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Sorry, Another Long Note!

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Posted by Richard D. Stafford, Ph.D. on July 23, 2003 23:59:41 UTC

Hi Mike,

Sorry about the length of my note. I try to make myself clear and often fail miserably. That is one of the reasons I continue to post. The interpretation people put on what I say often astonishes me. I am trying to learn how to state my thoughts so that they can be understood. One problem is that many of the things which to me are obvious are not obvious to others at all. The problems I see in the underpinnings of physics aren't even addressed by any "good physicists". My perspective is so different from theirs that there is roughly no possibility at all that they will discover what I have discovered.

I do not understand your comment " That sounds like a sure sign of problems, don't you think? " Are you referring to problems in my paper or problems in my dealing with the physics community? Problems dealing with the physics community I admit. I worked on my Ph.D. during the sixties, a time when student rebellion against authority was epidemic. I suppose being, in many ways, one of the flower children of the sixties I did little to engender cooperation from authorities. We were all a rather self impressed collection.

At that time, I never dreamed that no one would ever read my work. You know, that pearls before swine thing. I always presumed someone would eventually take the trouble to read it.

My comment about "interesting philosophical issues" was really not an appropriate comment. You lack the information to understand where my particular issues stand. What I show, if you were able to follow my paper, is that absolutely any collection of information can be seen as obeying physics. That physics itself is a tautology, the results being a derivable result of the definitions themselves.

The philosophical issue goes to communication. If indeed our only contact with reality is through our subconscious, then it is possible that the universe you live in is not at all similar to the one I live in. All our communications are filtered through a mechanism capable of transforming anything into a pattern obeying physics. What I am getting at is that our apparent agreements themselves may be illusions.

Let me say that, in my mind, it is very possible that difficulties in communications exist beyond those considered by the current accepted scientific perspective. We presume a lot more than we think we presume. When you say, "in essence, the reason people feel pain is because they do, period", I think you have missed a subtle point. I only insert that only as an opinion and please don't take it as a dismissal of your perspective.

Everyone's ability to understand is extremely limited, in some ways more limited than they can conceive. Communication of an alien idea is by far the single most difficult thing to achieve. I will admit that I am a very strange person and my thoughts are often far askew of the norm. Let me explain one very strange perspective and how I arrived at it.

When I was in the third grade, a very significant event occurred. The teacher told us that it was against the rules to use a word in its own definition. At the time, in my head, I wondered about the problem of a definition containing a word I didn't know. In that case, if I looked up the second word, and its definition contained the first word, the dictionary would be violating the rule (maybe not technically, but at least logically). It made sense that the circular nature of a dictionary had to turn up eventually.

I was curious as to how far one had to go before that circular nature showed up. (Remember, I was only a small child and really didn't comprehend the size of the problem I had presented myself.) I went to the dictionary in the front of the room to check the question out. Since, in my child's head, it made no difference what word I started with, I started with the first word in the dictionary. I was quite astounded by what I found: the entry was "a: the first letter of the alphabet, a pronoun ...".

My reaction to that discovery was, to me, very natural although I suspect no one else would have reacted the way I did. You must understand that as a child, I thought adults intentionally lied to children in order to train them to avoid gullibility; that is quite different from thinking adults are ignorant or lied to them out of malice. I just presumed that the teacher had thrown us a gullibility check; why else would she make a statement so easy to prove erroneous. I went back to my desk, pleased as punch that I had avoided being gullible (a rare success in my mind, I had tried very hard to avoid gullibility from the age of three - another long story). I never said a word to anyone as I thought that would be "letting the cat out of the bag". I just proudly presumed the teacher and I were on the same page.

However, the experience did set me off along another chain of thought: "if the dictionary could not be the source of meanings for words, how did we come to know what words mean?" It should be clear to you that dictionaries are mere records of knowledge and not a source in themselves. For example, consider "linear a" or "linear b" cuneiform tablets (I know one of the two has never been translated). We could have a dictionary in our hands at this very moment and never even know it!

I came to the conclusion many years ago that we learn what words mean by guessing. We choose a meaning which makes the usage of that word make sense to us. Now this is a process which takes place at a subconscious level; none of us used logic to set up our basic vocabulary. Rather, we "intuitively" comprehended what was meant by these words. Now many people hold that "intuition" is nothing more than a guess which is certainly consistent with what I have just said; however, I hold that "intuition" is much more than a mere guess.

From my perspective, I see my subconscious as some unexplained phenomena which discovers solutions to problems I can not even state on a conscious level. Understanding language is just the first example of such an "intuitive solution" to an almost incomprehensible problem (I will come back to language later). Most of the problems central to surviving are solved in a "intuitive manner": we "know" what the solution is without understanding how it was achieved. Consider the problem of hitting a basket while running at full tilt across a basketball court under pressure from the opposing team. No basketball player analyzes the physics of the trajectory of the ball, he intuitively knows exactly how to do it but I would not call what he does "guessing".

In the same vein, being a physicist, I have always been fascinated with the complex coordinated performance of squirrels. Far above the ground, they bound from one swaying branch to another sometimes many many feet away (often in a wind) and I have yet to see one fall. I know they "know" no physics and yet they solve physics problems in less than a second which are almost beyond stating analytically. On the other hand, I have often seen them make serious mistakes when confronted with the problem of crossing the street in traffic. I have come to call the decisions made via the mechanisms I believe to be behind the squirrels behavior "squirrel decisions". Any decision made because "it feels like the right thing to do intuitively" is what I call a "squirrel decision". The control of your body required to hit a basket from half way across the ball court requires what I would categorize as "squirrel decisions". I firmly believe that all decisions may be divided into two very different categories: the first I call "squirrel decisions" and the second I call "logical decisions".

The difference between "squirrel decisions" and "logical decisions" are very important and the realms where they should be used are very different. "Squirrel decisions" are accomplished by our subconscious and how they are accomplished is at present very poorly if at all understood. But we can say some very important things about "squirrel decisions"! It is quite clear that they take into account more information than can be even considered on a conscious level and, when it comes to day to day survival skills, "squirrel decisions" have by far a considerable advantage over "logical decisions".

Anyone who attempts to run their life on logical decisions is a complete idiot. As I think Buddha has said, "conscious thought is the source of all evil". As I have said many many times, when it comes to the important things in life, do what you feel is the "right" thing to do, don't try to analyze what you ought to do; the probability that you will omit some important factor is usually overwhelming. Go with your "squirrel decisions". Millions and millions of years have honed the performance of that mechanism and , if your life depends on the results of a decision, going with your intuition is the best bet you can make. It may not turn out to be the "best" decision but at least you know you did the "right" thing.

The other possible means of making a decision can be called a "logical decision". The advantage of a "logical decision" is that you can be confident it is correct. The steps required to make a logical decision can be examined in your conscious mind and can thus be analyzed for possible errors. The disadvantage of a "logical decision" is that the conscious mind can only hold a very small amount of information. The disadvantage of "squirrel decisions" is that you cannot be confident it is correct. Right most of the time is no proof of validity at all.

As a consequence of the above, logic is of very little value to survival and examples of inherent use of logic are hard to find. Logic is so limited in its primitive applicability that the real life use of logic is almost worthless. However, there is one thing which provides a mechanism for extending the usefulness of logic. That thing is what is called a tautology. In order to comprehend a tautology and what it provides to conscious thought, we must return to language.

Language is the fundamental basis of communication. It is a solution to a very complex problem provided by our subconscious. How to express what you are thinking is most definitely a collection of "squirrel decisions". Tautologies are a particular subset of language (statement of exactly the same thing in different words). The one and only time that the correctness of a squirrel decision can be completely relied upon is when it can be shown to be a tautological result of a small number of basic facts. That is true because, if it is tautological, each step in the tautological development can be examined for correctness on a conscious level. The procedure does not require holding a vast amount of information in the conscious mind and thus is subject to logical analysis.

I personally see mathematics as a vast and complex tautology. The individual pieces may be concepts arrived at through "squirrel decisions" but the whole can be relied on to conform to logic. We may not have personally checked the logic of every step in that tautology but anyone trained in mathematics has examined enough of those steps to be convinced that they conform to "logical decisions". Thus it is that only through tautology can the realm of "logical decisions" come to provide a reasonable basis for an important decision. In the final analysis, there are even real life circumstances where, through the extensions provided by "tautological" language, a "logical decision" can be superior to a "squirrel decision". (Am I strange or am I strange?)

Now, if you understand my having divided all decisions into the two categories (logical decisions and squirrel decisions) you should be able to understand the division of thought I have made in my head. "Inside my head", so to speak, there exist two explicitly separate mechanisms. That part which makes the "squirrel decisions", which I refer to as my subconscious and is far outside my conscious ability to comprehend, and that part which makes the "logical decisions", which I refer to as my conscious mind.

Thus it is that in my mental model of my mind, all the information I have available to think about consciously comes from my subconscious. I personally (my conscious mind) has no contact with reality at all. The only contact I have is via the illusions created by my subconscious. Whatever reality is (and such a thing must exist or the value of the word vanishes), certainly my subconscious stands as a barrier between me and reality. Now, even if the illusion created by my subconscious is a valid model of reality, I still know it is an illusion and, as a conscious entity, I can not perceive what is really going on.

I suspect that the import and meaning of that last statement will elude you. If one accepts for the moment that the model of reality created by my subconscious is valid (realizing of course that there exists no proof of that) then the image I see of the monitor before me is actually on the retina of my eye (or is actually a collection of nerve pulses going to my brain or perhaps actual activity in my brain). However, try as I can, I cannot perceive it so consciously. My conscious perception is that there is a monitor about two feet ahead of me. It follows that, even accepting my subconscious solution to "what reality is" my only contact with reality is an illusion created by my subconscious. I can not perceive any of the supposed real activity in my brain even when diligently informed of it's truth!

From this perspective, the experiences of my conscious mind can not be anything except illusions created by my subconscious. To say the perceptions are real and not illusion is simply an inconsistent way of representing the circumstances. It is much more rational to represent the subconscious as being some sort of powerful translating mechanism which lies between your conscious mind and reality. Any model capable of explaining reality must include the function of that translating mechanism.

So, I will repeat exactly what I said in my last note:
"The driving force of my analysis is the fact that the explanation of our senses is part and parcel of any explanation of the universe. My general complaint about science is their (what I think is improper) treatment of illusion. The standard approach is to presume that everything they sense is real unless they can prove it is an illusion. Since the explanation of our senses is open until we have a totally valid explanation of everything, it seems only proper to keep the issue of illusion open: i.e., presume everything is an illusion until we can prove otherwise.

The standard scientific position is that the given sense-data cannot be illusory and that they are the starting point for all scientific investigation. This position makes the assumption that the subconscious has made a correct translation of the aspects of reality which brought about the illusions it presents to your conscious mind. I, on the other hand, hold that reality consists of something out there which, after being processed by your subconscious, yields the illusion you perceive to be reality. What is important here is that my perspective includes alternate explanations of your subconscious whereas yours presumes that collection of "squirrel decisions" which created your perception of reality is correct.

As I have pointed out earlier, powerful as they may be, the one flaw in "squirrel decisions" is that they can be wrong! The standard attack fails to take that aspect of the problem into account. I think that the objective and factual existence of mental sensations is disputable and that failure to consider the issue is a fatal flaw in the thinking of others.

I have read your note "on a side issue" and I have no complaints with your comments. Mike Pearson is, of course, correct. I did indeed see some of the comments of others when not logged in. I am sorry you are laid up in bed. If you are still interested in my thoughts, you might check out some of the audacious things I have to say on my web site. You might start with

Have fun -- Dick

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