Monday, July 26, 2010

Very interesting ...

... The Limits of the Coded World. (Hat tips, Lee Lowe and Dave Lull.)

The model in question holds that the universe exists in space and time as a kind of ultimate code that can be deciphered. This image of the universe has a philosophical and religious provenance, and has made its way into secular beliefs and practices as well. In the case of human freedom, this presumption of a “code of codes” works by convincing us that a prediction somehow decodes or deciphers a future that already exists in a coded form. So, for example, when the computers read the signals coming from the monkeys’ brains and make a prediction, belief in the code of codes influences how we interpret that event. Instead of interpreting the prediction as what it is — a statement about the neural process leading to the monkeys’ actions — we extrapolate about a supposed future as if it were already written down, and all we were doing was reading it.

The monkey experiment mentioned at the outset also involves a category error. "The monkeys were ... taught to respond to a cue." Well, the reason we practice something is so we don't have to think about it when we do it later. So being able to determine that the monkeys were going to do something they had been trained to do before they "thought" about doing it tells us nothing.
One thing in particular that Egginton says is especially interesting: "I am free because neither science nor religion can ever tell me, with certainty, what my future will be and what I should do about it." Yes, indeed. I'll start taking determinism a good deal more seriously when its predictive powers become more manifest.

On Saturday, Mark Vernon posted something that seems pertinent to this: Scream for help in dreams. Mark writes that "we're far less free than we think we are. Our conscious life is, in large part, shaped by the unconscious." I have never thought of my "self" as even fundamentally, let alone exclusively, my conscious self. So I don't identify my freedom with my conscious self either. I rather like Georg Groddeck's idea that we do not live so much as we are lived by our It. But that It is us, and it is free. Our conscious self is merely its epidermis.

1 comment:

  1. This code of code—how is that not the Platonic ideal forms?

    As for dreams, and the unconscious being so much larger than the conscious—well, anyone who's read Jung knows that. It's not a news flash, except in a pop culture kind of way. It's interesting when a movie or some other pop cult media event makes people talk about the ideas. It's sometimes hard to take, though, when most of the talk is superficial.

    Mark's last line is exactly what Jung would say: Getting to know one's own unconscious, making peace with it, integrating it into a larger self, is the way towards living a more fulfilled and open and rewarding life.