Question of The Day ~19th November 2014~ Question?

Do you ask enough questions or do you settle for what you know?

What does “know” mean?

If “know” can mean sufficiently useful approximation to reality to be useful most of the time – then I probably settle for that a lot.

And I already have enough questions to last me a very long time if I chose to start exploring them in depth.

It is a really difficult question, trying to decide how much time to spend in reshaping one’s understanding against how much time to spend in applying it. It is a question I wrestle with every day.
In computational theory it is a subset of “the halting problem”.

In a sense, I am a slow learner, it takes me a lot of effort to acquire new concepts, but once I have them, I can use them quite quickly, across all sorts of domains.

In another sense, part of what makes me a slow learner is that I am often operating from a very different model (paradigm) from most others, and often there is no easy crossover between models, so that something that makes perfect sense in one model, simply has no equivalent in the other, and occurs as nonsense.
That is a real issue when looking at questions from multiple paradigms, sometimes there just is no translations from one paradigm to another. Often questions are very paradigm specific.

And what does enough mean?

Enough in what context?
Enough for what purpose?
Enough in which set of values?
Enough to whose liking?

I guess I ask enough questions for my liking most of the time.
And sometimes I wish that the answers I find were more easily translatable and transmissible to the paradigms that others use.

[followed by]

Hi Andrew

The problem I have is that the more I know the more I know I don’t know, and the less confident I become of many of the things I once knew for certain.

In my younger days knowledge meant knowing how something was.
Now knowledge means that the model of reality I have is good enough to work most of the time.

So for me all knowledge comes as probability functions associated with particular environments.

And I love that quote from Mark Twain “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

[followed by]

Hi Andrew

While I have some sympathy with Hume – There are some subtle differences between my understanding and his.

I agree with Descartes on one thing – The only thing we can be certain of is cogito ergo sum.
Because we are thinking, we know we are something, we just cannot be absolutely certain what.
I strongly suspect that we are a software entity experiencing a software model of the world and both us and the model reside in the hardware that is a human brain – I’d give that a probability of 99.9%+
And there are other competing possibilities that cannot be entirely dismissed – some of which are:
That we are a simulation in some computer system;
That we are dreams in the mind of a god;
That we are entities that have no material matrix.

While it seems clear to me that we are software entities in an organically evolved body and brain – I would add a few things to Hume’s definition.

It seems that there are four distinctly different classes of contribution to our ideas:
It seems that there are some classes of ideas that our brains are predisposed to owing to the structure given by genetics;
There are other ideas that we learn by imitating, which come from sense impressions in a sense;
There are other ideas that we accept implicitly (and often subconsciously) from culture, simply by immersion (another subset of sense impressions);
Then there are ideas that we abstract for ourselves, or recombine for ourselves. Our ability to abstract seems to be in part a side effect of the way our brains store and retrieve information, and in part a function of the pattern recognition systems of the neocortex.

While it is certainly true beyond any reasonable doubt that our conscious awareness is only the tiny tip of a vast subconscious computational morass, and very little of what we do is actually rational in the sense of consciously rationally chosen; that is how it must be. Our consciousness is such a slow thing, with such limited memory. Our brains contain billions of parallel processors each dealing with thousands of inputs about 100 times per second. It seem clear that our conscious experience of being is a small fraction of that processing power, which also does all the stuff we do – like walking, talking, thinking etc. I don’t consciously choose these words, I chose the intention, the words flowed, and I consciously reviewed the words as they flowed. I understand how that process works, and I can’t consciously do it, it is too complex for my slow consciousness.
The vast bulk of the power of what I am seems to come from the many levels of the pattern recognition systems within the neocortex of my brain.
And my choices do have an influence.

We cannot establish anything objective with absolute certainty, and we can get very confident based upon thousands of repetitions without error.

In a sense, everything is subjective, as we are subjective entities. That really isn’t an argument about anything, just a statement of logical necessity.

It seems clear to me, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, the content of consciousness is but the tiny tip of the computational and information systems that make us what we are. For me, the subconscious mind is a very real thing. The paths of communication between conscious and subconscious are critical to getting the most out of being human (both ways).

It seems very likely (again beyond any reasonable doubt) that there is an external physical world, and the possibilities mentioned earlier (and a raft of others) cannot be entirely excluded.

Given the above, everything must be subjective in this sense, and given what we have discovered about Quantum Mechanics, it seems that this existence we find ourselves in is a mixture of the lawful and the random (which is fortunate, because logic dictates that only in such a mixed world can free will have existence).

Ultimately we may know only one thing with absolute certainty – cogito ergo sum – in the act of thinking, we know we exist as a thinking entity. We cannot be certain about any of the physical or spiritual characteristics of that entity, and we know that something that knows itself as us exists – at least in that instant of thinking.

Morality can be based in reason, and it often isn’t.
Certainly our early developmental attempts at morality are based more in accepted dogma than reason, and reason alone is not enough to define a human being.
Being human is much more about intuition (knowing without knowing how we know) than it is about reason. And reason is a great tool to cultivate and to have in one’s toolkit.

The idea of god fails Ockham’s Razor – which is not any sort of proof, it is simply a tool of logic, which states that when faced with multiple competing hypotheses, it is always wise to take the simplest – and a god, with its computational powers of omniscience, is always going to be more complex than any alternative.
There may in fact be a god or gods, and it seems logical that they must have evolved in some matrix at some time (in as much as time has a meaning – whatever the correlate of existence vector might be).

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
This entry was posted in Question of the Day and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Comment and critique welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s