About “reality”

20150110: vers de Aboulala el-Maarri (973-1057; wikipedia)

La vérité est soleil recouvert de ténèbres –
Elle n’a pas d’aube dans les yeux des humains.

La raison, pour le genre humain
Est un spectre qui passe son chemin.

Foi, incroyance, rumeurs colportées,
Coran, Torah, Évangile
Prescrivant leurs lois …
À toute génération ses mensonges
Que l’on s’empresse de croire et consigner.
Une génération se distinguera-t-elle, un jour,
En suivant la vérité ?

Deux sortes de gens sur la terre :
Ceux qui ont la raison sans religion,
Et ceux qui ont la religion et manquent de raison.

Tous les hommes se hâtent vers la décomposition,
Toutes les religions se valent dans l’égarement.

Si on me demande quelle est ma doctrine,
Elle est claire :
Ne suis-je pas, comme les autres,
Un imbécile ?

20130821: From Edward R. Murrow quotes

Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation.

Murrow (+1965) is credited with many other interesting quotes, many of which apply to the eroding “presumption of trustworthiness” of the US government in the wake of the Manning/wikileaks and Snowden “affairs”.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t. Nate Silver, 212. Penguin book, 534 pages.

Kindle Loc. 3923-30: There is something more to be said, however, about Chip Macal’s idea of “modeling for insights.” The philosophy of this book is that prediction is as much a means as an end. Prediction serves a very central role in hypothesis testing, for instance, and therefore in all of science (Note 89). As the statistician George E. P. Box wrote, “All models are wrong, but some models are useful” (Note 90). What he meant by that is that all models are simplifications of the universe, as they must necessarily be. As another mathematician said, “The best model of a cat is a cat” (Note 91). Everything else is leaving out some sort of detail. How pertinent that detail might be will depend on exactly what problem we’re trying to solve and on how precise an answer we require.

Notes: 89: Even if a prediction model is just a sort of thought experiment that is years away from producing useful results, it can still help us understand the scope of a problem. The Drake equation, a formula that provides a framework for predicting the number of intelligent extraterrestrial species in the galaxy, is not likely to yield highly useful and verifiable predictions in the span of our lifetimes—nor, probably, in the span of human civilization. The uncertainties are too great. Too many of its parameters are not known to within an order of magnitude; depending on which values you plug in, it can yield answers anywhere from that we are all alone in the universe to that there are billions and billions of extraterrestrial species. However, the Drake equation has nevertheless been a highly useful lens for astronomers to think about life, the universe, and everything. 90: George E. P. Box and Norman R. Draper, Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces (New York: Wiley, 1987), p. 424. 91: “Norbert Wiener,” Wikiquote.org. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Norbert_Wiener.

Two quotes from Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul, Giulio Tononi, 2012. Pantheon books, 360 pp.

Page 293: Science is imagination tempered by the real

Same page Page 293: Is reality overdetermined, or is it overinterpreted?

Too quotes from Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology (Oren Harman and Michael Dietrich, 2008)

Page 244: Indeed, the situation in the early 1960s, when Mitchell put his theory forward, could be summarized by the now well-known dictum of Efraim Racker: “Anyone who is not thoroughly confused, just does not understand the situation. In “Peter Mitchell, Changing the face of bioenergetics” by John Prebble and Bruce Weber.

Page 274: Einstein said: “A theory should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”In Mutoo Kimura and the rise of neutralism”, by James F. Crow.

Start trek, Deep Space 9 (DS9), 1994, The Wire (episode 42): Never tell the truth when a lie will do (*)

Garak is one of my preferred characters in Star Trek. The following is a transcript of a conversation between Garak, currently a “taylor” on the DS9 space station, and former member of the Obsidian Order (the Cardassian intelligence Organization), and Dr Julian Bashir, the doctor of the space station. Doctor Bashir once told [Garak] the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and upon hearing the moral (“no one believes a liar when he is telling the truth”), Garak insisted that the true moral was “you should never tell the same lie twice (***).

Source: http://www.startrek.com/database_article/garak#1

Garak: By the way, I just had an interesting conversation with Constable Odo (**). He’s under the impression that I was a member of the Obsidain Order

Bashir: What did you say?

Garak: That he was mistaken

Bashir: And he believed you?

Garak: He said something about keeping a closer eye on me. I said “be my guest”, I have nothing to hide


Bashir: I still have a lot of questions to ask you about your past

Garak: I have given you all the answers I am capable of

Bashir: You have given me answers all right. But they were all different. Of all the stories you have told me, which ones are true?

Garak: my dear doctor, they are all true

Bashir: Even the lies?

Garak: Especially the lies!

(*) Statement by Enabran Tain, former head of the Cradassian secret service, the “Obsidian Order” – (**) Odo is the chief of security on DS9 – (***) Source: wikipedia.

Francis Bacon

The quote is taken from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (Thomas S. Kuhn and Ian Hacking, 2012)

Francis Bacon’s acute methodological dictum: Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion.

R. Kapuscinski, 1993, Imperium

(…) Westerners (…) understand that, not only is the reality they see not the only one, but it is not even the main one. Here there exists a whole series of the most varied realities, interwoven into an inextricable and monstrous knot, characterized by logical multiplicity: a bizarre confusion of the most contrasting forms of logic, sometimes erroneously defined as “illogicity” or “alogicity” by those who are firmly convinced that there can be only one logic system.

W. (Bill) Bryson, 2005, A short history of nearly everything, quoting J.B.S. Haldane

The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.

S.  Griguolo, 2004. Neural Classifiers for Land Cover Recognition: merging radiometric and ancillary information, in L. Diappi (ed.), Evolving Cities: Knowledge Engineering in Planning Processes, Aldershot UK, Ashgate, pp.11-44. Downloadable from here or copy http://circe.iuav.it/~silvio/papers/Ashgate.pdf.

The high number of connections among neurones generates an extremely complex circulation of electric signals in the brain: we cannot yet tell exactly how it works. Maybe we could, if the neurones were fewer in number, and not so interconnected… but, as Mather (1999) ironically remarks, if our brain had fewer neurones it would also be too stupid to deal with the problem. It can be guessed that self-consciousness arises above a critical level of net complexity.

E. Wigner, 1960, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

The level of knowledge and ingenuity is a continuous variable and it is unlikely that a relatively small variation of this continuous variable changes the attainable picture of the world from inconsistent to consistent. Considered from this point of view, the fact that some of the theories which we know to be false give such amazingly accurate results is an adverse factor. Had we somewhat less knowledge, the group of phenomena which these “false” theories explain would appear to us to be large enough to “prove” these theories.

However, these theories are considered to be “false” by us just for the reason that they are, in ultimate analysis, incompatible with more encompassing pictures and, if sufficiently many such false theories are discovered, they are bound to prove also to be in conflict with each other.

Similarly, it is possible that the theories, which we consider to be “proved” by a number of numerical agreements which appears to be large enough for us, are false because they are in conflict with a possible more encompassing theory which is beyond our means of discovery. If this were true, we would have to expect conflicts between our theories as soon as their number grows beyond a certain point and as soon as they cover a sufficiently large number of groups of phenomena. In contrast to the article of faith of the theoretical physicist mentioned before, this is the nightmare of the theorist.

L. Torvalds, 2007, interview available from http://www.oneopensource.it/interview-linus-torvalds/

I think the real issue about adoption of open source is that nobody can really ever “design” a complex system. That’s simply not how things work: people aren’t that smart – nobody is. And what open source allows is to not actually “design” things, but let them evolve, through lots of different pressures in the market, and having the end result just continually improve.
And doing so in the open, and allowing all these different entities to cross-pollinate their ideas with each other, and not having arbitrary boundaries with NDA’s and “you cannot look at how we did this”, is just a better way.
I compare it with science and witchcraft (or alchemy). Science may take a few hundred years to figure out how the world works, but it does actually get there, exactly because people can build on each others knowledge, and it evolves over time. In contrast, witchcraft/alchemy may be about smart people, but the knowledge body never “accumulates” anywhere. It might be passed down to an apprentice, but the hiding of information basically means that it can never really become any better than what a single person/company can understand.
And that’s exactly the same issue with open source vs proprietary products. The proprietary people can design something that is smart, but it eventually becomes too complicated for a single entity (even a large company) to really understand and drive, and the company politics and the goals of that company will always limit it.
In contrast, open source works well in a complex environment. Maybe nobody at all understands the big picture, but evolution doesn’t require global understanding, it just requires small local improvements and a open market (”survival of the fittest”).
So I think a lot of companies are slowly starting to adopt more open source, simply because they see these things that work, and they realize that they would have a hard time duplicating it on their own. Do they really buy into my world view? Probably not. But they can see it working for individual projects.

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language (Arika Okrent, 2009) .

Kindle Loc. 2363-65: The “tyranny of words” idea went beyond the claim that bad people sometimes used language to bad ends. It suggested that all of us, every day, were being misled, not by lies told by others, but by our own habits of thinking, as conditioned by the very structure of our languages.

Kindle Loc. 2443-47 : The closest Whorf himself ever got to a hypothesis-style statement was a description of his “linguistic relativity principle,” which held that “users of markedly different grammars are pointed by their grammars toward different types of observations and different evaluations of externally similar acts of observation, and hence are not equivalent as observers but must arrive at somewhat different views of the world.” As to what exactly he meant by that, well, there are about as many interpretations as there are mentions of Whorf’s name in print.

Kindle Loc. 2859-63:  There is no winging it in Lojban. The language has an exhaustively defined syntax, and it is completely unambiguous. One must clearly specify the structure of the sentence as a whole, using various markers that serve, in effect, as spoken parentheses. There can be no confusion, for example, between an “ancient (history teacher)” and an “(ancient history) teacher” in Lojban. When you say “I saw the man with the binoculars” in Lojban, you can leave no doubt as to whether you had the binoculars or the man did. Lojban sentences have only one structural parse.

Montaigne (1580, Essais II, 12, p 579-580)

[p.579] La droiture et la justice, si l’homme en connoissoit qui eust corps et veritable essence, il ne l’atacheroit pas à la condition des coustumes de cette contrée ou de celle là; ce ne seroit pas de la fantasie des Perses ou des Indes que la vertu prendroit sa forme. Il n’est rien subject à plus continuelle agitation que les loix. Dépuis que je suis nay, j’ai veu trois et quatre fois rechanger celle des Anglois, noz voisins, non seulement en subject politique, qui est celuy qu’on veut dispenser de constance, mais au plus important subject qui puisse estre, à sçavoir de la religion. Dequoy j’ay honte et despit, d’autant plus que c’est une nation à laquelle ceux de mon quartier ont eu autrefois une si privée accointance qu’il reste encore en ma maison aucunes traces de nostre ancien cousinage. Et chez nous icy, j’ay veu telle chose qui nous estoit capitale, devenir legitime; et nous, qui en tenons d’autres, sommes à mesmes, selon l’incertitude de la fortune guerrière, d’estre un jour criminels de laese majesté humaine et divine, nostre justice tombant à la merci de l’injustice, et, en l’espace de peu d’années de possession, prenant une essence contraire. Comment pouvoit ce Dieu ancien plus clairement accuser en l’humaine cognoissance l’ignorance de l’estre divin, et apprendre aux hommes que la religion n’estoit qu’une piece de leur invention, propre à lier leur societé, qu’en declarant, comme il fit, à ceux qui en recherchoient l’instruction de son trepied, que le vrai culte à chacun estoit celuy qu’il trouvoit observé par l’usage du lieu où il estoit?

O Dieu! quelle obligation n’avons nous à la benignité de nostre souverain createur pour avoir desniaisé nostre creance de ces vagabondes et arbitraires devotions et l’avoir logée sur l’eternelle base de sa saincte parolle’ Que nous dira donc en cette necessité la philosophie? Que nous suyvons les loix de nostre pays? c’est à dire cette mer flotante des opinions d’un peuple ou d’un Prince, qui me peindront la justice d’autant de couleurs et la reformeront en autant de visages qu’il y aura en eux de changemens de passion? Je ne puis pas avoir le jugement si flexible. Quelle bonté est-ce que je voyois hyer en credit, et demain plus, et que le trajet d’une riviere faict crime? Quelle verité que ces montaignes bornent, qui est mensonge au monde qui se tient au delà? Mais ils sont plaisans quand, pour donner quelque certitude aux loix, ils disent qu’il y en a aucunes fermes, perpetuelles et immuables, qu’ils nomment naturelles, qui sont empreintes en l’humain genre par [p.580] la condition de leur propre essence.

Pascal (Pensées, 1670; Pensée n° 94); cp. with underlined text in Montaigne above

Plaisante justice qu’une rivière borne ! Vérité au deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au delà

Religions Of Star Trek (Ross Kraemer, William Cassidy and Susan L Schwartz, 2003)

Kindle Loc. 1318-21: Despite our very Western,   modern conviction that myth implies falsehood, it remains   the basis for most societies and their religious traditions.   We can insist that what cannot be proven scientifically  has no reality, but we continue to tell stories and to believe  them on some level. Star Trek is a vast modern mythos, and  even though it is not historically true, it contains compelling  qualities that keep it alive despite the fickleness of American  culture and its search for the rational, factual, and real.

Kindle Loc. 1672-74: Considering the marvelous complexity of the universe, its  clockwork perfection, its balance of this against that … matter,  energy, gravitation, time, dimension, I believe that our existence  must be more than either of these philosophies, that what we  are goes beyond Euclidean or other “practical” measuring systems   … and that our existence is part of a reality beyond what  we understand now as reality

Michael O’Meara, 2013. New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe (Michael O’Meara)

Kindle Loc. 608-21: Including in their ranks such figures as Michel Foucault, Gianni Vattimo, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, and Jean Baudrillard, postmodernists see themselves as “denaturalizing (or “dedoxifying”) the foundationalist character of modern representations. [89] Against the rational, objective, and universal claims of the modern narrative, as it applies the timeless truths of mathematical reason to man’s contingent world, they argue that the narrating subject is never autonomous, never situated at an Archimedean point beyond space and time, never able to perceive the world with detachment and certainty. Rather, representations of all kinds are inevitably entwined in sociolinguistic webs of signification that know no all-embracing truth, only their own truths, which are indistinguishable from their will to power. Different “language games,” to use Lyotard’s Wittgensteinian terminology, play with different rules. Instead of logically ordering the various manifestation of the objective world with neutral, naturalistic categories, modern reason, like every language game, functions according to rules and with concepts that are self-referential, making sense of the world it views in ways already presupposed. This makes reason primarily “significatory” rather than representational. As a consequence, there can in actuality be no overarching narrative to structure reality’s multiple dimensions and hence no single, unsituated objective category to describe or explain them. On this basis, postmodernists conclude that there are no cognitively privileged and canonical forms of knowledge — only different styles, voices, and registers reflecting different perspectives, different premises, and different systems of symbolization. Every representation of reality, they emphasize, is a mediated one, reflecting not reality per se, but a subjective and highly contextualized system of significatory representations.

Loc. 1089-91: Just, then, as there is no single culture common to all men, there is no single definable reality in Gehlen’s anthropology. The only reality man knows is informed by the intrinsically subjective and evolving tropes his specific heritage provides for making sense of it.  Loc. 1232-35  | Added on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 06:56 PM

Besides reducing reality to a simple expanse of matter, “understood” in abstract mathematical terms that did little to enhance man’s knowledge of his world and, in some cases, further estranged him from it, Descartes’ quantifying reductionism had the effect of relegating the qualitative features of the European life — all those things associated with history and heritage — to a lower order of significance, as ecclesiastical authority was supplanted by the naturalistic rationalistic system of modern science.

Loc. 1237-42: Guénon (who was also an accomplished mathematician) claims material quantities are the most ephemeral and insignificant facet of reality — and are not even purely quantitative. [189] Every quantitative substance, as Descartes himself acknowledged, has texture, smell, taste, color, form, and other qualitative features, which are meaningless only to the quantifying intelligence. Similarly, if the “objective world” were made up solely of material extensions, it would not only be an undifferentiated homogeneity, but unmeasurable, for measurement is a function of order and order a property of quality. To conceive of quantity without its qualitative features, he argues, is like conceiving of substance without its defining essence.

Loc. 1252-55:  Aided by the scientific procedures of “methodological doubt,” which were to free the mind of “prejudice and ignorance” (that is, to free it of cultural influence), the mind’s principal task was to “mirror” (Rorty) the radically different substance of matter, with the assumption that truth was merely an accurate representation of the mind’s reflections.

Loc. 1307-9: Locke viewed empirical reality (Descartes’ world of extended substances) as a realm of inert matter, with “facts” neatly separated from one another. This made sense impressions primary, for they alone were treated as a reliable source of information about substantial matters.

Loc. 1321-27: empiricists followed rationalists in treating truth as an object, rather than an “eventual phenomenon” unique to its interpretative encounter, and in imagining that all men reason and perceive in ways that were “everywhere and always the same.” When Cartesianism and its Lockean variant reached the eighteenth century, the emerging liberal consensus was prepared to anchor its project in the empirico-rationalist belief that nature was a set of mechanical objects governed by laws accessible to reason, that the individual was an environmentally shaped subject able to ascertain the truth of these laws, and that knowledge derived from evidence, experiment, and analysis was a panacea for all the foolish, unjust “irrationalities” of traditional society. On this basis, the Enlightenment’s liberal theorists concluded that man no longer needed traditional, communal, or religious references to order his life […]

Loc. 1334-36: For Kant, it was not objective (or noumenal) reality, as Locke thought, but the nature of the mind that held the key to the world’s order. Time, space, and causality, he claimed, were mental categories, expressing the way man made sense of things (as they appeared to him) and not necessarily properties specific to the objective world (which was ultimately unknowable).

Roland Gori, 2014. Faut-il renoncer à la liberté pour être heureux ?

Kindle Loc. 2002-6: Le concept de « réel » a été introduit par Lacan pour rendre compte d’une nécessité structurale : l’existence d’un point d’impasse et de butée de toute formalisation des deux réalités, matérielle et psychique. Ce concept est corrélatif des deux autres catégories, celles de l’imaginaire et du symbolique. Le « réel » se déduit d’une division de la réalité par l’appareil de langage et les modes de donation du monde par l’image. Il en est à proprement parler le reste irrédentiste.


  4 comments for “About “reality”

  1. wergosum
    20131218 at 10:32

    Sometimes truth and reality overlap, as in the picture below: the end of the dream!

    Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/12/14/santacon-vancouver-2013_n_4446904.html?utm_hp_ref=travel&ir=Travel

  2. wergosum
    20091229 at 08:49

    The nice thing about the ontological problem is that it can be ignored altogether without affecting the way we function! In other words, the ontological problem is not a problem!

    But I like the quote. Can I have the exact & complete reference (where exact is not necessarily complete, but complete is probably exact!).

  3. 20091228 at 12:24

    Another one.

    “A curious thing about the ontological problem is its simplicity. It can be put into three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word—’Everything’—and everyone will accept this answer as true.” (W. Van Orman Quine)

    • Guy
      20141101 at 06:21

      Je ne sais si les anglo-saxons de toute condition sont à ce point empiriques et terre à terre, mais c’est un fait que leurs intellectuels ont répandu et cultivé cette image.
      Il faut ne jamais avoir eu de doute ni de problème existentiel pour ignorer à quel point le bon sens et le pragmatisme, le “Ne t’en fais pas, ça va aller”, le “Ça ira, tu verras”, sont impuissants à rendre compte de notre condition ontologique. De la condition humaine, en d’autres termes.

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