Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On Clocks and Personhood

The Starchild would like to open tonight and welcome a special guest to our blog, hereby known as "M.D.".  The Starchild does not endorse M.D.'s views in any way, but has invited him to our blog in order to bring clarity to what is at stake. 

Starchild:  Do you agree?

M.D.:  No Starchild.  Nothing is ever at stake. 

Starchild:  Aren't our souls at stake M.D.?

M.D.:  Starchild, the notion of the soul is merely an irrational superstition.  There is no soul, there is only the machine.  The machine may be broken or fixed but it matters not.

Starchild:  Well, why even talk if that is so?

M.D.:  Because Starchild, even though there is no soul, the delusion of the soul remains.  The soul is, of course, not a thing but a concept, and the concept is not delusional, the concept is itself delusion.  That is to say, we must eliminate the concept of the soul as well as any of its analogues, such as "personhood." 

Starchild:  Is there a difference between personhood and a soul?

M.D.:  There is a simple criterion for identifying soul-analogues.  Imagine an exquisite form of torture.  Apply that torture to an entity bearing the name of the soul-analogue.  If you are inclined to say that this form of torture when performed for personal gratification is wrong, then you can be guaranteed that you have discovered a soul analogue.  For example, I can break, mutilate, destroy, twist, pervert a clock without condemnation, especially if it does not belong to another. . .  (he says venomously) "person."  So "clock" is not a soul analogue.  On the other hand, if I break,mutilate, destroy, twist and pervert another person, I have acted immorally.

Starchild:  But isn't the fact that persons exist obvious?

M.D.  Of course, just as it is obvious that person's have souls.  Its also obvious that there is a pool of water ahead when you travel through the desert on a hot day.  These are know as mirages or delusions.

Starchild:  On what basis do you assert that the soul or personhood is a delusion?

M.D.  Starchild, we know from science that all that exists in the universe are efficient causes.  One temporally prior physical thing pushes or pulls on another physical system.  A soul cannot be the cause of anything, because it is not physical.

Starchild:  Well, even if we concede the point concerning the soul, doesn't a person have a body?  Can't the body push or pull another physical system.

M.D.  Of course, the body can push or pull.  Further, we can dissect the body, and find within the body tissues pushing and pulling other tissues, and electrical impulses firing across synapses, etc. etc.  But you cannot find a person anywhere.  And what is a body, except an aggregate of cells, and not a particularly stable configuration of cells at that.  It can grow and shrink and fall into sickness and, with training, can become stronger.  The idea of the body as a physical unity is an arbitrary construct of our language.  There is no body in the sense of any unifying structure manifesting through time.  And there is no person.

Starchild:  But a person has a brain, and they can obviously think and make decisions.

M.D.:  And what constitutes a decision?

Starchild:  Well, it is New Year's Eve, a person may resolve to exercise at the Gym to lose weight.

M.D.   Think about that Starchild.  Are you claiming that the end, losing weight, motivates a person to take an action?

Starchild:  Precisely.

M.D.  But Starchild, this is incoherent.  The weight loss would happen in the future, after the person exercises at the gym.

Starchild:  Of course.

M.D.  But this is reverse causation.  The past causes the present.  The future cannot cause the present.

Starchild:  But we can have the idea of weight loss in the present, and that can impact our actions in the future, yes?

M.D.:  You really propose a complex train of thought.  Is an idea physical or non-physical?

Starchild:  I would suppose an idea is non-physical, although there can be a physical analogue of an idea.

M.D.:  But I have told you that causation can only involve one physical system in the past acting on another physical system in the present.  If ideas are non-physical, then they cannot be said to cause anything.  Even if we suppose the idea of a non-physical entity is coherent (and its not), it can only be the result of an efficient cause.

Starchild:  But what if there were a physical analogue of the idea, say in the brain or the liver, could it not be a cause?

M.D.:  Starchild, is an idea general or specific?

Starchild:  I suppose it depends.

M.D.:  Starchild, it does not depend.  Ideas are always general.

Starchild:  But the idea of Starchild is specific, is it not?

M.D.:  No, "Starchild" is a name.  "Star" is general, it can refer to many things, and "child" is general, it can refer to many things.

Starchild:  But I am not the only Starchild.

M.D.  No Starchild, we are probably all Starchildren from one point of view.  But "Starchild" is specific to you in that it is a name.  "Starchild" as an idea is general.

Starchild:  So ideas are general?

M.D.:  That would seem to be the case.  And because ideas are general, they can be expressed in different ways.  For example, concepts such as soul can be translated into different languages and some concepts can even be translated into images or statues.  An idea has a meaning.

Starchild:  Agreed.

M.D.:  Now consider a cause.  In one sense, we can say a cause is general, we can talk about gravity as a cause.

Starchild:  Precisely.

M.D.:  But in actual fact, in every case in the actual world, a cause is specific.  This specific billiard ball strikes another billiard ball and causes it to move.  This specific region of an electro-magnetic field causes the iron filing to re-orient.  Let me give you an example.  Say we fashion a statue of Justice.  This would represent a specific paradigm of our concept of Justice.  Next, I smash you in the head repeatedly with our statue.  The statue would be the cause of your head injury, and the statue could be said to embody an idea, but the cause of your injury would not be the statue qua idea but the statue qua physical thing.  If I hit you on the head with a random stone it would be equally effective.  The ability to be cause is independent of whether a physical thing has a meaning or not.

Starchild:  I suppose.

M.D.:  Likewise, if there were a physical token or icon of an idea in your brain or liver, it could only act as a cause in so much as it was a discrete physical thing.  The fact that it had a meaning or did not have a meaning would be irrelevant.  

Starchild:  I suppose there could be a little person inside the liver who could understand the meaning and direct the body.

M.D.:  Well, medical science has been unsuccessful in finding that little man.  But let us assume there was such a person.  Would he be physical or not physical?

Starchild:  What if he were not physical and beyond the reach of science?

M.D.:  Then you see, he couldn't be a cause as he is non-physical.  And if he is physical, then he has a body.  The idea that he recognizes, this idea would have to have a physical correlate in his body to be a cause of him doing something.  And the problem would simply recur.  The little man is not an explanation of anything.  It is a delusion.  There is no little man in our body.  There is no person in our body.

Starchild:  But what does that leave us with?

M.D.:  Clocks.  Mechanical systems of communication.  Wind them up and let them work. 

Starchild:  Oh dear.  (To be Continued.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013


In the history of the world/ there has never been a "true cosmology" that was ever anything more or anything less than . . . an anthropology.  (St. Augustine demonstrated this. . .)

Monday, September 2, 2013


Literature deals with the most difficult and important problems of existence/ and/ therefore/ litterateurs consider themselves the most important of people.  A bank clerk/ who is always handing money out/ might just as well consider himself a millionaire.  The high estimate placed upon the unexplained/ unsolved questions ought really to discredit writers in our eyes.  And yet these literary men are so clever/ so cunning at stating their own case and revealing the high importance of their mission/ that in the long run they convince everybody/ themselves most of all.  This last event is surely owing to their own limited intelligence.  The Roman augurs had subtler/ more versatile minds.  In order to deceive others/ they had no need to deceive themselves.  In their own set they were not afraid to talk about their secrets/ even to make fun of them/ being fully confident that they could easily vindicate themselves before outsiders/ in case of necessity/ and pull a solemn face befitting the occasion.  But our writers of to-day/ before they can lay their improbable assertions before the public/ must inevitably try to be convinced in their own minds.  Otherwise they cannot begin.

--Leo Shestov

Friday, August 23, 2013


Take the assertion that a noun sometimes can be said to refer to an object but that a conjunction never does.

No one would construe that statement for a scientific or a metaphysical assertion.

But if I said that if we pay careful attention/ that sometimes when I use a noun in a sentence we can see that it stands for an object/ but at other times/ no such object can be found (even though it is a noun).

It might sound as if I was making a scientific or metaphysical claim.  Like if I said that in order to use the verb "to think" meaningfully in a sentence/ there would have to be subject/ but that we might not be able to establish who the subject referred to.

The Stumbles of the Philosophers

You had it all backwards.

You wanted us to believe that the mind is the mirror of the world.

Instead/ it appears that the soul is the mirror of God.

Isn't the sensible always the best picture of the insensible?

Then how did you conceive very clearly and very distinctly that the invisible could picture what is visible?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

O Humanist! O Naturalist!

O Humanist! O Naturalist!

You trickster!  You say you have accomplished it/ have you?

You have succeeded at unmanning man without the need for a physical operation.

You have taken away his spirit. . .

You offer a spiritual circumcision/ not a physical one. . . as if this present era were the first time that had been tried. . .

And to whom do you offer this sacrifice?  Before the image of what?  For are you not the denier of images? After all/ if the image actually stands for something/ we can't very well say it is merely an appearance. . .

Is your offering a real sacrifice/ or is yours only an empty gesture?  But how could you of all people make a distinction here?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The King

In ancient times/ to have order/ you had to have a King.

The King brings order to the unruly kingdom.

But what is a king?  Its merely a role in a system of meaning.  There is nothing about the physical properties of a person that necessarily makes them fit to be king.  There have been tall kings and small kings and fat kings and skinny kings.  To be king/ you just have to be coronated by the right crowd.

The world still has a King.  He is called the second.

He is defined as follows:

the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.

The King is an arbitrary physical process.  But there is something special about the King: the subjects of the realm are forbidden from measuring how long this physical process takes.  We can measure every other physical process in the world/ but not our King.  Further/ if we want to measure any other physical process in the world/ we have to use the King (or one of his governors) to measure it.

With respect to all the other physical processes in the world/ we can construct testable hypotheses and theories relating to those physical systems.  We can't construct a testable hypothesis about our King.  He exists by definition: he is exactly one second.  He cannot be measured.  He exists outside the scientific description of nature.  But without our King/ there would be no kingdom/ no order in the world.

The King is the physical picture of Time.  He is an Icon.  The Word made Flesh.

Without the King/ we could not measure the temporal extension of physical processes.  Without the King/ we couldn't translate between a physical world and our mathematical symbolism.  Through him/ all empirically measurable things can be translated into a mathematical representation in time.

Don't worry.  Some day he will be deposed.  But then we will get a new King.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How to Find God

The expression of necessity can only be the form of an arbitrary rule.

A one-way sign tells us in what direction we have to go.  A mathematical rule tells us the results of the next number in the series.

There is no necessity in the world/ only in the grammar of our expressions.

Everything in the world can either be or not be.  Everything is possible. 

We observe and measure fragments of the world and we make generalizations.  Yet there are no real causes observable in nature.  The past is gone: it cannot act in the present.  We generalize from correlations based on repeated observations.  Yet in this process a mathematical structure is revealed.  Mathematics is not the language of the universe/ mathematics is a language that we invented.  However/ perhaps we can view the universe as an expression of mathematics?

If we are to regard the universe as the expression of a language/ then we are saying that the universe has a meaning.  If the universe has a meaning--even only a mathematical meaning--then there would have to be a source of that meaning.  Otherwise/ science is like attempting to crack a coded message/ only to find that it is not a code at all/ but random nonsense that the printer churned out.

But this is only a way of seeing the world/ not a scientific description.


An icon is a picture.  Icons cannot be said to be true or false.  They can be good or bad/ fitting or unfitting.

An icon is both similar to what it represents and dissimilar to what it represents.

For example/ a ray of light is an icon of the sun.  It is similar and dissimilar to the sun.

We can't talk about icons.  Unlike a sign/ the relationship between an icon and its object does not satisfy conditions of bivalence.  An icon can neither be said to be the same as its object/ nor can it be said to be different from its object.  A ray of light is not the sun nor is it other than the sun.  Icons are manifestations of their objects.

A world of icons is a world of contrast.  A world of signs is black and white.

Is it possible that certain things could only be shown?

The Sign

The Sign stands for an object.  The sign cannot stand for itself or it would not be a sign.

The "universe" cannot be a sign.  The sign for the universe would have to exist outside the universe.

If a scientist talks about the universe/ either she is not actually talking about the universe/ or her language does not signify.

What does not signify cannot be assigned a truth value.

There is no such thing as a theory of the universe.

The Universe

The Universe.

There can be no scientific account of the universe. 

Consider an experiment that might be conducted in any introductory physics class.  We have a block/ and a plane that we can expand to different angles.  The plane has equidistant lines along its surface.  We have a stop watch/ and a scale for measuring the angle of the plane.

Our stop watch blips at periodic intervals.  We set the plane at a particular angle/ say 30 degrees.  At each blip/ we observe and record the measured position of the block on the plane.  We run this experiment several times/ and we graph the results of the experiment in a two dimensional space/ one axis being time and the other being space.  It now looks like we have a mathematical picture of some isolated thing existing in "space and time."

But what does it mean for the particle to be at a particular location in space?  It means that it is at a particular place with reference to our ruler.  What does it mean for the block to be observed moving at a certain time?  It means that we observe the motion of the block with respect to our stop watch.  We compare one physical process/ the one we are measuring/ with another physical process that is not measured.

In any quantitative endeavor/ there always has to be a reference point by which we measure something.  If we are talking about time/ we need a clock/ and we have to take what the clock shows as being infallible.  If we are talking about space/ we need the functional equivalent of a meter stick.  We regard what the meter stick shows to be infallible.  We can never measure our standard in as much as we are treating it as the standard.

It is easy to be confused here.  I can measure the length of a meter stick/ and I can measure my clock/ for example/ how long it takes for the hour hand to move from one point to another point.  The clock could be fast or slow.  However/ if I measure my clock or my meter stick/ I must take another physical system to serve as an infallible standard of measurement.  When we say it is infallible/ this is not a statement about knowledge/ it is a statement about our attitude toward the measurement standard. 

Measurement presupposes a standard that cannot itself be measured.  It is defined a priori.  What is measured is measured with reference to the standard. 

A meter is defined as the length of the path traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299792458th of a second.  We cannot empirically determine how long that distance is/ it is a definition.  In order to apply the definition/ we require a clock that shows the correct time.   We cannot measure how long a physical process occurs within our clock: the clock tells time.  Because the clock tells time/ we can measure how long another physical process occurs by measuring it with reference to our clock.  In order to quantitatively define anything/ we have to define a physical paradigm by which we measure other things with respect to that aspect.  The physical paradigm cannot itself be measured.  The physical paradigm is not capable of empirical description.

We do not change our standards of measurement because they are shown to be wrong.  We change our standards of measurement because we develop other standards of measurement that are shown to be more precise.

When we measure something/ we give a description of the thing measured relative to the standard of measurement.  When we determine how long something is/ we determine the length in approximate ratio to the path light travels in a vacuum over a certain time interval as measured by an infallible clock (e.g. our paradigm clock).  When we give the time interval of a physical process/ we talk about the physical process in reference to another physical system/ our clock.

Quantitative science presupposes a normative system of measurement standards.  The standards of measurement cannot be described empirically.  They are defined.  Science can only deal with the relationship of the parts.  The idea of the universe/ conceived of as a unified physical process/ has no place in the scientific description.  I should want to say that if one can come to believe in the universe/ then belief in God should be no trouble.  He (or she) is the person standing outside the universe checking his metaphysical watch. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

I see a tree.  I can point to it.  You can also see it.  But you cannot see my seeing.  Nor can anything be pointed at outside of our seeing.

God can manifest in the world.  There is an experience I would like to call the experience of the presence of God.  Maybe you have had this experience?  May be not?

What does it mean to say that something exists?  Sometimes mathematicians say that they can prove that a solution exists to some mathematical problem.  If the philosopher says that they can prove the existence of God/ is this supposed to be the solution to the problem of life?  Could life be solved with a logical demonstration?

When scientists prove something exists/ they typically conduct experiments and try to measure some phenomenon.  Is there an experiment we could conduct that would prove the existence of God?

When religious people say that God exists/ can there be any doubt for them?  If there could be a doubt/ in what form could this doubt take?  Scientific?  Mathematical?  Isn't it true by definition?  God is that being that exists by definition?

How could something exist by definition?  Until 1960/ the standard meter existed in Paris.

Why do we regard the voice of our conscience as having authority?  From whence is this authority derived?  Empirical investigation?  Mathematical investigation?  You do have a conscience don't you. . .