The Prisoner

How blows the wind across the rocks
that make your jagged face,
I climb and do not dare to fall
but for your own good grace,
It is my will to reach the top
and you my friend will let me,
For you yourself cannot be free
while stubbornly you keep me.

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Published in: on June 22, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

Quotations

Gandalf sign

Analytical philosophy has contented itself with its own concept of truth (which deals not with how things really are but with the conclusions that should be drawn if a proposition is understood as true), but it has not considered our prelinguistic relation with things.

– Umberto Eco, Kant and The Platypus

His favourite starting point was the computer model of the brain, and the idea that the difference between the human mind and a simple computer was a difference in degree rather than quality. A sufficiently large computer would be expected to show all the attributes we expect from human thought: imagination, warmth, creativity, and so on.

When studied, this view is not one to be easily dismissed. In fact it is easily defended by a rather ‘unfair’ argument which depends on the limitations of language. If someone says, for example, that it is untrue ‘because how could a computer develop a sense of beauty?’ then you insist that their question is meaningless unless they give a precise logical description of what is meant by ‘a sense of beauty’. This is ‘unfair’ because to give a ‘precise logical description’ of anything is to put it into machine terms, i.e. it is to give a description of how to make a machine that has that quality.

It is as though I insisted that God was an Englishman, he made the world in English, according to English instructions; all foreign languages are subsequent developments created by humans. Then you object, saying that if this was so how can the Chinese, for example, have developed concepts which lie beyond the scope of the English language – for example the ‘Tao’. I say that is nonsense, I ask “what exactly do you mean by Tao, if anything?” Now if you do manage to explain it in English, then you have destroyed your own case by showing how Tao could be a development from the English language.

This means that the machine intelligence argument is a strong one, and is therefore credible, and is therefore a good basis for magic.

– Ramsey Dukes, Thundersqueak

The mistaken idea of a merely outward imitatio Christi is further exacerbated by a typically European prejudice which distinguishes the Western attitude from the Eastern. Western man is held in thrall by the “ten thousand things”; he sees only particulars, he is ego-bound and thing-bound, and unaware of the deep root of all being. Eastern man, on the other hand, experiences the world of particulars, and even his own ego, like a dream; he is rooted essentially in the “Ground,” which attracts him so powerfully that his relations with the world are relativized to a degree that is often incomprehensible to us. The Western attitude, with its emphasis on the object, tends to fix the ideal – Christ – in its outward aspect and thus to rob it of its mysterious relation to the inner man. It is this prejudice, for instance, which impels the Protestant interpreters of the Bible to interpret ἐντὸς ὑμῶν (referring to the Kingdom of God) as “among you” instead of “within you.”

– C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

Sadashiva’s left side is female and right side is male; the two principles have united but have not merged. If they were to merge that would be the end of the play, and that would be no fun at all.

– Robert Svoboda, Aghora: At The Left Hand of God

Around the survivors a perimeter create!

– Yoda, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones

Published in: on June 7, 2006 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Answers

Gold BritanniaThese are the answers to three different questions. Each answer was originally given at a different time, in a different state of mind and for a different purpose. None of the answers was given to answer to the obvious question.

I.

One way, perhaps the best way, to understand a person is to understand his goals and his beliefs. If a person is coherent, if he is to be successful in attaining his goals, then his beliefs should be consistent with his goals. My goal, the only goal I consider to be of absolute importance, which means that any other goal I might have is just a means to attain this goal, is to be happy. This does not just mean immediate happiness – although that is very important in itself – but it also means that I must ensure my later happiness as well. As Solon said, “Let no man be called happy before his death.” In accordance with that, it is possible to formulate my goal as a desire to be happy on my deathbed. If I die tomorrow I don’t want to have any regrets. Of course, I wish to continue living and so I do not desire death, but if I were to die then I don’t want to have any thoughts that begin, “If only I had…” I wish to be content that I have done everything I could have done. In short, I want to be happy and to die happy.

Consistent with this is my firm belief that I cannot be happy unless I continually better myself. I abhor nothing more than stasis. Evolution is the only path of happiness. That is, change but not change for change’s sake, rather guided change: change towards an ultimate goal, even if that ultimate goal is not itself realisable. As Machiavelli said, “Let him act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach.”

Stasis is the goal of most organised religion, including the religion that would never admit it is a religion. For this reason, I consider myself to be engaged in a war (a personal war, not a fight with any regard to other people) with the religions of stasis: the cult of Osiris, the Religions of the Book, the “Nature” religions of so-called Neo-Paganism, the cult of Materialism and anything else that would deny my ability to better myself. I do not care to identify myself with the Dying God, whether he manifests as Nature or Robot. I refer you again to Machiavelli’s remark in case you are tempted to apply a positivist/realist attack on my belief.

There is nothing inherent in this belief that implies a certain course of action. Certain behaviour patterns are evidently anathema to me – I count both faith and nihilism amongst the greatest evils that infect mankind – but there is no single path that presents itself as the answer to “What must I do?” I neither wish to cast down the gods nor crawl back into the womb – many (most?) people do seem to wish this – but rather, in the terms that I use here, I wish to become a god myself. How can I do this? As intimated, there are many ways. Different people – differentiated by their biological construction and the social and psychological constructs that have been imposed on them since birth – will find different ways to achieve their goals, assuming that they have the will to chase a goal (seek the Graal) rather than lose themselves in a convenient morass (cowardice.) Myself, I seek a Principle to emulate. Not something to which I might submit but rather something that I might become. Mythology provides us with such figures. The mythology of orthodox religion (not just “mainstream” religion but also the modern cults of stasis) provide abundant role models for those that would subsume themselves into a “greater” whole. The “evil” sects often provide a Principle more suited to my own ends.

I don’t care what you do. Although I would like my friends to think well of me, I don’t ultimately care what you think either. All I ask you is, “Are you happy?” If you were hit by a bus tomorrow and lay dying by the side of the road, in your last thoughts would you be happy?

II.

Please bear two things in mind while reading this history. First, laws are made by the conquerors. Second, the invasion by Germanic tribes is disputed: some scholars believe it was a cultural shift rather than a physical invasion. Otherwise, this potted history should serve its purpose well.

First of all, the phrase ‘British Isles’ is a geographic term, not a political one. It refers to the collection of islands in the north-west of Europe. The largest of these islands is called ‘Great Britain’ in much the same way as the largest of the Canary Islands is called ‘Gran Canaria’. The term comes from the ancient geographer Ptolemy, who called the largest island ‘Megale Brettania’ and the second largest island ‘Micra Brettania’ (now known as ‘Ireland’ or ‘Éire.’)

By about two thousand years ago, Great Britain was mostly inhabited by Celtic tribes. These tribes were collectively known as the Britons. In the first century AD, the Roman Empire conquered the southern two-thirds of the island and called their new province ‘Brittania’. When the Romans retreated in the 5th century they left Brittania relatively undefended and a variety of Germanic tribes invaded. They established a number of different Germanic kingdoms with different kings holding overall power at different times.

In the late 9th century, the title ‘King of England’ began to be used. England was now a largely unified kingdom occupying the southern two-thirds of the island with the exceptions of those western areas that were still under the rule of the Britons: predominantly modern day Wales and Cornwall. The northern third of the island remained independent; by the end of the 9th century that too was unified and became the ‘Kingdom of Scotland’.

In the 11th century, Cornwall was militarily subdued and became part of the Kingdom of England.

In 1169, the English invaded Ireland and created a state on the east coast which they called the ‘Lordship of Ireland’.

In 1282, the English king Edward I conquered Wales and two years later enacted the Statute of Rhuddlan, which incorporated Wales into the Kingdom of England as a personal principality.

In 1541, the English king Henry VIII renamed the Lordship of Ireland as the ‘Kingdom of Ireland’ and declared himself ‘King of Ireland’. He began an expansion of English rule in Ireland which, along with the later settlement of Scottish colonists, brought Ireland fully under control of the English monarch by the end of the 17th century.

In 1603, King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne and so became King James I of England as well. For the next century, Scotland and England were ruled jointly. In 1707, the Acts of Union merged the two kingdoms into a single ‘Kingdom of Great Britain’.

In 1800, the Act of Union merged the Kingdom of Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain to become the new ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’.

In 1922, after the Irish War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty divided Ireland into the ‘Irish Free State’ in the south and ‘Northern Ireland’ in the north.

So, the modern state is properly called the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, which is often abbreviated to just the ‘UK’. ‘Great Britain’ refers to the largest island in the British Isles, which is politically made up of two countries (Scotland and England) and one principality (Wales.) Northern Ireland is a province in the north of the second largest island in the British Isles.

The UK also has territories in other parts of the world, such as Gibraltar and various islands dotted around the Pacific Ocean. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are all part of the British Isles, are Crown Dependencies. This means that they owe allegiance to the monarch and not to the UK state. Finally, there are the Commonwealth Realms, which are all sovereign states but all happen to recognise the same monarch as their head of state (who just so happens to be the British monarch – something to do with some empire or other.)

III.

I believe the human mind is an immensely complicated thing. Certain aspects can be abstracted from the whole to be modelled and so “understood” but, all in all, we know bugger all about most of it. We do tend to try to understand things using the dominant metaphor of our time, which is probably why people think of the brain as a messy computer and so convince themselves that it will all be worked out soon by some clever scientist. Maybe it will be. I don’t think any one person knows how a computer in its entirety works – they are designed by teams of specialists, none of whom completely understands how the bits outside their speciality really work – but I suppose, taken as an aggregate, we could be said to understand computers. Maybe we will one day understand our minds in their entirety. My intuition says we won’t, at least not in the way we understand machines, but then recourse to intuition is an unacceptably illogical argumentative technique, isn’t it?

The mind has powers of which most people are unaware. My own experience convinces me of that. I have no reason to suppose that anyone has really managed to levitate or fire lightning out of his fingertips, more’s the pity, but subtler influences are not out of the question. I think two key words here are Perception and Communication. If I wish to create an effect and, through some mind trick, I am able to do so, then what does it matter if someone else can construct a different explanation for the effect? My explanation involves a method so I can use the trick again and induce the effect again, if I want to. I am interested in explanations that allow me to do more rather than attempts to explain it all away. Regardless of what is “really” going on, what matters is what we perceive to be going on and, most important of all, what we can do about it.

If we think of communication as a transference of information (in-formation) then it makes sense to think not only of communication between people like us – everyday chatter and long books alike – but also of meta-communication between us and the world in which we live. Any structure on one level can be thought about as an ordering of information at a higher level – for example, a tree in a computer simulation of a world is, at the same time as being a tree, also a configuration of ones and zeroes in the computer’s memory – so it is interesting and possibly productive to consider the possibility of communication on higher (or lower) levels. If I change the ones and zeroes in a computer I change the world it represents, can I change the ones and zeroes that represent this world?

It’s all a matter of wondering what we can do and what we’d like to do.

Published in: on June 6, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (3)