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Nuggets from the World of Ideas

Once upon a time

There was a place where you could walk into a flowing stream, and if you knew what to look for, you could reach right down and pick up a piece of gold. I can imagine that copper, tin and iron once laid around in lumps.

In ancient Babylon and Sumer (and elsewhere) crude oil and tar flowed like springs up out of the ground.

Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, opals, turquoise, were all just pretty rocks…

…once upon a time.

Those days are pretty much all gone now, unless you count finding buried or sunken treasure.

…or are they?

The World of Ideas

Often in conversation, new friends will get around to asking me what I do. Or, knowing what I do, they will ask me how I do it. I have learned to pause for a second –or two– and look as if through an invisible door. In my imagination a metaphorical doorway from ‘our’ world to the world of ideas opens before me. Stepping through the doorway in my mind, I describe to them what I see.

Imagine a world where ideas lay around on the surface of the ground like rocks in a stream. You don’t even have to dig for them; you just have to meander around and notice.

“And I am not the only human being in that world,” I tell them, “Other people are there too, picking up ideas.

“Sometimes, I see people fighting over ‘big ideas’. I try to avoid those places. When somebody comes over and gets interested in taking over what I’m doing, I just give it to them and move on. I don’t want to get involved in a fight over one idea when so many of them are out there.”

Source: DC Animated Universe Wiki

Why Aren’t You Rich?

This is a natural question, I suppose, but one I didn’t think about before someone asked it the first time. It comes up a lot, though, apparently…

(Nygma discovers his office is locked and his nameplate is missing)
Edward Nygma: What’s going on here? Where’s my office? My door was right here.
Janitor: “Was” is right.
(Holds Nygma’s nameplate up and dumps it in the bin)
Edward Nygma: What’s the meaning of this?
Daniel Mockridge: What does it look like, Eddie? You’re out of here. You’re history. You’re fired. Comprende?
Edward Nygma: Have you lost what passes for your mind!? You can’t afford to do without me, Mockridge!
Daniel Mockridge: I can if you’re going to sue me for royalties.
Edward Nygma: I created the “Riddle of the Minotaur” game! This company’s making millions for my genius!
Daniel Mockridge: Competitron Software’s success didn’t come from the product, Nygma. Competitron has a corporate attitude. It’s strength is in the boardroom. The deal. The contract. Specifically the “Work for Hire” contract you signed.
(Shows Nygma a contract he tricked him into signing long ago)
Edward Nygma: You are a fool, Mockridge, if you think you can get away with this. Your amoral greed is no match for an intellect like mine!
Daniel Mockridge: Oh, yeah? Then tell me something, Eddie: if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?

DC Animated Universe Wiki

… so people ‘get’ the idea that cash follows creativity, but not necessarily in the same person. I feel like this– If I had to choose between pursuing ‘success’ or being able to go to that place, which would I choose? I guess the answer is obvious by now.

I’ve found myself feeling Edward Nygma’s pain a time or two, I won’t lie. But I learned there is more joy in going into that world than in fighting over who gets to bring an idea back from there.

Christ for Prez

This one makes me laugh on the outside and cry on the inside…

celtic straits

Who would Jesus align with in the political America of 2010?


“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” – Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), U.S. reformer, suffragist

“Every man thinks God is on his side. The rich and powerful know he is.”
– Jean Anouilh, French dramatist, playwright

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out he hates all the same people you do.” -Anne Lamott, Author

Someone forwarded me a recent blog on readersupportednews.org, an overtly liberal political site. In the blog, an unknown author writes a “humorous” piece in the form of a news article about Jesus being selected as a Supreme Court nominee. In the article, the GOP is rallying in the press to reject the nominee (or should I capitalize it, “Nominee”?)…

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Blow the Trumpet in Zion

I realized that this blog has life because I want to write it, not because anyone else wants to read it. This entry has been difficult to write. I believe it is important, however.

Salvador Dali, Canita tuba in Sion, Wikipaintings.org

For no particular reason, the text of Joel chapter 2 crossed my path the other morning. After awhile I began having visions of Orrin Hatch‘s and Diane Feinstein‘s heads affixed to locusts’ bodies, swarming the Capitol Rotunda.

Buzzy. Creepy. Claustrophobic.

I last watched television regularly in 2007 or so. It feels like my ability to reason and understand (especially in emotional situations) has undergone a sort of buoyancy since that time. I haven’t suffered through any political ads since Bush|Kerry.

They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle.

At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers.

They all march in line, not swerving from their course. They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks. They rush  upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows.

Who are they?

They are the partisans, the strategists, the marketers, the fervent, militant proponents of any ideology who want us to give up our own feelings, thoughts and beliefs. They are not constrained to any race, creed, economic or social status, political party, geography, public or private organization. They cannot be categorized, except that they are shrill and unreasoning.

Democrats/Republicans are not your enemy, you are your own enemy if you lock your knees and stop your ears.

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions…

…And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

The Wisdom of Crowds

Sir Francis Galton (Wikipedia)

Galton undoubtedly thought that the average guess of the group would be way off the mark. After all, mix a few very smart people with some mediocre people and a lot of dumb people, and it seems likely you’d end up with a dumb answer. But Galton was wrong. The crowd had guessed that the ox, after it had been slaughtered and dressed, would weigh 1,197 pounds. After it had been slaughtered and dressed, the ox weighed 1,198 pounds. In other words, the crowd’s judgement was essentially perfect. … Galton wrote later, “The result seems more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgement than might have been expected.” That was, to say the least, an understatement.

James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

It’s crowded inside my head right now–

  • The national elections are coming up in November,
  • Some of my friends are predicting the end of the world as we know it,
  • We are experiencing a global energy transition,
  • We are trying to come to grips with the reality of climate change,
  • The universe is evolving toward infinite complexity,
  • We need to do something…

(One difference between me and my computer is that I can decided to jump outside of a problem without my computer thinking I am broken. I think I will do that now!)

I bought Surowiecki’s book, if not his argument. I think that strange things happen all the time in life, and while there is inescapable correctness in both democracy and the Iowa Electronic Markets, there are also brilliant flash-insights that go against the majority’s opinion.

Jumping out of jumping-out-of-the-problem, here are some interesting statistics that might seem unrelated to my list, or to ‘wisdom’. On one hand…

Americans’ self-reported church attendance has continued to inch up in 2010, with 43.1% of Americans reporting weekly or almost weekly attendance. This is up slightly from 42.8% in 2009 and 42.1% in 2008. The increase comes as Americans’ economic confidence has also risen, suggesting that, instead of church attendance rising when economic times get bad, as some theorize, the opposite pattern may be occurring.

—Frank Newport, Gallup

On the other hand…

Characterizations of religious life in the United States typically refererence poll data on church attendance. Consistently high levels of participation reported in these data suggest an exceptionally religious population, little affected by secularizing trends. This picture of vitality, however, contradicts other empirical evidence indicating declining strength among many religious institutions. Using a variety of data sources and data collection procedures, we estimate that church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are, in fact, approximately one-half the generally accepted levels.

—Hadaway, Marler and Chaves, What the Polls Don’t Show

“Secularizing trends?” You mean, like in science…

Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

The recent survey of scientists tracks fairly closely with earlier polls that gauged scientists’ views on religion. The first of these was conducted in 1914 by Swiss-American psychologist James Leuba, who surveyed about 1,000 scientists in the United States to ask them about their views on God. Leuba found the scientific community equally divided, with 42% saying that they believed in a personal God and the same number saying they did not.

More than 80 years later, Edward Larson, a historian of science then teaching at the University of Georgia, recreated Leuba’s survey, asking the same number of scientists the exact same questions. To the surprise of many, Larson’s 1996 poll came up with similar results, finding that 40% of scientists believed in a personal God, while 45% said they did not. Other surveys of scientists have yielded roughly similar results.

—The Pew Forum, Scientists and Belief

(In the direction of peer pressure, and since science is a collegial enterprise, one could assume that the unbelieving group of scientists would not be truthful.)

  • As many as 51% of scientists believe a higher power exists in the universe.
  • As many as 20% of “regular citizens” do not attend church regularly, but do lie about it.
  • Fracking could replace global warming as the Next Big Thing Argument.
  • Whoever gets elected in November will very likely be the right candidate for the job.
  • The world as we know it is always ending. That’s a good thing, actually.
  • The universe is probably evolving exactly as it thinks it should.
  • We don’t need to do anything, but we get to, if we want.

What is ‘Truth’?

Picking up from here

 writes:

[Gödel] believed that mathematical objects, like numbers, were not human constructions but real things, as real as peanut butter sandwiches. …

If numbers are real things, independent of our minds, they don’t care whether or not we can define them; we apprehend them through some intuitive faculty whose nature remains a mystery. From this point of view, it’s not at all strange that the mathematics we do today is very much like the mathematics we’d be doing if Gödel had never knocked out the possibility of axiomatic foundations. For Gödel, axiomatic foundations, however useful, were never truly necessary in the first place.

Gödel didn’t prove numbers are “real things,” but by proving that there are true statements about numbers that cannot be proven, did he not  imply that numbers (and thus, possibly other things) exist apart from the human mind?

This is echoed in Ayn Rand‘s philosophy of Objectivism. Once again, however, something has been left out. This time, it’s Gödel’s incompleteness theorem— Objectivism seems to hold that:

  • Logic will eventually gather all the knowledge there is to gain, and
  • If it cannot be attained through logic, then the so-called ‘knowledge’ is not ‘real’, e.g. ‘knowledge’ gained through ‘faith’.

But if “no system of logical axioms can produce all truths about numbers because no system of logical axioms can pin down exactly what numbers are,” [Ellenberg] how, then, are those truths to be produced and pinned down, except by a rudimentary kind of faith? It is easy to forget that Pythagoreans were mystics who used mathematical ideas for religious purposes.

I found help in an essay by Princeton mathematician, Edward Nelson–

The notion of truth in mathematics is irrelevant to what mathematicians do, it is vague unless abstractly formalized, and it varies according to philosophical opinion. In short, it is formal abstraction masquerading as reality.

[‘Truth’] is a correspondence between a linguistic formulation and reality.

Abstract ideas [about truth] have concrete consequences– this is their power.

[Nelson, Mathematics and faith, in “The Human Search for Truth: Philosophy, Science, Theology – The Outlook for the Third Millennium,” International Conference on Science and Faith, The Vatican, 23-25 May 2000, St. Joseph’s University Press, Philadelphia, 2002.]

Perhaps the truth of mathematics is metaphorical. Perhaps the only way we can perceive truth is through metaphor. Perhaps the only way we can make the connection from metaphor to truth is to employ a kind of faith.

Self Reliance

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. …

English: Daguerreotype of Ralph Waldo Emerson,...

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Courtesy of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.— ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ —Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ayn Rand contributed Objectivism to society. I see it as a nice counterpoise to Emerson’s philosophy (Transcendentalism). Atlas Shrugged is similarly counterpoised to prepping, perhaps. I am thankful for the space created by the tension of things set in opposition, the fabric, pegs and pole of a big circus tent where we all get to participate.

Having a sort of anti-realist point of view as I do, it is hard has become impossible for me to insist on matters of fact; I certainly have my own, and you probably have your own, but I don’t expect you to share all of mine nor vice versa. Gridlock ensues when we insist on our personal facts of the matter.

Atlas: true mythology

Italiano: Statua romana di Atlante (sec II d.C...

Italiano: Statua romana di Atlante (sec II d.C.). Già nella Collezione Farnese, oggi al Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the power of myth is metaphor, let us invest a few minutes in the metaphor that the Atlas myth was intended to make. Refer to this Wikipedia article

Classical art shows Atlas holding the celestial spheres, not a globe

Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of Gaia (the Earth) and hold up Uranus (the Sky) on his shoulders, to prevent the two from resuming their primordial embrace.

The Blind Men and the Elephant, p. 6

If Darwin and Wallace could co-labor, can’t we?

I have certain basic beliefs –

  • Science and religion are both metanarratives whose validities hinge on the way they are acted out.
  • ‘Just so’ stories are not properly basic ever, at any time in any narrative.
  • Everything is a metaphor for everything else.
  • (Therefore) ‘Truth’ may best be encapsulated within ‘Myth’.
  • (So that) Even our most basic understanding of physical reality, e.g. ‘matter’ may be viewed as mythological.

Everything I ‘know’, I know by ‘faith’.

I think it would be nice if you would share…

Basis

I use Google on a regular basis for things I want to discuss, do or think about so I naturally Googled define:basis this morning.

(It turns out that hoping for a basic definition of basis is chimeric, because (as we see in this aside) the thought is both self-referential and divergent. Speaking of divergent, I Googled self-referential and then mouse-wheeled down to … the definition you can understand. If that definition is easy to understand it is also devoid of information content (This blog (for example) is about me writing something about my experience, so is it (and everything else I say and do) self-referential (and if that is the case what is not?))…but I diverge…)

🙂

In this short essay I referred to the design process as basic and self-referential; when I was embarking on a career 28 years (!) ago this sort of circularity was bewilderingly maddening.

Back to Googling define: basis. Immediately beneath the definition and before the list of search results begins is a small humorous snippet of hypertext, More info ». Reading through all this I came away with the notion that the fundamental support for any “idea, argument or process” is to make an assumption.

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