Archives for category: physis

You cannot explore the limits of something without knowning what that something is.
You might not know how that thing works, or came to be, but you need to have at least some idea about what that thing is!

So, ‘What conscience is?’

Huh?!?

‘Cognitive function…’, ‘ability to tell right from wrong’, ‘self awareness’… you name it.
Rathern confusing, isn’t it?
Specially when you already had a clear idea about what the word used to mean… Or was that only an impression?!? An ilussion, actually?

Let me introduce you to my version of things.

Everything that surrounds us has a ‘discrete’ nature.

Both matter and energy are, ultimatelly, made of quanta.
Certain theoretical considerations suggest that time and space are multiple of Planck time and space units, respectivelly. Any lenght, in time and/or space, smaller than a Planck unit not having any sense. The argument being the facts that the speed of light is limited and that matter/energy itself (which fills the space and generates time) is of a discrete nature. As in ‘made of quanta’.

And this ‘discrete nature of things’ is visible at every level.

We have quanta, quarks and other elementary particles, atoms, molecules/crystals. And ‘objects’.
We have substances, membranes, cells, organisms, species. And individuals.

When our scientifically minded forefathers first tried to make some sense of what we had already learned about the world, they had come up with the notion of ‘states of matter aggregation’. Or ‘phases of matter’.
At first, there were three of them. Solid, Liquid and Gaseous.
Currently, we recognize five. Solid, Liquid, Gaseous, Plasma and Bose-Einstein Condensate. The first four are deemed to be ‘natural’ while the last is considered to have been ‘made by man’.

The main difference between them being the manner in which the components ‘stick’ to each other. The amount of force with which each of them interacts with its neighbors.
The same ‘level of internal interaction’ governs the way in which various ‘objects’ interact when they ‘meet’. Two clouds of gas interact differently than two bodies of water. Which interact differently than two rocks. Furthermore, a stream of gas interacts differently with a liquid than with a solid object. And so on….

My point being that the ‘phase of matter’ one object belongs to determines the manner in which that object interacts with its exterior.

‘OK, somewhat interesting but rather hard to follow… anyway, what has any of this to do with ‘conscience’?!?’

Given what I’ve already written, where would you put a living organism? In what ‘phase of matter’?
Is it solid? Liquid? Gaseous? Plasmatic?!? Or, given the fact that it contains all three ‘classic’ phases it’s closer to a Bose-Einstein condensate?

For lack of a better word, I consider ‘conscience’ to be a ‘state of matter aggregation’.

We’ve associated ‘being conscious’ with self awareness. With the human version of self-awareness… the one described by Humberto Maturana. ‘The learned ability to observe ourselves in the act of observing‘.
I suggest that we point our attention towards any other living organism. And notice that it acts as if it was aware of itself. It keeps its inside separate from the outside. It choses what to ingest. What of it to digest. And what to excrete. Sometimes even where to excrete. Then it passes the instructions according to which it had performed all these tasks towards the next generations.

Or would it be more suitable to consider ‘life’ itself as a ‘state of matter aggregation’? And consciousness as a property of life? As hardness is for solids and viscosity is for fluids/gases?

‘And what about ‘the discrete nature of things’? What has this to do with ‘conscience’?’

You see, I’ve just proposed ‘conscience’ as ‘state of matter’. That ‘phase’ where life takes place.
That place where individual organisms interact, among themselves and with their environment, attempting to survive. And to pass on the information contained in them.
We, humans, have taken ‘conscience’ to the next level. Our conscience is far more than the natural tendency to uphold the functionality of the individual organism. We observe ourselves in the act of observing. We set what is good, and bad, for us. We set goals.

Sometimes without being aware that our goals might hurt us.
The individual ‘us’.
And the collective us.
The collective us which makes us, individuals, possible.

Primum non nocere!

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3501646

Time is but the consequence of matter/energy interacting with itself.

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There was no time to speak about before matter divorced energy.

Nobody was actually aware of time passing by until we started counting Sun’s revolutions.

Earth turning round the Sun is matter interacting with itself.

We, humans, are a consequence of evolution. Of matter interacting with itself.

History – the times be bothered to record, is a consequence of human interactions.

Environment is the consequence of the living things interacting with the rest of the planet.
The current state of our ‘backyard’, the Earth, is, increasingly, the consequence of our interaction with the environment.

Time might be passing its own.
We used to count it.
Nowadays, we’re the ones driving it.

Resources, Time, Evolution.

Information, Learning, Revelation.

Opportunities, Experience, Self-Improvement.

Things, Structure, Understanding.

Limits, Interactions, Outgrowth.

Smells like The Dow Theory?
Because that was my starting point….

But we should not forget Abraham Maslow.
If you think of it, Maslow’s stages are nothing but the three thrusts up which define a bull market.
For an individual to be able to master the ‘self actualization’ phase, they need to have mustered enough resources, have had enough relevant social experience and to have ‘properly digested’ the information accumulated during the process.


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There’s a lot of dry wood in the forests around us. It stays there for a while. Only from time to time something happens that starts a fire.

Fill a room with a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen – at ‘room temperature’, and nothing happens. Strike a match and… you get a big noise and a little water. Don’t try this at home, you won’t live to tell the story. The noise is really big.

White phosphorus has to be kept under water. Whenever it gets in contact with humid air at a temperature above 30 degrees Celsius it starts to burn. And it cannot be extinguished in any other way than by submerging the whole thing under water.

Put a TNT stick (make sure it isn’t dynamite) into fire and it will simply burn. Fuse it properly and it will detonate whenever you ‘tell’ it to.

Let’s consider life now.

All the chemical elements, and a huge number of the organic molecules, which are the building blocks of any living organism have been around for eons while ‘life’ is a relatively recent occurrence.

Males and females – both animals and plants, roam around freely. Yet no offspring appears before something happens between a male and a female. This – the need for something to occur outside the individual organism, is valid also for bacteria – they need certain conditions to multiply, and viruses – which need the assistance of other, suitable, organisms.

Whenever conditions are right enough, sooner or later ‘life’ will surely appear. Or so it has happened all over our Earth. Till now, at least.

Whenever a living organism follows it’s normal set of instructions – its DNA remains fully functional, everything goes ‘as advertised’. If, by any reason, enough DNA is damaged beyond repair, the hell breaks loose. Being diagnosed with Cancer is enough to blow up even the most stable mind.

I’ve kept the most striking similitude for the last.
Both combustion and life continue only as long as certain conditions are met. Both need enough oxygen and fuel/nutrition.

There are also two big differences between them. One regarding ‘time’ – the successions of ‘moves’ which constitute the processes, and the other regarding ‘space’.

Combustion follows a set of pre-existing rules.  The chemical composition of the combustible might change the ignition temperature but that’s all it can do. Or it may add – as it’s the case for explosives, the possibility of detonation. But, again, both combustion and detonation follow a set of rules which are valid ‘across the board’. For all combustible and explosive substances.

On it’s turn, life follows two broad sets of rules. It has to obey all those which govern chemistry and physics – read combustion and detonation, and, on top of that, it has it’s own set of detailed instructions. Which vary from species to species.

I’ve left for the end the difference regarding ‘space’ because this one is very simple.

‘Combustion’ will extend all over the place where combustible is ‘continuous’, in a single ‘event’, while ‘life’ is, by definition, about finite organisms which multiply to make ‘good use’ of the available resources.
This being the reason for which combustion stops whenever the combustible available in an enclosed place is exhausted while life can resist a certain period of ‘famine’.

“….a combination of Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with a basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark…..”

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil”  Genesis 3:22

Light and Dark, Good and Evil… sets of two different things which exist by themselves but make no sense until somebody sees the difference between them.

A wall has two sides.
A room – four walls with a floor and a roof, determines an inside and an outside. Because the walls have two sides and because somebody built it.
A room is empty when nobody is inside it and ‘disappears’ when nobody remembers its existence. Even if its walls continue to stand …

Two points are distinct if there is some space between them.
Two points belong to the same line if the distance between them is full of other points.

Matter is discrete.
Even atoms, which have long been considered as impossible to be divided further, are constituted of smaller components. Electrons, protons, neutrons, … quarks… all the way ‘down’ to quanta …
All this discreteness is made possible by space.
Which simultaneously encompasses each of the discrete pieces of matter and separates them.

On the other hand, matter is discrete in yet another manner. In time.
Manny trees live longer than us and mountains last way longer than trees.
Yet nothing is forever. Nor have existed for always. Not our Sun nor even the small pieces which inhabit the subatomic world.
Each piece of everything comes into existence and decays into oblivion.
Each organism is born into this world and eventually dies – releasing its components for further use.
All this discrete becoming being made possible by time.
Which simultaneously encompasses and separates each event.

Similarly to the aforementioned room, neither matter, space or time makes any sense on its own. Not even together.
They might exist but they have no significance until noticed.

By us, by God…

There is an almost unanimous consensus about laws having to be considered either natural or man made.

As in the law of gravity is implacable – hence ‘natural’, while the Penal Code is a lot more ‘amenable’.

Yeah, right…

Then how come Hammurabi had been able to write his Code some three and a half Millennia before Newton famously noticed that apples do fall to the ground? Besides being such irresistible objects of temptation, of course.
One way out would be to assume that Hammurabi was a lot smarter than Newton but that would be too easy, don’t you think?

Now that I’ve mentioned the noticing game, let me point out some of my own observations.
People have tried to fly way before Newton had told them this is impossible – for us, at least.
Individuals might occasionally get away with murder but murderous societies are far less stable than the more peaceful ones.
Gravity has been already ‘defeated’ while no totalitarian government has yet managed to ‘stay afloat’ in a consistent manner – no matter how many dissidents it had murdered.

Another approach to this conundrum would be to consider that natural laws deal with the non responsive kind of chaos while man made ones are meant to approximate what happens when the chaos is able to respond to what’s being thrown in it.

For instance weather and financial market. No one can change the weather – hence it is considered a non-responsive kind of chaos, while the market is constantly pushed one way or another by the various pieces of information that reaches the participants. Which participants respond to those inputs – according to their own abilities and preferences, hence the ‘responsive’ character of the market.

So, could we consider that nature is non-responsively chaotic while humans behave equally chaotic but in a responsive manner?

The key word here being ‘we’, of course.
After all, we have coined the very concept of law, we are the ones speaking about the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘man made’ and we have discovered, formulated and eventually bent all laws… both natural and man made.

It seems that the whole situation is a lot foggier than at the begging.
That I’ve messed things up instead of making some sense of them…

Let me use another tack.

First of all, let me notice that we’re surrounded by ‘things’. And that these things relate to each other. And to us, of course.
From this point of view, the world is made of things AND of the relationships that appear amongst these things.

And here’s the catch. Laws are not things. They are a small part of the relationships that appear between the things that exist in this world. And since we’ve already discovered that there are a lot more things around us than we will ever be able to ‘see’/notice, it would be unreasonably to expect us to be able to notice all the relationships that ‘tie together’ the world.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

Returning to what we call ‘laws’, let me add yet another classification.

‘Noticed’ laws versus ‘pro-active’ laws.

In this sense ‘thou shalt not kill’, the Law of Gravity and ‘drive on one side only’ are, all three of them, ‘noticed’ laws. In the sense that things remain in order as long as we observe these laws.

On the other hand, pro-active laws are a lot more trickier.

‘Do this, do that’! …

‘Why?!?’

‘Because I know better AND/OR because I can make you obey my orders!’

While observing the noticed laws is essential in letting things flow naturally, imposing/accepting ‘pro-active’ laws is the recipe for disaster. Man made disaster.

We, humans, pride ourselves on many things.

On being smart/intelligent. And on being the only animals able to brag about their achievements with their peers…

But what is it that qualifies us as humans?
That would, of course, depend on what a human really is…

OK, let me use another tack.
What are we really good at? What sets us apart from the rest of the animals?

Practical intelligence? Our ability to solve really complicated problems?

Then watch this wild New Caledonian Crow treating itself to a piece of meat.

new Caledonian crow

Our ability to figure new meaning and to overcome our natural impulses?

Then read about Sheba the Chimp using language to suppress her greed:

In a celebrated study that investigated impulse control, Sally Boysen of Ohio State University asked chimps to choose between two dishes of M&Ms®.

SALLY BOYSEN: Now, you watch real carefully. We’re going to put one, two, three, four down here. Are you watching, Miss Priss? Sheeby? And we’re going to put two in here.

Give those to Sarah. Okay.

Well, I have to give these to Sarah, and Sheeba gets two. So Sarah gets four and Sheba only gets two. Aw, too bad.

NARRATOR: The twist was that the chimp got the candy she didn’t point to. Could the chimp learn to resist her impulse to reach for the bigger pile?

SALLY BOYSEN: You want Sarah to have these? It’s okay, it’s okay. You get to have that one. Yeah, Sarah gets five, and Sheba gets one. Oh, that is such a shame.

NARRATOR: Amazingly, chimps never overcame their greedy urges. They always reached for more and, so, ended up with less.

SALLY BOYSEN: And Sheba gets two, so Sarah gets four. See?

NARRATOR: Impulse studies have also been run on humans. In a classic experiment from the 1970s, a researcher gave a four-year-old a simple choice.

RESEARCHER : So, if you wait for me to get back, I’ll give you this bowl with all of these gummy bears, okay? But if you can’t wait, you can push that button, like this, and then I’ll come back and you can have this bowl with just this one gummy bear, okay? Okay, I’ll be right back.

NARRATOR: According to an inconclusive but intriguing study, the longer children resisted temptation, the higher their S.A.T. scores were years later. In any case, the differences between people are small compared to the gap separating humans and apes.

BRIAN HARE: Maybe one of the first things that happened during our species evolution is we became much less emotionally reactive. And maybe that’s one of the big differences that may explain why we solve problems so differently. We sort of got control of our emotions.

NARRATOR: Can apes be given skills to help them master their emotions? Sally Boysen trained a chimp to understand numerals. Then she repeated her M&Ms experiment, but now offered different pairs of numerals rather than treats.

SALLY BOYSEN: You want to give two to Sarah? Okay. Two goes to Sarah, and you get six.

NARRATOR: Remarkably, chimps were now able to learn what they couldn’t before: point to the smaller number to get the bigger prize.

Symbols can make you free. They can help distance an ape from its impulses. But outside of the lab, apes don’t seem to use symbols. Still, ape minds seem to share many of the amazing features of the human mind.

There is a video which depicts all this. Click on this link and see if it’s available “in your area.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/ape-genius.html.

How about our consciousness? Our ability to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘.
Well, that alone wouldn’t have made us any more special than an octopus…

self aware octopus

But what if our individuality resides in us having taken all three to ‘a different level’? One which hasn’t yet been attained by anybody else? Not necessarily higher, mind you!

I’ll deal with ‘trade’ now and I’m afraid you’ll have to come back for the rest.

‘Trade’ wasn’t even mentioned in those three examples?
What was the crow trying to do?
Feed itself? As in exchange matter with the ‘outside’?
What was Sheba trying to do?
Figure our what was going on? As in trading information with the surrounding world?

In this sense all living things are engaged in all forms of trading? And continue to do so for as long as they remain alive?
What did I tell you about us doing nothing really new? Only different?

OK, we had already figured out – long before Adam Smith described it as ‘division of labor’, that by dividing tasks amongst us we’ll be able to accomplish far more things than if we had attempted ‘individual autarky’. And then we had invented ‘trade’, as a manner of exchanging the different wares each of us was proficient in doing…
Wait! Even this is not really ‘new’!
Mother Nature had already invented sexual reproduction – a very extreme ‘division of labour’, a very long time ago…. but not before bacteria were already adept at ‘trading’ genetic information.

 

 

ouroboros

Ever since people have become aware of their own awareness philosophers have entertained opposing views as to what is more important: matter or soul.

The materialists point out that everything, including us, is made of matter and, hence, nothing would be possible without it while the idealists maintain that everything that exists is nothing but a projection of our own thoughts.

As an engineer who had designed (material) objects before actually building them I find it strangely rewarding that both these fiercely opposing sides are, simultaneously, right.

Just as we are simultaneously made of flesh and animated by souls.

If you disagree, just pinch yourself.
Now tell me, ‘did it hurt?’.
Who felt it? Your flesh or your soul?
And who’s able to meditate about the whole experience? How come are we not only able to feel things but also to think about them? Then to communicate, efficiently, among ourselves about our relatively different experiences?
Surely, there must be something shared amongst us, something that constitutes not only a medium for our communication but also a common base for our experiences.

I’m going to use ‘reality’ to designate that commonality, irrespective of the fact that reality is a two tiered thing.

A material reality, something that exists per se – according to its own, natural, set of laws, and a social reality, something that we, the people, have agreed upon – either willingly or by omission to protest, efficiently, against it.

These two tiers of reality are no longer independent.

In fact they have never been. The social reality has grown, as a bud, ‘on top’ of the material reality. And this has happened according to an opportunity enshrined in the natural laws that govern the very existence of the material reality.

Now, after its birth, social reality has started to alter the material one.
In two ways.
By developing an ever more sophisticated understanding of the inner workings we gradually discover inside the material realm and, subsequently, by using various aspects of that (inherently limited) understanding in order to effect voluntary change.

I’m going to make a brief pause here.
Social reality is a human construct, one that came to life fueled by our own volition and shaped by the sum of the choices we’ve made during our entire history.
The mere fact that we are also ‘animals’ – and have changed the world around us by our mere, and long time unwitting, existence, is something else. Related to our social existence but nevertheless different from it.

What I’m trying to say is that by coming of age – by becoming aware of our own awareness, we are currently adding a third dimension to that Ouroboros thing.
The ‘serpent’ has been ‘eating its tail’ from the very beginning of the world. New stars have been born from the dust left after the older ones have exploded and decaying organic matter is what used to feed our crops until a few short years ago – and still does for the organic farmers.
But now, that we’ve become aware of the entire process – and of our contribution to it, we are in a position to influence its direction.

We can turn it into a vicious or a virtuous circle.

Which will it be?

who needs what

And please, please, don’t make this confusion.
People do, as for now at least, need ‘nature’ in order to lead what we call/feel to be a normal life.
But nature also somehow needs us. Otherwise it wouldn’t have allowed us to become what we are today.

Until now, during our development, we haven’t broken, not significantly at least, any natural laws. Otherwise we wouldn’t have reached this stage – according to Ernst Mayr’s interpretation of  Darwin’s teachings, anyway.
Evolution is not about the survival of the fittest but about the demise of the unfit.
We’re not dead yet, are we?

Let’s keep it that way, lest we’re gonna be replaced.

Fast.

 

20090421-ceci-nest-pas-une-pipe-rene-magritte

As a child I was introduced to the chicken and egg paradox by my grandmother – a very wise woman, despite (because?!?) the fact that she had very little formal education.

As I grew up I found out that even the adults are passionate about it. Just Google it if you don’t believe me. Last time I checked the search engine had come up with 26 million (26 000 000 000) entries….

Then I was introduced to a slightly more interesting version of it.
Who is responsible for what is going on around us.
“Who created the World”, that is.

Apparently we have three three camps.

The theists, of various denominations – some of whom would cut each-other’s throats attempting to convince the ‘others’ that their God is the true one, believe that an outside agent is wholly responsible for the ‘Big-Bang’ and all its consequences. Or, at least, for ‘jump-starting’ the process.
The atheists, some of whom are ‘rabid’ enough to be as obnoxious as some of the theists, who blame it all on Lady Luck.
And the agnostics, like myself, who cannot make their minds one way or another.

Now, and I hope you won’t mind, I’m going to enumerate some facts.

  • We, the humans, are the ones who came up with the Big-Bang theory.
    Which is nice. It offers a generous canvas on which we might eventually thread a lot of ‘science’, but doesn’t, in any way, shape or form, offer even the slightest opportunity for the most imaginative amongst us to propose the flimsiest hypothesis about what started the whole process.
    Hence those of us who follow a far longer tradition feel free to consider that a Divine interference is the sole rational explanation. For everything that hasn’t yet a ‘scientifically proven’  one. As if science ever offered us a definitive answer to anything…
  • The Big Bang Theory was initially devised by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre, as yet another attempt to understand God’s ways.
  • No matter what the various prophets and religious teachers have told us, all books – including the ‘holy’ ones – have been written by people. They might have been inspired by (a ?!?) God, there is no way of telling what happened in the minds of the writers, but all those books have been written by human hands.
  • We, the humans, are the ones who consider this problem to be a very important one.

So important, in fact, that even a newspaper otherwise busy with economic and political issues occasionally looks (up ?!?) at it.

In its Christmas Day edition the Wall Street Journal published “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God” by Eric Metaxas.
Basically he author tells us the story of how Sagan started the hunt for ‘Extraterrestrial Intelligence’ and how the seemingly simple task ended up in a cul-de-sac.
While Good Old Carl thought “that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star” in time “our knowledge of the universe increased” and “it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed”.
So many in fact that some of us, Eric Metaxas included, now believe that “Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here”.

In this context I’d like to bring to your attention the words uttered by Lord Kelvin in 1895 – by that time already elected president of the Royal Society: “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”

“Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about us existing here.”

Do you see the pattern?

The usual claptrap, because something can’t be explained, it must be God.” (Mark Baxter’s comment on my FB wall) Or outright impossible, I might add, following Lord Kelvin’s example.

In other words ‘if WE cannot figure it out then it either doesn’t exist or has been made by God’.

But who made ‘God’ in the first place? And why?

Are we even aware that what we call ‘God’ is nothing but an image?
I’m not going to delve far into such intricacies like reminding you that no Orthodox Jew would ever pronounce the ‘true’ name of God but this is a powerful indication that our Elders were aware of the difference between reality and our ability to figure it out.

So why do we keep making this mistake? Why do we still try to ‘invent’ an ‘outside agent’ whenever we don’t have enough information about how something came to be?

That outside agent might very well exist, of course. Someplace, ‘out there’…. Or not. For all we know some things might happen just by pure chance. However improbable that might seem. To us!

We cannot determine, as of now at least, either way.

Then why insist? Any way?

Some of you will tell me, quite appropriately,  that ‘believing’ has brought us where we are now.
That ‘faith’ has guided us through the dark nights when we would have otherwise lost our hope. That following the ‘ten commandments’ has kept us from killing each-other much more ‘passionately’  than we’ve done it.

But now that we’ve understood what religion has done good for us, what’s keeping us from behaving ‘as if’?
Without ‘God’, or whatever name you want to use for the reality that harbors us at its bosom, having to ‘strike’ us down from time to time?

 

 

Petre Anghel, Bookfest 2014 Bucuresti. Lansarea Istoriei politice a literaturii romane postbelice.

Petre Anghel, Bookfest 2014 Bucuresti.
Lansarea Istoriei politice a literaturii romane postbelice. RAO, 2014

Sunt multe feluri de profesori.

Unii stiu aproape tot dar nu sunt in stare sa comunice cu elevii lor.
Unii sunt atat de convinsi ca le stiu pe toate incat nu sunt in stare sa inteleaga ca asa ceva nu se poate.
Unii au realizat ca nu stiu nimic si se chinuie de o viata intreaga sa ascunda acest lucru.

Altii stiu ca niciodata nu le poti sti pe toate dar ca aceasta imposibilitate nu e nici pe departe un motiv valabil pentru a renunta.
Altii stiu ca singurul lucru pe care il poate face cu adevarat un profesor este sa se imparta, cu generozitate si cu buna credinta, celor din jurul sau.
Altii au inteles ca adevarul iese, mai devreme sau mai tarziu, la iveala si de aceea umbla tot timpul cu sufletul in palma.

Multumesc.