Progress

Isn't it depressing seeing how stupid people are? You hear the same flawed simplistic arguments again and again. The final straw for me was reading a letter in the letter section of the video game section of Teletext. They were suggesting that there might be becoming a division in gamers, between people who preferred gameplay and those who preferred graphics. Never mind that such suggestions were being made even before I was born. How about some new ideas? The person writing in was probably only 8 years old.


You can become wiser and wiser, but your wisdom will disappear after your death. There are so many books that how can you know who you should read to initiate yourself into the collective acquired wisdom of humanity? I wonder if it would be possible to read all extant texts written before 1000 AD in a sensible length of time. All knowledge started as a in a single person's head and only makes sense within persons' heads. Humanity, civilizations, schools of thought, and university departments are all, in effect, like giant brains, that endure for longer than the individuals who make it up. True progress would enable these collective intelligences to work more efficiently.

Someone only makes a contribution to progress when they express their opinions in an understandable way. It must be possible for the wisdom that the intellectual has gained to be transferred to another person's mind with no important loss in meaning. However, this pedagogical point shouldn't be taken at face value. Just because you can talk at length about someone's philosophy doesn't mean one understands it. Attention paid to individual treatises and theories should not, for any given reader, become more important than a search for the truth itself. The only real source for truth is the self.

I believe that much truth is accessible if you just put the effort into thinking about it. Sometimes going back to previous attempts isn't actually that helpful. I shall illustrate this with software. If you got a load of computer hardware, documentation on the hardware, documentation on various file formats and network protocols, and some way of entering machine code, then you could probably build up a reasonable operating system within the space of about ten years, just working steadily by yourself in an organized and efficient manner. All the talk of modern software being the result of millions of hours of coding really overstates the matter. A lot of that time was spent in discussions and organizing teams. If you don't have to worry about what other people think then you can work a lot more efficiently. A soldier has to obey his commanding officer, even if he thinks he's made a bad decision, because the officer would make a good sight more bad decisions if he found himself having to use up valuable brainpower worrying about whether his soldiers will obey him or not and factoring that into his analysis of the battlefield situation. All creative processing takes place within a single mind and it's important for it to work efficiently.

It's not really doing anything worthwhile if it is merely acquiring superficial theories of past understandings. I would say that the true purpose of a writing is to inspire the reader to have similar thoughts to the writer, with the same emotional connotations and beliefs attached. It would be possible for one to understand a superficial outline of the relationships between the different entities that the author is talking about, without attaching the same internal meaning to these entities. I propose that if someone wants to know the truth, they should start with their own ideas on matters. One will only really acquire the wisdom of previous thinkers from their writings if they are used to stimulate new thoughts on one's present understanding, which arise in the same way as the same thoughts arose before in the mind of the previous thinker.

The names of Plato and Aristotle keep on coming up. I'll have to read a translation sometime. What I've read seems to me like an honest search for truth. They weren't commentaries on other people's writings or attempts at getting academic tenure or social prestige. I tried reading Das Kapital by Marx and it seemed honest too, even though I was always thinking 'but what about this point?' when reading it.

Let's talk about rationalism/empiricism. All this means is that you shouldn't be stupid and you should be free to think and speak without worrying about whether the Catholic church will kill you or not. I don't think that counts as a valid philosophical movement, it's more like common sense. Were these ideas actually powerful, or did the proletariat just get fed up of the establishment oppressing them leading to revolt, as in the French revolution?

Wikipedia annoys me. It uses the word 'critique' too much. On that subject, I picked up a book by George Sóros in the library and skimmed through it. I decided that it was full of word games and trickery. He said that he developed a theory in his teens, and was more impressed by someone's critique than someone else's critique. He said that what both the Nazis and Communists had in common was that they claimed a monopoly on truth, and that he had created his foundation to promote 'the open society' where ideas could be developed freely. Naturally I don't believe a word of it. I guess he'll make his own assumptions (equality, democracy) and drop them into his sentences when you are looking in the opposite direction. If you pointed them out he'd either ignore you, laugh at you or call you an extremist, and say all right-thinking people agree with him.

Everybody wants to be a 'Great Man' with their critiques and ideas. Take a look at this: Truth#Ratzinger on Wikipedia. Why is this man here? Who gives a shit about your ideas, Mr. Pope? Nothing you've ever thought or said is of any relevance at all to anything. This is the problem with just about all wishy-washy, non-falsifiable intellectual pursuits, that 'schools' are formed and promoted, and histories are written about how one school or 'great thinker' has influenced another and how some Great Man 'used his critique of Hegel's methodology to synthesize contemporary models of social hierarchies with his profound understanding of the intricacies of modern capital markets, with far-reaching implications for the development of the scientific method in the early eighteenth century'. That was just garbage written by myself, but of the same nature as genuine garbage.

Think about all the reasons you might want to write. Desire for recognition, get your name on Wikipedia, interest in subject matter, get your thoughts down on paper, etc. I hold that you should consider that someone you are reading may have exactly the same motivations for writing as you may have, and may not be an honest expert on the subject.

I've read arguments that could be much shorter. The authors do it because one's own writings are interesting to one, even if they're boring to others. They delight in giving you how they came to the observation. (I admit this as a potential valid negative criticism of my own writing.) I tried reading a textbook on Logic I got out the library. It was thick, rambling and confusing. It taught me an important lesson - that any paragraph trying to explain out a difficult point that italicizes certain words to drill home what a clever point this is will be a difficult paragraph to understand and is symptomatic of bad writing and incompetent exposition.

When at school you were assigned an essay by your English teacher, you had to write it. You weren't writing it because you had ideas you wanted to express, you were writing it because you had to write something. I hated those essay assignments whose synopses began with "Describe a time when…" Of course I'd never had the experience mentioned. Never been afraid, been upset, had a special place, etc. Once our teacher told us to write an essay and told us what the different paragraphs would be for. One of them would be the application of the thesis when one was out with one's friends. Well, I never go out and I have no friends. So I'm afraid to say that I'm making shit up for that paragraph. (One time my French teacher just said it would be okay to stretch the truth in the essay ("What I did on my weekend" ("Que ce que j'ai fait le weekend", I think (maybe))) and all that mattered was showing off your French. I'm in favour of that approach.) I expect this would have continued had I kept up doing subjects where you had to write essays. When a history student is asked "account for the rise of Islam" do they tell you what they think? No, they just come out with a plausible looking essay. Who knows, maybe PhD students and academics are doing the same thing. Another thing which annoyed me was being advised that I should start reading a 'quality newspaper' and acquire an opinion on which columnists I liked in case I was asked about it when I went to an interview for being admitted to a university. I totally disapprove of this belief that says you should have opinions on everything.

But the problem is that people who have strong opinions and who think that their opinions are actually worth something are the people who get listened to. These people were making up their opinions in school, in their assignments and in debating club, were doing the same at university, and now are doing the same as journalists, academics or as politicians.


It is time for a Total Perspective Vortex! Why do we think that sitting home and watching soap operas is a waste of time? It's because it's a closed activity, going nowhere. For sure, there are interesting elements to the episodes, personal relationships and drama and whatnot; and in some respect it is a piece of art; but really, in the end they don't do much good; they don't encourage people to live better lives by the insights they yield into human nature, but are in fact mostly entertainment. Entertainment is all well and good: feeling interested and engaged is an important aim for life in general, but I seek to transcend fixed systems. Someone who is watching soap operas is not creating contingency plans for what to do if the Earth comes in risk of being smashed to pieces by an asteroid, or designing starships to spread human life across the galaxy, thus seeking the ultimate destiny of consciousness in our universe.

I feel let down by modern computers - as many people do. When we were young, and saw blocky graphics on a black background, and read about variables and conditional statements in programming languages, we savoured the intellectual power we had been given and dreamed of what could be made. Today, the software we have doesn't feel like it's changed much. We still have the windows, icons, menus and pointers of fifteen years hence, and video games still follow the same old paradigms.

I therefore call for a development of computing technology. It is time to create a new consensual awareness. Fictional literature is as much a commentary on human nature as anything else, and it's time to bring together novels, dreams, and life experiences to find out general principles. Instead of watching cartoons on Saturday morning television, we should be developing theories of why we find these cartoons funny. We should be able to program computers to generate animated cartoons and to help us prove mathematical theorems. What we need is artificial intelligence. Won't someone hurry up and create an artificially intelligent machine!


If we are to represent and pass on knowledge, we need to consider ways of succinctly representing this knowledge. Consider a body of mathematical knowledge. This consists of a collection of definitions, lemmata and theorems. I gather that mathematics is a practical discipline, the art (in the craft/skill sense) of writing out proofs. Once we've proved a certain amount, we have represented and reached a certain amount of knowledge. However, there is often more than one way to prove a conjecture. Take, for example, linear algebra. To write a textbook on linear algebra representing everything that was known about the subject up to a certain level in a comprehensive manner, we'd have to include multiple proofs, and multiple approaches. In one lecture I attended, not linear algebra, a list of definitions of a holomorphic function was given, all of which were equivalent. A single approach only picks one definition, and takes different routes along the way. Coming back to linear algebra, I did two courses on linear algebra, the latter approaching it in a slightly different way. I found it confusing, and tiresome trying to work out what the differences were between the two. I had a similar reaction when comparing my lecture notes that I had taken myself on Galois theory, and the printed lecture notes that someone else had made when doing the course in a different year.

However, if we are attempting to represent all knowledge, we must include these varying approaches. There is no one canonical exposition. Different proofs may occur in any order. There may be so many approaches that it is tiresome and somewhat repetitive to give them all, but the few basic ideas being used in proofs should be presented, so that finding the approaches not given becomes a formality.

What relevance does this have to the exposition of human wisdom? I see no reason why the same doctrine would not apply: there is no canonical exposition, but many paths to the same truth. All should be sought to be presented. I do not know exactly how this should be done.

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