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"onsense" - To Alan And Paul, But Others Are Welcome

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Posted by Aurino Souza on January 8, 2002 15:42:42 UTC

Hi Paul, Alan

I'm afraid you guys misinterpreted my quote. Luis Hamburgh certainly did as it was not meant to be funny. I'm often guilty of assuming people can read between the lines, please apologize my lack of clarity. Let me explain myself better.

Not long ago I realized something very important about the deceptive nature of language. It's something quite simple but extremely difficult for people to acknowledge as they usually think their knowledge amounts to everything they can express with words, mathematics, diagrams, or any other means of symbolic expression. To deny the power of the symbols would seem to them to deny the truth of their knowledge, which is not really the case.

Consider the following sentence, which I quoted in the other post:

" There are no differences but differences of degree between different degrees of difference and no difference "

Now I doubt that even the most skeptical person in the world is capable of looking at that sentence and do not, even if for a split second, think that perhaps it might contain some truth. When you look at it the first impression you get is that you are reading something profound. Close examination soon reveals it's just meaningless garbage, but the fact remains that until we can see why it's garbage we are impressed by it. Now let me show you something interesting: if we rewrite the phrase just a bit we can see something very particular about it. All I'll do is replace "no difference" with "similarity", and "between different" with "comparing". Look what happens:

" [There are] similarities and differences of degree comparing degrees of difference and similarity "

Got it? I believe the reason everyone is attracted to the sentence at first is because everyone can instantly recognize, but not necessarily become aware of the fact, that the sentence is ... a palindrome! This is more than just a curious note, because it reveals a cognitive phenomenon that seems universal among people: what attracts us to an idea is not its meaning or correctness, but simply its aesthetic value, its beauty. Of course we often reject beautiful ideas as soon as we realize they have no meaning or are dead wrong, but the problem is, how long does it take? Some ideas are rejected right away. Many, I'm afraid, are currently accepted as great truths and it will still take a long time for people to realize their true meaninglessness.

So my point to Alan is, if you really want people to read your posts, the first thing you have to take care of is their appearance. Even if what you are talking about is true, you must keep in mind that it's not truth that attracts people, it's beauty. Second, you must make sure that what you are talking about has meaning to people, otherwise they will dismiss your ideas as soon as they tire of their beauty. Ah, but the really important point is this: make sure you are not being dazzled by the beauty you perceive in your own ideas. This, I found, is the single greatest source of confusion in a person's mind, their (our) inability to tell the difference between aesthetical value and logical correctness. So, careful with your own thoughts, they are the most dangerous to you simply because you trust them too much.

By the way, this is exactly what attracts me to Dick's work. I see it as a very clever logico-mathematical example of what I just tried to communicate. His paper is completely meaningless, it's page after page, equation after equation, of absolutely nothing which manages to appear very "beautiful". And the reason very few people understand him is because he's not trying to make a point, he's trying to un-make one. Trying to understand Dick's work is like trying to understand the palindrome above, or a Zen koan, you only really understand it when you realize there's nothing to be understood.

Oh, and the same applies to most of "modern physics".

Have fun everyone,


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