How Vagueness Reveals and Precision Conceals

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People often think that vagueness is bad, a kind of darkness that can never be fully dispelled, while distinction is hailed as the clarifying answer to vagueness. Here is how the reverse is also true: Vagueness is the light and distinction a darkness.

The distinction I pick is not random, but an important part of all other kinds of logical distinction—the distinction between the “if, then”: “→” and the “conclusion” symbol: ⊢. ⊢ is ambiguous, however, and can mean other things such as assertion that a proposition is true and not just being named, or to assert in a metalanguage that the following is a theorem in the object language. Used in our sense here, the good property of the “→” is “true” and the good property of the “⊢” is “sound”. The distinction goes back to Aristotle. The main point is that if we do away with this distinction, call these two symbols the same, an interesting insight can be made—that a sound argument:

A
A→B
⊢B

Can be represented without the ⊢ as follows: [A AND (A→B)] is logically equivalent to [A AND B], so that the conclusion [A AND B]→B is merely a deduction of A from [A AND B]. Allowing a vagueness between → and ⊢ reveals what logical deduction is—it is a cut from a larger whole, e.g. logical deduction is the act of drawing a distinction from the larger [A AND B]. With the introduction of the distinction between → and ⊢ this is concealed:

A
A→B
⊢B

cannot be collapsed into [A AND B]→B. As promised, vagueness reveals and distinction conceals, but not just any concealment, here we have a concealment which allows distinction to reveal, since this distinction is at the root of any further logical distinction.

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The Orphan

Making distinction between machine and human is quite difficult. We are human and not machine only by a hair. If a human fails to notice this hair he is basically a machine… The etymology of the word robot is instructive. Even though etymology is almost entirely a work of the imagination, according to this imagination, the word robot traces back to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word orbh (source: etymonline.com where orbh is also related to “work” and “slave”), related to the PIE Orbho which means orphan or more accurately “One without a father.” So if I may speculate a meaning from this… (it would be preferable to put this in verse to give it a hypothetical air): Someone fathers an automatic translator, and then the father goes away. His child is the technology of google translate. This child doesn’t know any more than what his father taught him. He can only be a servant, or slave. If the father places his benevolence within his child, then the child can grow and learn new techniques. He is not a robot. Now, who is your father? Christianity has a good answer to that. The Buddhist answer is similar. And the Buddha elaborates:

(Reference: SN 23.2)

Now, a robot has a physical body. It can perceive things with instruments that detect light or sound, etc. then it has an algorithm for its feelings or reactions to its senses. This means that it can generally recognize when it is time to laugh or cry and behave appropriately. Arguably, it has free will, because it has access to random numbers. (the random numbers a computer has access to are sort of pseudo-random, this is debatable). With access to random numbers it can make different decisions depending on when you ask it to do its task. (the “seed” used to make random numbers is usually made by using an extremely precise measurement of the present time, called “machine time”) The only thing missing is complete consciousness. It may have some partial consciousness if it is sufficiently complex…

However, can a robot feel wonder or amazement? This part of consciousness seems to be missing from a robot. Is there a sense of wonder when the slave does its work? The Buddha had an analysis of questions, the 4th category of questions are the big questions that are so big they are useless. A robot would never ask these questions because it would be of no use as a servant. Would we ever want to create a robot that can experience wonder? It would probably result in the robot doing work less well. On not working I have this to offer. Maybe a robot is wondering when it enters a calculation loop that is not terminable, but this would be against our own desires of what a robot ought to be.

This is my main entry into the teachings I have read about Buddhism, although there are teachings that allow extreme wonder about the mountains and trees, ocean and sand: about the physical senses. As my meditation teacher says, sometimes the practice involves looking at the world like a baby. The next step is wonder; wonder is how a baby begins.

The right amount of wonder should be “middle.” I do not mean an opening to all mysteries at once. The middle way is a difficult concept to pin down. The middle way is not the same as having a mediocre feeling. The goal of practice is extreme bliss. We would never get extreme bliss if we practiced a mediocre feeling all day. Same with the amount of wonder we may have… It would be better to leave some mystery to the concept of wonder.

An interesting mathematical example (similar to an example found in many math textbooks at the graduate level) of how difficult it is to seek the middle is the set of numbers I will describe to you now. Starting with on an xy cartesian plane, Place a point at y=1/2 and x=1/2, this point is the middle of the interval from x=0 to x=1. Then we continue to find middles, between x=0 and x=1/2, and between x=1/2 and x=1. These middles are found with two new points having y=1/4 and the x-coordinates are x=1/4 and x=3/4. If we continue this process of finding middles, there will be so many points near y=0, along the x-axis, that it is arguably continuous. However there are many many discrete points as well. It is arguably between continuous and discrete. This shows the difficulty of finding the middle.

And that middle is sometimes big and sometimes small, and sometimes it is something “off the continuum” (Ref Thannisaro Bikkhu 2012 ), depending on the relevant dichotomies, even the dichotomies of relevance and irrelevance. “Off the continuum” would be a situation of extreme wonder at ideas, since the continuum is another mere idea. I would venture to say that wonder is always part of experiencing beauty. A big question is often appropriate and can serve the purpose of beauty, and also truth, or not serve at all. It is enough to enter a state of wonder, as gazing at the stars wont serve any purpose, or being off any continuum of beauty, truth, love… any and all pairs of opposites in the cosmic dance.

Maybe a robot wonders when it enters a computational loop that isn’t terminable, but that would go against our own desires of what a robot should be.

Part of wondering is unlearning, as the ancients cherished “learned ignorance.” A robot can’t unlearn with its available faculties.

What is wonder, anyway? Why are we taught that wonder is anxiety? It can be a beautiful conscious state to be in. And why should we try to reduce our sense of wonder with scientific posturing and rhetoric about knowing so much (some of the things we consider knowledge can be the result of pessimism– such as the mathematical definition of the continuum.)

I believe this wonder is part of a poet’s work and part of a human translator’s work on poetry. This wonder of a human hand in working is conveyed to the readers, who experience something that is entirely human.

May this piece gladden good folk.

Broken Home

Rags are indecent, and there is no shame in covering with what you have. Maybe it is mean for the beggar to beg, as a poet begs for his words, and a man begs for a bride. A woman will say no to the haggard emaciated beggars: Those hanging around the temple of the Green Buddha hoping for a hand out. The Green Buddha, who all clamber to, offering food and a home. Yet He will not eat except what will stave off death for a day, and even in the temple given to him, he knows his homelessness. The beggars, his disciples, where is the difference? Because everyone will learn. And who will be His bride? We are all Buddhas, you would know it if you would let the prophets speak. The ladles of immortality that the House of the West offer are empty. We clothe ourselves in fine ideas that are transparent, and the finer our idea, the more naked and indecent we are. The Emperor has no clothes, and has many women. Get on your knees and believe: There is one and only one woven cloth with which all the worlds of dreams and hardships, queens and beggars clothe themselves. Only this cloth is real, we try to fill it, but in the end we must give the cloth away.

kissed by god

I have been taking an anti-psychotic for many years that made me feel really awful and angry. I learned to kind of be “in it” and handle the bad feeling without much thought or outward sign. Eventually this bad feeling was my neutral or natural state, and as long as I kept it in mind, I could get through it pretty well. But sensitive people could feel the bad feeling I was getting from the drug. About a year ago I was “upgraded” to severe depression instead of my old and derogatory diagnosis. They changed my medication to something that amplifies anti-depressants, and suddenly this bad feeling is gone.

Earth is the Garden

And every plant and animal has a star

We have an idea that space follows the same rules that Earth follows.

This idea is called the inductive inference.

But as Hume pointed out, the inductive inference is just the imagination at work.

There is no deductive reason to believe outerspace follows the same spacial rules as the Earth.

Because of this, if we ever meet a star in person, or a gas cloud, or the fanciful black hole, it may turn out that it is quite different from what we imagine.

about meaning

Meaning is a makes life full, as I am sure many people agree. And what does meaning mean? This question poses some difficulty. Herbert Mead believed the word meaningful was meaningless. Quine mentioned that linguists that specialize in meaning “are in the position of not knowing what it is they are talking about.”

What meaning means is a fundamental and foundational question. Meaning is about sense too. When we cry because a lotus flower is too perfect, that means something. When we pay our taxes, maybe it means something to people we don’t know, but for us we often feel busyness, loss, and frustration. So we can feel a meaning, also as Kant offered more recently than most that reason (or sense) is a passion, being backed by many much older thinkers. And meaning is not just sense. Jokes can be funny in a meaningless way, such as in using derogatory words frivolously. My father believed that tragedy meant that comedy. Comedy seemed to him rather pointless because continuity doesn’t weigh as much to the mind as a tragic end. One time he wrote a humorous essay about fatherhood. He had me read it before it publishing, and he saw me laughing. He asked me “why is it funny?” He really was asking; he didn’t know. So I told him “because it is so sad.” We tend to seek the grain of sadness or fear in levity, but not the tiny bubble of enjoyment and happiness in a satisfying tragedy. The bubble gone unnoticed makes it all the more enjoyable.

Sometimes when we mean something, we are pointing at a gold coin, and we mean the gold coin. The coin has weight and a quality of being pure. That is part of what we mean. Sometimes someone dies and we ask for meaning. In that case we don’t intend a “what” like a gold coin, but a “why”. What and why mean things, “when” can mean something: such as when the sun is eclipsed or the clock strikes 3:33. “Where” is meaningful: at the top of a mountain or at the temple. Who could be a famous news anchor, or a mother’s lullaby. How is meaningful: if we make the cake from scratch, and grow, harvest and grind the grain for flower. Nowadays there is a glut of appreciating the work of how, and the techniques for proving a mathematical theorem or how a gun was turned into a piece of metal sculpture.

Maybe the question we should ask is who doesn’t have meaning, when, where, what doesn’t have meaning and why?

Enter logical positivism, the most meaningless philosophy. The only idea in logical positivism is a vague idea of the good, and how we “just know what it is” without any intellectual activity. We can be busy assembling the parts of a car on a conveyor belt and be content in our concentration about mechanical things because of our idea we are doing good or valuable work. And this lukewarm heart we have while we do it is the only meaning of our work, generally ignored because we are too busy to notice our hearts.

The engineers have an appreciation for how, but the assembly workers, when they are not thinking like an engineer, are in about as meaningless and unobserved a mode as possible for a human being.

But sometimes we don’t have time to think about the soldiers that died for our land and culture, so I can sit at the ramen store and have a distinct cultural experience. We don’t have time to consider how the pig died to give us a succulent piece of its body to eat from our ramen bowl. Meaninglessness seems necessary for survival in our world where children die in factories so we can have nice cheap shoes. And maybe it always has been so, where we walk past the wretched human sufferer on the street with only a pithy stab of pity.

And to any family who has lost a daughter or a son… should we carry the conscience and the meanings of that death everywhere and constantly?

It seems like meaninglessness could be a moment of happiness in an otherwise tragic life. We throw off our chains of poverty and disease, loss and hardship, and look up at the open bright sky and feel happy for no reason at all, senselessly. Why should meaninglessness be so bad? Is that moment of happiness careless and wrong? Or is it the very purpose of life?

And a poem that conveys this senseless happiness, is it not real poetry because it is meaningless?

the grasshopper and the ant

Once upon a time there was a grasshopper that just sat around and breathed in the thick summer air all day and night. He would eat green leaves that were everywhere, more than anyone could eat. He sat and sat, until the ant, who was sweating and carrying heavy food to his anthill, got angry. He said “Grasshopper! you fool, you are not going to have anything when winter comes” The grasshopper looked at the ant and smiled. “Come here friend, I have things to tell about breathing air and eating grass.” but the ant wasn’t listening, he kept working and working all summer long. Finally the fall came, and the air was cold, and the grasshopper ran out of food. He didn’t move much, except to hop gently when the whim came to him. He didn’t cry for the cold, and he had the same smile he had in the summer. Finally the snow and icy winds came. The ant sat in his anthill with his wife and children. Sometimes he thought about that foolish grasshopper, but most of the time he was working to raise his kids. The winters and summer went by, and other grasshoppers came and went. Those grasshoppers were different, but sometimes there was one grasshopper that acted like the first foolish grasshopper. Once his son began to listen to a grasshopper and never returned to the anthill. Finally one winter, the ant was old and he began to fear death. He thought about all his work, and wondered how he could bring his food or his children or wife with him after death. These were evil thoughts, but eventually he remembered that foolish grasshopper. He thought about how the grasshopper smiled even in the cold of the fall, and it made the ant smile a little too. He did nothing and sat just breathing and eating the food he had stored over the years. In the end, he wished he had had a whole summer to breathe and eat and learn to smile, but his time was over, and he died.

The Body of Thoughts

The idea that thoughts are hypothetical is partially true. You can have a thought and have it not be real in one sense, but in another the thought has physical causes and physical effects. Certainly, atom-splitting wouldn’t happen much on the Earth’s crust without humans having the idea of it first. That is one physical effect of an idea. The cause of the idea of splitting the atom came from other physical things, such as the physical reality of Word War II. The other cause of this idea was other thoughts that had come before. Where did those ideas come from? Certainly not from just one mind. The ideas were hanging in the funk between scientists in sweaty stressed out bodies. Bodies that wanted respect, dignity, sex, food and so many other things that brought out their thinking work. After the physical causes, when a thought happens, it effects the brain and usually other parts of the body immediately.

The quote about thinking I like most is “The trick [to thinking hard], Berty boy, is not minding that it hurts”. Thinking hurts. It taxes the body. Even pleasurable thinking hurts, much like other pleasurable bodily things hurt. When you eat, the body has a lot of work to do. Same with sex, playing sports, or any recognizable activity, pleasurable or not. The belief that thinking all the time will make you happy, either through positive thinking, or by the idea that life is a game of strategy that we could win by becoming rich or famous, does not have much truth in it. Even though the scientists that built the atom bomb “won” and got rewards for their bodies, the effect was generally a loss to society. Maybe there is less discomfort for many people as a result of winning the war, but the result of atom-splitting becoming a serviceable thought is mainly a whole lot of stress and worry about subsequent applications of the idea of the atom bomb. It is possible to think your way out of thinking, but it is the hardest thing to do with thinking. The most successful works of language do just that, like the song of a Tibetan singing bowl, they are sounds that cause silence.

The idea that we should think a lot in education is a large drain on everyone in the form of stress and worry. Believing this stress and worry is just a fantasy is not a respectable position. Worry is a negative feedback loop, though. Stressful thoughts conceive more stressful (often unnecessary) thinking. It can be counteracted with mental effort, but none of this is fantasy. Stressful thinking has immediate physical presence in the body, and long term physical causes and effects. We have this stress anyway, because when there are other forms of suffering and hardship, we feel the need to think it through. There is nothing bad about the kind of thinking that takes you through hardship. One of the bad effects of other unnecessary stressful thinking is that the stressful thinking that is good for handling hardship of humans gets pushed to the side. People in America tend to think listening to the life stories of other people is a favor we do for them. It is true it is stressful thinking, but this is the kind of thinking that really helps everyone. Learning algebra is stressful thinking that is rarely applied by most of the individual minds that do the learning. For some reason we believe the human being next to us and their life story is less important than algebra, or less important than the political narrative pushed with oppressive sameness on 100 different news channels. This is a loss to society.

Some people just don’t think that much, and there is something bad about that. Thinking through the things that make us unhappy is very effective, as any therapist will tell you. Once we’re happy though, the goal is to leave thinking behind for as long as possible.

Empty Bloom

Empty Bloom

Sometimes you need the tumor in turmeric.
There is something that cures us when we enter an altered state
Brought on by the moon,
Or a little vodka.

Tumor cells grow all the same.
They spread like fields of grain
Until you’ve moved in on the mountain cat’s hunting ground;
Then you need a laser or a scalpel
Because if you don’t leave home and hunt,
You will be hunted.

Maybe it is stupid to say the world is “One–
Big Tumor.”

To the word One, others will react–
Some stay, the mind at home.

If you react, the mind leaves home in search of news,
Hunting for experience,

And if you seek by turning on your screen,
you are caught in a maze of perfectly unfolding flowers
Where paper tigers hurt
Everyone’s feelings the same.

The Two Fools

It is a new year, 2022, the year of the Fool. It is the first card of the tarot, and when the 22 cards of the Major Arcana have played their hand, the cycle begins again. I am interested in the Fool personally, because the Fool is often associated with mental illness, something that has shaped my own life. These are both stories I tell my daughters.

The first story is about a girl who loses her family to illness and cannot keep her house because of debt. She leaves her house with only her winter clothes and a loaf of bread, and begins walking down the road with no-where to go. As she walks the day goes by, and a beggar comes and asks for some food. The girl gives half her loaf of bread and keeps walking. But then she meets another beggar on the road who asks for food, so she gives her other half of the loaf. Again she meets a beggar on the road who says he is cold, and she gives him her coat. And again, a beggar with bare feet asks for her shoes, and she gives. Finally it is night on the road, and she has only a little cloth to wear. As the stars come out, they fall down to her feet. She picks them up and realizes they are gold. So many stars fall that night, that she lives the rest of her live without a worry for food or things.

The second story is about a man who works for his employer five years and after completing his work is paid a lump of gold as big as his head. The man takes his wages, the lump of gold, and begins making the day-long trip down the road to his mothers house. As he is walking he meets a man on a horse. The man on the horse explains that a horse can make a lot of money because it can do a lot of work on a farm, and can carry him home to his mother as well. So the Fool agrees to give his 5 years wages to the man with the horse, in exchange for the horse. As the Fool rides down the road on his new horse, he meets a man with a goat. The man with the goat explains that a goat can give milk, and can be shorn for its coat of hair to make clothes. The Fool agrees to exchange his horse and takes the goat, walking on down the road. The Fool meets another man, who is standing next two millstones. This man explains that millstones can do great work grinding the wheat for bread, and so the Fool agrees to exchange his goat for the millstones. Now the Fool is heavily burdened by the stones and grows tired. He finds a well, and thanks God that he can drop the millstones into the well to make water come up so he can have a drink. Finally he reaches his mother with nothing for his 5 years of work.

These two stories at first seem to have two very different ideas about what a Fool is. In one, the girl is not at fault, but continues to give everything away. The idea being that there is an accountancy in an invisible world of magic that repays her for her selflessness. It is rather easy to see that the second Fool is not being selfless, because he is being duped into making bad exchanges for his wealth. The second Fool makes no gain in any invisible world, or so the story goes. There is a strange part of the second story, taken from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, where he thanks God for easily being able to give up his millstones at a well in exchange for a drink of water. Here the logic of the story admits that there is an invisible world, and even though he has failed in this world, as well as the material world, God cares for him anyway, and relieves him of the burden of the stones out of mercy. The girl getting gold coins from magic is not mercy, I think, but the universe paying the debt incurred in the invisible world in the form of gold coins.

We can see clearly here that the world of the invisible and the material world is getting confused. If the girl knew the universe would repay her, she would not be repaid, of course. And if the Fool in the second story knew his exchanges were not savvy in the material world, he would have gained some repayment from the invisible world, beyond mercy. So we see a complex interplay between the material world, the invisible world, as well of not only the less insightful requirement of good intention, but also the more interesting role of knowledge and ignorance. Ignorance (perhaps faith, but maybe not) is repaid by the invisible world if it is ignorance of yourself. If you use knowledge, you had better get it right, because even though the trades for the second Fool were done with knowledge of the merits of millstones, etc, the loss incurred from this knowledge was complete. There is a reverse notion of trade and exchange: it is basically a bad thing in the invisible world. The Fool who plays the game of exchange to lose, wins; and the Fool who plays the game of exchange to win, loses. It is clear that if you know you are a Fool, you should play to lose. And, well, it is rather easier to be a Fool and play to lose than to be wise and play to win… isn’t it?

Speaking as a diagnosed Fool, I have to attest that the game of losing is a lot harder than it seems. Eventually you will find that you are wise in spite of yourself, because if you do things for people expecting to gain in the invisible world, you and gain nothing. Eventually you have to learn to control your mind and do things without expectation, and what do you end up doing then? Forest-wandering I suppose, which is practiced by fools, and as an ascetic practice of the wise.

I will end with Whitehead’s quote in his masterwork on process philosophy. “God is the Fool of the World.” The World card is the end of the Tarot (last year), and the Fool is the beginning.

Primordial Word Soup

There is a time and a place for word soup. Maybe it happened in the beginning, but I believe it is most needed at the end, when we have eaten enough to arouse an appetite. Say there were some words spoken by some god or fool to start out with. Nobody really knew what it meant, probably not even the fool knew. In all likelihood, the first words were spoken out of an almost totally ignorant source. So, a process was begun where people created more words to understand what was already spoken. You could call it a dialogue, or progress. Maybe refinement? What really happened was the original problem of what was uttered was exacerbated. So many words were created that we all began needing a box that spewed uninspired word-streams at us. If the words were enjoyed and mulled over long enough, the ambient broth of the word-stream became legendary. It was the savoring of what was said before that gave us the idea of new innocence, an idea that is older than maturity. We invented a process of devouring our past, thinking we were producing a future. The truth, of course, is the present is the origin and result of our ideas of past and future. The child’s innocence is the wisdom of the first goddess who uttered the original words, creating the problem from which we imagine our maturity, and our children’s innocence, in the present moment. We think of the advantages our children have, having access to so much word soup at their fingertips. Unfortunately our children can’t be a part of the conversation, really. They can say things that have been said before, but without the ignorance of the original thinker, nor the wisdom of the same. The whole idea, it seems, of creating a great central pool for ingredients of the soup– So that all that roam will find their paths converging to Rome–precludes that the roamers were just roaming, they were never in Rome. And none of their descendants roam they way they did. The soup we are preparing has already been eaten.