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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ category

Jun 2, 2020

Annihilation of all Yardsticks — essay on Wittgenstein’s thoughts about certainty

Posted by in categories: aging, evolution, futurism, health, human trajectories, life extension, mathematics, philosophy, robotics/AI

How do we know what to do in life? How do we know where to go, where to start, where we are, what it’s all made of, why it matters? Why don’t we know? Can we know? Why am I alive? What is alive? Why is this place here? What is going on?

In his collection of papers and notes posthumously published as a book in 1969, titled On Certainty, Ludwig Wittgenstein writes, “How does someone judge which is his right and which his left hand?” We are certain that we know, but we really don’t know the answer. “At the foundation of well-founded belief lies belief that is not founded.” He serendipitously illustrated his point from beyond the grave when he wrote: “‘But is there then no objective truth? Isn’t it true, or false, that someone has been on the moon?’ If we are thinking within our system, then it is certain that no one has ever been on the moon. Not merely is nothing of the sort ever seriously reported to us by reasonable people, but our whole system of physics forbids us to believe it.“ We only have the ability to examine a minuscule fraction of the information available in the big picture of it all. We cannot escape uncertainty yet, even though we routinely pretend that we have.

The book talks about “language games”. It’s a concept that Wittgenstein developed earlier in his life to explain how people inherit and subconsciously create unspoken rules of communication that gloss over or emphasize certain words and ideas. He writes, “It’s not a matter of [philosopher G.E.] Moore’s knowing that there’s a hand there, but rather we should not understand him if he were to say ‘Of course I may be wrong about this.’ ” We don’t say we know that our religious, political or even sports affiliations are true, the assumptions are built right into our languaging. What better example is there than the wide-eyed sports fan who is unquestionably convinced that their random group of players is the best that there ever was and will be? Many of them are not bluffing, their language game has programmed them. The word structure that they know will not allow them to see it any other way. People’s various language games assume what they want, often from habit, usually based on subconscious tradition.

“Suppose now I say ‘I’m incapable of being wrong about this: that is a book’ while I point to an object. What would a mistake here be like? And have I any clear idea of it?” There are fake books, tricks are played, there are mind altering substances, coincidences happen, there could be a secret society of magicians controlling public perceptions, or our world could be some kind of solipsistic melting pot of dreams and hallucinations. We could list things like these all day. There are simpler examples for common situations as well, like, somebody might be unquestionably convinced they are seeing a magazine when it is a zine, or a cow when it is in fact a bull. It’s also pretty common for people to think that they know a person made a mistake that they did not actually make. Consider that the way the future is headed, there is a good chance we will all have 3d printers that run on practically free energy and make everything out of basic materials like sand and vegetation, be free to travel around the universe with access to trillions of planets, and so forth. In that reality, theme planets are all but inevitable. There will be planets for specific ecological niches and time periods. People will be able to set up Plato’s Cave, Truman Show style planets, and countless other scenarios. Being that this seems so inevitable (read The Singularity is Near if you are not convinced), why would we assume that we are not in a scenario like that right now?

What happens though, is if we were to take the groundlessness of surety into account in our day to day communication, we wouldn’t be able to say anything. It seems we might almost be cornered into adopting language games. “This game proves its worth. That may be the cause of its being played, but it is not the ground.” The temptation to stay locked into them is almost irresistible, especially the hereditary ones. “[W]ould it be unthinkable that I should stay in the saddle however much the facts bucked?” It isn’t unthinkable because the entire purpose of the game is to ride unreasonable broncos and we have been training since we were born. Wittgenstein goes on to ponder, “Certain events would [put] me into a position in which I could not go on with the old language-game any further. In which I was torn away from the sureness of the game. Indeed, doesn’t it seem obvious that the possibility of a language-game is conditioned by certain facts?” It’s possible but usually very difficult because safeguards and defense mechanisms are built into them too. When a person does something detrimental, “it is what it is” — when evidence bucks, faith grips tighter — another team might have won the super bowl, but their quarterback threw for more yards in the season.

There are a lot of incompatible language games being played around the world. If you tell a person embedded in another one that they are wrong, it’s almost as if they cannot know it because if they were to consider that they should doubt parts of it, it would open the door to the slippery slope leading to the “annihilation of all yardsticks”, and it is difficult, maybe nearly impossible, to live in a world without them. “If something happened calculated to make me doubtful of my own name, there would certainly also be something that made the grounds of these doubts themselves seem doubtful, and I could therefore decide to retain my old belief.” In order to take action, you have to make decisions, and in order to make decisions, some of the patterns in your mind need to win out over the others. If there aren’t any execute commands in the code, then the code is lifeless and goes nowhere.

Does this mean that we have to permit some unsubstantiated assertions? All of them? Do we have the right to dismiss any of them? If it turns out to be true that there is no foundation for knowledge or contemplation, then how could we draw such a line? I think a lot of it comes down to what I talk about in terms of how much we are willing to bet at a given time, and the use of words like “seems”. “We just do not see how very specialized the use of ‘I know’ is. For ‘I know’ seems to describe a state of affairs which guarantees what is known, guarantees it as a fact. One always forgets the expression ‘I thought I knew’ “.
It’s not that we know, it’s that certain things look very likely to us from our current perspective, and we all know that our perspectives have changed, and therefore that more of them will likely change as well. We should learn to expect this, and if we are honest with ourselves, be proactive about it. I believe that is the common language game we can all play. It is like we are trying to play blackjack with people who are trying to play poker, war, concentration and rummy with us. If we all played poker, our individual bets would still range in scale depending on our hands at any given time but we would all be playing a compatible game.

When it comes to the concept of “seems”, I have found that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of alternatives, which sometimes makes it difficult to talk in terms of it in a stylistically appropriate way. Being that people are prone to asserting the uncertain so pervasively, it makes sense that we might end up with so few words for expressing variations and shades of doubt. Wittgenstein uses a variety of phrasing throughout the book that give us some ideas on how we might expand it. I pulled many of them together and summed them up:

“Suppose I replaced Moore’s ‘I know’ by ‘I am of the unshakeable conviction’?”
“It stands fast for me and many others…”
‘That’s how it is — rely upon it.’
“I learned it years and years ago”
“I am sure it is so.“
“is an irreversible belief.“
“it gives us a right to assume it.”
“Suppose it were forbidden to say ‘I know’ and only allowed to say ‘I believe I know’?”
“excludes a certain kind of failure”
“I can hardly be mistaken”
“That is the truth — so far as a human being can know it.“

That is not to say that every communication should necessarily be tentative. One of the main conclusions that Wittgenstein reaches is that our beliefs can be justified, but not certain. “[…] I find it quite correct for someone to say ‘Rubbish!’ and so brush aside the attempt to confuse him with doubts at bedrock, — nevertheless, I hold it to be incorrect if he seeks to defend himself (using, e.g., the words ‘I know’).” I think of that in terms of calculated risk. Sometimes you have to remove the language of doubt in order to favor the patterns in life that seem most important. That, though, is less like certainty and more like leadership. All confidence is either bluff or ignorance. If we have calculated the potential value in bluffing our certainty, that is one thing, but to do it blindly, unknowingly, is another.

Wittgenstein talks about how if existential certainty is there to be found, it would probably be in a form similar to a mathematical proposition and proof. “If the proposition 12×12=144 is exempt from doubt, then so too must non-mathematical propositions be.” “If” being a key word there. He reminds us that it seems as though they cannot be certain either but goes out on a short limb to humor that they are. In that process he makes what I find to be one of the most profound and rather Godel-esque insights of the book: ”there ought to be a proposition that is just as certain, and deals with the process of this calculation, but isn’t itself mathematical. I am thinking of such a proposition as: ‘The multiplication 12×12, when carried out by people who know how to calculate, will in the great majority of cases give the result 144.’ Nobody will contest this proposition, and naturally it is not a mathematical one.” That might be a key to extinguishing existential angst and establishing the foundation of common meaning.

It is true that the universe might be infinite and that even if it isn’t, the work to reach certainty might still end up being like trying to reach zero by continuously dividing by half, always inching closer, impossible to reach. In the meantime, we wait in suspense as patterns wind their way through the chaos like armies meandering through mine fields. Certainty is no more than the soldiers out ahead who haven’t been blown up yet, standing in the middle of the field with a universe of unknown mines ahead. Some evolutionary lineages successfully walk on for hundreds of millions of years before they are blown up and consumed by the blur. What choice do we have, what else might we do, use patterns we don’t understand or that are wrong more of the time? We don’t know if we will make it or not. Maybe it is too difficult. Maybe it will take a hundred million additional years. Maybe we are in the home stretch and artificial intelligence of the near future is the calculator of existential proofs. We just don’t know.

We don’t know how long it might take to get a better grip on the nature of certainty, and death is barreling down on us, hence the movement for indefinite life extension. It is tragic to be uncertain about everything, which includes our own wants and needs, when the stakes are so high. It is tragic to live and die as a captive in a dark basement. Earth is that basement and our lifespans are the walls. Some people don’t see that, like captives of Plato’s cave.

As things stand, the best we can do is be willing to make educated bets at any given time. The only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure. We don’t even know if we don’t know. That is good news though, therein sneaks the foundation that begins to unravel the absurd. If the only thing we know is that nothing makes sense until we know, and that by working to figure stuff out, we could end up knowing, that small patch of philosophical ground in the quicksands of uncertainty becomes the launchpad upon which we begin stringing lines of certainty together. Anything else would be illogical, against our nature, detrimental to our fitness. Standing on this platform is a stage in our evolutionary trajectory.

“We all believe that it isn’t possible to get to the moon; but there might be people who believe that that is possible and that it sometimes happens. We say: these people do not know a lot that we know. And, let them be never so sure of their belief — they are wrong and we know it. If we compare our system of knowledge with theirs then theirs is evidently the poorer one by far.”

Oct 18, 2019

Dialogues on the Future: New Video Series

Posted by in categories: education, entertainment, futurism, philosophy, science, time travel

Together with my fellow member of the World Futures Studies Federation, Dr. Thomas Lombardo, we have begun a YouTube video series of ongoing dialogues on topics pertaining to the future. In this first dialogue we focus on the book Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future and discuss the nature and value of science fiction in the modern world. We discuss the historical evolution of science fiction and the nature of mythology and why science fiction is the modern mythology. In future dialogues we will delve more deeply into books on science fiction and more broadly on futures studies and future consciousness.

Jan 19, 2019

Why it is dangerous to build ever larger big bang machines

Posted by in categories: alien life, astronomy, cosmology, energy, engineering, ethics, existential risks, general relativity, governance, gravity, innovation, law, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, particle physics, philosophy, physics, policy, quantum physics, science, scientific freedom, security, singularity, space travel, supercomputing, theory, time travel

CERN has revealed plans for a gigantic successor of the giant atom smasher LHC, the biggest machine ever built. Particle physicists will never stop to ask for ever larger big bang machines. But where are the limits for the ordinary society concerning costs and existential risks?

CERN boffins are already conducting a mega experiment at the LHC, a 27km circular particle collider, at the cost of several billion Euros to study conditions of matter as it existed fractions of a second after the big bang and to find the smallest particle possible – but the question is how could they ever know? Now, they pretend to be a little bit upset because they could not find any particles beyond the standard model, which means something they would not expect. To achieve that, particle physicists would like to build an even larger “Future Circular Collider” (FCC) near Geneva, where CERN enjoys extraterritorial status, with a ring of 100km – for about 24 billion Euros.

Experts point out that this research could be as limitless as the universe itself. The UK’s former Chief Scientific Advisor, Prof Sir David King told BBC: “We have to draw a line somewhere otherwise we end up with a collider that is so large that it goes around the equator. And if it doesn’t end there perhaps there will be a request for one that goes to the Moon and back.”

“There is always going to be more deep physics to be conducted with larger and larger colliders. My question is to what extent will the knowledge that we already have be extended to benefit humanity?”

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Nov 11, 2018

Albert Camus and the Absurd — Life Extension and the Big Picture

Posted by in categories: existential risks, futurism, health, life extension, philosophy

This paper explores Albert Camus’s notions of the absurd in The Myth of Sisyphus and draws correlations with the movement for indefinite life extension and the big picture of existence.

Calorie vacuums playing in the mud, isn’t that what we are when it comes down to it? We guess our way through much of life, trying not to spend too much time thinking about how trivial it all may or may not be so as to see about keeping the levels of despair down, waiting for our turn on the chopping block… We try to make sense of this life but in the end, can never fully convince ourselves that we have because we never fully do. That challenge is a mountain whose top hasn’t been seen yet.

People are drawn to understand what the most sensible things to do with life are, or as Albert Camus writes “the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions”. It’s a ballpark question. People thirst to make sense of their being, to understand what’s going on, for meaning, to track down and engage the most profound implication. Is thirst proof that water exists, as Gaston Bachelard says? Even rocks mean profound things, and we are self-aware supercomputers in a space filled with variables and has no known walls. It is very improbable that there is not a fundamentally profound implication within such circumstances.

How might we ever make sense of our existence? Masses of people are desperate with this “hope of another life one must ‘deserve’” and often take an irrational “leap”, as Camus says, to “some great idea that will transcend it, refine it, give it a meaning, and betray it.” Many rest on the hope that they’ll land a job they really love and can shine in someday but don’t put serious effort into figuring out what that would specifically be let alone work to make it happen.

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Oct 16, 2018

The Nature of Indefinite Life Extension in Context of Immanuel Kant’s Insights on Ethics and Duty

Posted by in categories: ethics, futurism, life extension, philosophy

Is working to pioneer the full scope of everything that exists a duty? I have been contemplating aspects of that question for some years now. Here I move in the direction of articulating its nature and making the case by drawing out correlations with life extension and Immanuel Kant’s thoughts in The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics.

“IV. What are the Ends which are also Duties? They are: A. Our own perfection, B. Happiness of others.”

His notion of “categorical imperative” is that of a universally applicable, non-contradictory, absolute necessity which everyone can use pure practical reason to understand without it needing to be experienced or taught to them.

He says that “ethics may also be defined as the system of the ends of the pure practical reason.”

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Oct 2, 2018

Movement for Indefinite Life Extension 2018 Drive to Stay Alive Message

Posted by in categories: aging, bioengineering, ethics, existential risks, futurism, life extension, philosophy, transhumanism

The universe is filled with uncountable amounts of mystery, discovery, opportunity, experiences, marvels and more. So, let’s not die if we don’t have to.

It’s much harder to make the case that radical longevity cannot be engineered into our biology than that it can. Humanity engineers cells in countless ways all the time now, and our knowledge, capability and tools keep growing exponentially.

Now, a mainstream amount of demand to create a bustling global industry of life extension R&D is the only thing standing between you and the ability to live indefinitely.” — Eric Schulke

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Sep 14, 2018

Notes from Nietzsche and some Correlations with Transhumanism

Posted by in categories: ethics, existential risks, futurism, government, health, life extension, philosophy, transhumanism

In the vicissitudes of life, our recent and living generations moved from the hard times of a hundred years ago to the exponential good times of today. Now a few hundred key pioneers have positioned the world in front of the opportunities of Transhumanism and its main tenet, indefinite life extension. Will we unite the world on these issues and capitalize or waste it and let the weeds reclaim our “wheel”, the magnum opus of our generations? I challenge all would-be leaders and followers to honor our ancestors’ long tradition of pioneering the next stages of our future. Everything about you was crafted and honed for this and there is no other time. Find the blazers of our emerging values and paths, your philosophers of the future, out there at the forefronts on this epic new transhuman voyage of freedoms and discoveries and follow them. All leaders who haven’t already, I implore you to fully embrace your roles, triple down and raise your flags even higher. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a book preluding this philosophy of the future, which serves as the structure for this paper and is quoted here throughout.

“[Conditioning to hard times] is thus established, unaffected by the vicissitudes of generations; the constant struggle with uniform unfavourable conditions is, as already remarked, the cause of a type becoming stable and hard. Finally, however, a happy state of things results, the enormous tension is relaxed; there are perhaps no more enemies among the neighbouring peoples, and the means of life, even of the enjoyment of life, are present in superabundance. With one stroke the bond and constraint of the old discipline severs: it is no longer regarded as necessary, as a condition of existence—if it would continue, it can only do so as a form of luxury, as an archaizing taste. Variations, whether they be deviations (into the higher, finer, and rarer), or deteriorations and monstrosities, appear suddenly on the scene in the greatest exuberance and splendour; the individual dares to be individual and detach himself. At this turning-point of history there manifest themselves, side by side, and often mixed and entangled together, a magnificent, manifold, virgin-forest-like up-growth and up-striving, a kind of tropical tempo in the rivalry of growth, and an extraordinary decay and self-destruction, owing to the savagely opposing and seemingly exploding aptitudes, which strive with one another ‘for sun and light,’ and can no longer assign any limit, restraint, or forbearance for themselves by means of the hitherto existing morality. It was this morality itself which piled up the strength so enormously, which bent the bow in so threatening a manner:—it is now ‘out of date,’ it is getting ‘out of date.’ ” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future

Our elders came from the great depression and world war. Then they had to watch what they called “morals”, but which were actually just coping mechanisms particular to their vicissitude of time, as Nietzsche gets at in various places, become increasingly disregarded. That happened faster than ever because, little did they know, the bell curve of exponential advancements in fields across the board were upon them. The variations of excellence and monstrosities proliferated like no other time and were supercharged for an abundant harvest by the buds of enlightenment and technology that had been poking their heads out of the fertile intellectual fields of civilization from the smatterings of good times they were able to come upon throughout the century. A lot of it was stored as compounding action potential. It went off like rifles in the 50s and 60s, with so much force that the bullets are still flying today, and the shots of individual aptitude have been firing ever since. Like he is saying, it’s a jungle of individual morals competing in the survival of the fittest, so you must find ways, that hard times naturally make, to get all these independent construction workers of the best ideas behind the same projects in order to tap that energy for the big stages and human potentials.

This is our window in time here, as I often say, to get projects like life extension, transhumanism, space exploration, and some other things done. The people of the past didn’t have this opportunity and the chance here isn’t available forever because death will close us off from it or bad times will set back in. A great gate in Plato’s cave has opened, the eternal guard lions of death have left their posts and we don’t know how long until they come back or the gate closes. It is devastating watching those who have been hypnotized by the cave, by the death trance, sitting there with a wide-open door and the clock ticking down. The climb must be made, now is the time, there is no other. Team up and follow the leaders on these new emerging circumstances and moral imperatives or everyone will die as the marvels of space and boundless technology tumble from our hands. We rouse them to action slowly but surely, though all as one, more gets done.

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Jul 22, 2018

An Introduction to the Future with Oxford VSI

Posted by in categories: climatology, education, evolution, existential risks, futurism, general relativity, homo sapiens, philosophy, transhumanism

“The Future: A Very Short Introduction” (OUP, 2017) by Dr. Jennifer M Gidley.


Oxford University Press has just released a wonderful little animation video centring on my book “The Future: A Very Short Introduction” published in 2017. In an entertaining way it shows how the concept of the future or futures is central to so many other concepts — many of which are the subject of other OUP Very Short Introductions. The VSI Series now has well over 500 titles, with ‘The Future’ being number 516.

To watch the video click here.

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Jun 29, 2018

Tokyo’s Psychic VR Lab realizes Terence McKenna’s Dream of sharing our Inner Worlds

Posted by in categories: philosophy, telepathy, virtual reality
Create your own VR space with STYLY’s intuitive interface.
There is absolutely NO need to code

Recently, I spoke at VRTO2018 in Toronto, Canada—which gave me a chance to see some of the bleeding edge tech in VR, AR, and Mixed Reality. Of all the VR tech I encountered there, it was Psychic VR Lab’s creation Styly that captured my imagination most of all.

Terrence McKenna once described virtual reality as a “technology that will help us show each other our dreams.” He discussed this angle at length, finding that VR’s potential to share our subjective experiences with each other on an embodiment-based medium, to have vast consequences for our species. “In the cyberdelic future, artists will rule because the world will be made of art.” McKenna further speculated that he saw VR as a potential next step in the evolution of language itself. When and how and with what technology this will be achieved has been an open question. Yet, with the arrival of Tokyo-based company Psychic VR Lab and their new tool Styly, we seem within closer striking distance to McKenna’s dream of “inhabiting” the imagination more than ever before.

Psychic VR Lab made a splash in 2015 by providing a website that hosted and processed images using Google’s phantasmagoric Deep Dream. Their new project Styly is a hyper-user-friendly platform for creating shareable VR worlds. The browser-based interface consists of just a few buttons. Model content can be browsed and imported from a variety of pre-existing libraries like Sketchfab, 3D Warehouse, Unity’s asset store, and Google Poly. This means you do not need to make your own models from scratch — they can be imported in. Images can be uploaded from Instagram, videos from YouTube (including 360 videos), and music from Soundcloud are all a single click away. Mp3s and image files can be imported from you desktop, and it also supports Unity, SketchUp, Blender, Tilt Brush, Blocks, Maya, and Mixamo.

For me, the Styly interface had about a 12-minute learning curve — And I have not played with a modeling or animation program for about 15 years. The first thing I created was a Gigeresque nightmare world, and it took less than half an hour to build.

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May 4, 2018

Does Mystery of Quantum Physics Prove God Exists?

Posted by in categories: cosmology, general relativity, particle physics, philosophy, quantum physics, science

Ironically, my more popular posts are ones furthest from my passion and core interests. They are larks—never intended to go viral. This is about one of them…

Apart from family, I typically steer clear of religious topics. I identify with a mainstream religion, but it is completely beside the purpose of Lifeboat Foundation, and it is a personal affair.[1]

Yet, here we discuss a religious topic, after all. Let’s get started…


Question

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