Sunday, November 20, 2005

Pure State

One can prove things within a tautology: Pythagoras’ theorem, for example. But tautologies have no necessary bearing on the world of experience. Natural languages, such as English, have tautological aspects, but they are not tautologies. things can be argued in a natural language, but never proved. Today’s evidence can be refuted by tomorrow’s, ditto testimony, arguments ...

The world of experience has few to no pure states. We glibly talk about vacuums; but we know of no pure vacuums in nature, and we certainly have none in labs. So we settle for some threshold of emptiness: and call it a vacuum. The moderator calls for a show of hands; but no angels show those gathered x rays into all the dungeons of the universe to prove that no one is being help captive, with his hand tied down.

Under the law gold alloy of a certain refinement is sold as "pure gold." If it were really pure, you could do little with it, form no rings, no coins, merely watch it become impure: all by itself.
(Nothing in the universe is ever "by itself"; everything in the universe is always in the universe. The gold is in an environment which interacts with it.)

Any culture abuses truth with its customs of what can pass for "pure." Once upon a time if the theater offered "butter" on the popcorn, one could expect it to be butter: processed, but from a cow. With artificials, the theater could give you anything it wanted and call it butter. Then the law-makers step in: and the theater can sell you corn oil as butter, but not soy oil. "Fresh" at the supermarket means not frozen and defrosted more than a dozen times.
I’m sure the store knows how many times the product has been deliberately frozen and thawed and refrozen, but does it have any idea of how many times it’s been inadvertently thawed, inadvertently frozen?

The great modern philosopher, Wittgenstein, was conspicuous for not taking philosophy too literally.
I know that that’s a tree, says A.
B says to C, My friend isn’t insane:
We’re just doing philosophy.
Wittgenstein knew how seriously to take testimony. Ask a guy if he’s ever been to the moon.
Are you sure?
Yes. Never.
You mean you’ve never slept? You’re perfectly, infallibly, conscious each and every nanosecond? God, or some demon, or some UFO, couldn’t have taken you to the moon while you slept?
This string of associations was sparked in my head the other day by a string of associations pk and bk were batting back and forth by email. Considerations of Shays’s Rebellion, and of the Whiskey War, had us talking, always in relation to anarchism, ideas of government, property, taxation; on distinctions between internal and external taxation: taxing imported booze versus taxing the products of private stills. bk was bothered by impurities in Thoreau’s anarchism: when T. dismissed some fuss over taxes.
I recognized the problem, the more so because of bk’s activities of recent years, but advised against being too bothered by it. Efforts at philosophical purity could lead to excesses such as we have seen with efforts at racial purity. We’re all mutts. Accept it.
I no longer worry so much even over the purity of my sainthood. Though the question remains: are you 99.9% sin and still calling yourself a saint? or are you 99.9% saint and still calling yourself a sinner?

Blah, blah, which brings me to today’s association: censorship.
The conservative challenges the liberal to a debate: on censorship. The conservative rents the theater and invites the liberal to go first. While the liberal is blahing against censorship, the conservative drops a screen and stars displaying, porn, then kiddie porn, then snuff films. Finally the liberal abandons the podium and rushes the screen, pulling it down.
I rest my case, says the conservative.
We have laws against censorship. Hell, it’s in the constitution. But we practice it. I can run for office promising to practice it better, but why should anyone believe me? I can also promise to hold my breath for eight minutes; but I’d be a fool to bet on it.

The Constitution offers what we interpret as freedom of conscience, as freedom of speech ... So then why do universities still blather about academic freedom? Is academic freedom somehow more free than a Constitutional guarantee? Or are both guarantees of the same kind as the guarantee you get from the car salesman, the clothing salesman, the beer brewer? Has there ever been a university that didn’t squelch this idea while it was promoting that idea? Ignore the university’s testimony on the subject.

Has there ever been a church that admitted messages from its god that didn’t reflect the prejudices of the elders? Sure the god can say old things, things approved by the elders, but can the god say anything new? Can’t the elders shush the young theologian as they wish?

The university can stack its faculty with its brand of secular theologians; but the culture can always trump the university: make them sign a loyalty oath.
In Heller’s Catch-22 officers who’d already taken oaths to get their commissions had, during the waxing hysteria, to take additional loyalty oaths: at the mess hall, if they wanted to eat.

As always, I'm branching off before I've hit all my targets. I'll just stick stuff here and maybe reweave the whole later: two things:

Censorship:The schools, the media, teach us the Bill of Rights. Therefore, we think that we actually have them, not just on parchment, but in fact. Any college freshman though will tell you that freedom, no censorship, does not extend to shouting Fire in a crowded theater.
Now we're back to pure gold again. If a statement needs qualifications from lawyers, from college students, from a special class of experts ... forget it. You're talking bullshit in the first place. Political science is politics; not science.

Institutions:How we use our institutions -- our government, our universities, our churches -- to convince ourselves of our lies.
Just yesterday I posted this to my InfoAll blog:Institutions magnify our natural tendency to confuse map with territory. We think the word is the thing, the actor is the character. On top of that old established and bloated institutions can milk the confusion. Gathering together for hymns, the church encourages our deception that we're godly, spiritual; not thieves living on stolen land with the royalties for our ideas largely unpaid.
And this:Institutions structure and channel a society's illusions, especially its self-deceptions. We have laws, therefore we must be lawful. We have a Justice Department, therefore we must be just. Having a Defense Department proves that we're safe.

Churches prove that we're spiritual, schools that we are learned.

They prove it: if the proved-to are as naive as a typical audience at a typical magic show. But the magician said that the box the coin disappeared into was an ordinary box, he said he had nothing up his sleeves ...

See? If we're fooled by our own lies, then God must be fooled too. If we tell God we're innocent, he has to believe us, doesn't he? And if we say we're sorry, he has to forgive us. So we can all get into heaven: whole, with our stolen ideas, deeding our stolen lands.

The museum is very careful to show the provenance of the Van Gogh: donated by Mrs. Eli Watkins. The scholar at the university cites his college at the other university. Still: God knows, and we all know: Van Gogh didn't get paid. Mrs. Watkinds can't have owned it. And it doesn't matter if Professor Smith credits Professor Jones if both are hoarding water that nature gave to everything.
We know not to trust the testimony of the accused: why do we trust the testimony of the cop? of the judge? of the expert? Are we in any real respect different from the people who called for Jesus to be crucified?
Don’t care about Jesus? OK, fine. Are we in any real respect different from the people who called for Socrates to pour hemlock in his ear? Didn’t we all sit with our thumb up our ass while Reich’s books were burned? while Leary was hounded from Harvard?
While pk was interrupted at NYU?

I iterate: whatever you say is true of the society, I challenge you. I challenge you to stand with me in an open boat on an open ocean during the lightning blitz. If I get fried, so what? If you get fried, will your seconds admit that I might have been right?
Uhh ... pk, What if you both get fried?

PS Re: Shouting Fire, triggering panic: Part of the problem is our facile confidence that complex issues can be handled by one-dimensional slogans. "No censorship" skips over too many problems. Then again these things are problems only in a hierarchical, centrally administered authority. Scientists studying emergent behaviors in decentralized systems are saying some very interesting and revealing things these days. Mitchel Resnick, for example, suggests that while for birds to flock together and fly in "formation," while there is no commander bird who keeps screaming "Fly in a Vee, a big damn Vee," the flocking may result from something as simple as the instruction pair: "Get close to another bird"; "Don’t bump into it."
Now note: a positive instruction is paired with a negative instruction: Do, Don’t. (And of course the instructions are in the genes, not in the politics.) I intend to keep my eyes open for additional Positive/Negative pairings.

No comments: