Fuck, I can't imagine a Platonic morphological realm without thinking about the Platonic forms of "skin cell," "brain cell," "sperm cell," and all such structures -- all as fundamental to the "human" form as the triangle to the tetrahedron. And more fundamental still is the water molecule, the hydrogen atom, the electron. There comes a point where the "incorporeal reality" ascribed to the essences of things is simply a fancy of substantiation in aether instead of matter, pizazz in place of energy, where we're just fantasising a spirit-cosmos inhabited by incorruptible avatars of every imaginable class of object -- including, of course, the CHalDuncan class -- but made of pixie farts instead of particles.

As far as I can see, this notion of the essential, the spiritual, the metaphysical is all about the existential, the material, the physical; it's simply a matter of switching labels to maintain a mumbo jumbo pretence of Eternity, a dream of this world's forms unfleshed so they can be imagined corporeal in another medium -- forever. It's just a repackaging of the existential without the angst-inducing muck of carnality and cadavers.

Fuck that shit.

Transcending the Transcendence Game

However, I am an inveterate footerer with wacky ideas, so I am kinda interested in the idea of a sort of morphological realm -- a realm of ideas -- that I'd count as metaphysical in the sense that a dance is. A particular instance of a dance, I mean, wherein a bunch of drunk folks at a ceilidh, say, dance the Gay Gordons. The dancers are physical, their actions are physical, but the dance itself is a non-physical object instantiated through the co-ordinated actions of the participants, a pattern emerging in the substrate of human interactions, a form that is existential, spatiotemporal, but only as a gestalt of entities' actions. We could just call these events, of course, but that is to parse the flux of activity into discrete chunks, to treat these chunks of action as objects in some strange way -- a dancing of the Gay Gordons as an instantiated object of the class CGayGordons.

A Mexican Wave at a football match would be another example, one that neatly offers us the event as pure form -- waveform -- and points to the ubiquity of the object paradigm. We speak of waves in water as objects too. Fuck it, aren't we dealing with a world of objects made of particles that may also be considered as waves? If all those low-scale events can be parsed as physical objects, it doesn't seem unfair to parse mid-scale events as metaphysical objects.

We just need to execute any assumption that metaphysical somehow means spiritual. Any implication of priority or elevation -- we need to take it out to the woods, put a bullet in the back of its head. That's the transcendence game. That's the crude concrete thinking of the Platonic "Realist" not simply projecting the actual instantiation of objects onto class-structures -- hand-waving it as "existence" in spirit instead of substance -- but projecting a spatiotemporal co-ordination of the physical and metaphysical stuff, one that -- surprise surprise -- privileges the latter (the one without all the messy flesh) as "higher" reality. How facile can one's mode of thought be? For Cock's sake, it's the philosophical equivalent of counting on your fingers to shackle your thinking to such simplistic projections. If there's any transcendence to be done it's of this notion of transcendence.

It's not an arduous task, rethinking the metaphysical as a) not made of pixie farts, and b) not floating above our heads. That prefix meta- doesn't have to mean above, conflating the metaphysical with the supernatural, applying an obsolete heavens-oriented hierarchy whereby the structural framework of forms is projected into a "higher level" of ordering principia, shallowly cosmomorphised as a realm. The root meanings of meta- are actually with, across, after, so one might well rearticulate the morphological as the metaphysical along those lines -- as a matter of structure dependent on the physical (after,) manifest in the relationships of the physical (across,) and inherently bound to it (with).

Where actuality becomes virtuality is what we're talking here, I suppose. That dance is a virtual object, instantiated in a medium of human activity. It's not a material object in the way a rock is, but it's every bit as actual as that rock. That Mexican Wave isn't physical in the same way an ocean wave is, doesn't obey the laws of physics as a wave, but it's no less spatiotemporal. And approaching the metaphysical from this angle might just redeem the notion from the obsolescent fantasy of essences as spirits.

A Dancing of Substantia

One thing to clarify: while I used the notion of classes and objects in the last post to try and dismantle some of the tosh surrounding universals as "abstract objects," this is not to propose OOP principles as the best approach to ontology. It's an approach designed for prescription not description. I reckon that model is a good starting point for establishing existence as a matter of substantiation, of actual instantiation in material spatiotemporal reality, establishing the differences between actuality and a) virtuality, b) potentiality. But I doubt my whim of an objHuman.Analyse() method bears much relation to how we really make sense of the world.

Really, taking classes, attributes and methods out of the equation as "abstract objects" is to clear some space to deal with abstracted objects that are spatiotemporal, that are existential -- metaphysical objects in the after/across/with sense, things that aren't material in the sense that an eminently kickable rock is, but which are no less in and of this cosmos -- e.g. humanity considered not as a quality inherent in all humans, not as a class of primates, but as the living species that came into existence, to the best of our knowledge, 200,000 years ago. Or the stock market. Or the SFF scene. Humanity, the stock market, the SFF scene, a dancing of the Gay Gordons, a Mexican Wave -- all of these are more interesting than universals because their metaphysicality, their virtuality, is a matter of framing. These are collective actualities abstracted to structures, series of events framed as objects.

The twist is, the same can be said of a rock, I'd argue. Rather than carry on from the whole OOP principles model with its assumption that there are discrete objects we try to describe with class structure, I want to question the whole notion of the physical object. I want to blow apart the whole abstract/concrete division, scrap the discrete object entirely, and for the sake of argument treat all such things as collective actualities.

There are no objects in this world.

That's an extreme way of articulating it, but before you kick a rock to refute this wild fancy, understand that this is not a denial of substantiation but rather the opposite -- a repudiation of the notion of "object" for the way it projects essence upon the existential. It's a mere matter of human framing to see this portion of stony substantia as a rock when it was once mountain and will one day be sand. In the notion of the rock as "object," I mean, we set a frame upon a portion of reality's material spatiotemporal stuff, isolate it out as a singular thing. That framing is a natural and logical approach, sure, but where thinking of the rock as object casts the frame as an inherent quality of discreteness, it's just bogus.

All "objects" are substantia framed by human convention. To reject the characterisation of the rock as an object, see it as a collective, an aggregate of mineral crystals, each in turn a collective of molecules, and so on, is not to deny substantiality of the stuff, or even the utility of the frame; it's just rejecting the blinkers that pretend the rock is not ultimately a dancing of substantia, an ephemerally emergent structuring of the flux of activity.

It's hardly a radical idea -- it's been around since Heraclitus. But a couple of thousand years of Platonism seem to have obfuscated the logic of a simple ontological paradigm in which the "object" is just an artifact of human framing, actualities circumscribed within what one might term an effect horizon. Humanity, the stock market, the SFF scene, a dancing of the Gay Gordons, a Mexican Wave , a rock -- with all of these there's no discrete thing, simply a horizon of effect where we parse actuality into entity by saying this here is this affecting or being affected by that.

The -Ing of the Be-

No objects then in this (anti-?)ontology, just entities which are always already collectives, conceits of unity circumscribed by an effect horizon. They may be readily sustainable conceits, especially if the effect horizon is defined physically -- as with a rock, say -- but a metaphysically defined effect horizon -- like that of the SFF scene, say -- can be nebulous to the point of incoherence.

While we're at it, the subject can go too. Fuck, Heraclitus didn't go far enough. It's not just that you can't step into the same river twice; it's that the same you can't step twice into the river. An individual human is just as much a collective of actualities, just as much a conceit. For most of us, I'd hazard, there's no more singular an entity than that which we think of as our identity, but on every level, in every facet, that extra special object also breaks down into a collective. We're made of cells, molecules, atoms, constructed from a zygote, sustained by continuous reconstruction, each of us made today of completely different material than we were seven years ago. We're each as much an aggregate of stardust as the rock is.

Oh, there's that mysterious inner locus of self, of course, its effect horizon defined in terms of sensation and action -- the Me as mind. But the best current model of that mind, as I understand, in terms of psychology and neuroscience, has it a composite thing, with distinct primary and secondary consciousness. Fuck, that locus of self we tend to hold up as the very paragon of unity -- that ongoing ego which sums because it cogitos -- is extinguished every single time we sleep. We all assume it's the same sentience being booted up each morning, but we do so on the basis of memories that any sentience fired up in that system would have.

I mean, just as a wacky idea, suppose that this sentience malarky is an object in and of itself, a discrete component in its own right, a little inner admin fairy quite distinct from the memories and affective response protocols stored in the brain matter. It has no memory in and of itself -- it's a fairy, what do you expect? -- but it has instant access to those memories stored in the brain, to everything stored in the brain. It's what does the sensing and remembering, the being aware of thoughts and feelings. It shimmers into existence one morning, an I, an inner eye, the -ing of the Be-, the PoV, the Me.

So, like the good admin fairy that it is, it does its job as the sentience that experiences the selfhood among all the shit that goes on during the day, recalling memory, paying attention to affect, all that jazz. And at the end of the day, off you toddle to bed, and gently you drift off to sleep. And it dies. Snuffed out like a firefly. The next day? It's a whole new fairy. Has all the memories of yesterday at its beck and call. Can't tell that it's not the same fairy because those are its only references; there's nothing to it but the sentience. Still, it's a totally different fairy.

I mean, just as a wacky idea, suppose that's what the You who's reading this now is. Yeah, you have all your memories of yesterday, but actually it wasn't you who experienced it the first time around. It was yesterday's you. Tonight you die. The sentience that wakes up in your body tomorrow will no more be that which is reading this than is the sentience that's writing it. That discrete object you know as Me is over and done with when you hit the pillow. Tomorrow a fresh one takes its place.

Sucks for you.

Yesterday's Bob

Or turn it inside out: suppose you're a Phildickian android, Bob-2A, who got another android's memories installed before being booted up this morning, the memories of yesterday's Bob, Bob-1. Yesterday's physical body actually got destroyed, but you don't know that -- we'll assume the bodies are indistinguishable. So you wake up thinking you're Bob-1 because his memories are all your sentience has.

Now, even if some shit-stirring fucker of a writer tells you the truth, the memories are so integral to your sense of identity, you'd probably find it hard to believe you're not yesterday's Bob. Or that you won't be tomorrow's Bob. Even if this body you're in now is fated for the furnace, well, today's memories will get installed in tomorrow's Bob, so you might hold on to that as a hope of your continued existence. You'll get ported across, you reason, via those memories.

Except now you're introduced to Bob-2B, who also got Bob-1's memories this morning, and who is also headed for the furnace at the end of the day. And tomorrow, there'll be Bob-3A/1 and Bob-3A/2 waking up with your memories, and Bob-3B/1 and Bob-3B/2 waking up with those of Bob-2B.

It's not a happy wacky idea, I admit, but if you're of a mind to see the self as some discrete object housed in the vessel of body and brain, a thread of pure consciousness carving its way through corporeal reality... really, that singular Me you're positing is simply spirit by another name. And quite the contrary to what such thinking generally presupposes -- that the homunculus made of mindthoughts in your head persists through life (and maybe even beyond) -- one might more logically assume that Me a fleeting thing which lives only as long as a singular continuity is maintained.

Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. It doesn't necessarily follow that when I stop thinking I no longer am, but it does beg the question, no?

Why shouldn't such a spirit be ephemeral rather than eternal? Why shouldn't such an ego be temporary rather than persistent? There's patent discontinuity here, the blatant chunking of Me-ness into individual sessions separated by non-dreaming sleep's oblivion. If you're claiming a causeway, I don't expect to look at the river and see stepping stones, man, but that's what we see. No, an insistence on the self as singular object rather invites us to point to that series of singular objects and ascribe a discrete Me to each, a little virtual Bob-for-a-day, today's objSentience object instantiated with the Wake() method, destroyed with the Sleep(). From a coder's perspective, one would expect such an admin object to be new each session. Hell, even if you want to be all religious about it, maybe your "eternal" soul is like a candle flame, baby, sparked up and snuffed out as you wake and sleep, a beautiful and shining thing but more ephemeral than a butterfly. Maybe your God just likes the pretty twinkling.

Or, of course, we can see the self as something more complex, the path made from all those stepping stone sessions of consciousness, the cumulative articulation of experience extended by each discrete session -- not an object at all, but a collective entity. No discrete thing, just a horizon of effect where we parse actuality into identity. Me, I rather prefer this notion that my Me is not some discrete homunculus of mindthoughts or soulstuff whose term in office could well end when my head hits the pillow tonight.

Cause right now I'm about to head to bed and I know for a fact this Me that many would deem an object is headed straight for oblivion. I'd much rather think it's just an ongoing ceildih, and while today's dancing of the Gay Gordon's is coming to a complete end, tomorrow's Dashing White Sergeant will be the same ceildh still going strong with just a brief break for the piper.