Soul and Spirit

Question of the Day ~ December 4, 2013 ~ Soul & Spirit

What is the difference between our soul and our spirit?

Both Soul and Spirit seem to be terms that have different meanings in different traditions.

In the Greek tradition, soul was supposed to be the eternal part that contained all truth, and the process of education was supposed to be about removing that which was preventing us from experiencing that which was already within us.

A modern understanding of the mechanics of brain development and systems theory demonstrates beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that the Greek conception was in error.

It now seems clear that we develop from a genetic base, with inputs from our environment (physical and cultural) and awareness occurs as a sequential set of levels. It appears that the sequence may be potentially infinite.

Within any particular level of awareness, there appears to be potentially infinite room for exploration and development. Level of awareness is no guarantee of appropriateness of knowledge to any particular problem or situation.

The term spirit comes from the term for wind, and seems to have evolved from an association of the fact that when someone stops breathing they stop acting – the spirit (the invisible power that moves the air) had left them.

Again, a modern understanding demonstrates the fallacy in that ancient linkage. Certainly when someone stops breathing for a long time they will not re-animate (unless they are connected to artificial heart-lung machines that pump and oxygenate their blood). Our basic metabolism certainly requires oxygen from the air, and that oxygen is fuel for the chemical “fires” that power us, but is not itself the controlling software of the system. The controlling levels of awareness now seem to clearly share a similar relationship to air that computer software has to their power supply.

So to me, both terms, soul and spirit, are interesting from a historical perspective, yet not particularly useful in the context of a modern understanding of the nature of what it is to be a human being.

[followed by]

Hi Ryon

While I do not doubt the experiential reality of anyone’s reported experience, I do have great doubt around the schemas used to interpret those experiences used by most people throughout most of human history.

I have had many experiences. I clearly recall looking at a painting of a house, and seeing lots of “faeries” moving in the trees around the house, and some looking out from the windows of the house. None of the other people in the room experienced seeing that (I asked).

I have experienced flying, out of my body, several times (at least 3 that I can clearly recall).

It now seems most probable to me that all of those experiences were due to alterations of the model of reality being generated by my brain, that I get to experience as reality, rather than to any alteration of reality itself.

Getting the idea that what we each get to experience as reality, isn’t reality itself, but is actually a model of reality generated by our brains from information supplied by our senses interpreted through the filters informed by our experiences of our past, and strongly influenced by the context of interpretation currently dominant in our awareness, isn’t easy.

Our brains are massively parallel computing machines. Our conscious awareness seems to be a software entity created and residing within and upon a huge mass of computational systems, some defined largely by genetics and many more defined largely by culture.

So our interpretive schemas are vastly different.

I can understand why the experience of being in certain states seems to be “omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent”, and such an interpretation seems to me to be, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, not how things actually are in reality.

Certainly many of our subconscious systems are extremely powerful pattern recognition systems, and can appear omniscient to our vastly smaller and less powerful conscious level awareness, and the science I have available is clear that it is only an impression, not a reality.

I am yet to meet anyone who is omniscient.

I know of no one who can pick the result of every horse race, or every stock market shift (however much they might think they can).

Certainly, when we are immersed in different ways of thinking, we experience life through those particular sets of filters.

I have tried on many sets of filters in my life, had many different experiences, and while not discounting the experiential reality of any of them (for I did indeed experience what I experienced) it seems very probable to me that many of the experiences were only within the model of my brain, and not at all attributes of the wider reality beyond my brain’s model.

I am also clear about how the use of shared language and shared interpretive schema can lead to shared experiences in quite large groups, to quite high levels of similarity.

This is the schema I use, and it seems to serve me most powerfully, from amongst all the many I have explored and experienced.

[followed by]

Hi Ryon

I have not read Alexander’s book, and I have read a couple of reviews.

Quite clearly we are not aligned in interpretations.

I cannot make any sense of the three sentences you wrote “There is no room for our own interpretation in this realm. It is science. We surpass the brain and mind concepts and go beyond just physical reality.”

I am familiar with several healing modalities.

I have no doubt of the power of beliefs.

Our brains are very complex entities.

The software systems operating in our brains contain many more levels of complexity.

Beliefs, and the contexts they supply, are a very big input in the state of the body, as the mind can influence all lower order systems.

Of all the above, I have no reasonable doubt.

However, I do not align with what you wrote about science.

All serious scientists will tell you that it is all about interpretation of the data sets available.

What scientists do is to attempt to provide the simplest possible explanation that agrees with all observations (not selected subsets, but the whole lot).

Science attempts to be as objective as possible, and in that task we must acknowledge the subjectivity that is present in all of us.

For me, my fascination (obsessive compulsion) with understanding how things work has lead me into many different domains, and what seems most likely to me, is what I described in my first post above.

And I cannot be absolutely certain of that, nor anything else to do with reality, and I am very confident of it – sufficiently confident to trust my life to it.

[followed by]

Hi Ryon

You make a statement “where there’s no possible way of having his brain create the events” which may be what you believe, but is not what the science indicates.

The science is now very clear that brains can create anything imaginable. Certainly some brains do this more easily than others, and that is mostly a matter of the habits our brains have been trained into during childhood.

Brains are amazingly complex things. Few people have any real conception of the level of complexity involved.

So while I cannot say with absolute certainty that disembodied spirits don’t exist, it seems far more probable to me that they exist in our models of reality (the models created by our brains that we get to experience as reality), rather than that they exist in reality itself.

And experientially, our only access to reality is through the model our brains create for us.

[followed by]

Hi Ryon

He is a brain surgeon, not a neuroscientist (like a car mechanic is not necessarily aware of all of the theory behind all of the parts of a car – in fact very likely isn’t). [I know a couple of surgeons quite well, and their knowledge of anatomy far exceeds mine, but their knowledge of the systems within brain doesn’t.]

That doesn’t mean anything in terms of his knowledge, he may have an interest in other levels of brain other than the anatomy (which he most certainly is a qualified expert in).

I’m no expert in anything. I am a generalist who has a little knowledge about many things (little when compared to experts in those fields).

I do have training in biochemistry and neurophysiology, and I have kept up reading for 40 years, though have done no further formal qualifications.

Saying that he is a neurosurgeon says only that he is an expert on neuroanatomy (the structure of the brain), it doesn’t necessarily say anything about his knowledge of its function.

A brain is very rarely “dead” if the body is alive. In some very rare cases, yes, the brain can die, and be completely reabsorbed, and the person become “brain-less” and incapable of action.

Brains can certainly stop functioning, for a variety of reasons, and can restart again when those causes of dysfunction are removed.

Saying “there’s no way his brain could’ve created the experience he had” is just simply false. It is an untrue statement, falsified by masses of data.

We all know that in dream like and semi conscious states our experience of time can become very distorted, minutes may seem like hours or days or months. Most people have that sort of experience. It is normal.

Many of us have experienced such “dream like” states, particularly common when recovering from major illness.

Sam Harris did an interesting critique –

I don’t see anything to entice me to read a book that contains so many factual errors, it means the likelihood of the conclusions having any merit are extremely low.

[followed by]


It is the ubiquity thing that takes me toward a brain explanation.

People report in NDEs what is culturally appropriate for them.

If they are raised Christians, their reports are appropriate to that theology, if they are Buddhist the reports are quite different. That, to me, points very strongly to a brain centred origin.

I don’t know quite what your definition of scientific materialism is.

My view is scientific in the sense that everything is open to question, and to interpretation in the light of all available experience.

My view is spiritual in the sense that it is clear to me that the software patterns we experience as our being are capable of influencing reality, as well as being influenced by reality. While it is clear in my view that we start from a physical basis, we become capable of modifying that physicality, so there is a very real sense in which we sidestep the bounds of causality, and become creative entities.

So I am not the sort of person that says everything is determined by the genes, and the genes are a significant factor.

It seems clear to me that everything has an input on who we are, the sun, the chemistry, the geology, the climate, the genetics, the “culture”, our personal experience of all of these things, the choices we make, the contexts we choose – all of them make important contributions. And all of this experiential being is taking place in a software environment, that is within the hardware environment that is body/brain. That to me is the simplest possible explanation of all of the vast amount of experience and information I have, from the something over 50 thousand hours of reading I have done in my life.

And yes, it is about quality of life, and our (myopic) societal focus on money is a major handicap for the vast majority of humanity, however nice it may be for some privileged few of us.

[followed by]

Hi Ryon

I’m not arguing with his experience.
I don’t doubt that he had the experience he says.

It just seems highly improbable to me that the interpretation he has taken about that experience is accurate.
Sam Harris – a very competent neuroscientist agrees. Did you read the Sam Harris post (
I watched about 10 minutes of an interview with Eben Alexander III.
I don’t doubt he is a competent neurosurgeon, but much of what he said in the interview does not display a sound knowledge of neuroscience – quite the contrary.
The guy was making claims that are quite simply false – and falsified by masses of data.

I get that many people will simply take what he says as fact, based upon his credentials.
I don’t do that – not for anyone.

I’ve spent many hours in labs myself doing experiments with neurons.
I have spent a great deal longer reading about the experiments and results of others.
I have assessed that data, and come to my own conclusions about it.
I have spent enough time listening to Alexander to come to the conclusion that he is making many claims that are clearly false.

I don’t doubt he had an amazing experience.
I have had quite a few amazing experiences myself.
I have become very confident that the experience was generated within his brain, partially as a result of recovering from his illness, and partially as a result of his life experience.

Watching him on youtube, my intuition was very strong not to waste any more time on him, so much of what he said made him seem incompetent to make the claims he was making.

You may think me arrogant, and I did take about an hour of my time reading about and watching Alexander, before making the assessment I have. To me Alexander has committed some of the most basic errors in science and philosophy. And it sells books.
How much time have you spent reading Alexander’s critics – like Sam Harris?

[followed by]

Hi Deb and Ryon et al,

As to Alexander making the most basic of scientific errors, he keeps saying that there is no way his brain could have created the experiences he had. That is simply false.
He makes the most basic of scientific errors in insisting that his experience of time equates to actual time. Most people are not good judges of time, particularly not sick people.

I have read a lot of books.
Back in 1978 I read many works by both Tielhard de Chardin, and Kant (amongst many others). It was clear to me where both had made errors. I think I still have those books in boxes somewhere, with the notes of where their logical errors occurred scrawled in the margins.
Despite the errors, I enjoyed reading both sets of books, because I could see the powerful minds exploring new territory in innovative ways.
In the light of hindsight, with the understanding now available in terms of systems theory, games theory, biochemistry, cybernetics etc (and the evidence sets supporting those disciplines), it is easy to see where their invalid assumption sets sent them down lines of thought that today we can clearly falsify, but such falsifying data was not available to them. I am confident that if either of those two thinkers were alive today they would come to vastly different conclusions than those they made in their day.

For me, Alexander falls into an entirely different category.
He is someone from a place and time where the data to falsify many of the key assertions he is making is freely available, but he simply doesn’t use it. He displays a clear intellectual dishonesty in claiming the mantle of science, while ignoring many of the most basic lessons of science. That much is abundantly clear even from a 10 minute interview – beyond any reasonable doubt.

And it is extremely difficult for me when people use terms like heart vs brain.
For me, I need to translate the term “heart” into “subconscious processes of brain”.
People get heart transplants every day (about 10 every day on average), and they do not report having the basic experiences of other people. They report being themselves.
The heart is a major organ of the body, and it does feedback subconscious assessments very quickly. A relatively reliable way to monitor many aspects of one’s subconscious is to monitor how your heart is reacting. So I can understand why the term heart is in common use, but the hard scientific reality is that it is brain that does the vast bulk of all conscious and subconscious processing, and of course there is processing capacity in every cell, and there can be influences both ways, and as a good first order approximation it all happens in the brain (over 90%).

So when someone uses the term brain alone, it is often not at all clear to me what it is that they are referring to.
Is it the physical organ of the brain?
Is it simply the subset of brain process that we recognise as conscious?

For me, it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt, that way over 90% of what most people identify as “heart” is actually brain activity, and has very little direct relationship to the heart as a physical organ.

What makes no sense to me, is why, if these “spiritual entities” are so powerful, is it only when people like Alexander become extremely sick that they have access to these “powerful entities”?
Why are these “powerful entities” not in ordinary communication with those of us who are consciously requesting such communication?

The answers seem rather obvious.
It seems highly improbable that they actually exist.

I would love to meet an alien.
I would love for some entity with vastly superior knowledge and technology to come and assist me to create conditions where I could live in a body that was physically fit and capable, free of scars and pain, and able to support me to do whatever I responsibly choose.
I have been a consistent request for that for 50 years. No response.

I am not opposed to the idea of advanced entities. I just need evidence that stacks up to fine scrutiny. Alexander’s claims fail even first level scrutiny.

Science is about examining reality with various tools, and working out the probabilities of reliability in different circumstances. Some things, like modern computers, can be reliable with error rates less than 1 in 10^30, most things have much higher error rates.

I have limited time.
I do not doubt Alexander’s experience.
I find his claims about the causes of that experience to be so clearly false as to not be worth any more time.
I am putting in the time here, because I value the interactions with the people here, and elsewhere via my blog site where this will be reposted.

It is powerful for me to be able to state things as clearly as possible, in ways that communicate as much as possible to people with vastly different ways of thinking.

[followed by]

Hi Deb

Here is an abstract of one interesting paper on the subject:
Another person’s heart: magical and rational thinking in the psychological adaptation to heart transplantation.

The goal of this study was to examine heart transplant recipients’ psychological adaptation to another person’s heart, with particular emphasis on recipients’ attitudes toward graft and donor.
Thirty-five male heart recipients were examined by: the Symptom Distress Checklist (revised) (SCL-90-R); the Depression Adjective Checklist (DACL); a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Questionnaire (PTSD-Q); a Heart Image Questionnaire (HIQ); and a Semi-Structured Interview (SSI), aimed at eliciting attitudes and fantasies regarding the transplanted heart.
All instruments indicated high levels of stress even several years after the transplant, but, simultaneously, 73% of recipients felt that acquiring a new heart had had a dramatic influence on their lives with a new appreciation of the preciousness of life and a shift of priorities, toward altruism and spirituality. Sixty percent returned to work after the transplant but some had to adapt to a changed attitude from those around them who regarded them as anything from mystical creatures to vulnerable or still-sick individuals. While all recipients possessed a scientific knowledge of the anatomy and physiological significance of the heart (as revealed in the HIQ), many endorsed fantasies and displayed magical thinking: 46% of the recipients had fantasies about the donor’s physical vigor and prowess, 40% expressed some guilt regarding the death of the donor, 34% entertained the possibility of acquiring qualities of the donor via the new heart. When asked to choose a most and least preferred imagined donor, 49% constructed their choices according to prejudices, desires, or fears related to ethnic, racial or sexual traits attributed to the donor.
This study confirms the intuitive idea that heart transplant involves a stressful course of events that produces an amplified sense of the precariousness of existence. Simultaneously, it gives rise to rejoicing at having been granted a new lease on life and a clear sense of new priorities, especially with regard to relationships. Less expectedly, this study shows that, despite sophisticated knowledge of anatomy and physiology, almost half the heart recipients had an overt or covert notion of potentially acquiring some of the donor’s personality characteristics along with the heart. The concomitance of the magical and the logical is not uncommon in many areas of human existence, and is probably enhanced by the symbolic nature of the heart, and maybe, also, by the persistent stress that requires an ongoing, emotionally intense, adaptation process.
Aggregator Full Text
Inspector Y, Kutz I, David D
Shalvatah Psychiatric Center, Hod Hasharon, Israel.
The Israel journal of psychiatry and related sciences 41:3 2004 pg 161-73

If you look at the image of the donor Tim in the article you referred to, it doesn’t exactly tie in with the “You’re lumbering – like a musclebound football player” quote in the article.

And I am sure she would have felt a lot stronger.
Our hearts do have a lot of impact on who we get to be – no doubt about that. I know that when mine is beating at 195 beats per minute I don’t have much spare capacity for contemplation – most of my body’s resources are going toward reoxygenating my muscles (usually while cycling), and the brain is left starved of the resources it usually consumes.

And as I was careful to state, everything is related to everything else, and there are influences. And it seems much more likely to me that what she experienced came from some subconsciously overheard discussion (probably in the theatre) or attributes of the donor. She would have no conscious memory of such things, and they could be in the subconscious (which has access to vastly more information than the conscious – that is just how the systems seem to be structured).

It is not a subject that I have spent a lot of time researching.

[followed by]

Hi Ryon

I don’t doubt you had the experience.
I do doubt that the experience was an attribute of reality.

I have had many experiences (numbered in the thousands), that I definitely had, yet I strongly suspect were generated by my brain rather than having any correlate in reality. Many were similar to your own in that they occurred in that state between sleeping and wakefulness. After many years practice I found myself able to act as director in such experiences, without actually transitioning to full wakefulness – have had quite a bit of fun with that state over the years, rather enjoy it now, though initially it was often terrifying.
Many other experiences I have had have been in sleep deprived states.
I once did 72 hours without sleep while fishing, and started to see fish on the deck that weren’t there.
I have been long distance driving (driving over 500 miles a day plus working) often being tired, and have seen things that were not there (these days I am sufficiently aware that I stop and sleep just before reaching that state).

I am now very confident that I understand the major mechanisms behind how this happens, and I have written about how most of us take our model of reality as reality itself. Few people are aware that what we think of as reality isn’t, it is a model of reality created by the subconscious processes of our brains.

As to us being aliens, that seems highly improbable to me, based upon the vast amount of biochemical and geological evidence for evolution by natural selection operating here on earth over vast amounts of time.
How much evidence from biochemistry have you examined?
How much evidence from geology?

[followed by]


Glad to see you expressing things as you see them.

I agree with much that you have said.

I have no first-hand experience of transplants so don’t have that degree of confidence.

I would be surprised if anything as big as a transplant didn’t have some significant effect on the recipient.
We are all such complex entities, that I would expect our beliefs about the transplant to have some significant effects on our behaviour.
So the sorts of things reported are not things that surprise me at all.

What I was asserting, very categorically, is that people who receive heart transplants do not suddenly find themselves without all of their “heart longings” and immediately in possession of all of someone else’s “hearts desires”. And of course, anything as big as a heart transplant will have many effects on someone, at many different levels.

Certainly the heart produces a lot of electrical activity. It is a very powerful set of muscles, and while it is resting 70% of the time, it is active many times every minute.

I make no claim that all unusual activity is the result of hallucination. And it does seem very probable to me that experiences had during the period between sleeping and full wakefulness, particularly experiences involving paralysis, are likely to involve phenomena that are generated by the brain, rather being phenomena actually existent in reality. The brain contains mechanisms to disconnect motor instructions from motor neurons during sleep, to prevent us from injuring ourselves and others during nightmares. Experiencing this level of paralysis is a strong indicator that we are still on the dream side of consciousness.
I have had many such experiences myself (though not with aliens present, with different contexts).
Initially I found them quite frightening, then as I came to understand them, I developed techniques to allow me to transition through levels of consciousness quickly, and I have not been troubled by the experiences in several decades.

I do not deny anyone’s report of their experience.
I only challenge the correlation between that experience and reality.

And I agree with you about “flatland”.
It seems likely to me that reality is infinitely dimensional in a sense, and it behoves us all to be open to new levels of abstraction and understanding in any situation.

There are so many different realities in existence in a sense. And shear physical force is still a major one that we ignore at our peril (no different than Plato reports in The Republic in a sense).

And I reiterate, that acknowledging all of these things, the likelihood of us being aliens is extremely small, based upon the evidence sets that I have examined in the last 50+ years. The biochemical evidence is massive – but so few people actually look at it for themselves, and have enough of a familiarity with the levels of math needed to make sense of it.

I disagree with many of the conclusions of many experimenters, and I usually trust their evidence.

So yeah – some things we don’t agree about.
I don’t know anyone who agrees with me about everything (don’t know that I would trust anyone who did πŸ˜‰ ).

And all people are extremely complex (even if they have no conscious idea of how complex they are), so all are interesting (if sometimes a little frustrating πŸ˜‰ ).

[followed by]

My OM, you have been busy – 3 more posts while I wrote the last one.

Your characterisations of me are quite accurate – as I would expect from our years of interaction.

I disagree on the nature of consciousness.
I agree that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and it is often an indication that one needs to look for causal mechanisms.

In the realm of consciousness, it seems clear to me that we have all the causal mechanisms in place. That understanding is, as you have correctly characterised, and as I explained to Deb in the NVC group in September – one that is intuitive on many levels.
I am a geek.
I have tens of thousands of hours of playing around in abstract logical and mathematical spaces required for the design of computer systems. I have written many levels of systems, some operating system components, a language compiler, assembler level, op-code level, all 7 levels of the OSI model of systems and many levels of systems above the level of operating system. So my intuitions are not “common sense” for most people, though they definitely qualify as such for me.
My experience is most uncommon.
Not too many people combine the levels of biological knowledge and experience (having been farmer, and professional fisherman, and marine ecologist) with the experience in the abstract spaces of systems theory and systems design.
I’m an odd fish.
I get that.
I don’t do the social agreement thing easily.
I have my own interpretations, based upon my own experience and the intuitions derived from them.
You have some substantial sense of that, even if your experience sets and your intuitions are quite different from mine in many cases.

I wrote the deepest explanation I have done to date of the linkages that show clearly (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt) that in the case of consciousness and the brain, correlation does indeed involve causation, in July

So for me, while I expect to always be surprised by new levels of the evolving subtlety of the systems involved, I do not expect the fundamentals to change significantly, there are just too many clearly established systemic linkages.

And I don’t expect anyone else to necessarily understand or appreciate that as I do, because I don’t know anyone else like me, in that respect.
And I do expect those who know me to accept that this is how it is for me.

I can’t give anyone the sort of intuition that comes from over 10,000 hours of programming experience.
Similarly with biochemistry.
Similarly with animal behaviour.
The only way to get it is to do the time.
That just seems to be the nature of the systems existent in this reality we find ourselves in.

All IΒ can hope to do is to encourage people to put in as much time as they can spare to doing the work themselves, to generate their own abstract levels of understanding.

Perhaps I can generate enough possibility, by being who I am.

[followed by]


People don’t have to have conscious notions for notions to have an effect.
People only need to have subconscious patterns inherited from “culture” (in the widest sense), for those ideas to have feedback effects through the vast array of subconscious processes that are continuously operating below the level of conscious awareness.
Everyone has beliefs and expectations, just most people are not very aware of them (we couldn’t make any sort of sense of the world without them).

As a systems developer, I am completely familiar with the idea of different levels of systems being completely responsible for functions that are completely invisible to levels above and below, with only the interfaces (up and down) exposed to influence.

I am open to the possibility of cellular memory, and I have my doubts that it is significant in non brain cells, given the massive injuries some people have, and even the amount of body mass I have lost in cancer surgery. Even in brain cells, most memory seems to be holographically distributed, as an uncle of mine lost half his brain in a car vs train accident, and still retained memories of everything, just with less clarity than his siblings (according to the siblings).

For me, the balance of probabilities is in favour of predominantly subconscious cultural effects, which is what the data in the study cited above seems to indicate to me.

[followed by]


You need to give me something specific to work on.
I was working on the article Deb referred to.
All of what was described there seemed to be a very close fit to the the model I described.
If you have more data, please share.
First person data is usually most reliable – as in actual transcripts if possible (in the Alexander case I got a 10 minute chunk of first person data from the video of him speaking).

I don’t do clairvoyance πŸ˜‰

[followed by]

Hi Deb

Right on both counts.
Logic teaches that the easiest way to test an assertion is to take it to an extreme, where all other factors are reduced to near zero, and to test it there.
In the case of an assertion that the heart is the seat of emotions, the easiest test case is to look at heart transplant patients. Do they immediately have a change of 90% of their emotions from what they were to something new?
The answer seems to be clearly no.
Therefore, in logic, case closed; heart is not the seat of emotions.
Next question.

Now we step on to look at the less than 10%.

I have taken care to repeat many times that all things effect all other things to some degree.
I have noticed in people with mechanical hearts a certain “flatness” to their responses. So that brings us to looking at the more subtle feedback effects of the heart on emotions – which do most certainly seem to exist. And I don’t want to get into that discussion in detail, as it is huge.

As to the power of suggestion, it does not need to be at a conscious level.
And just having the word “heart” as a substitute for “emotion” causes a logical connection on the subconscious level that cannot be escaped. It is built into the form of our use of language.
Very few people are consciously aware of the levels of influence that the form of our use of language has, and the power of the cultural language forms we are born into. Julian Jaynes did some very powerful work in this area that I investigated a long time ago, with the recursive concept of “structions”.
So I can accept an assertion of no conscious desires, and still assert that there would be expected subconscious outcomes from the very structure of the way we use language.

And yes – I can be a very pedantic SOB, because sometimes the details are very important, and often it is not the details we think are important that are actually important – that is a lesson that 40 years of writing computer systems has drilled into the depths of my subconscious. Computers are morons, but very fast morons. They do exactly what you tell them, effectively every time, without fail (99.999999999999999999999999999% of the time). So if something isn’t working as expected, and it is repeatable, then the likelihood is very strong that they are doing exactly what you told them to do, and what you told them to do isn’t what you meant them to do.

Finding that sort of logical error in a large system can meaning keeping track of hundreds of different variables in one’s head, and watching the flow of logic as you work through a process, stopping periodically to compare actual with expected values, to narrow down the search for where the logical problem resides (the biggest system I wrote and maintain has more words in it that the bible, and they all have to have a specific logical relationship to each other for the system as a whole to work reliably).
Designing, debugging, supporting and modifying a system of that complexity requires an attention to detail, and a trust in intuition, as well as familiarity with all the tools of logic available.
That is what I get paid for (when I do get paid).

I suspect that my internal world is so alien that very few people would be able to make much sense of it at all, yet it is what I am.
I delight in working with systems of great complexity, yet my ability to communicate with other human beings is limited in the realm of the concepts and systems that most interest me.

The most complex system I am aware of is our human society, with all of its language, political, economic, and technological nuances – and the ecological interactions of that with the rest of the biosphere.
Getting all of those variables into my head in a way that I can do useful stuff with them is a big part of what keeps me here.

Reality is my only real authority.
When I load a system into a computer and run it, does it work?
When I put an idea into another person’s mind, does it stick and do what I think, or does it “bounce off” something and get rejected?
When I listen to or read someone else’s words, how closely can I get my model to mirror their model?
How easy is it to maintain alignment and integrity?

Ailsa is playing the piano beside me, yet while I wrote the words above, I was unaware of her playing. She finds the way I can disappear from the world of the senses and immerse myself completely in my internal world distressing at times, because I can be physically there and yet unresponsive. Her default mode is to interpret that as rejection, and there is a build up of resentment that needs to be vented periodically.
Yet for me it is nothing personal, it is simply what I do. I don’t reject her, I simply go exploring in my internal realm.
Building those internal realms requires time, and requires that I ignore all external stimuli.

So I sit here, sometimes staring into nothingness, fingers occasionally tapping on keys, doing what I do.

[followed by]

Hi Deb

Low 70s is a good rest pulse, and 150s is normal range for reasonable exercise.

35 years ago (when at my peak diving fitness) my rest pulse was down in the high 30s, and at full exertion it would peak a little over 220.
Not so fit anymore.
180 now feels like a very heavy workout.

There is one hill about 11 km away that I sprint up on the bike just to check my heart response when I’m fully warmed up, and last time I did that I got to 188, and had nothing left to give. And I am not very fit at present. Have been resting a lot the last 7 months to try and let this cracked rib or torn chest cartilage or whatever it actually is settle down. I have reopened it 5 times by getting too active too soon, so still taking it easy, and restricting my exercise to walking and light lifting. The bike has been off limits for a couple of months. Played my first round of golf in a while in the weekend, and did so without any discomfort, so have my fingers crossed that whatever it is it will stay knitted together this time.

[followed by]


Its really hard to do full exertion in a space craft.
Likelihood is that a heart rate around 195 would be induced by some sort of stress, probably emotional (from a very nasty situation) or from heat, or some other chemical/biological mechanism, all of which spell danger to the astronauts.

And I would imagine that any astronaut would be able to reach 195 under full physical workout on the ground.

And its not moderation in the moderate part of my activity that was the problem, it was the lack of moderation in the non-moderate part (all things in moderation, particularly moderation) πŸ˜‰ ! And it seems like I might have gotten past that particular hurdle.

[followed by]

Hi Ryon

As you say in respect of science “I am not satisfied and do not study those kinds of things” there probably isn’t much point in much further communication, as you are clear that no explanation I can provide will be satisfactory to you, and I hate wasting my time making people dissatisfied.

Probably best we just leave it at that.


About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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