Friday, June 14, 2013

When does 2 + 2 = 5?


Short and sweet. Just a tongue-in-cheek, but yet serious title:
"When does 2 + 2 = 5?"
The first answer that probably comes to mind is: Never.  The one thing we ought to be able to count on, in this world anyway, is simple arithmetic, like:
   1 + 1 = 2
   2 + 2 = 4
   3 + 3 = 6

How much easier can it get than that? ... And please don't give me any of that George Orwell* stuff.

The problem is, I wrapped up Bat Day #35 by saying this: "Subjective facts require first person consciousness to even be aware of them." We were discussing how to describe what chocolate cake tastes like in someone else's mouth. We (or I) decided that we (or you) could not actually know what that was actually like except when the chocolate cake is in our own mouth.

And worse luck: to actually know what that special 'chocolaty' taste is like in our own mouth (what Nagel calls a subjective fact inside our own head) requires first person consciousness to even be aware of that.

Here's the point: Where does that conscious awareness come from?

Well ... we are not going to solve, in this short blog piece, all the questions related to that question, like: Is consciousness a physical state or mental state? Is our mind a separate but somehow connected 'thing' which is forever, or only temporarily, associated with our physical body? (As written, that one is kind of a trick question). What exactly IS conscious awareness?

I would like to answer those questions, but not in this post, especially given that scientific, religious, psychological and philosophical experts are fiercely battling over the possible answers to those very questions. But the ONE thing each of us can seem to know, just by turning our own thoughts inward, is that we are AWARE of how chocolate cake tastes to us.

We also know that if someone showed us an MRI or other printout of our brain while we smacked down on the last bite of chocolate cake, that MRI or other printout would not show to anyone, including ourselves, how the last morsel of velvety 'chocolaty' cake tasted to us. But we not only know how it tastes, we are aware we know how it tastes.

As Yogi Berra might say:  If I wasn't aware of what I knew I couldn't know that I knew it.*  That type of awareness, I suggest, is something added onto, or into, or emerging from the physical processes of your brain as your brain experiences YOU eating chocolate cake. Without getting either scientific or religious about it (yet), it is like adding 2 + 2 and getting 5 instead of 4. It is like getting something extra in the bargain, something we didn't pay for, something that makes the whole bigger than the parts.

After giving these thoughts some thought, you might disagree with me. You might conclude this thing, this conscious awareness thing, is not really an example of 2 + 2 = 5. If so, that's perfectly okay. I am using that expression not in a strict arithmetic sense, but instead, at least partially, in a figurative sense.

Still, it seems a pretty safe bet that rocks and rivers and lightning storms do not possess anything like a conscious awareness of what, or who, they are. But we do. It is in that sense that we have something extra, contained in our minds or brains, which rocks and rivers and lightning storms do not have. For them, 2 + 2 = 4, while for us, 2 + 2 = 5. Or so it appears.

We will look at some of the other questions in later posts in this "live book".

Credits and Notes

- no author located for the black & white image used of 2 + 2 = 5
- "Colorado and Nevada assortment of three rocks on wood background", photograph by c emerson (June 2013); all rights reserved
- * George Orwell, in his book 1984 (pub.1949), used 2 + 2 = 5 (or 3) as an example of a state-directed effort to control an unthinking population: "How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four." -- "Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane." -- quoted passage taken from GoodReads at -- Here, in this post, I am using the phrase, hopefully, for the opposite effect, to show that our minds, or brains, possess something extra, the ability or capacity to direct self-reflection.
- * my reference to Yogi Berra in no way implies or is intended to suggest that Mr. Berra has read or would agree with any part of this blog post; Mr. Berra, who was three times MVP of the American Baseball League and who appeared 21 times in the World Series as either a player, manager or coach, is recognized for having the great ability to make seemingly complex paradoxes appear easy to understand; the words used in this post are not quotes, but were created entirely by c emerson; see wiki/Yogi_Berra
- this post is dedicated to a very fine lady, to whom I am related, and who has conversed with me in depth on these thought-provoking topics in the past, more to my benefit than hers; much love


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Can experiences be objective?

"Very little work has been done on the basic question . . . whether any sense can be made of experiences' having an objective character at all."
- Thomas Nagel said that in 'What is it like to be a bat?' - The Philosophical Review (1974).

Please recall that Professor Nagel began his 1974 article by saying,
"Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable."
This famous introductory sentence would lead you to think the article would focus specifically on consciousness. But after the fourth paragraph neither the word 'conscious' nor the word 'consciousness' appear again. This is not meant as a criticism. Instead, as I point out in Bat Day #12, Nagel equates 'consciousness' with 'conscious experience', which he then equates with 'subjective character of experience', 'subjective experience', and even just 'experience' without any additional qualifiers.

The most common phrase Nagel uses, from the fourth paragraph to the end of the article is, 'subjective character of experience'. He uses that phrase, along with the phrase 'mental states', to describe what you and I would routinely think of as things happening inside our minds.

All of this is very important because what Nagel wants to do is to focus, not on consciousness directly, but instead to draw our attention to the differences between our conscious experiences, things happening inside our minds, and external events, things which we might witness as we are looking out our windows or while walking down the street. These differences are wrapped up in the definitions of objective versus subjective descriptions.

To describe an example: You may be sitting on a jury one day, and a video tape of a bank robbery is shown in which two robbers both point their guns at one of the guards, but the tape (in slow motion, if you prefer) clearly shows a muzzle flash from one gun, and not from the other. Other objective evidence gathered shows that only one bullet was fired during the robbery. Now imagine the same situation, but this time there is no video tape. Instead, six different witnesses, all of whom were at the scene, describe two entirely conflicting stories. Three claim they saw robber A fire the lone bullet, while the other three claim they saw robber B fire the lone bullet. After careful cross-examination, it appears that all six witnesses had clear views of both robbers, and none will change their testimony as to who they 'saw' pull the trigger.

The objective fact is that only one of two robbers pulled the trigger and shot the deputy, err ... the guard. Another objective fact is that six persons witnessed this event. It is also an objective fact that three of the witnesses have stated under oath robber A did it; and yet one further objective fact is that the other three witnesses stated under oath robber B did it. The subjective facts are that after six persons 'experienced' the identical external event, their six minds diverged into two different recollections or understandings of this one event. Or, as another possibility, one or more of these six persons are lying, or have something else going on inside their 'minds' that caused them to 'see' things differently.

My captioned quote from Nagel asks "whether any sense can be made of experiences' having an objective character at all." In a certain way, this is the essence of his article, as actually written. Nagel is challenging those who believe that mental states can be dissected and analyzed completely on physical grounds (like lightning). His point is: the subjective character of a mental experience cannot (yet) be described fully, if at all, in objective, video tape type terms, where all observers can 'see' the same exact things that are really going on inside another person's mental processes.

The professor does not argue that a purely physical theory of mental states is necessarily invalid.  To the contrary, he says all this "should be regarded as a challenge to form new concepts and devise a new method — an objective phenomenology not dependent on empathy or the imagination . . . One might try, for example, to develop concepts that could be used to explain to a person blind from birth what it was like to see."

But for Nagel, "it seems unlikely that any physical theory of mind can be contemplated until more thought has been given to the general problem of subjective and objective." In other words, the very nature of the subjective internal character of personal experiences stands as a major, if not permanent, barrier to showing how a person's mental states could be physically produced or reproduced. This is the sense in which consciousness, which is a mental state, perhaps becomes an intractable problem for determining what our own minds actually are.

In my next post I shall take an additional look at what 'conscious experience' suggests, in relation to "Self"; that is, in relation to our earlier questions of what, who, where and when.

Image Credits

- image, Mirror Baby, comes from Wikipedia at, posted by roseoftimothywoods at (CC-2, 2007).
- image, Banküberfall, comes from Wikipedia at,_Banküberfall.jpg (CC-3, 1931)
- image, U.S. Navy Tug of War, Annapolis, MD, comes from Wikipedia at (Public Domain, 2005), by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Ryan Child; image cropped for height and width by c emerson


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bat Day #35

". . . objective facts par excellence — the kind that can be observed and understood from many points of view and by individuals with differing perceptual systems."
- Thomas Nagel said that in 'What is it like to be a bat?' - The Philosophical Review (1974).

We are looking at Thomas Nagel's take on the distinction, if any, between objective and subjective facts ... at least to the extent that he describes it above.  The Professor used lightning (and rainbows) as an example of this distinction. "Lightning," he said, "has an objective character that is not exhausted by its visual appearance [as we see it appearing to us]." In other words, the physical aspects of a bolt of lightning discharging from the clouds above are objective facts.

On the other hand, recall that subjective experience, for Professor Nagel, is an inner awareness or perception of the quality of an event ... which perhaps can be described to others in a reasonably full way, but which cannot actually be fully understood or experienced by others ... at least not in exactly the same way that the first person experienced it.

I realize the previous sentence is a mouthful. So take a moment. Please re-read it once or twice. And then compare it to the Nagel quotation which I used as my lead in to this post.

The character of objective facts, as described above by Nagel, is that they can be "observed and understood" by all of us, while the character of subjective facts is that they are based on our inner feelings, which cannot be directly observed except from the 'first person' point of view.  To use Bill Cosby's old stand-by as my example:  We all know what chocolate cake is, what its ingredients are, and how it is made. Those are the objective facts. But we cannot know exactly how it tastes in the mouth of our neighbor. That aspect is referencing a set of subjective facts.  Subjective facts require first person consciousness to even be aware of them.

Image Credits

- to be supplied shortly. The cake is from Wikipedia (yum!), but I have temporarily lost track of where I found the image of lightning striking the wind turbine. Happy Memorial Day, to all. And stay out of thunder storms!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone ...


I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way

- Johnny Nash sang those words in his hit song, 'I Can See Clearly Now' (1972).

Thomas Nagel did not write those words

- and Wile E. Coyote certainly did not listen to them.

But they still help focus our attention on the meaning of the word "objective".

Carrying over from our last post, Bat Day #12, we need desperately to distinguish the word "objective" from the word "subjective".

Why do we desperately need to distinguish objective from subjective?

To refresh our memory - - which happens to be subjective, I suppose, or, is it? - - we previously quoted Thomas Nagel as saying, "Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable." Consciousness, like memory, is something which connects directly to that part of my own innards which other people, who are not actually me, cannot access, and therefore cannot "know". It is this which Nagel referred to as "the subjective character of experience." For Nagel, there may be a permanent veil between the subjective, first person point of view, or inner experience, and the objective, outer, observational view of the world around us.

The difference may be something like these two views of the Sutro Tower in San Francisco; the first veiled in a fog; the second as clear as a bell ... or in this case, as clear as day:


When the veil lifts, hoo-wah, we can see what is really, positively and fur (sic) sure, actually there. If a table is 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, those are objective knock-on-wood, hard and true facts. Everyone in my family and everyone in your family who measures that table with a true yardstick will report back the same data: yup, 3 feet by 6 feet, that is what that table "is", no doubts about it.

But if the thing we are observing, like the Sutro Tower above, is shrouded in some kind of veil, then we cannot observe the thing, or the tower, objectively. Elements, like shape and height, are obscured or they are distorted. We are at a loss to report back the objective facts of that tower. We must make, at best, some guesses or estimates, but we can't all agree on the hard facts of the case about that tower.

This beautiful picture of the Golden Gate Bridge makes the same point, but in a slightly different way:


This image of the Bridge may model Nagel's idea about the subjectiveness of human consciousness, human inner thought processes, the obscurity of what it means to be YOU, better than the two views of the Sutro Tower, which we have already discussed. Why? ... Because here, with the Bridge picture, we can clearly and objectively observe various features of the Bridge, while at the very same time we cannot observe, or know, what the hidden features objectively "are". Only the Bridge can know what is hidden from view, and the Bridge ain't talking.

"Wait!" you say, "If we just wait, the fog will lift, and we will know fur (sic) sure what is hidden from view."

"Wrong!" says I, "because the deepest part of the foundation for the whole Bridge would still be hidden from view by an ocean load of water and piles of rock and mud. That part, down below, can only be known by the Bridge itself, and even if the Bridge tried to tell us what it was like to have its feet buried all the time in piles of rock and mud, we could not really know what that was like, because our feet are free to move around by themselves. Only the Bridge can know, for sure, what it is like to be standing in all that rock, mud and water."

"Well," you might say, "we can measure that Bridge with our yardsticks, we can determine the forces on it in every direction, we know it because we designed it from scratch, we built it, we have observed it for decades -- surely we can say that we know that Bridge. After all, the Bridge is not alive."

"Well said," is how I would have to respond. "Yes, you might come to know all the external, third party, observable, and therefore objective facts about that Bridge. But, if the Bridge were alive, you would still not know what it is like to be the Bridge, am I correct?"

So where is your bright ... bright ... Sun-Shiny day, now, Mr. Wile E. Coyote?


UPDATE: this post was moved from (5-07-13) along with any comments.

Image Credits

--- image credits will be added soon, from Wikipedia and Flickr --- soon ---


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Bat Day #12

". . . the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means . . . that there is something it is like to be that organism . . . something it is like for the organism . . . we may call this the subjective character of experience."
- Thomas Nagel said that in 'What is it like to be a bat?' - The Philosophical Review (1974).

The above quote is not the most famous quote from Thomas Nagel's 1974 article.

The title of the article itself is almost certainly the most famous quote:

"What is it like to be a bat?"

The second most famous quote, and perhaps of greater philosophical import than the title itself, is Nagel's opening sentence:
"Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable."
That's a pretty flashy statement, for philosophers anyway. A lot of them seem to think it's a real game-stopper, or show-stopper, if you prefer that expression.. I will explain why a bit later, or in a later post.
"BUT," I thought to myself, "really intractable problems are ... well ... really intractable. I mean, if that part is really true, then we might as well go play croquet with the Queen, or have tea a second time with the Mad Hatter.
- c emerson said that, right here, right now.

Intractable, I mean really, that would be . . . like being . . . well . . . poor Alice when she grew large again and got her leg stuck intractably up that
chimney --- (you did go back and read Alice's story, didn't you?) --- but this time without having even a tiny bit left of the shrinking part of that edible mushroom which that hookah-smoking caterpillar so huffily gave to her.

"WHO are YOU?" he had said to her, but then he saved her from her future predicament by telling her how to get hold of some of the very stuff needed to get her out of that future predicament. And you thought he was talking about smoking dope or popping pills! He was just talking about getting small.


So, while I didn't quote the flashiest part from Nagel's article, I, a little bit like the hookah-smoking caterpillar, quoted to you instead a different part that helps shrink at least part of our predicament back down to size. Or I think I did.

Let's repeat the entire quote and see why that is:
". . . the fact that an organism has conscious experience at all means . . . that there is something it is like to be that organism . . . something it is like for the organism . . . we may call this the subjective character of experience."
Here are the four key words in that passage:

- conscious experience

- like to be

- is like for

- subjective

Ok, ok already! Four phrases; NINE words; cheez ... but good catch. Now then, let's look at those words all strung together:

... what the conscious experience, is like to be; for the subjective experience....

Like an anagram.
A clue to what's inside.

Okay, this is a blog and you are getting tired of my silly Rabbit games. What Nagel (and me, too - I, too?) is trying to get his readers to puzzle over is: what is it really like to get inside the head (brain / mind) of a BAT or some other living, thinking, conscious thing, like a living, breathing person.

The inside world, the actual inside experiences of a person, like YOU and like ME, is what Nagel means by the word "subjective."

You know what it feels like to be YOU. But how do you know what it feels like to be ME??

And the reverse of this, as well, is what he means to be asking: how can I know what it really means to be YOU, to know what your feelings are, and to know what you are in fact experiencing inside your own, subjective mind.

Nagel means: really, really "know" ... physically, materially, psychologically, actually know; and not merely to imagine, guess, or just empathize.

Nagel is going to try to answer that question, and so am I, when we move on to a discussion of what he discusses as the opposite of subjective, namely "objective."

But you already know this much: Nagel thinks the problem is, or may be, intractable. And that issue has had consequences -- in the worlds of philosophy, psychology, family relations, religion, social economics, politics, cultural development and world history ... if I am not understating the case.

So we must figure out what "objective" means if we are going to be able to compare the idea of subjective with the idea of objective.

Next time.


UPDATE: This post was moved from (4/28/13) along with any comments. Note that this post title and Blogspot URL will no longer match, but the title here is correct.

[Image Credits to be added very soon in an update]

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Where Were We Now?

"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice.
- from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (1865).

Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, 'long about now, that Lewis Carroll's white rabbit - holding a timepiece and wearing a waistcoat, no less - doesn't look to be all that great a fit with Thomas Nagel's bat.

"c emerson," you may want to be saying, "Some time ago you asked me what it would be like to be a bat, a live bat. You didn't ask me anything about what it would be like to be a fictional character - a rabbit holding a timepiece and wearing a waistcoat, no less - that appeared in some fairy tale written one hundred forty-eight years ago."

Well, I might just want to answer you this way, "Things just keep gettin' 'curiouser and curiouser' when we try to figure out who we are, and what we are made of." Mirrors or no mirrors.

"We all have a history, don't we?" is the way I just might continue, if I had a mind to continue, which I do.

"And like my title, 'Where Were We Now?' - Time, with a capital 'T,' is a factor, too, in who we are. A pocket watch, for a waistcoat, is just like an ancient stone timepiece, only easier to carry. You'd agree with that, wouldn't you, that time is part of who we are?"
Alice gave a weary sigh. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."
Now Lewis Carroll, whose 'real' name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was born and raised in Cheshire County, England, bordering Wales. The Mersey River flows through the County. Charles, aka Lewis, was born into a family tree filled with Anglican clerics, until the boughs were breaking, so to speak. Isn't that the way it is for everyone in England? And didn't Gerry and the Pacemakers sing a song about ferrying across the Mersey?

Did you see how I worked another time image (pacemaker) and a place name (River Mersey), right into the story about who Charles Dodgson 'really' was? Dodgson, aka Carroll, spent his professional career as a Lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford. While his modern fame centers on his fictional characters, particularly Alice and the White Rabbit (but don't forget the Queen, King and Jack of Hearts), Dodgson, without his pen name, published a significant number of other books, including ones in the study of logic and mathematics. His books, The Game of Logic and Symbolic Logic, are still worth the read today, in me 'umble opinion.

Didn't know all that, did 'cha? Well, it's a mug's game, if Knave ye be. And a Queen's game, if you like this sort of thing.

Maybe you did know all those things. I know I didn't ... not until I learned about Dodgson, aka Carroll, set into his own place and own time. This dialogue is well-suited to my own learning curve:
"Please would you tell me," said Alice, a little timidly, "why your cat grins like that?"

"It's a Cheshire-Cat," said the Duchess, "and that's why."

""I didn't know that Cheshire-Cats always grinned; in fact, I didn't know that cats could grin," said Alice.

"You don't know much," said the Duchess, "and that's a fact."

If all these metaphors, icons and symbols strike no chords with "you" -- that is, with your own deep-seated Self -- then let me clarify a bit more; nay, let me make it as clear as day; just like the tree carving here of 'Greenman,' who stands at the center of the Tatton Park Maze in Cheshire, hoisting a compass for lost travelers to survey, on land that Lewis Carroll may have walked on: here and now, in our search for an understanding of our Selves, we (meaning I, unless you join in this journey with me) have now added a Where and When to what was already a What and Who. We -- you and I and they and those and others like them and those and us -- all seem to exist somewhere, within our own bodies or within our own minds, and at some place and some time.

But exactly where is there?

It seemed so peaceful, on the river. Then Alice went to sleep, and the Sweep of Time changed everything, and the White Rabbit rushed by, through the recesses of her mind.
"Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. Was I the same when I got up this morning? but if I'm not the same, the next question is, 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle."
- queried Alice, just a fictional character, lost in a maze down some rabbit hole.

YES, EXACTLY: who are we?


Almost sounds like song:

In the midst of war-torn America, in a world where up seems to be down, where neighbor wants to hate neighbor, and the axe is ready to fall, "go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall."

When the clock strikes midnight, but won't show a pattern on the wall, and "the men on the chessboard", are all telling "you where to go", then "go ask Alice, I think she'll know."

That, at least some of it, from the Jefferson Airplane (1967), mixed with a number of my own eclectic phrases (which J.A. might well reject), seems to portend some pretty sage advice, if we only knew what it meant.

Like being a bat, in some specific place and at some specific time, somewhere out here on planet Earth, or just in the back of your own mind.

But like Alice, let's never forget:
... if you drink from a bottle marked "poison," it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
Now where did that bat go?

UPDATE: This post was moved from (4/23/13) along with any comments. Note that this post's title and Blogspot URL will no longer match, but the title here is correct.


- all inset quotes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (1865), Bookbyte Digital Edition; ISBN #978-1-61306-025-4 (text in the public domain; freely downloaded in iBooks onto iPad and iPhone)

- facts and data about Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) and Cheshire, England, from Wikipedia articles on "Lewis Carroll" and "Cheshire" at and

- song reference, Ferry Cross the Mersey, by Gerry and the Pacemakers (1964)

- lyrics (quoted and then interspersed with non-lyrics) from song, White Rabbit, by Jefferson Airplane (1967); thanks Brad, I was trying to figure out how to tie this together.

- Earth Day was yesterday, the day I intended to post this piece; uploading delays changed my plans; my, where does the time go? Let's do whatever it takes to save the planet, even scurry down a rabbit hole if need be. It may cost me a vote or two, but check out my post, "Bicycles Will Cost Less" on my other blog, Random Walk way back in 2008; the time is getting late, and the Queen won't wait: it'll be "off with our heads" if we aren't careful. And by the way, I'm not running for anything.

Image Credits

- The White Rabbit, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865), photo courtesy of From Old Books at

- Ancient Stone Sundial from Marcianoplis, courtesy of Museum of Mosaicas (2010), Devnya, Bulgaria; Wikipedia article "Sundial" at (CCA-SA-3.0)

- Map of County of Cheshire, England, contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database rights, at and

- 'Greenman', Tatton Park Maze, Cheshire, England, courtesy of Tim Burgess, sculpted by Tim Burgess, Rosterne, Cheshire, England, at and ("The plinth on the top has the four corners of the compass marked upon it ... there are 244 leaves on the tree -- which is the number of steps it takes to get from the Maze entrance to the tree ... I think this tree has real spirit, maybe it is in his eyes ... I feel he is a bringer of luck and good fortune").

- Macclesfield Canal, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, photograph by Patrick Hogan, courtesy of Pictures of England at (all rights reserved; not for commercial use).

- Longleat Hedge Maze, Longleat House, County of Somerset, photograph by Lewis Clarke (CCA-SA-2.0) at

- Vertical Declining Sundial, Moot Hall, Aldeburgh, County of Suffolk, England (photograph placed in the public domain) at


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Looking in a mirror, who do you see?


"I got to thinking ... looking in a mirror, who do you see?"

- c emerson asked that.

I absolutely have not forgotten about our two previous, unanswered questions:
(1)  What's it like to be you?  and (2)  What are you really?

But I got to thinking, while ogling myself in the morning mirror, there is more to this puzzling question of Self than meets the eye.

Take a moment, right now if you can. In fact, or in your mind. Go study your face in a mirror. Check the angle of your jaw, the shape of your neck, the position of your eyes, and even the length and shape of your earlobes. Is that you?

Look at your whole face, if you can pull your focus back enough to really see your whole face. Is that you? Now look away from the mirror and realize you can see virtually none of your face without an image-maker. It is like you are in the front of a train, looking out of some kind of a tunnel. Where are you exactly while all this looking is going on?

A close friend reminds me that we have photographs to remind us of us. She tells me people can spend hours picking just the right picture of themselves to use as their Face Book profile photo. So does just the right photograph tell me who I am, or who you are?

So I got to thinking, just the right picture - like studying the length and shape of your earlobes - tells me what your skin and make-up, if any, and body shape, looks like. I can also tell - usually - your gender and age - and if you are smiling or looking serious then I can also tell ... well, nothing ... really.

How do I know why you are smiling or looking serious?

So I retreat from photo gazing, of you, and smile into my morning mirror. What did that just tell me about me? I have no idea. So I peer intently into my own eyes, which I can't even do - in the plural anyway - because I can only look into one eye at a time. Then I suddenly realize, I can't see my own eyes move! My guess is "I" .. am .. 'in there' .. somewhere.

At least I think that is me looking out at me. But even if so, who am I today? I just a moment ago smiled at myself - well, that's not true - I smiled at an image of myself. Or was that the real me I was smiling at - the one who appears to be peering back at me out of that double-slit tunnel? But I didn't actually feel like smiling today; I just did that to see how I looked smiling. I am actually feeling quite serious today, and not like smiling at all. STOP THAT.

You know what? Answering what is not enough. We also need to answer who it is that's doing the what.

UPDATE: This post was moved from (4-10-13) along with any comments. Note that this post's title and Blogspot URL will no longer match, but the title here is correct.

Image Credits

- Into the Looking Glass Room, from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (Lewis Carroll, 1871), photo courtesy of From Old Books at
- Naason, Lünette (restauriert), ceiling frescoe, by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel at (public domain, derivative work; cropped) and Web Gallery of Art at (educational use, not for commercial redistribution)


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What it's like to be you


"What are you really?"

- c emerson asked that.

The first thing I want to point out, before I talk about you, or more specifically Self, is that my self-quote and that part of the title which follows after the word Self do not mean the same thing.

To be exact, there is a difference in substantive meaning between ...

(1) What it's like to be you (or: What is it like to be you?), and

(2) What are you really? (or: What you really are).

The first sentence (and question) is derived loosely from Thomas Nagel's famous essay, What is it like to be a bat? (1974). It seeks analogies as to what it is like to be another conscious being. The idea is you can't really know. This raises the whole question of subjective behavior, and subjective experience.

The second question (and sentence) is derived loosely from me, and plenty of others. It seeks further assertions (scientific data; or philosophical arguments) about what living beings, including humans, actually are. The idea is that you can know what Self is, or objectively means.

Whew! Already too many big words, like self, substantive, subjective and objective. But these ideas are important if you want to explore these kinds of things relative to the 'meaning of your life'. I will develop these ideas in future Posts.

Route Marker. Meanwhile, let me explain where we are in this blog. This sort of navigational digression I shall call a 'Route Marker.' This Post starts Part I of this 'live book'. The prior posts collectively form the Introduction. Click on My Index tab above to see how that works out. The unpublished part of my outline currently includes eleven parts to this 'live book', but that might change. I'm not that organized. For now, Part I will be about Self; not just myself; but yourself; ourselves; and even themselves. Other than the wordiness of this Route Marker, this Post was intended to be a short, question-provoking Post. So be provoked.

Whether provoked or not, feel free to express your Self.

UPDATE: This post was moved from (3-30-13) along with any comments. Note that this post's title and Blogspot URL will no longer match, but the title here is correct.


- You can read 'What is it like to be a bat?' (Nagel, 1974) at several places on the web. Here is one such place:   (9 pages)
- I invite you to see my photo log from my recent Death Valley Nat'l Park camping trip (a great place to find space to think about Self), on my other blog Random Walk
- This Post was Updated (4/4/13); moving the Route Marker to the bottom part of the Post; and making minor editorial revisions


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Part 1: Self


Introduction to Part 1: Self

[Under Construction]

For any interested readers, I moved the five following posts forward to permit this space in my 'live' book to be used for a brief introduction to this Part. (Soon I hope). I learned too late that this little move forever dooms four of those posts to have their titles and URLs mismatched, but so it shall be. Errors happen.

- c emerson


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Read This Blog ...

(3/20/13) ... Can anyone write a 'meaning of life' blog that does not try to sell a particular point of view?

I doubt it ... but I am going to try.

That may strike you as a surprising claim. After all Ideas Are Physical suggests some kind of initial point of view. Yes?  Especially if there are only two contradictory choices for ideas: physical and non-physical. But there may be more than two choices. Or, there may be a host of qualifications on exactly what physical and non-physical might mean.

That sounds like hedging.  Maybe.  But let me ask you:  did it strike you as a surprising claim, that I might be able to write a 'meaning of life' blog without trying to sell a particular view?  If so, what struck you?  If you answer: the idea of maintaining neutrality or lack of bias, then can I not assert to you that you were just struck by an idea? In other words, did you not just agree that, in some sense, ideas are indeed physical?

Perhaps that was just some kind of metaphorical or rhetorical trick. Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe it didn't work. But we do use phrases like 'hit upon', 'hit by', 'came across', 'found', 'wrote down', 'cooked up', 'sent you', and even 'tore apart' when referring to and talking about ideas.  Trust me, I realize these colloquial expressions don't come close to proving ideas are actually physical. It's hard to lay an idea out on the kitchen table, to look at and feel ... even though we know, for sure ... some ideas just plain stink, and ought to be dumped out with the cat litter.

What's the point? Well, for one, there is more to these things we call 'ideas' than meets the eye. And, I assert, this is also true of those bundles of ideas we tie together into neat packages and then call Scientific Theory A, Theological Concept B, and Philosophical Notion C. Yet, as my wife suggested in the previous post, we live by such bundles of ideas, even when we aren't always aware of it. Things we wouldn't put in our mouths, we put right into our brains.

Which leads me to the title of this Post:  How to read this blog?

The simple answer is --> Openly.

And after reading a post openly:  Express Yourself.

- - -
Yes, express your views in the comment section at the bottom of each post. Don't take my word for anything. Investigate, inquire and express yourself. It's your philosophy at stake, not mine. It's your meaning of life at stake, not mine. So express yourself.

The Comment period for each post will never close, at least not as long as the blog itself continues. So if you are reading a post a year or two after it is written, comment anyway. No one is going to solve the issues raised in this blog overnight. Just be courteous; that's the only rule.

One other point here:  use the 'My Index' tab to locate blog Posts that seem interesting. Regardless of when they are written, they will be organized there into a Table of Contents for easy reference. Dates of any Updates or Addenda to a Post will be listed there. Yes, I might change the shape, or structure, of any idea expressed in a Post based on the progress of my own thinking or based on the logic presented by your posts in the Comment sections.

So ... just throw some of those sweet-smelling ideas at me, would ya?


The song 'Express Yourself':
- original lyrics (1970) by Charles Wright
and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band

- newer lyrics (1988) by N.W.A.
- even newer lyrics (2012) by Labrinth:
Ain't got the X-factor,
I'm not what they expect (listen)
But it won't be long before
my turn is next, to express
now with all due respect
Express yourself
A second song 'Express Yourself':
- original lyrics (1989) by Madonna
Additional credits to any of my readers who decide ... to express themselves.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What do people want?

(3/12/13) ... I've considered what I've written so far, about the world as possible code, and about the starting position of the known cosmos, and I'm pretty happy. It's a big world, with lots to explore.

c emerson asleep
on the Mojave

But the question I want to ask today is:

"What do people want?  What are they looking for?"

overview of
part of Arizona

My wife answered me:  "Not philosophy."

"Not theology, either, unless they are already into that," she continues. "And definitely not science."

"What, then, are they looking for?" I asked.

She thought a bit, while looking at my pictures:  "A safe landing zone," she answered.

And so it goes. She's right, of course. Ask yourself what most people do all day, what they spend their time on: family matters, children, grandchildren, caring for the elderly, going to school, finding work, holding onto work, worrying about work, eating, sleeping, finding a mate, finding a new mate, shopping, watching a football game, watching a basketball game, cleaning house, playing video games, checking Facebook, and, occasionally, going to a religious place, to a non-religious place, or to a movie ...

And what are we thinking about while we do all these things? Our appearance, clothes, sex, health, wealth, exercise, relationships, travel, hoped-for travel, hobbies, aging, and ... of course ... the weather.

Hmm ... I think she's right.  Not a lot of time in there for philosophy, theology or science.

Now wait a minute, I thought ... something's not right here.

So I changed the question, and asked her:

"What's the best way to live?"

"Easy," she said. "Live in the moment. Don't think too much about the past, the future, or all the bad news you see on TV. Get the most out of your day, with your family, or friends, or at work. I'm pretty spiritual, so I like to think of myself as an instrument for good. At least that's my philosophy."

"Your philosophy?"

"Yup! ... oh ... So I do have a philosophy.  Well, there you go!"

I think I'll take my wife to the movies tonight.  And - if ideas are physical - I'll want to think carefully about what to say, or ask, next.



- pictures courtesy c emerson (April, May 2008)
- post dedicated to my wife and family
- thanks TxLostWolf, Alan, Paige, Gritsma and others
- meanwhile I will continue to study the great 'What is?' of the Nevada and California Mojave Desert and those immense canyons in north central Arizona


Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Genesis Model _ Is Space = God?


The Genesis Model:
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
- the author of Genesis said that.
Gen.1:2-3, KJV (Thomas Nelson, Pub. 1972).

The Intuitive Transcendental Model:
When the mind opens, and reveals the laws which traverse the universe, and make things what they are, then shrinks the great world at once into a mere illustration and fable of this mind. What am I? and What is? Behold these infinite relations, so like, so unlike; many, yet one. I would study, I would know, I would admire forever.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson said that.
Divinity School Address, Harvard Divinity School (July 15, 1838).

I am not trying to answer the great question posed in the title, Is Space = God?  I am trying to raise it. Further, I am getting way ahead of my development plan, rough as it is, for this blog. But let's proceed anyway.

We remain at the carrefour of winter mysteries wrapped in spring enigmas, not yet in view, I think, of Emerson's famous refulgent summer, where the 'grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers.' Ibid. Emerson's address to the divinity school senior class, all seven or eight members of it, as quoted above, helped establish a transcendental view in favor of 'individual, intuitive thought and the role of nature in helping man to understand the divine,' and in opposition to the 'primacy' of authoritarian mechanisms.  Harvard gazette (Walsh, February 16, 2012). This elevation of individual intuition over the established framework of institutional tradition was considered so radical that Emerson was not invited to the Harvard campus again for 30 years.  Ibid.

Thank goodness for counterbalances all around, such as the next one.

The Scientifically-Generated Physical Model:
A story logically begins at the beginning. [And] In the very beginning there was a void - a curious form of vacuum - a nothingness containing no space, no time, no matter, no light, no sound ... But this story is about the universe, and unfortunately there are no data for the Very Beginning.  None, zero ... Now, where were we?  Oh, yes ... [then] it happened.  The nothingness exploded.  In this incandescence, space and time were created.
- Leon Lederman, with Dick Teresi, said that.
The God Particle. If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? (1993; p.1).

Don't you just love it? The drama and suspense of it all? Steven Spielberg, Ben Affleck and Stanley Kubrick, move over. God is coming through. Or maybe not.

Here is how this post came about (re-posting part of this from my other blog, Random Walk): In Robert Oerter's blog post, Collins vs. Stenger, the professor, a physicist, has continued his posts about possible scientific Fine Tuning of the universe. Robin Collins and Victor Stenger are both physicists. The idea is that certain physical parameters are both highly improbable and extremely critical for the emergence of life in this universe.

I supplied various comments on that subject on the professor's blog, and on a previous post on this blog, Is the Whole Word Just a Code?, because the subject relates to the possibility of God's existence, a subject I took up last October on Random Walk in a three part post I called The God is Possible Argument. (My previous post on this blog, incidentally, was prompted by some very interesting comments advanced by Alan on Edward Feser's blog post, Craig versus Rosenberg. Alexander Rosenberg is a philosopher at Duke. Wlliam Lane Craig is a theology professor at BIOLA. My grandfather studied at BIOLA back in the first part of the last century, but that's a story for another time.)

While doing all this commenting and blogging, the following thought occurred to me:  If space is something that can expand, then space is a "thing" with describable properties.  If so, then this changes the question about fine tuning of parameters to a question about what space itself is.  It also raises the interesting question of what space is "in"?  In Aristotelian terms, this would put space back into the category of having (or being) substance, and as such, space itself could be the ground of all being. To put this last step into a form that St. Thomas Aquinas might have said or used, this ground of all being we are accustomed to calling God.

In this form, this approaches a classical proof of the existence of God.  Yes?  No?  As TxLostWolf suggests (on my other blog), this argument may fit the Prime Mover form. If space is substance, it would also be essence. If the causal series per se terminates with space itself, then the argument would also fit the Uncaused Cause form.  Yes?  No?  Either way, would not Space = God under this, the Genesis model of the source of all matter and energy which emerged from space itself?

The reader may find this Universe Forum (produced for NASA by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) a helpful resource in re-visualizing the Big Bang as something other than a point-in-space explosion. In particular, here is a page entitled Brief Answers to Cosmic Questions. I found these two Q & A's illuminating with respect to the possible physical explanation (understanding) of space itself, as I applied it above:

Q:  Do we know where, in space, the Big Bang took place?

A:  It's a common misconception that the Big Bang was an "explosion" that took place somewhere in space. But the Big Bang was an expansion of space itself. Every part of space participated in it. For example, the part of space occupied by the Earth, the Sun, and our Milky Way galaxy was once, during the Big Bang, incredibly hot and dense. The same holds true of every other part of the universe we can see ... Artists may find it more dramatic to draw a "fireball" expanding into space, but as far as we know, there would have been no such "ball."

Q:  Does the term "universe" refer to space, or to the matter in it, or both?

A:  Just a hundred years ago, scientists thought of the universe in terms of matter. Space was just the "emptiness" in which matter lived ... Today, the situation is reversed. During the twentieth century, scientists learned that space is not "nothingness." First, Einstein showed that space has structure: It is flexible and can be stretched ... Later, scientists found other properties of space. For example, matter and anti-matter are routinely created in the laboratory from space itself (and an energy source); the kinds of particles that can exist reflect the structure of space. In fact, there is now evidence that space itself MAY possess some slight amount of energy of its own, of a form previously unknown. If so, space may actually have weight!

If this is the way it is, then Space is some "thing" from which all physical things, as we know them, actually came, mediated by the initial operation of the Big Bang. Under such a scenario, can we not reasonably view Space, which has structure and properties, as the immediate ground of all known being?

 -- copyright 2012-2013 by c emerson --

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is the Whole World Just a Code?


"I might be, just a lil' bit crazy, but I'm ok with that."

- c emerson said that.

"Want some whiskey in your water? Sugar in your tea?
What's all these crazy questions' they're askin' me?
This is the craziest party that could ever be
Don't turn on the lights 'cause I don't wanna see.

Mama told me not to come
Mama told me not to come
... That ain't the way to have fun, son."
( - Three Dog Night version, 1970)

Those few who knew me in the day, knew me as something of a genius crazy ... Today, I'm just a half-hippie and a part-time biker, looking for a few answers and a good beer. I still get most of my answers from music, and from literature, but I thought I would give philosophy another chance.

Tires on the pavement ... Danica Patrick in pole position ... it's not what you think ... it's what you know ... first impresssions are so often wrong ... So: Is the whole world just some kind of code?

Over on Feser's blog, as comments were winding down on Prof Feser's Craig versus Rosenburg post,

Alan said this:
"As another stone for the sarcophagus of determinism or gnu style scientism, a physicist has now demonstrated Aristotelian-Thomistic First Cause - he ... demonstrates mathematically though quite unintentionally, that it is impossible to reduce intentionality from the universe at the very basic quantum level ...", referring to and citing a paper by Jae-Weon Lee - Physics from Information -

I saw Alan's comment, and responded: "If the mathematics were to so demonstrate, wouldn't that support panpsychism as much, or even more, than Aristotelian-Thomist theism?"

Alan next: "I would not say that - I would not see it as having a 'mental' aspect but a purpose-built character. As a logic circuit or printed circuit board. The 'information equations' he is using represent the signature of a cell phone or radio transmission. There is no awareness in the broadcast but there is information which the receiver is required to decode."

Then me: "Your post evokes the following thought: I wonder, if all humans saw everything in just grey and white shades, or perhaps better, in just shades of green and black (the Matrix effect), would we be more likely to see the universe as coded?"

Alan brought his response to my blog as a comment under my previous post, The World's a Big Place.  He asked me if I hated mankind and wished us all punished (tongue-in-cheek I believe), from which I gathered Alan likes it that humans see in such a multitudinous array of colors. So do I, actually, but that's a story for another time.

Alan said: "I was thinking (with my original post) more along the lines of the patterns of structure ... A universe full of bosons and fermions would be like a giant sand box save for the 'structure; of quantum mechanics. And, it turns out, that structure can be modeled by the same mathematics that turn a sine wave into a phone call! As if 'The Word of God' turns a gazillion dots of stuff into the structure of the universe."

I brought up the word, Logos, which can mean word, reason, explanation, as well as a divine creating force. Presocratic sources here. And I suggested what's needed is the physical, as well as metaphysical, if any, organizing principles.

Alan responded that his "pattern-recognizing neurons" jumped straight away to the three thousand year old wisdom "that word, reason and divine creating forces were intertwined. Science confirming philosophy."

Let me say that I agree that word, reason and the notion of divine-creating-forces are interwined. But I am not sure that science has confirmed philosophy. I have not, however, read Jae-Weon Lee's paper. It will be a pleasure to read it.

I am confident, anyway, as to at least one point: that both science and philosophy have to do with what's out there, and how we know what's out there.

That may seem overly simplistic, even "uninteresting", as is sometimes said of simple statements. But then, again, I'm just crazy enough to be cautious.

I see, as I am getting ready to post this, that TxLostWolf and Alan have both posted additional comments on The World's a Big Place.  I will ask them to post future comments under this OP, which will hopefully evoke even more thoughts, and will maintain a title appropriate to the debate. (And I will take the liberty of copying over the last several comments).

Thanks, Alan and TxLostWolf, hope you both stick around.  If no further comments come, that's fine, too. I have a refrigerator full of beer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The World's a Big Place


"The world's a big place. It's okay to have different opinions about it. It's not okay to form a closed-minded, fixed opinion about it."

-- c emerson said that.

Feel free to challenge it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Still Preparing ...

"As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred.

... It's all right, Ma, I'm only sighing"


Bob Dylan, lyrics & music,

... I'm still here, just preparing.  Peace.