Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Filling the Blanks in Cosmology, Getting the Terms Right

I once introduced myself as a cosmologist. Only once. I meant it in earnest, but still felt silly about it. I quickly demurred that "I make my money in other ways." As though I make money at all. 

I was celebrating my 60th birthday with friends, and their friend, who is friends with (Buffalo) Mark Ruffalo, happened to be there. She runs a non-profit in earnest, which promises to find a sustainable energy infrastructure in our approximate lifetimes, which is all the time we have left. Ruffalo helps. It was she who provoked my verbal incontinence. Welcome to grandiosity.

And yet I am a cosmologist. Not sanctioned as such, but I am in line with a turn of thought which still goes back to the Bible's setting up man against nature in what must be considered now to be a battle with God for dominion. 

My cosmos is composed much as is the cosmos of the sanctioned philosophers and scientists except that they all still seem stuck with a, to me, rather silly conflation of the brain with the mind. 

That has allowed us to imagine computers, which operate in the realm of purest abstraction, as a model for the mind, and especially for intelligence. Mainly it has allowed us to conceive of a cosmos that is without us, separate from us, and which doesn't need us.

Nobody supposes that a computer is not detached from the world around it. A computer even has to reach out to the natural world for real random numbers, since it can't create them on its own. But everyone supposes that the cosmos doesn't need mind. I beg to differ.

Cosmos certainly doesn't need computers, but we might, here on earth.

I once ran into Bruno LaTour, who sat randomly behind me after his talk at the "Feverish Planet" symposium in Burlington Vermont, where I was no longer making money "doing other things." The college didn't need me anymore.

I mentioned to him that his talk gave me hope. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, commenting that most people find his expositions on planetary distress depressing. I told him that he had gotten some terms right, and that gave me hope for our future. He had rectified the words.

I sure do wish I could remember how his terms were "gotten right," but then I've entered the dead zone, Meaning the zone whereinafter my death won't be considered a tragedy so much as it will be considered part of the more natural course of events. Meaning that there's lots of important stuff that doesn't stick with me so well.

Part of it was that he'd inverted a map - a schematic - of the world, to show inside as outside perhaps, and that had empowered me. I haven't been able to afford the time or money to catch myself back up. He was concerned about the thin surface where life abounds, and to be sure that we could see it.

We certainly do live on an uncanny planet. This New York Review of Books review is right on my money. 

Meanwhile, I'd better try to clean up some of my own terms:


These are the terms which I manipulate on my way toward a description of cosmos that makes an improvement on the one concocted by physicists. I believe that it, "my" cosmology, moves decisively away from regarding man as a subjective observer of a world that runs without us. It makes a completion of the war against God, with resolution is in the direction of peace.

I would even say that this cosmology offers a kind of extravagant hope even in the midst of collective despair among those of us who are reasonably well-educated and still not so much on the winning side of the capitalist Hunger Games to where life is so good that we don't give a fuck about what happens in our collective future. 

I do disparage digital, and not only because of its hijacking of so much of our time and free-will by its futures economy of ownership of the noospheric commons, and not even so much by its hijacking of our actual organic living by luring us into a kind of metaverse life, although those things are really awful. The trouble isn't even with the conflation of mind with brain. The trouble is that these digital denizens live in a cosmos where they get the terminology all wrong. Which means, of course, that they know not what they do.

I do retain the faith that we can fix things if we get the terminology right. It is certain that we can't if we don't. It is also certain that there are some corporate persons in the digital economy which are just as sociopathic as DuPont has been revealed to be.

Digital is, by definition, only capable of abstraction. It only exists in the abstract. It can imitate life to any arbitrary degree of accuracy, but it can't be life, any more than a perfect circle can exist in perceptual reality.

By the same token, perceptual reality can't exist without conceptual reality.

Here's why (again, by way of definition):

Percepts are those things that we, living creatures, interact with physically. They touch us, and thus we feel them. We perceive them. I remember being astonished that our eyeballs can detect even a single photon, and then it was proven and I saw one. A single photon.

Concepts are those things that we can't perceive, but which are no less real for that. We seem to be able to hold them "in" (by!) our minds, but that doesn't mean that they reside only there. Beyond the photon scale toward small, we still consider things to be physically real, which means perceptually real, even though they are more properly concepts. Concepts also come into being on their own, and we may discover them but not invent them in the way that we ordinarily mean by "conception." We speak of concepts by way of metaphor, most of the time. From the physically real to the conceptually real. Often starting with our bodies. (Chinese handles this differently, without God, without Plato, by way of correspondence in form of function in a literary couplet.)

Emotion describes the relation among percepts or concepts when that relation doesn't involve perceptual motion. Perceptual motion involves forces and energy. Forces and energy involve "particles," many of which are particles only in the metaphorical sense. Emotion is instantaneous and defines "synchronous," which can't quite physically exist, in actuality. All of physical reality is in constant motion, living or dead, and this creates imponderable paradox, post relativity theory and quantum theory, in definitions for simultaneity. While those paradoxes may not be resolved conceptually, they are resolved when concepts are properly "placed" outside, in the world. A conceptual relation is, in effect, timeless.

Naming is what the human mind does in order to share, even with oneself, something important that the mind does for the sake of physical survival. To name is to abstract something conceptual from what had been repeated iterations of a threat or an object of desire. Private language is not a possible move linguistically, and so a name is necessarily also outside the mind.. Names are by definition shared, and happenstance is what's left over when the desired matching of name with object doesn't bear fruit.

Abstraction, though happens well before the human mind and before naming. Any conscious creature abstracts before emotion - sometimes referred to in these cases as intuition - can direct action in the "right" direction. Even in the human and word-addled mind, emotion directs the mind's action, even while thinking the very most abstracted thoughts, which are but rehearsals of language, preverbally, after we learn to be silent and not even engage the vocal apparatus. We call this activity thinking. We take conscious ownership of our intuitive decisions once we can communicate them, even to ourselves. Our brains may play halfsies for a reason.

Information is what might be important to communicate. It is a conceptual relation of concepts or percepts, most often, these days, reduced to numerical abstraction for ease and fidelity of communication. Its usefulness in communication relates only to the desirability of the work that it allows to be accomplished. The entropy of information depends entirely on whether it gets communicated or not. Order is reversed, in this case meaning order as orderliness where, in communication, the less order the less entropy, the more surprise. Absent communication, the more order the less information and the less entropy. This allows for the difference between life and death, the communication does. Genes are devoid of information; they are instructions, worthless without something real from which to make [life].

Mind, therefore, has always been present in cosmos, and is not attributable to human existence. I say "therefore" because a cosmos without concepts is inconceivable! 

So there's my cleanup. I still maintain that if we get the terms right we can "fix" the damage that we've done. Not by going backwards, but by going forward, as Mark O'Connell urges. Or is it Nathaniel Rich. I shall be reading them both now, grace the public library.

We can only change the way we live on our planet home if we let go of those misconceptions which allow us to feel innocent about what we're getting and doing wrong. 

We still won't change until we recognize our responsibility to change. That means letting go of misconceptions, religious, scientific, and otherwise. It means accepting that we can't know anything about how cosmos runs without us.

The good news is that abstraction is extremely powerful. It gives us the ability to make forever chemicals that might destroy civilization, at the same time that it gives us the ability to know they're there, just like we know to some degree of precision how much radioactive fallout we've added to our planetary load.

If I'm right that emotion can be defined as concepts morphing; including arrays of perceptual matter which change configuration not because of forceful interactions, but perhaps because we've changed the way we "see" them. 

And if I'm also right that cosmos doesn't require human mind for this to happen; that it's happening all the time all over the place. Then the very encoding of information about what's round about us might be an intensely emotive act in and of itself.

We find ourselves at a time when we still refuse to recognize a direction to the evolutionary process, and yet we could. That makes us the moral equivalent of global warming deniers. But I exaggerate. What I don't exaggerate is what Bratton's so-called "stack" does to provide us with levers, which could never have been so powerful, mainly because they're so collective. But alas, he lives in a purely physical world. The moral equivalent of living in a purely digital world.

As is always the case, our tools may harm us. Digital reality allows me to borrow a book from the local library in the time of the plague, and read it instantly. Digital reality also allows me to entertain myself with empty matters without ever leaving my seat. It allows for a new phase of vectorialist capitalism, which might make way for sociopathic corporate persons even worse than the DuPont which gave us PFOA, to give us Teflon, so that we wouldn't have to scrub our pans. Warfare fallout.

We shouldn't make the same old Platonic mistake of trying to live in a world of pure ideas. We have to live down to earth. We aren't alive without it.

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