Mga Archive ng Tag: Pilosopiya

Richard Feynman — Magkano Maaari Malaman namin?

Buksan namin ang aming mga mata, makikita natin ang mundo, malaman namin ang mga pattern. Theorize namin, gawing pormal; naming gamitin at rationality at matematika upang maunawaan at ilarawan ang lahat ng bagay. Magkano namin talaga malalaman, bagaman?

Upang ilarawan kung ano ang ibig kong sabihin, hayaan mo akong gumamit ng pagkakatulad. Hinihiling kong Ako ang nasa imahinasyon upang makabuo ng mga ito, ngunit ito ay Richard Feynman sinong gumawa. Siya ay, sa pamamagitan ng ang paraan, sapat quirky upang ihambing physics gamit ang sex.

Magpatuloy sa pagbabasa

Ang Tao bilang Chinese Room

Sa mga nakaraang post sa seryeng ito, tinalakay namin kung paano nagwawasak Chinese Room argumento Searle ay ang mga premise na ang ating talino mga digital na mga computer. Nagtalo niya, medyo convincingly, na halos simbolo pagmamanipula hindi maaaring humantong sa mayayaman unawa na mukhang namin upang masiyahan. Gayunpaman, Tinanggihan ko bang maging kumbinsido, at nakitang tugon nang higit pa kapani-paniwala ang tinatawag na mga system. Ito ay ang counter-argument na nagsasabi na ito ay ang buong Chinese Room na naunawaan ang wika, hindi lamang sa operator o simbolo pusher sa kuwarto. Searle laughed off ito, ngunit nagkaroon pati na rin ng seryosong tugon. Sinabi niya, "Hayaan akong maging ang buong Chinese Room. Hayaan akong kabisaduhin ang lahat ng mga simbolo at mga panuntunan simbolo pagmamanipula sa gayon ay maaari ko bang bigyan ang Chinese mga sagot sa mga tanong. Hindi ko pa rin maintindihan Chinese. "

Ngayon, na itinaas ni isang kawili-wiling tanong - kung alam mo sapat na simbolo Tsino, at Chinese panuntunan upang manipulahin ang mga ito, Hindi mo talaga alam Tsino? Siyempre maaari ka isipin ang isang tao kawalan ng kakayahang pangasiwaan ang tama ng isang wika nang walang pag-unawa ng salita ng ito, ngunit sa palagay ko na lumalawak ang imahinasyon ng kaunti Masyadong malayo. Ako ay mapaalalahanan ng bulag paningin eksperimento kung saan ang mga tao ay maaaring makita nang hindi alam ito, walang pagiging sinasadya ng kamalayan sa kung ano ito ay na sila ay nakikita. Punto tugon Searle sa parehong direksyon - kawalan ng kakayahang makipag-usap Chinese nang hindi pag-unawa ito. Ano ang Chinese Room ay kulang sa panahon ay ang nakakamalay kamalayan sa kung ano ang ginagawa nito.

Upang hanaping mabuti ng kaunti mas malalim sa ito debate, mayroon kaming upang makakuha ng isang bit pormal tungkol sa Syntax at semantics. Wika ay parehong syntax at semantika. Halimbawa, isang pahayag tulad ng "Pakibasa ang aking mga post sa blog" ay ang syntax na nagmula sa mga grammar ng wikang Ingles, simbolo na mga salita (syntactical mga placeholder), mga titik at bantas. Sa tuktok ng lahat na syntax na, mayroon itong nilalaman - ang aking pagnanais at kahilingan na basahin mo ang aking mga post, at paniniwala sa aking background na alam mo kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng mga simbolo at ang nilalaman. Iyon ang semantic, ang kahulugan ng pahayag.

Ang isang computer na, ayon sa Searle, Maaari lamang haharapin ang mga simbolo at, batay sa mga symbolic pagmamanipula, makabuo ng syntactically tama tugon. Hindi nito maunawaan ang semantiko nilalaman ng ginagawa namin. Ito ay hindi kaya ng pagsunod sa aking kahilingan dahil sa kanyang kawalan ng pag-unawa. Ito ay sa puntong ito na ang mga Chinese Room na hindi maunawaan ang mga Tsino. Hindi bababa sa, na claim sa Searle ni. Dahil ang mga computer ay tulad ng Chinese kuwarto, hindi nila maunawaan semantic alinman sa. Ngunit ang aming talino maaari, at samakatuwid ang utak ay hindi maaaring maging isang galos lamang computer na.

Kapag inilagay na paraan, Sa tingin ko karamihan ng mga tao ay bumaling Searle. Ngunit paano kung ma aktwal na sumunod ang computer na may mga kahilingan at mga utos na bumubuo sa semantiko nilalaman ng pahayag? Sa tingin ko kahit na pagkatapos namin ay malamang na hindi isaalang-alang ang isang computer ganap na may kakayahang semantiko-unawa, na ang dahilan kung bakit kung ang isang computer na aktwal na nakasunod sa aking kahilingan na basahin ang aking mga post, Maaaring hindi ko mahanap ito intellectually nagbibigay-kasiyahan. Ano kami ay hinihingi, oo naman, ay malay. Ano ang higit pa maaari naming hilingin ng isang computer upang kumbinsihin sa amin na ito ay may malay-tao?

Hindi ko magkaroon ng isang magandang sagot sa na. Ngunit sa tingin ko mayroon kang mag-aplay pare-parehong pamantayan sa ascribing malay sa mga entity panlabas sa iyo - kung naniniwala ka sa pagkakaroon ng iba pang mga isip sa mga kawani na tao, kailangan mong itanong sa iyong sarili kung ano ang mga pamantayan apply ka sa darating sa na konklusyon, at tiyakin na inilapat mo ang parehong pamantayan sa mga computer pati na rin. Hindi ka maaaring bumuo ng mga paikot-ikot na kondisyon sa iyong pamantayan - tulad ng iba ay may mga tao na katawan, kinakabahan system at isang anatomya tulad ng gagawin mo ito na na mayroon sila pati na rin isip, na kung saan ay kung ano ang ginawa Searle.

Sa palagay ko, ito ay pinakamahusay upang maging bukas-isip tungkol sa mga naturang katanungan, at mahalagang hindi upang sagutin ang mga ito mula sa isang posisyon ng hindi sapat na lohika.

Isip bilang Machine Intelligence

Prof. Searle ay marahil pinaka sikat para sa kanyang patunay na computing machine (o pagkukuwenta gaya ng nilinaw sa pamamagitan ng Alan Turing) Maaari kailanman maging matalas ang isip. Gumagamit ang Kanyang patunay kung ano ay tinatawag na Chinese Room na argumento, na nagpapakita na lamang simbolo pagmamanipula (na kung saan ay kung ano ang kahulugan ng pag-on ng mga pagtutuos ay, ayon sa Searle) Hindi maaaring humantong sa pang-unawa at kaalaman. Samakatuwid ang aming talino at pag-iisip ay hindi maaaring galos lamang mga computer.

Ang argument napupunta tulad nito - ipinapalagay Searle ay naka-lock up sa isang room kung saan nakakakuha siya input naaayon sa mga katanungan sa Chinese. Siya ay may isang hanay ng mga panuntunan upang manipulahin ang mga simbolo ng pag-input at piliin ang isang simbolo ng output, higit sa isang computer gumagana. Kaya siya ay lumalabas na may Chinese tugon na lokohin labas hukom sa paniniwala na ang mga ito ay nakikipag-ugnayan sa isang tunay na Tsino speaker. Ipagpalagay na ito ay maaaring gawin. Ngayon, dito ay ang linya pamutas - Searle ay hindi malaman ng isang salita ng Chinese. Hindi niya ay alam kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng mga simbolo. Kaya lamang batay sa panuntunan simbolo pagmamanipula ay hindi sapat upang magarantiya ang katalinuhan, malay, -unawa atbp. Pagpasa sa Turing Test ay hindi sapat upang magarantiya ang katalinuhan.

Isa sa mga counter-arguements na nakita akong pinaka-kagiliw-giliw na ay kung ano ang tawag Searle ang argumento systems. Ito ay hindi Searle sa Chinese room na naiintindihan ng Tsino; ito ay ang buong sistema kabilang ang Ruleset na ginagawa. Searle laughs off ito sinasabi, "Ano, ang kuwarto Naiintindihan ng Tsino?!"Sa tingin ko ang mga merito sistema ng argumento higit na na mapanukso pagpaalis. Mayroon akong dalawang mga sumusuportang argumento pabor sa mga sistema ng tugon.

Ang unang isa ay ang punto na ginawa ko sa nakaraang post sa seryeng ito. Sa Problema ng Iba pang mga isip, Nakita namin na sagot ni Searle sa tanong kung ang iba ay may mga isip ay mahalagang sa pamamagitan ng pag-uugali at pagkakatulad. Iba pa kumilos na parang mayroon silang mga isip (sa na sumisigaw ang mga ito out kapag pindutin namin ang kanilang hinlalaki sa isang martilyo) at ang kanilang mga panloob na mga mekanismo para sa sakit (nerbiyos, utak, neuronal firings atbp) katulad sa amin. Sa kaso ng mga Chinese kuwarto, ito ay tiyak na behaves na parang ito naiintindihan ng Tsino, ngunit wala itong anumang analogs sa mga tuntunin ng bahagi o ng mga mekanismo tulad ng isang Tsino speaker. Ito ba ay ang break sa pagkakatulad na pumipigil Searle mula sa pagtatalaga ng katalinuhan dito, sa kabila ng intelligent na pag-uugali nito?

Ang pangalawang argumento tumatagal ang form ng isa pang pag-iisip eksperimento - sa tingin ko ito ay tinatawag na Chinese Nation argument. Ipagpalagay natin na maaari naming atang ang gawain ng bawat neuron sa utak Searle na ang isang tao na nagsasalita ng di-Ingles. Kaya kapag nakakarinig Searle ng tanong sa Ingles, ito ay aktwal na pinamamahalaan ng trillions ng mga di-Ingles na nagsasalita ng Computational elemento, na bumuo ng ang parehong tugon bilang kanyang mga utak ng gagawin. Ngayon, kung saan ay ang wikang Ingles pag-unawa sa Chinese Nation ng di-Ingles na nagsasalita ng mga tao na kumikilos bilang neurons? Sa tingin ko isa ay magkakaroon upang sabihin na ito ay ang buong "bansa" na naiintindihan ng Ingles. O gusto Searle tumawa ito off ang sinasabi, "Ano, ang bansa Naiintindihan Ingles?!"

Mahusay, kung ang Chinese bansa maintindihan Ingles, Sa tingin ko maintindihan ang Chinese kuwarto Tsino at pati na rin. Pag-compute sa galos lamang simbolo pagmamanipula (na kung saan ay kung ano ang ginagawa ng mga tao sa bansa) maaari at hindi humahantong sa kaalaman at pag-unawa. Kaya aming talino ay tunay na computer, at pag-iisip ng software ng pagpapatakbo ng mga simbolo. Samakatuwid Searle ang mali.

Tingnan, Ginamit ko ang Prof. Argumento Searle at ang aking counter argumento sa seryeng ito bilang isang uri ng dialog para sa dramatic effect. Ang katotohanan ng bagay ay, Prof. Searle ay isang world-kilalang pilosopo na may mga nakamamanghang kredensyal habang Ako ay kalat-kalat sa blogger - isang biyahe-sa pamamagitan ng pilosopo sa pinakamahusay na. Sa tingin ko ako ay apologizing dito upang Prof. Searle at ang kanyang mga mag-aaral kung makita nila ang aking mga post at komento nakakasakit. Hindi nito ay nilayon; lamang ng isang kawili-wiling nabasa ay nilayon.

Problema ng Iba pang mga isip

Paano ko malalaman mo iba pang mga tao ay may mga isip tulad ng iyong ginagawa? Maaaring ito tunog tulad ng isang uto tanong, ngunit kung papayagan mo ang iyong sarili mag-isip tungkol dito, ikaw ay mapagtanto na wala kang mga lohikal na dahilan upang maniwala sa pagkakaroon ng iba pang mga isip, siyang dahilan kung bakit ito ay isang walang lutas problema sa pilosopiya – ang problema ng Iba pang mga isip. Upang ipakita – Ako ay nagtatrabaho sa na-project Ikea ang iba pang mga araw, at pagmamartilyo sa na kakaiba dalawang ulo ng kuko-turnilyo-stub thingie. Naiwan ako ito ganap at pindutin ang aking hinlalaki. Nadama ko ang mga masakit na masakit sakit, ibig sabihin ng aking isip nadama ito at ko sumigaw. Alam ko Mayroon akong isip dahil nakaramdam ako ng sakit. Ngayon, sabihin nating makita ako ng isa pang bozo pagpindot ng kanyang hinlalaki at umiiyak out. Pakiramdam ko ay walang sakit; ang isip pakiramdam walang (maliban sa isang bit ng makiramay sa isang magandang araw). Ano ang positibong lohikal na batayan mayroon akong mag-isip na ang pag-uugali (umiiyak) ay sanhi ng sakit nadama sa pamamagitan ng isip?

Ayos lang sa iyo, Hindi ako nagmumungkahi na ang iba ay walang isip o malay - hindi pa, kahit. Lamang ako ng pagturo out na walang lohikal na batayan upang maniwala na ang kanilang ginagawa. Logic tiyak ay hindi lamang ang batayan para sa paniniwala. Faith ay isa pang. Kalutusan, pagkakatulad, masa maling akala, pagtuturo ng doktrina, peer presyon, likas na hilig atbp. ang lahat ng mga batayan para sa paniniwalang ang parehong tunay at huwad. Naniniwala ako na ang iba ay may mga isip; kung hindi man ako ay hindi mag-abala sa pagsusulat ng mga post sa blog. Ngunit Ako ay keenly ng kamalayan na wala akong mga lohikal na pagbibigay-katarungan para sa partikular na paniniwala.

Ang mga bagay tungkol sa problemang ito ng iba pang mga isip ay tumutulong ito ay profoundly walang simetrya. Kung naniniwala ako na hindi mo na kailangang isang isip, ito ay hindi isang isyu para sa iyo - alam mo na ako mali sa sandaling marinig mo ito dahil alam mo na ikaw ay may isang isip (sa pag-aakala, oo naman, gawin mo). Ngunit kailangan kong gawin magkaroon ng isang seryosong usaping ito - walang paraan para sa akin upang atakihin ang aking paniniwala sa di-pagkakaroon ng iyong isip. Maaari mong sabihin sa akin, oo naman, ngunit pagkatapos ay Gusto ko sa tingin, "Oo, na kung ano mismo ay isang program walang kahulugan robot sasabihin!"

Ako ay nakikinig sa isang serye ng mga aralin ang konsepto ng pag-iisip sa pamamagitan ng Prof. John Searle. Siya "malulutas nito" ang problema ng iba pang mga isip sa pamamagitan ng pagkakatulad. Alam namin na mayroon kami ng parehong pangkatawan at neurophysical wirings bukod pa sa kahalintulad na pag-uugali. Kaya namin "kumbinsihin" ang ating mga sarili na mayroon kami sa lahat ng isip. Ito ay isang mahusay na argumento kasing layo ng pumupunta dito. Ano bothers sa akin tungkol dito ay ganap na bilang nito - ano nagpapahiwatig ito tungkol sa pag-iisip sa mga bagay na naka-wire na naiiba, tulad ng ahas at lizards at isda at slug at ants at bakterya at mga virus. At, oo naman, machine.

Puwede machine mayroon isip? Ang sagot dito ay sa halip walang kuwenta - siyempre maaari nilang. Kami ay biological machine, at mayroon kaming mga isip (sa pag-aakala, muli, gawin mo guys). Puwede computer ay may isip? O, higit pa patulis, Maaaring aming talino na mga computer, at isipan na software na tumatakbo sa ito? Iyon ay kumpay para sa susunod na post.

Talino at Computer

Mayroon kaming perpektong parallel sa pagitan ng talino at mga computer. Madali naming isipin ng utak ng hardware at isip o diwa ng software o mga operating system. Magagalak kaming mali, ayon sa maraming mga philosophers, ngunit sa palagay ko pa rin nito na paraan. Hayaan akong outline ang nakapanghihimok na pagkakatulad (ayon sa akin) bago pagkuha sa pilosopiko paghihirap kasangkot.

Marami ng kung ano ang alam namin sa mga workings ng utak ay nagmumula sa sugat pag-aaral. Alam namin, para sa mga pangyayari, na nagtatampok tulad ng paningin Kulay, mukha at object pagkilala, -detect ng motion, produksyon at pag-unawa sa wika ay kinokontrol ang lahat ng mga pinasadyang mga lugar ng utak. Alam namin na ito sa pamamagitan ng pag-aaral ang mga taong nagdusa naisalokal pinsala sa utak. Ang mga functional na mga tampok ng utak ay napaka pareho sa computer na yunit ng hardware dalubhasa sa graphics, tunog, pagkuha ng video atbp.

Pagkakatulad ay mas higit pang kapansin-pansin na kapag isinasaalang-alang namin na ang utak ay maaaring bumawi para sa pinsala sa isang espesyal na lugar sa pamamagitan ng kung ano ang hitsura tulad ng software simulation. Halimbawa, ang mga pasyente na nawalan na ng kakayahan na makita ang paggalaw (isang kondisyon normal na tao ay magkakaroon ng isang hard oras appreciating o pagkilala sa mga may) maaari pa ring magpakilala na ang isang bagay ay sa paggalaw sa pamamagitan ng paghahambing sunud-sunod ng mga snapshot ng ito sa kanyang isip. Ang pasyente na walang kakayahan upang sabihin sa mukha ang distansya ng dati, minsan, mahinula na ang tao sa paglalakad patungo sa kanya sa isang pre-isagawa ang mga lugar sa tamang oras ay marahil ang kanyang asawa. Ang ganitong mga pagkakataon bigyan kami ng mga sumusunod na kaakit-akit na larawan ng utak.
Utak → Hardware sa Computer
Malay → Mga Operating System
Isip-andar → Mga Programa
Mukhang isang lohikal at kapansin-pansin na larawan sa akin.

Ang kaakit-akit na larawan, gayunman, ay malayo masyadong simplistic sa pinakamahusay na; o lubos na maling sa pinakamalala. Ang pangunahing, pilosopiko problema sa ito ay na ang utak mismo ay isang representasyon iginuhit sa canvas ng malay-tao at ang isip (na kung saan ay nagbibigay-malay muli constructs). Ito hindi maarok walang katapusan na pagbabalik ay imposible upang i-crawl out sa. Ngunit kahit na hindi pansinin namin ito pilosopiko pagtagumpayan, at tanungin ang ating mga sarili kung talino ay maaaring computer, mayroon kaming malaking problema. Ano ang mga eksaktong kami nagtatanong? Puwede aming talino na computer hardware at mga isip na software na tumatakbo sa mga ito? Bago humihiling sa naturang katanungan, mayroon kaming na magtanong parallel tanong: Puwede computer magkaroon ng kamalayan at kaalaman? Puwede nilang isip? Kung nagkaroon sila isip, paano namin malalaman?

Higit pang mga sa panimula, kung paano ang kilala mo kung ang ibang tao ay may isip? Ito ang tinatawag na Problema ng Iba pang mga isip, na kung saan ay namin talakayin sa susunod na post bago magpatuloy upang isaalang-alang computing at malay.

Nakakakita at paniniwala

Kapag binuksan namin ang aming mga mata at tingnan ang ilang bagay, nakita namin na damn bagay. Ano ang maaaring maging mas kitang-kita kaysa sa, karapatan? Sabihin nating ikaw ay tumitingin sa iyong aso. Ano ang nakikita mo ay talagang iyong aso, dahil, kung nais mong, maaari mong maabot ang out at hawakan ito. Barks ito, at maaari mong marinig ang woof. Kung stinks ito ng kaunti, maaari mo itong amoy. Ang lahat ng mga dagdag na perceptual mga pahiwatig corroborate iyong paniniwala na kung ano ang nakikita mo ay ang iyong aso. Direktang. Walang mga katanungan nagtanong.

Oo naman, aking trabaho sa blog na ito ay upang magtanong, at nagsumite ng mga pagdududa. Una, nakikita at hinahawakan ay tila na maging isang bit iba mula sa pandinig at amoy. Hindi mo na mahigpit na marinig ang iyong mga aso bark, maririnig mo ang tunog nito. Katulad nito, hindi mo ito direktang amoy, amoy mo ang masarap na amoy, ang kemikal trail ang aso ay umalis sa hangin. Pandinig at amoy tatlong perception lugar — ang aso ay bumubuo ng tunog / masarap na amoy, ang tunog / amoy paglalakbay sa iyo, perceive mo ang tunog / masarap na amoy.

Ngunit nakikita (o hinahawakan) ay isang bagay dalawang lugar — ang aso doon, at sa iyo ito dito perceiving direkta. Bakit na? Bakit sa tingin namin na kapag nakita o pindutin ang isang bagay namin, direkta ito pakiramdam namin? Ang paniniwala sa perceptual katotohanan ng kung ano ang nakikita namin ay tinatawag na walang muwang pagiging totoo. Ng kurso namin malaman na nakikita ay nagsasangkot ng liwanag (kaya ginagawa hinahawakan, ngunit sa isang higit na mas kumplikado paraan), kung ano ang nakikita namin ay ang liwanag na nakalarawan off ang isang bagay at iba pa. Ito ay, sa katunayan, hindi naiiba mula sa pandinig ng isang bagay. Ngunit ito kaalaman ng mga mekanismo ng nakikita ay hindi baguhin ang aming natural, commonsense view na iyon kung ano ang nakikita namin ay kung ano ang out doon. Nakakakita ng ay paniniwalang.

Extrapolated mula sa walang muwang bersyon ay ang pagiging totoo pang-agham, kung saan ihinahayag na ang aming pang-agham konsepto ay tunay rin, eventhough maaaring hindi namin direktang perceive ang mga ito. Kaya atoms ay tunay na. Electron ay tunay na. Quarks ay tunay na. Karamihan sa aming mga mas mahusay na mga siyentipiko ang nagkaroon ng may pag-aalinlangan tungkol sa extraploation sa aming paniwala ng kung ano ang tunay na. Einstein, Marahil ang pinakamahusay na ng mga ito, pinaghihinalaang na kahit na espasyo at oras ay maaaring hindi tunay. Feynman at Gell-Mann, pagkatapos ng pagbuo ng teoryang sa mga electron at quarks, ipinahayag kanilang view na mga electron at quarks ay maaaring maging mathematical constructs kaysa sa tunay na mga entity.

What I am inviting you to do here is to go beyond the skepticism of Feynman and Gell-Mann, and delve into Einstein’s words — space and time are modes by which we think, not conditions in which we live. The sense of space is so real to us that we think of everything else as interactions taking place in the arena of space (and time). But space itself is the experience corresponding to the electrical signals generated by the light hitting your retina. It is a perceptual construct, much like the tonality of the sound you hear when air pressure waves hit your ear drums. Our adoption of naive realism results in our complete trust in the three dimensional space view. And since the world is created (in our brain as perceptual constructs) based on light, its speed becomes an all important constant in our world. And since speed mixes space and time, a better description is found in a four dimensional Minkowski geometry. But all these descriptions are based on perceptual experiences and therefore unreal in some sense.

I know the description above is highly circular — I talked about space being a mental construct created by light traveling through, get this, space. And when I speak of its speed, naturally, I’m talking about distance in space divided by time, and positing as the basis for the space-time mixing. This circularity makes my description less than clear and convincing. But the difficulty goes deeper than that. You see, all we have is this cognitive construct of space and time. We can describe objects and events only in terms of these constructs even when we know that they are only cognitive representations of sensory signals. Our language doesn’t go beyond that. Well, it does, but then we will be talking the language, for instance, of Advaita, calling the constructs Maya and the causes behind them Brahman, which stays unknowable. Or, we will be using some other parallel descriptions. These descriptions may be profound, wise and accurate. But ultimately, they are also useless.

But if philosophy is your thing, the discussions of cognitive constructs and unknown causations are not at all useless. Philosophy of physics happens to be my thing, and so I ask myself — what if I assume the unknown physical causes exist in a world similar to our perceptual construct? I could then propagate the causes through the process of perception and figure out what the construct should look like. I know, it sounds a bit complex, but it is something that we do all the time. We know, for instance, that the stars that we see in the night sky are not really there — we are seeing them the way they were a few (or a few million or billion) years ago because the light from them takes a long time to reach us. Physicists also know that the perceived motion of celestial objects also need to be corrected for these light-travel-time effects.

In fact, Einstein used the light travel time effects as the basis for deriving his special theory of relativity. He then stipulated that space and time behave the way we perceive them, derived using the said light-travel-time effects. This, of course, is based on his deep understanding that space and time are “the modes by which we think,” but also based on the assumption that the the causes behind the modes also are similar to the modes themselves. This depth of thinking is lost on the lesser scientists that came after him. The distinction between the modes of thinking and their causation is also lost, so that space and time have become entities that obey strange rules. Like bent spoons.

Photo by General Press1

Deferred Satisfaction

The mother was getting annoyed that her teenaged son was wasting time watching TV.
“Son, don’t waste your time watching TV. You should be studying,” she advised.
“Why?” quipped the son, as teenagers usually do.
“Well, if you study hard, you will get good grades.”
“Yeah, so?”
“Then, you can get into a good school.”
“Why should I?”
“That way, you can hope to get a good job.”
“Why? What do I want with a good job?”
“Well, you can make a lot of money that way.”
“Why do I want money?”
“If you have enough money, you can sit back and relax. Watch TV whenever you want to.”
“Well, I’m doing it right now!”

What the mother is advocating, of course, is the wise principle of deferred satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if you have to do something slightly unpleasant now, as long as you get rewarded for it later in life. This principle is so much a part of our moral fabric that we take it for granted, never questioning its wisdom. Because of our trust in it, we obediently take bitter medicines when we fall sick, knowing that we will feel better later on. We silently submit ourselves to jabs, root-canals, colonoscopies and other atrocities done to our persons because we have learned to tolerate unpleasantnesses in anticipation of future rewards. We even work like a dog at jobs so loathesome that they really have to pay us a pretty penny to stick it out.

Before I discredit myself, let me make it very clear that I do believe in the wisdom of deferred satisfaction. I just want to take a closer look because my belief, or the belief of seven billion people for that matter, is still no proof of the logical rightness of any principle.

The way we lead our lives these days is based on what they call hedonism. I know that the word has a negative connotation, but that is not the sense in which I am using it here. Hedonism is the principle that any decision we take in life is based on how much pain and pleasure it is going to create. If there is an excess of pleasure over pain, then it is the right decision. Although we are not considering it, the case where the recipients of the pain and pleasure are distinct individuals, nobility or selfishness is involved in the decision. So the aim of a good life is to maximize this excess of pleasure over pain. Viewed in this context, the principle of delayed satisfaction makes sense — it is one good strategy to maximize the excess.

But we have to be careful about how much to delay the satisfaction. Clearly, if we wait for too long, all the satisfaction credit we accumulate will go wasted because we may die before we have a chance to draw upon it. This realization may be behind the mantra “live in the present moment.”

Where hedonism falls short is in the fact that it fails to consider the quality of the pleasure. That is where it gets its bad connotation from. For instance, a ponzi scheme master like Madoff probably made the right decisions because they enjoyed long periods of luxurious opulence at the cost of a relatively short durations of pain in prison.

What is needed, perhaps, is another measure of the rightness of our choices. I think it is in the intrinsic quality of the choice itself. We do something because we know that it is good.

I am, of course, touching upon the vast branch of philosophy they call ethics. It is not possible to summarize it in a couple of blog posts. Nor am I qualified enough to do so. Michael Sandel, on the other hand, is eminently qualified, and you should check out his online course Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? if interested. I just want to share my thought that there is something like the intrinsic quality of a way of life, or of choices and decisions. We all know it because it comes before our intellectual analysis. We do the right thing not so much because it gives us an excess of pleasure over pain, but we know what the right thing is and have an innate need to do it.

That, at least, is the theory. But, of late, I’m beginning to wonder whether the whole right-wrong, good-evil distinction is an elaborate ruse to keep some simple-minded folks in check, while the smarter ones keep enjoying totally hedonistic (using it with all the pejorative connotation now) pleasures of life. Why should I be good while the rest of them seem to be reveling in wall-to-wall fun? Is it my decaying internal quality talking, or am I just getting a bit smarter? I think what is confusing me, and probably you as well, is the small distance between pleasure and happiness. Doing the right thing results in happiness. Eating a good lunch results in pleasure. When Richard Feynman wrote about The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, he was probably talking about happiness. When I read that book, what I’m experiencing is probably closer to mere pleasure. Watching TV is probably pleasure. Writing this post, on the other hand, is probably closer to happiness. At least, I hope so.

To come back my little story above, what could the mother say to her TV-watching son to impress upon him the wisdom of deferred satisfaction? Well, just about the only thing I can think of is the argument from hedonism saying that if the son wastes his time now watching TV, there is a very real possibility that he may not be able to afford a TV later on in life. Perhaps intrinsically good parents won’t let their children grow up into a TV-less adulthood. I suspect I would, because I believe in the intrinsic goodness of taking responsibility for one’s actions and consequences. Does that make me a bad parent? Is it the right thing to do? Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

My Life, My Way

After almost eight years in banking, I have finally called it quits. Over the last three of those years, I had been telling people that I was leaving. And I think people had stopped taking me seriously. My wife certainly did, and it came as a major shock to her. But despite her studied opposition, I managed to pull it off. In fact, it is not just banking that I left, I have actually retired. Most of my friends greeted the news of my retirement with a mixture of envy and disbelief. The power to surprise — it is nice to still have that power.

Why is it a surprise really? Why would anyone think that it is insane to walk away from a career like mine? Insanity is in doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Millions of people do the same insanely crummy stuff over and over, everyone of them wanting nothing more than to stop doing it, even planning on it only to postpone their plans for one silly reason or another. I guess the force of habit in doing the crummy stuff is greater than the fear of change. There is a gulf between what people say their plans are and what they end up doing, which is the theme of that disturbing movie Revolutionary Road. This gulf is extremely narrow in my case. I set out with a bunch of small targets — to help a few people, to make a modest fortune, to provide reasonable comfort and security to those near. I have achieved them, and now it is time to stop. The trouble with all such targets is that once you get close to them, they look mundane, and nothing is ever enough for most people. Not for me though — I have always been reckless enough to stick to my plans.

One of the early instances of such a reckless action came during my undergraduate years at IIT Madras. I was pretty smart academically, especially in physics. But I wasn’t too good in remembering details like the names of theorems. Once, this eccentric professor of mine at IIT asked me the name of a particular theorem relating the line integral of the electric field around a point and the charge contained within. I think the answer was Green’s theorem, while its 3-D equivalent (surface integral) is called Gauss’s theorem or something. (Sorry, my Wikipedia and Google searches didn’t bring up anything definitive on that.) I answered Gauss’s theorem. The professor looked at me for a long moment with contempt in his eyes and said (in Tamil) something like I needed to get a beating with his slippers. I still remember standing there in my Khakki workshop attire and listening to him, with my face burning with shame and impotent anger. And, although physics was my favorite subject (my first love, in fact, as I keep saying, mostly to annoy my wife), I didn’t go back to any of his lectures after that. I guess even at that young age, I had this disturbing level of recklessness in me. I now know why. It’s is the ingrained conviction that nothing really matters. Nothing ever did, as Meursault the Stranger points out in his last bout of eloquence.

I left banking for a variety of reasons; remuneration wasn’t one of them, but recklessness perhaps was. I had some philosophical misgivings about the rightness of what I was doing at a bank. I suffered from a troubled conscience. Philosophical reasons are strange beasts — they lead to concrete actions, often disturbing ones. Albert Camus (in his collection The Myth of Sisyphus) warned of it while talking about the absurdity of life. Robert Pirsig in his epilog to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance also talked about when such musings became psychiatrically dangerous. Michael Sandel is another wise man who, in his famous lectures on Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? pointed out that philosophy could often color your perspective permanently — you cannot unlearn it to go back, you cannot unthink a thought to become normal again.

Philosophy and recklessness aside, the other primary reason for leaving the job was boredom. The job got so colossally boring. Looking out my window at the traffic 13 floors below was infinitely more rewarding than looking at the work on my three computer screens. And so I spent half my time staring out the window. Of course, my performance dwindled as a result. I guess scuttling the performance is the only way to realistically make oneself leave a high-paying job. There are times when you have have to burn the bridges behind you. Looking back at it now, I cannot really understand why I was so bored. I was a quantitative developer and the job involved developing reports and tools. Coding is what I do for fun at home. That and writing, of course. May be the boredom came from the fact that there was no serious intellectual content in it. There was none in the tasks, nor in the company of the throngs of ambitious colleagues. Walking into the workplace every morning, looking at all the highly paid people walking around with impressive demeanors of doing something important, I used to feel almost sad. How important could their bean-counting ever be?

Then again, how important could this blogging be? We get back to Meursault’s tirade – rien n’avait d’importance. Perhaps I was wrong to have thrown it away, as all of them keep telling me. Perhaps those important-looking colleagues were really important, and I was the one in the wrong to have retired. That also matters little; that also has little importance, as Meursault and my alter ego would see it.

What next is the question that keeps coming up. I am tempted to give the same tongue-in-cheek answer as Larry Darrell in The Razor’s Edge — Loaf! My kind of loafing would involve a lot of thinking, a lot of studying, and hard work. There is so much to know, and so little time left to learn.

Photo by kenteegardin

Everything and Nothing

I once attended a spiritual self-help kind of course. Toward the end of the course, there was this exercise where the teacher would ask the question, “What are you?” Whatever answer the participant came up with, the teacher would tear it apart. For instance, if I said, “I work for a bank as a quantitative finance professional,” she would say, “Yeah, that’s what you do, but what are you?” If I said, “I am Manoj,” she would say, “Yeah, that’s only your name, what are you?” You get the idea. To the extent that it is a hard question to answer, the teacher always gets the upper hand.

Not in my case though. Luckily for me, I was the last one to answer the question, and I had the benefit of seeing how this exercise evolved. Since I had time, I decided to cook up something substantial. So when my turn came, here was my response that pretty much floored the teacher. I said, “I am a little droplet of consciousness so tiny that I’m nothing, yet part of something so big that I’m everything.” As I surmised, she couldn’t very well say, “Yeah, sure, but what are you?” In fact, she could’ve said, “That’s just some serious bullshit, man, what the heck are you?” which is probably what I would’ve done. But my teacher, being the kind and gentle soul she is, decided to thank me gravely and move on.

Now I want to pick up on that theme and point out that there is more to that response than something impressive that I made up that day to sound really cool in front of a bunch of spiritualites. The tininess part is easy. Our station in this universe is so mindbogglingly tiny that a sense of proportion is the one thing we cannot afford to have, if we are to keep our sanity — as Douglas Adams puts it in one of his books. What goes for the physical near-nothingness of our existence in terms of space also applies to the temporal dimension. We exist for a mere fleeing instant when put in the context of any geological or cosmological timescale. So when I called myself a “little” droplet, I was being kind, if anything.

But being part of something so vast — ah, that is the interesting bit. Physically, there is not an atom in my body that wasn’t part of a star somewhere sometime ago. We are all made up of stardust, from the ashes of dead stars. (Interesting they say from dust to dust and from ashes to ashes, isn’t it?) So, those sappy scenes in sentimental flicks, where the dad points to the star and says, “Your mother is up there sweetheart, watching over you,” have a bit of scientific truth to them. All the particles in my body will end up in a star (a red giant, in our case); the only stretch is that it will take another four and half billion years. But it does mean that the dust will live forever and end up practically everywhere through some supernova explosion, if our current understanding of how it all works is correct (which it is not, in my opinion, but that is another story). This eternal existence of a the purely physical kind is what Schopenhauer tried to draw consolation from, I believe, but it really is no consolation, if you ask me. Nonetheless, we are all part of something much bigger, spatially and temporally – in a purely physical sense.

At a deeper level, my being part of everything comes from the fact that we are both the inside and the outside of things. I know it sounds like I smoked something I wouldn’t like my children to smoke. Let me explain; this will take a few words. You see, when we look at a star, we of course see a star. But what we mean by “see a star” is just that there are some neurons in our brain firing in a particular pattern. We assume that there is a star out there causing some photons to fall on our retina and create neuronal firing, which results in a cognitive model of what we call night sky and stars. We further assume that what we see (night sky and star) is a faithful representation of what is out there. But why should it be? Think of how we hear stuff. When we listen to music, we hear tonality, loudness etc, but these are only cognitive models for the frequency and amplitude of the pressure waves in the air, as we understand sound right now. Frequency and amplitude are very different beasts compared to tonality and loudness — the former are physical causes, the latter are perceptual experiences. Take away the brain, there is no experience, ergo there is no sound — which is the gist of the overused cocktail conundrum of the falling tree in a deserted forest. If you force yourself to think along these lines for a while, you will have to admit that whatever is “out there” as you perceive it is only in your brain as cognitive constructs. Hence my hazy statement about we are both the inside and the outside of things. So, from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience, we can argue that we are everything — the whole universe and our knowledge of it is all are patterns in our brain. There is nothing else.

Want to go even deeper? Well, the brain itself is part of the reality (which is a cognitive construct) created by the brain. So are the air pressure waves, photons, retina, cognitive neuroscience etc. All convenient models in our brains. That, of course, is an infinite regression, from which there is no escape. It is a logical abyss where we can find no rational foothold to anchor our thoughts and crawl out, which naturally leads to what we call the infinite, the unknowable, the absolute, the eternal — Brahman.

I was, of course, thinking of Brahman ( and the notion that we are all part of that major oneness) when I cooked up that everything-and-nothing response. But it is all the same, isn’t it, whichever way you look at it? Well, may be not; may be it is just that I see it that way. If the only tool you have is a hammer, all the problems in the world look like nails to you. May be I’m just hammering in the metaphysical nails whenever and wherever I get a chance. To me, all schools of thought seem to converge to similar notions. Reminds of that French girl I was trying impress long time ago. I said to her, rather optimistically, “You know, you and I think alike, that’s what I like about you.” She replied, “Well, there is only one way to think, if you think at all. So no big deal!” Needless to say I didn’t get anywhere with her.