This is my book full of weighty themes and brute subtext, bruised grammar and enflamed poetry all compiled just so to extract the youth from me. Whatever my intentions - and they are vast - you shall read more into them than I could ever fit in a table or index (no amount of editing can erase one from the record, even the absence is telling). All writing is confession - you will see me repeat myself where I do not, or stab at significance where you find exhausted prose, and perhaps, where I tangent innocently enough, you might find something remarkable to hold onto greater than my intended purpose.
A bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story that seeks to edify those who read it. In fragments, written by myself, or depicted by others, this book strives to give a full survey of what I have learned thirty five years in the making. I would like it to inspire, if by no other means than to show that there is so much room for you to improve upon (what greater gift could a father give a son?). Everyone should create their own bildungsroman; having all lived, no matter how hard we resist, lessons abound, by sheer living there is knowing. Writing is just abstracting it into new form. Life ceaselessly flows, memories deceive, but writing attempts to halt the ephemeral. A book clings to the riverbank resisting the plunge. Dostoevsky wrote a book 147 years ago and I still found it as fresh as the day he wrote it. Being the bumblebee is not a wasted life, Don Quixote was the bumblebee, zen is the bumblebee, but I just think, why not? Let the words carry on not out of some vainglory ambition but because I have the machinery and spirit to do it.
This is the first book and there will be more so long as I live and think and the world allows me such an indulgence. The next ought to be different, some of this I added to better flesh out my youth but I am not that person anymore. I am old now and also you entered the picture..inevitably the perspective pivots.This book is to be read indiscriminately, there is no one path; if its meaning is labyrinthine, I have sealed off all exits. Wander at will.
“about the four hundred and fiftieth year of his age, or latter end of his childhood, he dissected a great number of small insects not more than one hundred feet in diameter, which are not perceivable by ordinary microscopes, of which he composed a very curious treatise, which involved him in some trouble’ - Voltaire
In the process of this entry I will be evaluating a particular strand of scientific thought known as scientific realism - or commonsense realism as it is sometimes called. This term refers to a family of positions which share a common belief in the real-world implications of scientific theories, a view that science informs us of the structure of the common reality we all inhabit, and which for the large part exists independent of what people say and think of it. Naturally, this interpretation of science satisfies a great number of scientists and laymen as it maintains continuity with tradition and adheres to a commonsense view of the world and our place within it. I am of the belief that its established orthodoxy in western society - implicit in the way science is reported - has a detrimental effect on our individual range of creative powers, since the bias is set against the relativist strands of reasoning which fuels the largely esoteric interpretations of post-modernism. Scientific realism has an aura of authenticity that stifles western imagination and puts an unnecessary obstacle in the way of man’s capacity for self-configuration (a topic to be discussed further in a future entry). But more importantly and to the point: scientific realism lacks sufficient proof, despite popular opinion to the contrary.
I wish to make this clear by using methodology as a demarcation criterion for science, mathematics and the external realm. This will not, I hasten to add, be a thorough investigation of the demarcation problem as it exists in the philosophy of science, as the present focus is limited to an epistemological evaluation of the methodologies at work in science and mathematics, rather than on the expansive implications of science as a field of study. This inquiry will bear on the demarcation problem only indirectly, in that it will provide a default demarcation of scientific reasoning which could be utilized in further refinements of the larger topic of science.
Both science and mathematics share a common methodological dependency on formal systems as a way of deriving theorems. formal systems were proposed as a way to exhibit every step of a proof explicitly, within one single, rigid framework, so that any mathematician or logician could check another’s work mechanically (Hofstadter p194). Their basic properties include rules of inference, axioms and theorems. The rules of inference delineate the boundaries of the system’s authority and are themselves unchallenged, in the same way Euclidean geometry can only be formally applied by first accepting his first four postulates uncritically. To the best of my knowledge rules of inferences are usually expressed in linguistic terms, as statements in common language. Foundational axioms are similar in that they are uncritically true but differ in that they are comprised of well-formed strings of symbols pertaining to the rules of inference, and are essentially free theorems. Foundational axioms are not always necessary for a formal system to work, for example in propositional calculus where a ‘fantasy rule’ is included in the rules of inference (see pg 183 hofstadter), but are common in pure mathematics. Theorems are produced within the formal system by stringing together the inducted symbols of the system in such a way as to comply with the rules of inference and foundational axiom(s). like axioms, they are formal constructs, but unlike axioms, they develop through the process of applying the rules of inference and are thus provable through this process. Together, rules of inference, axioms, and theorems comprise the basis for formalized analysis.
Calculus and Geometry are two obvious examples of formal systems but it is important to realize that formal systems are not restricted to these abstract disciplines but also include isomorphic correspondences between two different kinds of notations, for example in logic and grammar by using a propositional calculus which incorporates words and word-phrases into symbolic form, analyzes, and reverts them back into well-formed theorems. I used the term ‘isomorphic’ above, and this needs to be defined: an isomorphism is an information-preserving transformation wherein two complex structures can be mapped onto each other where there is a corresponding part, meanings that two parts play similar roles in their respective structures (Hofstadter pg 49). This concept of isomorphism will play an important part in my argument against scientific realism later in this entry.
For now, I would like to accomplish my original intent, to demarcate science from mathematics on the basis of method. As mentioned above, both science and mathematics inevitably depend upon some implementation of formal systems of analysis in their method, if only indirectly through the collaborative nature of their fields. Whereas mathematics is capable of being expressed intelligibly without the need to interpret beyond the confines of the formal system, as pure mathematics, science, insofar as it is independently coherent from mathematics, depends on isomorphic correspondence with an external realm. as such, the scientific method can be generally described as the external application of one or more formal systems, a quality Hofstadter classifies as ‘system-plus-interpretation’. This application results in a transference of information from the formal system to an ‘external realm’ which in the process must be interpreted, if only passively, by having a motivation for the particular isomorphism one is investigating (i.e. associating real-world concepts with mathematical symbols). In order to forego extraneous philosophical debate and preserve the issue at hand the external realm may be described as that which supercedes the domain of the formal systems. Both science and mathematics share a common dependence on formal structure that is distinguishable from the informal potentiality of the external realm. while the external realm supercedes the domain of these formal systems it does not necessarily exclude their content (the formalized theorems); thus, there exists, at the very least, the potential for overlap correspondences between the information of all three domains.
Mathematical method = formal system or system-plus-interpretation
Scientific method = system-plus-interpretation
External realm = informal and formal potentialities
A scientific theory insofar as it pertains to something external (which is the above-mentioned criteria) depends upon derived rules, rules which go beyond the jurisdiction of the formal system to interpret correspondences elsewhere (Hofstadter pg 194) The integral formality of the system is lost when rules are derived from outside of the system in such a way as is required for a scientific theory to be applied. One may argue that there is an additional formal system pertaining to the application of derived rules, a meta-theory beyond the confines of the original system, assuring the integrity of the proofs, but the derived rules to sustain the meta-theory may also be challenged, resulting in an infinite regress. Thus a scientific theory is always an approximation of the formalized proofs and lacks the jurisdictional authority in their external applications that axiomatic reasoning has within a well-defined formal system.
But this approximation or verisimilitude should not be considered justification for interpretations (such as scientific realism), primarily due to the fact that the verisimilitude is not meaningful in any qualitative sense (value-judgments), but only insofar as a 1:1 correspondence is discovered between quantitative aspects of, for example, water and its formal notation equivalent. Qualitative interpretations are dependent on our conceptualizations of the world, not the formalisms; they derive their value from outside the confines of axiomatic reasoning. the problem of engaging a natural world isomorphism is you apply real-world concepts which have built-in additional connotations that exceed the rule-governed meanings of the concepts within the exchange. these familiar meanings inspire us to assume beyond the boundaries set by the formal rules of inference, and corrupt the analysis.
When the raw data of a scientific experiment is compiled, it becomes necessary at some point to posit possible uses for the data that may extend beyond this demarcation of science. These are derived rule interpretations which possess measurably less authority than the raw data findings. Being only able to substantiate the quantitative what of natural phenomena within the constraints of the isomorphic exchange, the scientist still has the capacity to imagine scenarios for use applicable to the world we inhabit, and use these derived rule interpretations to link raw data with potential uses based on assumptions of how the universe works. So long as these transgressions result in further expansion of raw data that is self-consistent within the framework of the quantitative what it examines, derived rule interpretations can be useful, but still in themselves bear nothing more than a means to an end, with no intrinsic authority.
This is a crucial distinction, and I think its misunderstanding has been the source of most of the mystification we live with today. People simply assume that the derived interpretations of scientific theory that help expand our serviceable raw data are themselves within the boundaries of genuine science, and can be allotted self-consistency in the same way that asserting the boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celsius could be proven self-consistent, or that 2 + 2 = 4 is self-consistent. This is false. The untouchable rules of inference impart a self-consistent framework within which mathematical analysis can speak of indisputable truths (i.e. 2 + 2 = 4) but it is a fallacy to believe these provisional truths correspond with the unfiltered framework of the natural world. the indisputable nature of mathematical truths pertains only to the self-consistent framework of the formal system, demarcated by the invented rules of inference. Or to put it simply: there can never be a complete symmetrical correspondence between scientific fact and the natural world as such an isomorphism is incommensurable with the relationship of scientific method and the external realm as described above. in the resulting asymmetry of scientific method and the external realm no qualitative interpretations can be authenticated formally, rather they are believed on faith as guiding concepts to expand or correct the accumulation of raw data gained through the exchange. The qualitative meaning of the color red, for example, may be gleaned indirectly but since no sufficient formal system can prove it, it is open to interpretation and is therefore disputable. the notion of indisputable formalized truths is tautological (the formalized truths are true insofar as the system can be said to be true, which it cannot).
I distinguished sufficient formal systems in the above sentence for a reason. And this has to do with the revelation brought about to me through Hofstadter’s book regarding the multiplicity of systems imaginable, some of which transcend our steadfast bias for real-world usefulness. One has to arbitrarily impart a common base to a formal system which is provisional, and includes criteria such as consistency internal and external, and one that abides by basic tenets of logic and mathematics, to be enforced through the rules of inference. As Hofstadter attests, â€œconsistency is not a property of a formal system per se, but depends on the interpretation which is proposed for it.â€™ (pg 94) consistency imbues passive meaning, and is thus beyond the domain of the system. He goes on to explain:
“A system-plus-interpretation would be logically consistent just as long as no two of its theorems, when interpreted as statements, directly contradict each other; and mathematically consistent just as long as interpreted theorems do not violate mathematics; and physically consistent just as long as all its interpreted theorems are compatible with physical law; then comes biological consistency, and so on.” (Pg. 96). These consistency measures have to be pre-programmed into the formal system and are not intrinsic to them. This brings us to the provisional license of the foundational rules of inference of any formal system, which creates rather than discovers indisputable truths according to a provisional use of reason maintained by faith. It is these faith-based boundaries of the domain of the system that signifies its tautological quality, unless the criteria programmed into the system is inclusive of irrational inconsistencies, which is possible but not applicable to the integrity of science and mathematics.
This returns me to scientific realism, one of the most prominent of the derived rule interpretations because it presumes a complete isomorphism between exact science and the natural world. I consider it a fallacy for several reasons; first, it is impossible to formally prove completeness of the isomorphism; secondly, the desired information transfer between formalisms and natural phenomena can be done successfully without dependence on a value-judgment as to why. This second point leads me to advocate the instrumentalist position on science that claims theories are merely instruments to predict observations. Instrumentalism opposes the realist belief in a hidden structure inversely determining accurate scientific endeavor.
If we were to expand from an epistemological evaluation of method, to include the wider implications of science as a field of study, it would be essential to somehow integrate “both a general strategy and a complex social structure that carries out the strategy” (godfrey-smith pg 5). For as a field of study, science is dependent on interpretations - real-world analogies of formalized theorems - so as to encourage collaborative expansion of the field, and is thus dependent on an artful integration of formal knowledge, and what may be termed tacit knowledge, knowledge which supercedes objective explicitness, and which is potentially individualistic. While the explanatory power of theories are not an element of scientific reasoning they are essential in the social sense. Yet the social dimension includes tacit knowledge, knowledge hidden from ourselves that according to Michael Polanyi achieves comprehension through indwelling, as a result of our existential state. As he puts it: “we can know more than we can tell” and this relates to Wittgenstein’s discussions on seeing-aspects. How does science reconcile this tacit dimension with its own social structure? I will end with two quotations that indicate further the complications inherent with reconciling formal and informal potentialities as is intrinsic of science.
“If an ‘isomorphism’ is very simple (or very familiar), we are tempted to say that the meaning which it allows us to see is explicit. We see the meaning without seeing the isomorphism. The most blatant example is human language, where people often attribute meaning to words in themselves, without being in the slightest aware of the very complex isomorphism that imbues them with meanings.
Above I used the word isomorphism in quotes to indicate that it must be taken with a grain of salt. The symbolic processes which underlie the understanding of human language are so much more complex than the symbolic processes in typical formal systems, that, if we want to continue thinking of meaning as mediated by isomorphisms, we shall have to adopt a far more flexible conception of what isomorphisms can be than we have up until now. in my opinion, in fact, the key element in answering the question ‘what is consciousness?’ will be the unraveling of the nature of the isomorphism which underlies meaning.” (Hofstadter pg 82)
“The acceptance of scientific statements by laymen is based on authority, and this is true to nearly the same extent for scientists using results from branches of science other than their own. Scientists must rely heavily for their facts on the authority of fellow scientists.
This authority is enforced in an even more personal manner in the control exercised by scientists over the channels through which contributions are submitted to all other scientists. Only offerings that are deemed sufficiently plausible are accepted for publications in scientific journals, and what is rejected will be ignored by science such decisions are based on fundamental convictions about the nature of things and about the method which is therefore likely to yield results of scientific merit. These beliefs and the art of scientific inquiry based on them are hardly codified: they are, in the main, tacitly implied in the traditional pursuit of scientific inquiry.” (Polanyi 64)
And finally, my position in list form:
1) The formal system dependency of scientific and mathematical methods admit a certain priority to irrationalism in that all formal systems rely on invented rules of inference. thus their proofs are provisional when applied to an external reality.
2) The indisputable nature of scientific and mathematical proofs are tautological, and should be treated as such within philosophical investigations.
3) The scientific method can only predict natural phenomena (the quantitative what) and only with approximate accuracy. science cannot qualitatively explain the world we inhabit with any formal authority, by the very provisionary limitations imposed in its methodology.
4) Neither science nor mathematics bear a symmetrical (complete isomorphic) correspondence with the world we inhabit, and therefore are not interchangeable in analogous interpretations
5) Neither science nor mathematics bear a symmetrical (complete isomorphic) correspondence with one another, and therefore are not interchangeable in analogous interpretations
Hofstadter, Douglas R. Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, Basic Books inc, 1999.
Polanyi, Michael. The Tacit Dimension, anchor books, 1967.
Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Theory and Reality.
these are the very rich hours of our impoverished lives
the Limbourgs knew it well when they dappled
their mangy Christ in a moonless terrestrial night
only the faint glint of a halo to relieve the darkness
it was as if - so privately consumed -
the illumination of our savior sunk inwards
only the outer shell of the man stands in that garden
our savior as seen from the inside of a closed museum
one day the paint will flake away like dead skin
until the under-drawing of the night conveys
the lighter hue of morning
bit by bit this painted event unpaints itself
using entropy as a foil to finish its story
I will die before that Christ sees dawn
but of my own dawn, shall I see it?
so much times passes through
Christ in his tomb dark garden
me in my tomb dark museum
the Limbourgs in their tombs
beyond the reach of the arms of clocks
beyond the specificity of life or art
there are hours not counted
we must reclaim
why do we leave these hours petrified
as if we ourselves are not in that garden
about to be crucified?
* Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Christ in Gethsemane, Folio 142v
Where I lived when it all went down, Beaches, 1996.
An image of Beaches I developed, 1996.
[a poem inspired by a passage from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, written late nineties]
only gravity knows for sure I exist
and at what pressure the body drops
but I alone know its dissent
slinking upon the earth
behind the houses of men
not in my head
but around it
to moat this dying star
and keep at bay the universe
where deep inside the mouth of Jesus
deeper still I, the anecdote
concoct in natural error
the heart poured out with the heavens
as so many pails of ectoplasm
I exist in a
to be alone
the people seep in
like bath water cupped in a palm
now I am afraid of everything, a being
without suicide, on all sides surrounded
by white ceremony
I carry a hymn on my lips
it is the only evidence against me, and it is enough
to convict. The crime: to die unopened before a
stack of ethiopians, their mouths like perfect zeroes
my only recourse is to shake in verses, muttering
mercy out. the hymn is a reductive fact
I am drawn to its axiom like an angel to slitted wrists
without a divine spark
I ignite myself
interloper of both heaven and ford
a new kind of acid of human spent
that burns through testaments
in fields of code
the sinful diet
the gloved handshake
so we may repair the star and be the sun
the banner of flesh traipsing in the wind
for we are as simple
this is a resolution, not a dream
it has always been the truth, even in
the ugliest of places, underfoot
but not burst
and when I place the pillow
under the head of a suffering man
he shall be my savior
I shall be yours
[a poem I wrote in the late nineties, about a suicide of someone I had never met but whose act triggered something I needed to get out]
In your mouth
a comment of
all spaces I have rent
For how many years
when we realize
it was unnecessary to even hold a conversation
with me. To love me, the fingerprints
are left everywhere you touched me
and I was beautiful.
I cry when I know my name is yours
that for how many summers
I was yours
But I am not so beautiful anymore
now wombed in my mother’s kitchen drawer
tangled up in
sucking on the knives
as if impaled on you.
I’m more vampire than any daughter
than any priest, teacher or father
ever knew. Perhaps they will never know
What a calendar means to me
a classroom clock
a daydream, in the absence of ambition.
For how many times must I play with surivivors
and come out the same?
I only wish I had your talent
your lovely choice of words
that can make us sound so
[a poem I wrote in 1996]
in my room
a patient, undressed
i step into the morning
calmed by the emissions i ingest
!a shard of love forcing out before i can even pretend
this is your nightmare:
(the cathedrals, like a lunatic, i wet)
i’m behaving more like a habit each day
and who has the patience to worship me?
made of sticks and paper the offerings
all costs of an imaginary life
all possibilities made weightless like a crown.
i’m 20, with no vaccine.
i stay awake
long enough to consider sleep
1 second before the child has been realized i
detonate a worse fear:
A planet static
pixels of me
Blue Monday - an oldie but a goodie. Too lazy to put the music together so back cover art is all you get.
Being a Dad
This voice is borrowed. The first murmur of the voice was whispered to me through Douglas Coupland’s book, Life After God. The stories were short, the descriptions sweet, and there were even pictures - naturally I was seduced, and found something meaningful where I had initially sought idle distraction. It was to be my introduction to the Melancholic. With each story he told I felt involved more than I had with any book, his characters were wrestling with feelings I harbored beneath the surface of my awareness. Glibly fashioned in shape of a pocket bible, it became, in its own way, a path to personal revelation. I didn’t know what to do with this awareness, but it percolated irrespective of my ability to contain it. In the end, the fictional Coupland confesses he needs God and, in that stroke, subverts even the magnanimous identity owed the Melancholic of being the resister of all social mores. I never thought about God much before reading that book, and in years to come I would read from many soon-to-be heroes of mine, Wittgenstein, Dostoevsky, Dylan, this same resignation to the Almighty. This voice gives into that hesitation, to fall neither toward nor away entirely.
Probably too early in my development as a human being let alone as any kind of writing conduit, I fell upon Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. Maybe it was the right time precisely to let it fully bloom in my skull. It certainly left an impression. I was the corrosive rationalist then and bruised metaphysically by all that comes from such over-emphasis. The Underground Man was me, and his faults were mine, and therefore his lessons were mine. But it took awhile for that to settle in, I was twenty and I knew everything. I think at first I admired him, and my writing took a turn for the philosophically perverse. My first year in University, a TA chided me for being the resident rationalist, always ready to uproot a position. Not able to cope with other people, nor myself. Still the book held up more than a mirror to me, it got under the skin, particularly in the final chapter, On the Occasion of Wet Snow, it showed me how I must appear to be in the world, without hope of guile to conceal myself. A nervous tic of a man unable to hold the most basic conversation due to the paralysis of my mind and the raw fibers of feeling it pinched. I fisted out poetry that marveled over decadent words without the hindsight of knowing what decadence was. The voice gave into reason and wrote mostly to know, to know and know and know and know and know and know. My heart felt the con that Dostoevsky showed me but I couldn’t find a way to stop being that man.
I remember the first time I read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and, specifically, Song of Myself. I was in my parent’s basement, my body weary from long hours working in a factory, still knotted in the chest, and reading it was like feeling every part of me just let go, soften and rejoice - a Whitmanesque word but damn it, rejoice it was! All at once in the way that only literature can entrap you with, I felt true joy, true happiness, I wanted to live like that poem said to live, I wanted to stop moping and give into the creative spark that I believe lies in all mankind. The voice found the will to write outside of knowing if only to pleasure in the sound of its own voice. The choice line: “Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me, If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me”.
I returned to Dostoevsky to understand what is to be human, to understand right from wrong in an existential sense. Also it fueled my voice, his passion for rigmarole, allowing meaning to find its way in the loose bowels of one’s train of thought, and one tier higher, as characters interceding in each other’s lives without a cosmic message from the almighty writer, to let the meaning be in the telling not the prescription of thought. My first blog entries spilled this way.
With Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, the rigmarole became autobiography, a sincerity that bashes its skull against irony to let something true bleed out. In this book in particular there is a noticeable lack of what usually is constituted as ‘sophistication’, he is writing against the grain of the literary. His sentences run on, but also do what I do, keep replaying the beginning of a sentence to carry the thought beyond the mandates of an idea, but just to see where you can take it - the thought process fossilized, you can look at it from all sides. Not to say there is no craft to what he does, there is, but he is not afraid to indulge and reveal himself. The craft does not edit that out but celebrates it. He is post-post-modern, for where at first there was the polished conceit, then the polished ironic conceit, both playing to a sophisticated audience, Eggers comes along and challenges the very importance of labels one way or the other by making something uncomfortably in-between, jamming their significance, until the only significance is his unvarnished voice. I feel like I know Eggers from this book, not because he talks about events in his life, but by the way he talks about them. Perhaps more than any of the other sources of inspiration, I find my voice in Eggers, in this courage to write oneself out.
This voice is familiar now, I don’t need to coddle it or regiment it, there are enough wheels turning of their own revolutions to get me through the second part of my life. It was not as straight a line as this post may lead one to believe, nor was there a teleological knowing at any point along the path, but for a myth, this will do.