Sunday, October 12, 2008

Still Apparently Sane, after Finishing Said Book

None of the header statement is demonstrably or provably true. I certainly did finish Everything and More: a History of Infinity, but the truth is that I skimmed most of the symbolic systems recorded therein, just as I have done since about high school, which was the last time I ever aced math. But then I absolutely know that I did finish Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid way back when, and felt that I had read and understood every single word, but by now the state of my completeness is surely no better than that for this more recently, though perhaps less completely, finished book.

I suppose that at my advanced age, I'm going to have to stop apologizing for the laziness and non-programmatic way in which I approach all knowledge and understanding. But without that apology, my fully-to-be-expected claim that indeed even mathematics falls within the tractor beam of my Great Discovery, would at least seem several orders of magnitude more cheeky than it already is going to be (right about precisely now).

The thing is that I actually have been working on this, in one way or another, for my entire life, and indeed there have been great expenditures of mental labor and anxiety all along the way. I've bothered to master the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese, if not quite its native speech, and I delved at least as far into its arcane (even to Chinese, much less Westerners) classical roots as I have more recently into the World Bill Gates Created. In either case, yes it's true, I have hung back from commitment, not incidentally as I have in my personal life.

This thing about the World Bill Gates Created is pretty fascinating in itself, since it represents an entire, as described to me by a retired Microsoft radical, "ecology" which could not have existed without the draconian rule over its own internal domain and that of its extended and connected community of developers, not to mention the docile unregulated markets (we know what that has come to) of almost the entire free world (sans China, where only a single legal copy of anything has ever been purchased, and where they patriotically labor toward Linux-opia, even though on purloined MS desktops).

But, as usual, I digress. Suffice it to say that I get actually paid, and I think do a pretty good job and real work with actual results, as part of an immense kind-of outsourced army of Microsoft's extended worker-bee network. I mean always to find the time to master the Open Source stuff - mostly so that I can recycle those cool old laptops I've been collecting for the Brave New Browser Only World I can't wait for especially now that I/we won't be able to keep buying new ones capable of holding the geometrically expanding MS OS - but there's too much always to master in the Microsoft cosmos even to begin.

If I were younger, of course, I'd have the enthusiasm, and therefore the time. But thanks God I'm not still subject to youthful fantasies of getting better laid which seem always connected to such enthusiasms (that last is a bald-faced lie, especially the "better" part, but it's true there's more down time) Likely, I'm just plain lazy.

Well, it - professional commitment - doesn't interest me nearly so much as reading books, and while reading them, sometimes, pondering how they validate or not my grand theory of Life the Universe and Everything, which I think, if we were all honest, is the way all of us read books, if we read seriously and at all.

I should really end this apology here.

The point is, at least as this reader abstracted the essential point of this now literally most recently read book, mathematics remains poised, as it were, on the horns of a paradox dilemma (laugh track) which has something to do with the impossibility post Gödel et al., of even imagining itself as an entirely self-contained formal system at the same time that it continues to demonstrate ever more power toward describing and therefore getting a handle on the real world, so called, of actual non-formal phenomena.

This apparently drives and has perhaps driven many actual mathematicians quite crazy, although as you might expect there is plenty of debate on that subject. Surely David Foster Wallace himself was not driven to hang himself by his own personal and truly masterful and prodigious feats of intellectual prowess. According to Wikipedia, according to his father, Wallace had long suffered dangerous and extreme depression, together with being an unfortunate outlier on the continuum of medication-related side effects such that he could no longer take (in every sense) the medications which had demonstrably helped him.

Packed in there might be some claim, make-able by someone not me, that he did in fact suffer from that thing I fear myself - spinning out of control with the battle he chose to wage with concepts so entirely abstracted from everyday normalcy that he must have found himself quite terribly alone. I look forward, with only a little trepidation, to reading his Infinite Jest which apparently tangles with The American Scene, and treats in particular of irony, that incredible indicator of whether these days one is Red or Blue.

I trust the man is (was, alas) uniquely suited to treat of irony. I am overawed by his mastery of mathematics, which for a literary type seems rare indeed (though this seeming is itself something of a formalized fiction since I'm pretty sure all the greats - admittedly biased selection - are amazingly deft with scientific realism, mathematical abstractions, and the symbolic ways these things penetrate to the soul of Man 2000 or so years Post Christus. That might even have a lot to do with Irony.

I do claim, however, that I have retained my sanity quite intact, and maybe even do so by not quite getting overheated by claims or counterclaims about what is really real, nor too distracted by apparently powerful arguments in one direction or another. This is, I believe, a little bit like the reserve a sane person must retain in the face of fevered claims, that, for instance GWB actually did plan and execute the demolition of the World Trade Center towers. Most of this is easy enough to do, since the argumentation plainly takes advantage of our degraded so-called education system and the fact that most people don't know - haven't been taught - how to distinguish a reasoned argument from an advertising claim. There's always someone just off camera saying "see, see, hunh? yeah?" when juxtapositions are made between, say Bill Clinton's whereabouts and someone's death as if that constitutes proof that he actually Did It. OK, so I shifted from Bush conspiracy theories to Clinton adversaries-murdered conspiracy theories, but you know what I'm talking about.

The thing is that at the end of the game, the mathematicians are in the very same position as are the apoplectic conspiracy nuts about the difference between circumstantial and hard evidence. And the very wanting to believe drives many many people to a frenzy, sometimes murderous, as witness recent McCain rallies, where even McCain grew alarmed at what he'd, by criminally actionable ads no different that screaming "fire" in a crowded auditorium, unleashed. His fans were shouting something which sounded very much like "Kill Obama" and in one case, McCain had to mount the unfamiliar high road and quiet a self-professed "scared" supporter (scared of the Obama he'd been systematically lied to about) with calming words of reassurance that Obama is a decent and well-meaning man.

What the hell do they expect? These are the same people who believed the videos they circulated about Bill Clinton's murders and about the US Government plans to bring down the Trade Centers. Why the hell wouldn't they believe the similarly poorly argued claims that Obama is a closet terrorist? Apparently, many many of the ironically challenged will believe most anything, especially if it pushes the God button.

So, here I am, as far as it's reasonably possible to be, from adopting the formal methods of proof, and I want you, gentle reader, to buy my claim that "emotion is out there" (quoting myself to sound eerily like the X-Files, which I never did watch, but got the gist of). Furthermore, I want you actually to accept that this is the very resolution of all mathematical and other paradoxes, simply because there is no certain separation between the phenomenal and formal (mental) worlds. And that the attempt to keep them separate, which is the attempt to keep Man (the superset) un-implicated in Creation (now I'm being metaphorical) is no longer a moral choice.

Well, that is to say that it is precisely now a moral choice, and the choice to hold onto the fiction that we are un-implicated is, very precisely, immoral.

I guess I'd better go back to posting more "chapters" of my youthful writings. I hear they are considerably more engaging than the cancerous explosion I'm indulging now. I did, not incidentally (is anything ever incidental?), confess the location of this blog to my psychotherapist, along with a quite accurate description of my quest to describe something between a scientific discovery and a delusional fantasy. I remain unperturbed that these might actually be the very same thing, even formally definable as such.

So there!

But I do actually worry (now that right there is pretty colossal hubris) about taking the wind out of the sails of so many earnest, talented and really really intelligent scientists who are so hard at work to solve the world's actual problems. So, I must say again, as I did say now over 25 years ago, that nothing in what I'm trying to say actually changes anything. It's a point of view shift. Nothing gets invalidated. I say this, in particular, because I really really really want those very smart economic technocrats to continue their very important work toward getting our financial markets back in order, even as we - so to - speak.

It reminds me of those nutcake Left Behind books. I want the pilot to keep flying, fer chrissakes, even if it is the endtimes. Too much depends on it. (and it's NOT the endtimes. It's the beginning times, and way way way more exciting than what technology has brought us - that kind of transcendance has always only been metaphorical. But damn, I think I'm quoting myself from 25 years ago . . . )

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