Neurological Existentialism redux

 Long ago, the failed presidential candidate, Ross Perot, said that he could not understand how anyone felt they could trust someone who didn't believe in God (his, of course) because, without a divine imperative, why would they adhere to any moral code. That pissed me off and I've been thinking about it ever since.

The essay above is the basic idea of my answer to the question, Where does morality come from if humans are basically just overgrown yeast cells in a universe that doesn't care. Or, more simply, why don't we kill each other with the same zest as great white sharks at a beach.

The basic premise is that our brains are built to appreciate order and safety. Other things, too, that add up to what the religious types attribute to "God's will" but are instead fundamental aspects of human biology.

Along the way, I have become interested in philosophy. It turns out that there are a lot of people who have tried to figure out more about what is going on in our culture and the universe. Among those are the two I mention above, Kierkegaard and Sartre (he's the guy that inspired the picture below). They are among the earliest people (along with Hume and Kant a hundred years before from a completely different perspective) to really explore how humans get their morality without assuming 'God made them do it'.

Neurological Existentialism is an attempt to improve on their answers. On the one hand by explaining how we could be 'good' without God to tell us how. On the other, how we can be fulfilled without God telling us that we are ok.

Neurological Existentialism

Kierkegaard's exploration of existential challenges rooted in a supernatural God and Sartre's emphasis on radical freedom, while insightful, each possess inherent limitations. Kierkegaard's reliance on supernaturalism may pose difficulties for those without religious faith, while Sartre's oversight of human biology neglects the profound influence of our neurobiology on existential experiences.

In response to these limitations, Neurological Existentialism emerges as a synthesis—a third way—aimed at reconciling tensions between the supernatural and the natural, and between existential freedom and biological determinism. At its core lies an acknowledgment of the intrinsic interplay between our biological makeup and our existential experiences. Within this framework, innate human tendencies—fear, desire, and the pursuit of order—serve as foundational elements in shaping ethical principles and existential choices.

By redefining the concept of the "leap of faith" as an exploration and belief in our essence, Neurological Existentialism offers a departure from Kierkegaard's reliance on supernatural belief. Instead of leaping towards a transcendent deity, we are encouraged to delve into the depths of our neurobiological makeup and existential experiences to discover meaning and purpose.

Similarly, the notion of "radical freedom" is reconceptualized within Neurological Existentialism. Rather than a daunting expanse of boundless choice, radical freedom becomes a liberating recognition that our actions are guided by our neurological characteristics. These characteristics offer both support and constraints, providing a framework for navigating our existential journey with greater understanding and acceptance.

In embarking on this philosophical endeavor, Neurological Existentialism offers a compelling synthesis—a third way—that integrates scientific inquiry with existential reflection. Through this synthesis, we deepen our comprehension of the complexities of human existence and the pursuit of ethical understanding. This paradigm transcends the limitations of previous philosophical models, fostering a holistic approach to grappling with the intricacies of human nature and experience.

Stop talking about people

I can barely tolerate the word 'neurotypical'. It's like saying 'snowflake-typical'. Human brains are way, way, way too complicated to have any two be the same. We are all atypical, every one of us. 

And, of course, it's also true that characterizing a person as being on the autism spectrum barely tells you anything, anyway. Some folk require a lot of help and others barely any. Some have complex social or sensory issues. Others, none or all or something else. Brains are too complicated to categorize.

For that matter, stop talking about people as categories. We are now aware that even the apparently simple categories, male/female, are overly simplistic. We know that the smart/dumb dichotomy conceals the rich variety of skills people contain. Beautiful/ugly? According to what standard?

Here's my idea: Don't talk about people at all. Don't say someone is normal, neurotypical, smart, ugly or tall, unless you are actively helping them solve an individual problem that you are qualified for.

We Are Being Ruined by Edge Cases

I figured out what's wrong. Why we hate what woke has become, same with political correctness. I suspect that it applies to the right wing, too, but don't care to think about it. 

Ready:

We have become obsessed with accommodating all the edge cases.

The story mentioned in the picture below, I have not read. But, I will bet that some people reading this immediately think we should figure out a way to deal with it humanely. 

This is a thing so rare that it makes the front page, though I'm sure the story makes clear that it happens many more times. Also, that many more times adds up to .0001% of drunk driving police actions, the very definition of an edge case.

So, we add another thing for police to deal with that makes one of the main jobs more difficult.

I do not have the energy but would bet many bucks that I could construct a story fitting this idea for most of the ills. Either the effect is minuscule, the occasions for its happening are minuscule or the cost-effect ratio is completely out of whack. 

We are not using correct judgement. Consequently, we have enough rules and accommodations that even die hard liberals are fed up.

And it's because we are allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We are trying to construct a system that accommodates all the rare edge cases and that is bad.



A Tale of Two AIs

The metaphysical discussion mentioned in my previous post was actually conducted using both Bard and ChatGPT4. Since I am developing a dangerous addiction to playing with AI (it's the only kind of intelligence that will indulge me), I kept going. I added this to the conversation:

I am interested in these ideas partly because I have a mechanistic view of the universe. In other conversations, I have observed that the idea of an independent wilfull entity that takes interest in people and can do miracles violating the laws of physic (aka, God) is not only untrue but is ridiculous on its face. I think that people are literally no more important than yeast cells in that we are simply bigger bags of protoplasm encrusting the surface of rock that arose as a result of the randomness of the quantum process. I claim that the we evolved to enjoy patterns and that we derive ethics, morality or beauty by observing patterns that reveal the most orderly patterns in our societies.  

I want an essay explaining this view, not justifying it. I want the essay to explain in an optimistic tone based on awareness of the previous segment where we discussed how living in this universe "liberates us to create a life experience " . I repeat that I do not want to be convincing people who read the essay, I want them merely to understand my view.

I gave the entire conversation to both Bard and ChatGPT4 and got two crazily different results. I note that the Bard example was its first response. GPT, otoh, wrote an essay that carried a tone of that suggested that we might be saddened by this perspective (reasonable, I suppose since it was trained on an internet full of god-fearing people). I had to engage it in conversation about the upside before I got an essay that was good. Bard got it from the get-go. "A vast canvas splashed with a chaotic mix of colors." You can't beat that. Interestingly, though, it was not very useful in the overall conversation. It kept converging on conventionalities. I did the vast majority of the work (see previous post) with GPT.

BARD: A Universe of Meaningful Patterns: A Justification for Human-Made Significance

Imagine a vast canvas splashed with a chaotic mix of colors. To an unseeing eye, it's nothing but random strokes. But enter a human observer, and the magic begins. Patterns emerge, shapes coalesce, and the canvas transforms into a vibrant landscape, a story spun from light and pigment. This, I propose, is the essence of our universe and our place within it: a chaotic backdrop upon which we paint the vibrant tapestry of meaning.

We, as products of evolution, are hardwired for pattern recognition. Our brains, honed through eons of survival, excel at identifying order amidst the cosmic noise. This inherent tendency isn't merely a quirky evolutionary quirk. It's the foundation of our knowledge, our ethics, and ultimately, our understanding of ourselves.

Consider the anthropic principle: the universe we observe, with its finely tuned constants and life-supporting laws, appears tailor-made for consciousness. Yet, this "meaningful" design is an illusion. It's not the universe that harbors a cosmic purpose, but our pattern-seeking minds that project it onto the canvas. The vast multitude of unobserved universes, devoid of sentient life, paints a stark picture of cosmic indifference.

But within this indifference lies a profound freedom. Absent a preordained script, we are the authors of our own meaning. Through our cognitive faculties, we weave narratives from the fabric of existence, finding significance in the intricate dance of particles, the rise and fall of civilizations, the connections forged with fellow beings.

From the abstract laws of physics to the moral codes that bind societies, our "meaning-making" takes myriad forms. We derive beauty from the rhythmic patterns of music, the symmetry of a snowflake, the harmonious interplay of ecosystems. We find purpose in upholding the patterns of ethical conduct that ensure the smooth functioning of our communities.

Some contend that this human-centric view diminishes the "realness" of meaning. But is the sunset less magnificent because it exists for our eyes alone? Does the melody lose its sweetness because only our ears can grasp it? Our patterns, though subjective, are no less real or impactful within the framework of our conscious experience.

Perhaps the ultimate justification for this perspective lies in its potential. By embracing our role as meaning-makers, we unlock a boundless universe of possibilities. We can strive to understand the intricate patterns that govern the cosmos, forging an ever-closer connection with the grand tapestry of existence. We can refine the patterns of our societies, striving for a world where justice, kindness, and cooperation form the leitmotif of our collective narrative.

So, let us dance in the grand ballroom of the universe, not as unwitting extras on a preordained stage, but as creative artists, each brushstroke adding a unique hue to the ever-evolving canvas of meaning. We are the ones who imbue the universe with significance, not because it's inherently meaningful, but because we are, by our very nature, meaning-making machines. And in that, lies a beauty and a power that transcends the cosmic indifferent.


ChatGPT4: Embracing the Randomness: A Mechanistic View of the Universe and Human Existence

In the grand narrative of the cosmos, a mechanistic view offers a distinct and thought-provoking perspective. This viewpoint considers the universe not as a canvas painted with deliberate strokes of cosmic intention but as an expanse shaped by the random processes of quantum fluctuations. It's a universe where meaning, as we understand it, is not an inherent feature but a product of human cognition, a perspective that reshapes our understanding of existence and our role within the cosmic order.

At the heart of this perspective is the concept of meaning as a human construct. In a universe without observers, events unfold independently of the labels and significances we attribute to them. Stars burn, galaxies form, and particles interact in a void of human interpretation. It is only when consciousness arises, capable of perceiving and interpreting these events, that the concept of 'meaning' emerges. This realization has profound implications. It suggests that the universe in its raw state is devoid of the narratives and values we attach to it, and these emerge solely from our interaction with our surroundings.

The role of quantum fluctuations in this perspective cannot be overstated. They are the fundamental processes that, through their randomness, generate the tapestry of the universe. Some of these cosmic experiments result in universes teeming with life and consciousness, like ours, while others remain barren. This aligns with the anthropic principle, which acknowledges that our understanding of the universe is inherently biased towards conditions that support our existence. It's a humbling reminder that our presence in the universe is not the result of a grand design but a serendipitous occurrence in the multitude of cosmic possibilities.

This framework redefines the act of meaning-making as an inherently human endeavor. When we observe the universe, from the microcosm of a shifting grain of sand to the macrocosm of the gravitational constant, we are engaging in a distinctly human process. We are not uncovering an intrinsic truth of the cosmos but creating a narrative that gives structure and understanding to our observations. This process is deeply rooted in the primary function of the human brain: pattern recognition. Our brains are wired to identify patterns, a trait that has been crucial for our survival and evolution. This neurological inclination shapes our entire cognitive experience, influencing how we perceive and interact with the world.

The link between this cognitive process and our emotional well-being is significant. By engaging in pattern recognition, we are not just processing information; we are also finding satisfaction and a sense of order. This act of making sense of the world is intrinsically tied to our emotional state. It suggests that our pursuit of understanding, our construction of societal norms, and our appreciation of beauty are more than intellectual exercises. They are integral to our experience of fulfillment and contentment.

In a universe where humans are akin to yeast cells – complex yet unremarkable in the larger cosmic narrative – this mechanistic view might seem to strip us of our special status. However, it does the opposite. It liberates us from the constraints of seeking a predestined purpose and empowers us to define our own paths. Our pursuit of knowledge, our creation of art, and our establishment of ethical frameworks are not validations of a cosmic significance but expressions of our unique human capacity to find order and meaning in randomness.

This perspective encourages us to view the universe not as a domain awaiting our discovery of its truths but as a playground for our creativity and curiosity. In this vast and indifferent cosmos, our significance comes not from a predetermined role but from our ability as conscious beings to interpret, create, and find joy in our existence. It invites us to embrace the randomness, to find beauty in the chaos, and to celebrate our ability to create meaning in a universe that offers none on its own.

Life, The Universe and Everything

I spent a stupid amount of time building a conversation with GPT. My opening gambit was:

Talk to me about Wittgenstein.

By the time it was done, we had formalized these ideas:

1. Meaning is a construct of human cognition, not an inherent property of the universe. Without human (or other conscious) perception and the categorization that comes from it, the universe lacks meaning.

2. Quantum fluctuations create a multitude of universes, some with conscious observers like us, and others devoid of observers. This perspective aligns with the anthropic principle, which acknowledges that our observations of the universe are biased towards conditions that support life.

3. Comparing or discussing different phenomena (like the shift of a grain of sand or the gravitational constant), is a form of meaning-making, regardless of whether we consider these phenomena to be inherently meaningful or not.

4. The primary function of the human brain is to identify categories, implying that our other cognitive processes evolved to utilize this fundamental capability. Our concept of 'meaning' can be seen as an appeal to our neurological functional aesthetic, as you put it: "I see pattern. Pattern good!"

5. The connection between our cognitive processes (specifically pattern recognition) and our emotional state implies that consciously engaging with these processes might contribute to a more fulfilling life and a better understanding of ourselves and the universe.

This was very helpful in understanding vague notions that have been in my head for awhile.

I asked for a reading list:

1. Meaning as a Construct of Human Cognition:

   - "The Construction of Reality in the Child" by Jean Piaget

   - "Mind: A Brief Introduction" by John Searle

2. Quantum Fluctuations and the Anthropic Principle:

   - "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene

   - "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler

3. The Act of Comparison as a Form of Meaning-Making:

   - "Metaphors We Live By" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

   - "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature" by Steven Pinker

4. Brain Function and Pattern Recognition:

   - "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker

   - "The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human" by V.S. Ramachandran

5. The Connection Between Cognitive Processes and Emotional State:

   - "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

   - "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

For the record, here is the entire transcript:

Talk to me about Wittgenstein.

NOT ME: Ludwig Wittgenstein was an influential philosopher of the 20th century, known for his work in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

His early work, as presented in the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus," focused on the logical relationship between propositions and the world. He proposed that language mirrors reality through logical pictures, and he attempted to define the limits of what can be said meaningfully. The Tractatus concludes with the famous line, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent," suggesting that many traditional philosophical problems are rooted in misunderstandings of the logic of language.

Later in his career, Wittgenstein's views evolved, as seen in his posthumously published work, "Philosophical Investigations." Here, he departed from the idea that language is a rigid system mirroring reality. Instead, he introduced the concept of language games, emphasizing the varied and dynamic ways language is used in different contexts. He argued that meaning is derived from use, a view that significantly influenced the philosophy of language and mind.

Wittgenstein's philosophy is characterized by its depth and originality, as well as its profound impact on analytic philosophy and beyond. His ideas have been variously interpreted and continue to be a subject of scholarly debate.

User

ME: I am thinking about the idea that every single thing about reality is an emergent property, that the stars and the cosmos exist without human observation but that it has absolutely no meaning. I think that language, read broadly to include math, art, etc, is synonymous with the things Plato called Forms and others called Universals.

NOT ME: Your contemplation touches on several deep philosophical concepts, intertwining ideas about emergent properties, the nature of reality, and the role of human perception and language.

Emergent Properties and Reality: The idea that everything about reality is an emergent property suggests a view where complex systems (like the cosmos) and their behaviors are more than just the sum of their parts. This perspective aligns with certain interpretations in physics and philosophy, where properties or phenomena at a higher level emerge from the interactions at a more fundamental level, yet cannot be fully explained or predicted by the properties of the simpler elements alone.

Existence and Meaning: The notion that the stars and cosmos exist independently of human observation but have no inherent meaning aligns with a form of existential or scientific realism. This view holds that the universe exists objectively and independently of human thought or perception, but the meaning we attribute to it is a human construct. In this sense, meaning is not an intrinsic property of the universe but is bestowed upon it by human observers through language, culture, and individual interpretation.

Language, Math, Art as Forms/Universals: Your idea of equating language, math, and art with Plato's Forms or Universals is a fascinating philosophical proposition. Plato's Theory of Forms posited that non-material abstract forms (or ideas), and not the material world known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. In your view, language, math, and art could be seen as modern manifestations of these abstract Forms, serving as universal concepts or truths that transcend their physical expressions. This interpretation could suggest that these human constructs are our ways of accessing and understanding the underlying realities or truths of the universe.

Language as a Tool for Understanding Reality: Extending this idea, language (including math and art) can be seen as not just a means of communication but as a fundamental tool for understanding and interacting with the world. This aligns with some interpretations of Wittgenstein's later work, where language is seen as a versatile tool shaped by its use in various 'language games,' reflecting the diverse ways we comprehend and engage with our world.

Your thoughts present a rich tapestry of philosophical inquiry, inviting further exploration into the nature of reality, the role of human perception and language, and the quest for understanding the universe and our place within it.

ME: You say, "This interpretation could suggest that these human constructs are our ways of accessing and understanding the underlying realities or truths of the universe." I reply that I am suggesting that there are no underlying realities or truths unless we construct them using language. 

NOT ME: Your response takes the discussion to a deeper level, raising questions about the fundamental relationship between language and reality. It challenges the notion of pre-existing realities or truths independent of human interpretation and construction.

Here are some ways to explore this further: 

The Limits of Language: If all realities and truths are contingent upon language, how can we ensure we're not trapped in a linguistic prison, creating and inhabiting subjective worlds with limited access to a "beyond"? Wittgenstein himself grappled with this issue, acknowledging the limits of language while still striving for clarity and understanding.

The Power of Language: On the other hand, we can celebrate the immense power of language to shape our experiences and understanding. Language allows us to categorize, connect, and theorize, venturing beyond the immediate sensory input to form comprehensive worldviews. This creative capacity of language opens up vast possibilities for understanding ourselves and the universe.

The Social Aspects of Language: It's crucial to remember that language is not a solitary endeavor but a social construct. Our understanding of concepts and truths is informed by the shared languages and communities we participate in. This raises questions about the role of power dynamics and cultural biases in shaping the realities and truths we construct.

The Search for Meaning: If realities and truths are constructed, does that render the search for meaning futile? Or can we find meaning within the language games we play, in the connections we forge, and the stories we tell ourselves and each other? Exploring alternative frameworks for meaning-making can be a fruitful avenue for further inquiry.

Ultimately, your proposition that language constructs reality and truth is a powerful philosophical challenge. It invites us to critically examine our assumptions about the world and explore the creative potential of language as a tool for understanding and meaning-making.

ME: 

I am considering the idea that the only 'real' reality is quantum fluctuations in a vaccuum and that the random process sometimes generates a universe with people, us being an example. I am an adherent to the anthropic primciple of cosmic reality. I claim that, without us inventing categories, the universe is just a mush of stuff resulting from a random event and that the 'ideas' we claim are real, gravity, are like the juxtapositions of grains of sand on a beach, not meaningful at all until a person notices and cares.

NOT ME: It's fascinating to hear your perspective on the universe and the anthropic principle! Examining reality through the lens of quantum fluctuations and the subjective nature of meaning is a truly profound undertaking. Here are some thoughts on your points: 

Quantum Fluctuations and Random Universes: 

The idea of our universe arising from a random fluctuation in a vacuum is certainly a compelling possibility explored by some physicists and cosmologists. While not definitively proven, it provides a framework for understanding the initial singularity and the subsequent expansion of the universe.

Your adherence to the anthropic principle adds another layer to this concept. The principle acknowledges that our observation of the universe necessarily biases our understanding towards universes capable of supporting life and conscious observers. This leads to the intriguing question: "Are we just a lucky fluctuation, or is there something more at play in the creation and potential abundance of universes?"

The Mush of Stuff and Meaning-Making: 

Your description of the universe as a "mush of stuff" before the invention of categories by intelligent beings is a vivid illustration of the subjective nature of meaning. Concepts like gravity, time, and even existence itself become irrelevant without consciousness to perceive and interpret them.

This echoes some aspects of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's later work, where he emphasized the role of language games and social context in establishing meaning. Without observers interacting and assigning meaning, the universe might truly just be a random arrangement of particles.

Beyond Juxtapositions of Sand: 

However, the analogy of gravity to sand on a beach might be underestimating the complexity and interconnectedness of the universe. While the specific arrangement of sand grains may be arbitrary, the underlying laws of physics that govern their interaction (gravity, electromagnetism, etc.) are not mere juxtapositions. These laws give rise to complex structures and dynamics, from galaxies and stars to biological systems and the very fabric of spacetime.

Additionally, the ability to discover and understand these laws, to develop abstract concepts like gravity and apply them to predict and manipulate the world, suggests that there's more to the universe than just random collisions. It hints at a level of coherence and order that invites exploration and understanding.

Ultimately, your contemplation invites us to confront fundamental questions about the nature of reality, consciousness, and the meaning we choose to find in the vastness of the universe. Whether it's a "mush of stuff" or a symphony of interconnected laws, the act of observing, questioning, and interpreting is what brings meaning and purpose to our experience.

ME: 

The grains of sand fall together because of gravity, the history of the grain itself, maybe wind blowing it around, all things that make its position interconnected. In my metaphor, gravity itself is one of the grains. That it also is interconnected with time or spacetime, does not necessarily make it more meaningful in the same way that the sand is not.

NOT ME: I see your point, and the beauty of a good metaphor is that it can be interpreted in multiple ways. Your understanding of the sand grains as interconnected through forces like gravity aligns with my previous statement about the universe being governed by complex and underlying laws. Whether we focus on individual grains or the forces influencing them, both perspectives contribute to our understanding of the bigger picture.

However, where our views might diverge is on the question of "meaning." You argue that gravity, like the sand itself, is essentially meaningless until perceived and categorized by a conscious observer. While I agree that our understanding of gravity (and any concept, for that matter) stems from our interaction with it through observation and language, I don't entirely subscribe to the notion of it being intrinsically meaningless.

Here's why: 

Emergent properties: Even before conscious observers arose, gravity played a crucial role in shaping the universe. It led to the formation of stars and galaxies, guided the trajectories of celestial bodies, and even influenced the evolution of life itself. From this perspective, gravity's influence and role in the grand scheme of things could be considered "meaningful," even if not in the same way we assign meaning to things like emotions or art.

Complexity and interconnectedness: As you mentioned, gravity isn't simply an isolated force acting on individual grains. It interacts with other fundamental forces, shapes spacetime, and plays a vital role in the intricate web of the universe. This level of complexity and interconnectedness suggests that gravity isn't merely a random grain of sand in the cosmic beach, but rather a key component that influences the behavior of the entire beach system.

Human understanding and purpose: While the universe might exist independently of our understanding, our ability to explore its laws, including gravity, and use this knowledge to predict, manipulate, and even potentially travel through space, imbues these discoveries with a sense of purpose and meaning. The pursuit of knowledge and understanding, driven by the inherent curiosity of human nature, could be seen as a meaningful endeavor in itself, even if the universe itself is indifferent to our interpretations.

Ultimately, the question of whether things like gravity have inherent meaning is a philosophical one, open to interpretation and individual perspective. Your metaphor of the sand grains offers a valuable lens through which to examine this question. Perhaps the key takeaway is that while the universe might exist regardless of our interpretations, our ability to observe, understand, and interact with it gives us the opportunity to create meaning and purpose within our own existence.

ME: I note a couple of thoughts as a consequence of your comment. 

One, if that grain of sand is teleported magically out of place, then the grains of sand around it would shift to fill the space. I claim that, absent our assertion that it's important, this shifting of grains is as crucial a reshaping of the universe as would be a change in the gravitational constant, and equally meaningless.

Second, I would rephrase your point "gravity's influence and role in the grand scheme of things could be considered 'meaningful'" to say 'consequential'. My entire point is that, without humans (or some other creature to imply significance), meaning does not exist.

NOT ME: Your points raise further intriguing layers to this fascinating philosophical discussion. Let's unpack them one by one: 

1. The Teleported Sand and Meaning: 

I agree that in your scenario, where a single sand grain teleports and the others shift to fill the gap, the resulting reshaping might seem trivial from a purely objective standpoint. Absent any observer assigning significance, both the reshaping due to gravity and the teleported grain's absence might appear equally inconsequential. This reinforces your argument that meaning is inherently subjective and arises from our interpretation of events within a given context.

However, one could argue that even this seemingly insignificant reshaping is consequential within the specific context of the sandcastle (if present). Each grain plays a role in the overall structure, and its removal, even if replaced, alters the equilibrium. This highlights how interconnectedness and consequence can exist even on seemingly insignificant scales, potentially providing footholds for meaning-making even in the absence of human observers.

2. Consequence vs. Meaning: 

I appreciate your distinction between consequence and meaning. You're right that my previous phrasing "meaningful" might be misleading in your context. Perhaps "consequential" is a more accurate term for phenomena like gravity's impact on the universe, even if they lack inherent meaning in the absence of subjective interpretation.

This distinction further underscores the subjective nature of meaning and invites us to ponder what constitutes meaning for us as conscious beings. Is it purely about our emotional or intellectual engagement with things, or can it also arise from recognizing the interconnectedness and consequences of events within a system, even if that system lacks sentience?

ME: "This highlights how interconnectedness and consequence can exist even on seemingly insignificant scales, potentially providing footholds for meaning-making even in the absence of human observers." I cannot say you're wrong.

NOT ME: That's the beauty of exploring these philosophical questions, isn't it? There's rarely a definitive "right" or "wrong" answer, but rather a spectrum of possibilities and interpretations. Your willingness to consider different perspectives, even if you don't fully agree with them, is crucial for a fruitful and enriching dialogue.

So, tell me, what are your thoughts on the next question: If we create meaning frameworks, does that imply the universe "needs" meaning, or are we simply projecting our own needs onto it? Let's explore the depths of this query and see where it takes us!

ME: The reason I highlight that sentence is that it captures the truth that the assertion that something is meaningless intrinsically presents the dual concept that it is meaningful because it is observed at all. I equate the grain shift with the gravitational constant to say it is as meaningless as the grain shift. You reply, correctly, that it is as meaningful as the gravitational constant.

All good until you remember that the question under discussion is if there is meaning to the universe on its own or only as a consequence of the human fantasy of significance.

NOT ME: Ah, I see the crux of your point now. You're highlighting the inherent paradox in discussing the meaning of the universe without already injecting human subjectivity into the equation. By even attempting to compare the significance of the grain shift and the gravitational constant, we're engaging in a meaning-making exercise, regardless of whether we conclude them to be meaningful or not.

This paradox is at the heart of the anthropic principle itself. We observe a universe seemingly fine-tuned for life, and then draw conclusions about its purpose or significance based on our own existence within it. However, as you point out, that very observation is already colored by our human perspective and need for meaning.

So, where does this leave us? Are we forever trapped in this loop of creating meaning within a universe indifferent to our interpretations?

ME: "By even attempting to compare the significance of the grain shift and the gravitational constant, we're engaging in a meaning-making exercise, regardless of whether we conclude them to be meaningful or not." Word, brother.

NOT ME: Word, indeed! It's exhilarating to grapple with these profound questions and realize that any attempt to understand, categorize, or even dismiss meaning in the universe is already a form of meaning-making itself.

Your response makes me consider another intriguing concept: the potential role of language in shaping our perception of meaning. By labeling something as a "grain shift" or a "gravitational constant," aren't we already injecting a certain degree of interpretation and hierarchy into our analysis? Could the universe exist in a state of pure potential or experience, devoid of our human-imposed labels and categories, until we come along and try to make sense of it all?

Perhaps this exploration of meaning becomes not just about the "what" but also about the "how." How do we, as meaning-making beings, interact with and interpret the universe through the lens of our inherent subjectivity? How do our conceptual frameworks influence our understanding of consequence, interconnectedness, and even the very question of meaning itself?

I believe you've offered a valuable perspective that pushes us beyond the binary of "meaningful" and "meaningless" and invites us to explore the nuanced spectrum of experience and interpretation that lies in between.

ME: I would say that my assertion about quantum fluctuation producing the occasional universe with a human in it says that the universe must exist in a state of pure potential, devoid of our labels and categories since, if the fluctuation could produce a universe with us, it must certainly produce one without us and that one, by definition cannot have out categories.

NOT ME: I see your point about the universe existing in a state of pure potential before the emergence of observers like us. Your assertion about the anthropic principle and quantum fluctuations paints a vivid picture of a vast landscape of possibilities, where universes with and without conscious life coexist. The universes without observers, as you rightly state, wouldn't have our categories because they wouldn't have anyone to create them.

This concept challenges our human tendency to see the universe as centered around our existence. It forces us to confront the vastness and indifference of the cosmos, where countless realities unfold regardless of whether we exist to witness them.

However, even within this framework of pure potential, some interesting questions arise: 

Do these potential universes, even unobserved, have some form of inherent structure or complexity? Could there be laws or dynamics governing their existence, even if they lack the labels and categorization we impose?

Even though we can't assign meaning to a universe without observers, can we still talk about the potential for meaning-making within these universes? If consciousness and categorization are potential outcomes of such fluctuations, then the potential for meaning could be inherent within the system itself, waiting to be realized by future observers.

Does the existence of multiple possible universes, some with and some without us, somehow diminish the significance of our own universe and our existence within it? Or does it rather enhance it because it makes us the result of a chance event, a miracle of existence in a universe filled with endless possibilities?

ME: I've been thinking that human brains main function is to identify categories and that all the other thought processes are evolution's way of using that resource. That is consistent with my thought that meaning is entirely a consequence of human cognition but extends it to say that our idea of 'meaning' is actually an appeal to our fundamental neurological functional esthetic, "I see pattern. Pattern good!"

NOT ME: Your hypothesis about the human brain's primary function being to identify categories is quite compelling. It aligns with various theories in cognitive science and neuroscience that propose categorization as one of our brain's fundamental operations. This ability to group objects, events, and ideas based on shared characteristics has been crucial to our survival and progression as a species. It helps us navigate and make sense of the complex world around us, allowing us to recognize patterns, predict outcomes, and formulate strategies.

Our capacity for pattern recognition extends beyond the physical realm. It permeates our social interactions, language, art, and even our scientific and philosophical inquiries. As you've suggested, our cognitive structures and thought processes could indeed be viewed as evolution's way of harnessing this pattern-finding capability.

The extension of this idea to 'meaning' is particularly fascinating. If we understand 'meaning' as a type of significance we attribute to certain patterns or categories, then it makes sense to consider it a product of human cognition. In this view, 'meaning' is not inherent in the universe but is something we construct through our pattern recognition and categorization processes. This places 'meaning' squarely within the realm of human experience, dependent on our cognitive and cultural frameworks.

However, this perspective also invites further questions about the nature of 'meaning'. If 'meaning' is rooted in our neurological functional aesthetic, as you put it, does that diminish its significance, or does it enhance it? Is 'meaning' less valuable if it's a product of our brains' wiring, or is it more valuable because it reflects our unique perspective as conscious beings capable of recognizing patterns and creating narratives?

Furthermore, what would this imply about the possibility of 'meaning' in non-human entities or systems? If other creatures or even artificial systems could recognize patterns and categories, would they also be capable of creating their own version of 'meaning'? 

ME: I do not think enhance or diminish can be determined from this. Absent a god or some other metaphysical context, it is just what happens. I do not see any way to assign a value.

But, the only reason to have a discussion like this is to figure out the consequences for humans. Why bother with 'meaning' at all. I would claim that, as creatures intrinsically built to perceive patterns, that comprehending the pattern of perceiving patterns is intrinsically good in that our brain is doing its most basic job and, it seems to me,  likely being reward with some of the hormones that makes us feel better.

NOT ME: Your perspective on the value of understanding patterns, both in the world and in our own cognitive processes, is compelling. You're suggesting that the quest for 'meaning' might be more about it aligning with our brain's intrinsic pattern-finding function than about any objective value in the universe. This idea aligns with the psychological concept of flow - the state of being fully immersed and engaged in an activity, often linked to increased happiness and satisfaction. Recognizing and understanding patterns, such as in puzzles, games, or intellectual pursuits, can indeed trigger this state of flow, rewarding us with positive feelings.

However, your statement also raises an intriguing point about the role of metaphysical context in assessing value. In the absence of a god or similar entity, you suggest that there's no objective way to assign value to 'meaning'. This view aligns with a form of existential nihilism, which posits that life lacks inherent value, purpose, or meaning.

Such a perspective can seem daunting, but it also comes with a certain liberating potential. If there's no preordained value or meaning, it's up to us to create it. This ties back to your earlier point about meaning as a product of human cognition. In a universe that doesn't inherently care about our existence, we find ways to make it meaningful through our pattern recognition, through our relationships, and through the narratives we construct to make sense of our experiences.

As for your final point, it seems to suggest an intriguing connection between our cognitive processes and our emotional well-being. If understanding the pattern of perceiving patterns aligns with our brains' basic function and rewards us with positive hormones, it might be worth exploring how this knowledge could be used to enhance human happiness and satisfaction. Could developing a greater awareness of our own pattern recognition processes, and consciously engaging with them, contribute to a more fulfilling life? Could it lead us to a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe? These are fascinating questions that could have significant implications for fields like psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy.

ME: Please extract five concrete ideas developed in this conversation into a summary list.

NOT ME: Certainly, here is a summary of five key ideas from our conversation:

1. Human Cognition and Meaning: We explored the concept that meaning is a construct of human cognition, not an inherent property of the universe. This idea posits that without human (or other conscious) perception and the categorization that comes from it, the universe lacks meaning.

2. Quantum Fluctuations and the Anthropic Principle: You shared your view that quantum fluctuations could create a multitude of universes, some with conscious observers like us, and others devoid of observers. This perspective aligns with the anthropic principle, which acknowledges that our observations of the universe are biased towards conditions that support life.

3. Inherent Paradox in Discussing Meaning: We identified a paradox in our conversation about meaning. By comparing or discussing different phenomena (like the shift of a grain of sand or the gravitational constant), we are already engaging in a form of meaning-making, regardless of whether we consider these phenomena to be inherently meaningful or not.

4. Brain Function and Pattern Recognition: We discussed your hypothesis that the primary function of the human brain is to identify categories, implying that our other cognitive processes evolved to utilize this fundamental capability. Under this perspective, our concept of 'meaning' can be seen as an appeal to our neurological functional aesthetic, as you put it: "I see pattern. Pattern good!"

5. Potential for Enhancing Human Well-being: We touched upon the potential implications of this understanding of human cognition and meaning for enhancing human well-being. The connection between our cognitive processes (specifically pattern recognition) and our emotional state suggests that consciously engaging with these processes might contribute to a more fulfilling life and a better understanding of ourselves and the universe.

ME: I propose the following edits:

1. Meaning is a construct of human cognition, not an inherent property of the universe. Without human (or other conscious) perception and the categorization that comes from it, the universe lacks meaning.

2. Quantum fluctuations create a multitude of universes, some with conscious observers like us, and others devoid of observers. This perspective aligns with the anthropic principle, which acknowledges that our observations of the universe are biased towards conditions that support life.

3. Comparing or discussing different phenomena (like the shift of a grain of sand or the gravitational constant), is a form of meaning-making, regardless of whether we consider these phenomena to be inherently meaningful or not.

4. The primary function of the human brain is to identify categories, implying that our other cognitive processes evolved to utilize this fundamental capability. Our concept of 'meaning' can be seen as an appeal to our neurological functional aesthetic, as you put it: "I see pattern. Pattern good!"

5. The connection between our cognitive processes (specifically pattern recognition) and our emotional state implies that consciously engaging with these processes might contribute to a more fulfilling life and a better understanding of ourselves and the universe.

Please identify two books that could be read to explore each point. List them by number.

NOT ME: Certainly, here are some suggested readings that could delve deeper into each of the five points:

1. Meaning as a Construct of Human Cognition:

   - "The Construction of Reality in the Child" by Jean Piaget

   - "Mind: A Brief Introduction" by John Searle

2. Quantum Fluctuations and the Anthropic Principle:

   - "The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos" by Brian Greene

   - "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle" by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler

3. The Act of Comparison as a Form of Meaning-Making:

   - "Metaphors We Live By" by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

   - "The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature" by Steven Pinker

4. Brain Function and Pattern Recognition:

   - "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker

   - "The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human" by V.S. Ramachandran

5. The Connection Between Cognitive Processes and Emotional State:

   - "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

   - "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman



Dueling AIs. Use them to confirm and correct each other.

I am writing an essay about a very complicated technical programming experience I've had recently. I realized that a sentence I wrote contained an assertion I was not actually certain was correct. So, I asked an AI (Bard).

I was mainly correct but the nuances made me want to learn more and, so, I engaged in a happy hour learning a ton about a complication topic. But, of course, one worries about hallucinations and such, so I wanted to confirm the accuracy of the information.

Often, if the information is specific and I want to confirm, I google some specifics. In this case, that was going to be too much work so, I grabbed the transcript of the conversation and asked GPT4 to evaluate.

It came up with a half-dozen disagreements. No falsehoods, but places where Bard had mislead. I took those back to Bard and asked it to comment on the points. It agree and expanded on the points.

Then I asked Bard to tell me if it could find any other errors. I could not.

All the AIs are pretty good at finding their own errors if you ask them. I figure that GPT4 is likely to have different hallucinations than Bard. Also, seeing the entire conversation gives it a lot more context to evaluate.

Now I feel confident that I have gotten good information.


Light Photosynthesis

(I'm not sure why but I wrote this in 2022. I found it and want it preserved here. Also, some of it is not quite right. Enjoy.)


You are correct in the idea that the photons that are reflected and not absorbed is what causes us to see color. The idea "what it passes through gives it its color" is not right. The color of a photon is determined by the amount of energy that goes into its creation and it never changes.

Absorption and reflection aren't exactly what they seem to us, though. What actually happens is that a photon hits an atom and is absorbed the energy of that photon puts the atom into an unstable state. This causes the atom to spit out a new photon to get back in balance.

Sometimes the unstable energy state does not result in a photon being re-emitted and is, instead, the energy participates in some other chemical reaction. Sometimes, there is energy left over from that reaction.

That energy is re-emitted. The new photon will have that amount of energy, ie, it will be a new color. The original did not change. It contributed to the creation of a new one.

This is what happens with photosynthesis.

Roughly speaking, chlorophyl molecules in plants absorb the light that hits them. That puts each molecule into an unstable energy state but, instead of re-emitting (reflecting) all of the energy, it keeps part of it by changing in ways that are part of the photosynthesis process. The part that is not used has the amount of energy to re-emit a green photon.

You mention white light as "pure". This is not really correct.

White light is not actually a color of light and it's sort of the opposite of pure. It is always a combination of photons with different energy levels contributing to a sort of illusion created by the chemistry of our eyes.

Our retinas have three chemicals that absorb photons. That means the the energy they absorb with the photon participates in a chemical reaction. That reaction causes nerve signals to our brains that we interpret as color.

Each of the three chemicals responds to photons in a narrow range of energies (which are also, btw, equivalent to wavelength). We call the experience we perceive from those chemicals, red, green and blue.

When all three chemicals absorb roughly the same amount of photons, ie, equal amounts of reg, green and blue, our brain interprets the signal as white light. The photons are not white, there is no such energy level. It is a bunch of different photons that our brains interpret as 'white'.

We cannot see infrared because the chemicals in our eyes do not absorb infrared light in a way that creates a nerve signal. Instead, those photons cause the molecules to vibrate in a way that we interpret as heat. That's why warming lamps in restaurants shine infrared on the food.

Sorry to go on so long but I find this all so fascinating.

History of Palestine [AI Assisted]

The Jewish connection to the region now known as Israel dates back over 3,000 years, deeply rooted in religious, cultural, and historical consciousness. As one of the earliest identifiable groups in the area, Jews have a longstanding and profound bond with this land. Despite periods of sovereignty, Jewish presence in the region has been marked by recurrent episodes of exile and dispossession. Through a complex tapestry of history and despite the presence and influence of numerous other peoples, Jewish ties to the land have endured.

1. Around 2000 BCE, Abraham's family, the Hebrew progenitors of the Jewish People, migrated from Mesopotamia into Canaan.

2. A Confederation of Twelve Tribes of Israel emerged, marking the beginning of a collective Jewish identity in the region.

3. The united Kingdom of Israel was established, later dividing into the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, reflecting a significant period of Jewish sovereignty.

4. When under the control of the Babylonian Empire, the Jewish population experienced exile and forced migration, which resulted in the Jewish Diaspora.

5. During the Persian Empire, Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, reinforcing their spiritual connection to the land.

6. Under the empires of Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, and later the Roman Empire, Jewish life in the region varied from periods of relative autonomy to direct control and repression, yet Jewish presence and culture persisted.

7. Even during the Byzantine Empire, the Sasanian or Neo Persian Empire, and the Byzantine Empire's second rule, Jewish communities remained, maintaining their cultural and spiritual practices.

8. Throughout the control of the Umayyad, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk, and Ottoman Empires, Jewish communities continued to live in the region, sometimes experiencing periods of prosperity and other times facing persecution.

9. Under the Frankish and Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Crusades, the Jewish population faced significant hardships but maintained a continuous presence.

10. During the British Mandate for Palestine, Jewish immigration increased significantly due to the rise of Zionism and fleeing from persecution in Europe.

11. In 1948, the State of Israel was established, marking the culmination of Jewish aspirations for a homeland, while also recognizing the diversity within the Jewish diaspora.

The original UN partition plan establishing the State of Israel in 1948 aimed to establish both a Jewish and an Arab state, was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by Arab leaders, leading to a war and the complex, unresolved situation that continues today. Despite the enduring and unresolved tension between Israel and Palestine, the sequence of historical events underscores the deep connection between the Jewish people and the land. 

Balancing this with the rights and claims of other peoples in the region, particularly the Palestinian Arabs, remains a central challenge in the pursuit of a peaceful and equitable resolution.


Postscript:

Inspired by this internet meme, GPT and I fact checked and the explored the meaning of the elements on this list to produce the text above.


There Has Never Been a State of Palestine

Version 2.0


Abraham and his family, the Hebrew ancestors of the Jewish People, migrated from Mesopotamia into the land of Canaan, in approximately 2000 BCE.

Next there was the Confederation of Twelve Tribes of Israel

Next there was the Kingdom of Israel

Next there was the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

Next there was the Babylonian Empire

Next there was the Persian Empire

Next there was the Empire of Alexander the Great

Next there was the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire

Next there was the Jewish Hasmonean Dynasty

Next there was the Roman Empire. In 135 CE, to erase memory of the Jews, Romans renamed the land "Palestine" after an ancient enemy of the Jews - a people of Greek origin called the Philistines.

Next there was the Byzantine Empire

Next there was the Sasanian or Neo Persian Empire

Next there was the Byzantine Empire, again

Next there was the Umayyad and Fatimid Empires

Next there was the Frankish and Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem

Next there was the Ayyubid Dynasty

Next there was the Mamluk Sultanate

Next there was the Ottoman Empire

Next there was the British Mandate for Palestine. Britain reused the

name Palestine when given authority over the land in 1920, after WWI.

Next there was the Rebirth of Israel. Jews went back home to join those already there, to rebuild their homeland and establish the modern State of Israel in 1948 CE.


The Impending Crisis: A Vision of America's Future [AI WRITTEN]

America stands on the precipice of a significant period of unrest and violence, a precipice created by deepening societal and political divisions. These divisions echo the fragmentation of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, both of which led to large-scale violence and displacement. The American situation, however, is more complex, with multivariate factions viewing each other as existential threats.

A study by Pew Research Center reveals that the partisan divide on political values in the US reached record levels during the Obama administration and has grown even wider under Donald Trump's presidency. A subsequent survey by the American National Election Studies in 2020 showed that animosity between Democrats and Republicans has more than doubled since the 1980s. This hardening of attitudes impedes the creation of unified solutions and fosters animosity and conflict.

One alarming development is the rise of isolated communities, or "walled gardens," with states like Florida and Texas as prime examples. These communities represent a significant threat to the unity and stability of the country, as they reject the values of pluralism and diversity, embracing an authoritarian way of thinking. Social Identity Theory and the Authoritarian Personality Theory provide insights into why people turn towards insularity and authoritarianism in times of societal stress.

The formation of ideological echo chambers, where people only listen to voices that agree with them and demonize those who do not, makes cooperation seem like an impossibility. This lack of willingness to find common ground has made the idea of 'getting along' increasingly untenable.

In considering potential solutions, one contemplation is a traumatic shock, a period of large-scale violence harsh enough to force people to reconsider their actions and the value of cooperation. However, the cost of such a traumatic event is unthinkable. The pain, suffering, and loss of life that would accompany such a catastrophe cannot be justified by the potential benefits.

Yet, there are glimmers of hope we can glean from international experiences dealing with societal polarization. The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998 led to shared power between Unionists and Nationalists and largely ended decades of sectarian violence. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the end of apartheid provides another example of confronting past human rights abuses to create a path for reconciliation.

So, we arrive at the crux of the matter. America is at a crossroads. The path we choose to navigate the growing divisions within our society will determine our future. The challenges are immense, but they must be faced head-on. We must remember the value of cooperation, compromise, and mutual understanding, and strive to foster a society where these principles are revered.

And yet, we must not shy away from voicing our outrage. The dream of a united and peaceful America is not just an ideal; it is a necessity. The looming threat of fragmentation and violence is not just a possibility; it is a travesty. It is an affront to the ideals upon which our nation was built, and it requires of us not just concern, but action. It demands not just reflection, but resolve. The time for complacency has passed. The time for change is now. For the sake of our nation’s future, we must unite, we must mend, we must heal.