The Latest Essays


The Endless Pursuit of Wholiness: Theory of Absolute Partiality (11/10/14)
The Non-Zero Theorem (9/24/14)
What Makes Us Tick (9/4/14)
Artificial Consciousness (7/31/14)
What the World Needs Now (6/15/14)
Wittgenstein and I (5/6/14)
Start. Continue. Finish. (4/19/14)
Defending the Faith (2/3/14)
Of Plant Intelligence and God's Injustice (12/29/13)
State of Humanity: an Overview (12/17/13)
Of Sleeping Princesses and True Love (12/1/13)
From the Universal to the Particular and Back (9/4/13)
On the Necessity of Luxury (7/8/13)
Ontology for Dummies (5/25/13)
The Twelve Texts (9/18/12)
The Three Absolutes of Existence (5/22/12)
Will and Desire (4/21/12)
Fourth Law of Thermodynamics (3/27/12)
Of Fools and Heros (2/28/12)
A Means to an End (2/1/12)
The Romantic Universe (1/5/12)
The Problem with God (12/15/11)
Junior High Stuff: Homer Today (11/15/11)
Shroedinger's Cat Saved (10/13/11)
Uncertainty, Change, Time and the Heart's Desire (9/10/11)
A Significant Life (9/2/11)

The Endless Pursuit of Wholiness:
Theory of Absolute Partiality

November 10, 2014

It is my sad duty to report that the idea of the universe as "the ultimate whole", meaning "the entirety of all that exists", does not correspond to any identifiable entity. In fact, there is no such thing. "The ultimate whole" as something that can be known and described is a logical contradiction. All the various parts of reality-as-we-know-it not only do not, they absolutely cannot add up to anything that can be said to be "whole and complete". That is the gist of the Theory of Absolute Partiality. (Note its complementarity to the Non-Zero Theorem described in the previous essay. Also, you might wish to refer to Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem, not that I would advise it.)

This may be disturbing to those who insist on having all loose ends neatly tied but the world in its actuality turns out to be less than neat (and a good thing, too, but that's another story). The impossibility of the universe being "the ultimate whole" shakes out logically from the Elements of Existence (which we had looked at from various angles in several previous essays). One of the postulates of the EoE is that reality (being, existence) consists of observations of differences/changes (events). Another one is that there is no such thing as an unobserved or unobservable difference/change. Yet another is that the magnitude of any difference/change is relative and inherently uncertain. Finally, while statistically the course of events (observations) is determined by a probability field set by local circumstances, any single next elementary event/observation is absolutely unpredictable.

It follows from the above (trust me) that a "sum total" of all observations/events (or any subset of them, for that matter) is inherently non-computable, changing in the course of the summation (and being changed by it) in unpredictable ways. There is no way to get a grip on the "totality" of reality and this is not a problem of technique or instrumentation or of inadequate understanding or computer power, but an absolute condition of existence. In addition, any attempt at summing up the totality of experience (observations/events) can only be done from some particular point of view to the exclusion of all other points of view, which vitiates any claim to absolute totality.

Like it or not, this leaves us with a concept of the universe not as a defineable totality but as a necessarily only partially knowable dynamic complex of ongoing observations/events. Since the range of an observation/event can be of any arbitrary magnitude (subject to the statistical constraints of the probability fields) some patterns of events on a cosmic scale may be hinting at the "edge" of the universe. But that's an illusion akin to the "end" of a rainbow.

Bottom line: the universe consists of observations of change. Observations of change, being themselves participants in (actually identical to, but never mind) the observed change, are unavoidably partial and incomplete. The closest we can come to describing the universe objectively as a unique and coherent concept, is in terms of the fundamental elements logically necessary and sufficient to define and describe existence itself. From these we can infer some aspects of the evolutionary potential of the universe. Ultimately, the universe is not a thing but a potential for being that can never be completely fulfilled and is therefore self-renewing and immortal.

Paul Wyszkowski

The Non-Zero Theorem

September 24, 2014

Terry Gilliam, one of my favorite movie directors, just released "The Zero Theorem" which I have not yet seen (they don't screen limited release flicks out here in Possum Hollow). The plot involves proving the Zero Theorem which states, in effect, that everything that exists adds up to zero.

This is a reasonable and perfectly logical hypothesis, one which I have entertained for a while myself until I gave it some further thought. We know, by logical argument, that the universe came into existence out of nothing. Had to - before it came into existence there was nothing. So it stands to reason that the sum of all its parts should add up back to its starting point which is exactly nothing. Indeed, by strict logic it must, except for one surreal fact of physics: it can't.

In the movie, the Zero Theorem is shown to be unproveable. Which it is, for the simple reason that its negation - the sum of everything that exists does not add up to zero - is proveable.

The rigorous form of the Non-Zero Theorem is: "everything that exists cannot add up to zero". The Non-Zero Theorem wins over the Zero Theorem because the latter is based on pure logic and the former on actual experience. Experience beats logic every time. Mathematicians constantly work on inventing new kinds of logic to fit new facts observed by physicists.

One of those facts, by now established as effectively beyond doubt (and fully supported by logic) is that all observed phenomena are, to some degree, inherently indeterminate. We cannot determine with absolute accuracy all the parameters defining or associated with the observed phenomena. It's not our fault - the uncertainty is in the parameters themselves, it is a built-in aspect of their reality. (It is also true that our instruments of observation are not and cannot be perfectly accurate either, but that's another story).

Given that the exact dimensions and intensities of the phenomena making up the universe are fundamentally unknowable, their total sum may be close to zero but it cannot be exactly zero because this sum is not exactly determinable. So, once the universe bursts forth from zero, it cannot, ever, pack itself back into zero. Once the can of worms has been opened there's no way to stuff them all back in. The universe is here to stay. Forever. Theoretically, it could collapse to practically zero (the Big Crunch) but it can never hit the exact zero. (Actually, it looks like the universe is heading for the opposite of the Big Crunch but that, too, is another story).

Paul Wyszkowski

What Makes Us Tick

September 4, 2014

For the purposes of this essay I am taking it as a given that a) we (humans) exist and b) we desire (most of us anyway) to continue to exist. Given a) and b), I am only concerned here with how we choose to act to maximize the probability of our continued existence and enjoyment thereof. Our intent is not in question, only the means by which we hope to realize it.

As I see it, three basic factors influence our behavior. In order of increasing influence they are: information, feelings and faith.

Where, you may well ask, does reason fit into this scheme? Reason is the mental computing tool which we use to convert information, feelings and faith into a concrete and (we hope) effective plan of action. Of course, the quality of our reasoning affects the conclusions we arrive at and they, in turn, affect our behavior. But that is only an incidental (though not necessarily insignificant) effect.

Before we go any further let me define our terms.

Information comes in two flavors: "direct" and symbolic and it is made up of signal and noise. Signal is any perceived pattern, the rest is noise. Symbolic information has to be decoded which requires a vocabulary and rules of syntax - we won't go into it here. "Direct" information (quotes indicate it is only relatively so compared to symbolic) is the conscious and sub-conscious awareness of the present stream of sensory inputs (from both internal and external stimuli) including reports from the memory banks. Information, per se, is value-free. It's up to us to assign value to it. This is where feelings and faith come in.

Feelings are simply "what it is like to be me here and now". Feelings are affected by the information we are currently paying attention to, and by our faith. They span the range from painful to pleasurable although that is not their only dimension. Some other dimensions are awe, wonder, serenity. appreciation, joy (a sense of "rightness", distinct from pleasure). We attach value to information according to the feelings it evokes.

Faith is our system of beliefs and we all have one, including the "non-believers". With all the gaps in our understanding of how the world works and what it's all about we could not survive without forming some believable hypotheses about it and acting on them as if they were true. Some of these hypotheses, tested by time, are handed down from generation to generation as tradition, some are imposed by autocrats seeking noble or nefarious objectives, and some we sort out for ourselves, often irrationally, based on our own life experience. Ultimately, our faith, informed by current circumstances and our feelings about them, is what we actually act on.

And that's the best we can do. Sometimes it's good enough, sometimes it isn't. History suggests that when we pay attention to what is actually the case and do not fear the inevitable change, more often than not, it is. The universe tends to unfold as it should (but that's another story).

Paul Wyszkowski

Artificial Consciousness

July 31, 2014

As opposed to Artificial Intelligence, AI, which is, by now, old hat. There's all kinds of it about, a lot of it easily surpassing human intelligence. By far. But, of course, there's more to being human than mere intelligence. We are also gifted with consciousness and intentionality.

Which brings us to the question which is being asked these days with increasing frequency and seriousness: what does make us uniquely human? What makes us different from intelligent automata, manufactured robots and synthetic personalities? Or is there, in fact, essentially no difference and constructing a fully conscious artificial human being is just a matter of writing a sufficiently complex program to animate some state of the art hardware?

I shall argue that no, human beings cannot be mechanically (or digitally) replicated. However, they can be grown which is actually the way they have been manufactured since day one. Except that until recently the process of growing human beings has been pretty much out of our control. Now we can see the day coming, in not too far future, for better or worse, when we will be able to bring this process fully under our conscious, intentional control and grow human (or anyway conscious and intelligent) beings at will to desired specs.

Here is the difference between mechanical construction and growing from a seed. A mechanical robot is an assemblage of inherently separate, separately manufactured parts. A human being is a fully integrated organism developed from a single cell in a harmonized way, each part being formed in the presence and under the influence of every other part. There is continuing adjustment and mutual adaptation of all parts as the organism evolves guided both by the pre-programmed instructions built into the original seed cell (and disseminated throughout the organism) and by the ambient environmental conditions.

In a mechanical assemblage the elementary consciousness inherent in the raw materials used in construction has no way to organize into something more complex. Each part remains essentially unaware of every other part except at the points of direct interaction. A complex, global consciousness cannot coalesce in a mechanical assemblage (and that includes digital circuitry). The consciousness inherent in the individual parts of the assemblage remains largely disconnected, uncoordinated and unorganized. The parts are, of course, to some degree, organized mechanically and/or electro-magnetically so that the whole is capable of performing as a functional, perhaps even learning and self-programming mechanism with some awareness of the states of its various parts. Nevertheless, it lacks a global consciousness of self as a whole, as an individual.

On the other hand, in a grown organism, integration of a global consciousness occurs from the very beginning, inevitably and "naturally", as a consequence of a fully coordinated development from a single cell. It is this global consciousness which evolves in sync with the whole of the organism that distinguishes us and other living organisms from mechanically constructed simulacrums however intelligent. "Artificial consciousness" is an oxymoron if by "artificial" we mean "mechanically (as opposed to organicaly) constructed". (Note: self-organizing systems are essentially evolving organically and are comparable to seed grown organisms but their fate is far less predictable. They lack a preconceived plan. Eventually, if they survive long enough, such a plan will take shape based on their experience and become the seed for growing future generations).

There's one other thing, besides global consciousness, that distinguishes us from robots and that is desire. Desire is an inherent property of consciousness. Organisms possessing global consciousness experience it and act on it. Desire is what ultimately drives all actions of a conscious organism. Artificial intelligence is driven solely by logic, not by desire. Logic deals only with "how?" and cannot answer "why?". However autonomous its behavior, an artificial intelligence is dependent on a program originating outside of itself to supply the ultimate "why". It does not and cannot know what it wants. Its choices, however seemingly purposeful, are based on logic, not desire. Name an objective and it will find its way to it. Otherwise, it will just stand and wait.

Paul Wyszkowski

What the World Needs Now

June 16, 2014

Not love. We don't even know what we mean by "love" - so until we can clarify that very loose term any claims that involve its use are, in the words of the Bard, like "a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing".

No, what the world needs now, has needed since its inception and will always need, is awareness of and attention to its own being. What, in the case of us humans, is sometimes referred to as "mindfulness". By "mind" we mean that faculty which makes it possible to observe the world (and ourselves in it), analyse our observations, and draw the inferences (beliefs) that inform our actions. What motivates us to act, of course, is our heart's desire (which may or may not be what we sometimes mean by "love").

As it happens, our heart's desire is inevitably modified and clarified by mindfulness. Mindfulness is the only reliable mechanism we have for increasing the probability that our heart's desire leads toward a greater enjoyment of life, that it is "right". And, of course, it is necessary for effective action.

Mindfulness is in short supply on our planet. A huge majority of humanity operates blindly on basis of beliefs which are not rooted in mindfulness but uncritically received from "authorities" which range from traditional wisdom, clan leaders, well meaning (and sometimes wise) mentors to charlatans, dictators and idiots. And many of us, far too many, are hardly paying any attention at all to what is actually the case, sticking obstinately with our baseless assumptions because we are too invested in them. They're part of who we are and we are terrified of losing our individuality.

I place my hopes in human evolution which is accelerating at an alarmingly yet hopefully high rate. If it doesn't take a self-destructive turn - as well it might - it could lead to a universal increase in mindfulness, which is what the world needs now, more than ever.

Paul Wyszkowski

Wittgenstein and I

May 6, 2014

He was definitely much more of a nut case than I (with more energy and intensity to invest in his madness) but when it comes to intellectual and spiritual snobbery and arrogance he was my peer.

Ludwig Wittgenstein is alleged by some to have been the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century and possibly of all time. His claim to fame, according to his fans: he killed philosophy, once and for all. This is nonsense, of course. You cannot kill philosophy any more than you can kill God (which has also been attempted, by another philosopher, also to no avail).

Philosophy is exactly what its name says: it is a Greek word meaning "love of wisdom". It is neither a profession nor a science but a calling like priesthood, politics or arts. To elucidate further: "love" means here "a desire for"; "wisdom" means "an understanding - or belief - that enables one to appreciate and enjoy one's experience of being". Wittgenstein was definitely a philosopher but a failed one, never having found the wisdom he so ardently sought.

What Wittgenstein did do is destroy irrevocably the false notion under the spell of which philosophers have been laboring for centuries up to Wittgenstein's time: the notion that philosophy is a science ("the queen of the sciences" no less) and that logic is its foundation. Actually, in a certain sense, logic is indeed the foundation of philosophy - philosophy begins where logic ends. It is the failure of logic that gives birth to philosophy.

There is the logical "truth" (which boils down to absence of self-contradiction, i.e., formal self-consistency). Then there is the philosophical "truth" which can only be demonstrated in application to actual life situations. It is a practical truth, approximate and inexact, but truth nevertheless if by "truth" we mean "that which helps us succeed in shaping the world closer to our heart's desire".

Wittgenstein's Tractatus Philosophico-Logicus, his most famous opus, is in itself a demonstration of the failure of language, as a logical construct, to convey any philosophical meaning. Wittgenstein does not help matters by leaving his core terms undefined except by context. This sometimes produces an illusion of lucidity but to the extent that his text appears to be lucid it is inaccurate. (Wittgenstein stated "that which can be said, can be said clearly" but that does not guarantee that what is said clearly is clearly true). It is in his muddy, virtually unintelligible propositions that intimations of philosophical truth may be glimpsed. Or at least the reader is free to infer something that words cannot convey (and therefore, according to Wittgenstein himself, must remain unsaid, though, I surmise, not unfelt).

Unfortunately, Wittgenstein did not live long enough to avail himself of the insights provided by Elements of Existence (my equivalent of Tractatus Philosophico-Logicus). EoE's focus is on fundamental elements of existence rather than fundamental elements of logic so there is no disconnect with the "real" world - indeed, what logic there is in EoE is derived from actual experience. Thus in EoE science and philosophy are brought closer together - as different but complementary ways of understanding that are not at war with each other. Their truths may not be capable of informing one another directly but they are not mutually contradictory.

I'm not sure I would have enjoyed meeting Wittgenstein though it might have been fun to wake him up to an idea or two that would have been of help in his philosophising. But this would entail the pain of teaching him a whole new language in which key words are carefully defined, something he evidently disdained preferring poetic fog. Can't say that I blame him - linguistic fog can be a useful shelter for truth (though I don't think Wittgenstein actually got that) - but he could have done a better job (as he freely admits).

Paul Wyszkowski

Start. Continue. Finish.

April 10, 2014

How we get started is apparently entirely out of our control. We usually do have some say in how we continue. Then we come to the finish. Sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly, so, once again, it's totally out of our control. But because, generally speaking, we are fairly well adapted to our environment (and vice versa), we usually have some rough idea, as in the case of an old car, how much life there might be left in us, provided we have not lost our wits which is another case of finishing out of control.

Given the grace of some inkling of the approaching finish, we have some choices to make. (When there are no choices left to be made we're done.) My guiding motto is: never say die until you're dead. Until then, according to Epicurus, the first guy to figure out what it's all about, we need to continue enjoying and appreciating life as best we can. That is our duty to the universe which spawned us for that very purpose. When and/or if enjoyment of life becomes impossible there's no point prolonging mere existence especially if it's uncomfortable or painful. One hopes that this remains under one's control. (On the other hand, if one is in a coma it doesn't matter a doggie turd what the surviving interested parties do or not do - it's their problem.)

Assuming we manage to retain some control over our present actions, the secret of finishing well is in pacing the execution of our agenda according to a realistic estimate of what is possible for us. As it happens, what is possible is not necessarily in the process of inexorable and irreversible shrinkage. Increasing experience, shrinking needs and obligations create opportunities for heretofore unfeasible courses of action and creativity. Resources of energy and stamina actually resist shrinkage when subjected to constant (but not excessive) demand. Bottom line: it is possible, barring unfortunate accidents and hostile actions out of our control, to finish with a flourish and with style, going out in a burst of joy. At least it's worth shooting for.

Paul Wyszkowski

Defending the Faith

February 3, 2014

We cannot live meaningfully without believing in something. At the very least we have to believe that life can have a meaning. Even those who deny that life has or can have any meaning believe that their particular world view is essentially valid. A self-denying belief, as it happens, but that's their problem and none of our own.

We, the believers in the potential for meaning of life, have a different problem. Our persona, our entire personal world as we experience it, is founded on our belief, so we take any threats to it personally. Especially if we believe that what we believe is absolutely true. That's because our faith in the absolute truth of what we believe is imperfect (BTW, rightly and necessarily so). It is vulnerable and insecure however much we may wish it were an invincible citadel and a reliable rock on which we may absolutely depend. And it is that inescapable imperfection of our faith that is the chief source of our existential anxiety. It compels us to automatically take a defensively hostile position against any challenge to our faith.

Absolute truth, of course, is, by definition, immune to any threat or attack - it is unchangeable and eternal. It does not need to be defended. People are moved to defend what they believe to be absolutely true precisely because they fear it might not be. They go to war in the name of God and Truth to kill, pillage and destroy what they perceive as even a mere possibility of a challenge to their faith and their fury is proportional to its insecurity.

Truth, as we noted, does not need defending. Beliefs do. Typically we have much invested in our beliefs so they are worth defending - up to a point. When they are shown to be false or irrational it's time to replace them with a more defensible set. I believe that is the original meaning of "repentance". This is a wrenching experience that takes us way out of our comfort zone but ultimately leads to expanded possibilities for enjoyment of a life more in harmony with what is actually the case.

Paul Wyszkowski

Of Plant Intelligence and God's Injustice

December 29, 2013

A foofawraw currently ruffling feathers in the phytobiological circles concerns the matter of alleged plant intelligence and intentionality. A vocal minority claims, in face of equally vocal derision by the mainstream, that plants know what they are doing and why. We fail to take notice because their time scale is vastly greater than ours. The notion is gaining ground as evidence mounts of plant communication, plant learning, plant societies and even plant planning.

A matter of far more ancient provenance is the existential dilemma voiced since times immemorial by countless anguished souls (Job is a classic example): how can God who is good and omnipotent allow evil to exist, and worse, to afflict persons without any apparent reason or justice? As one philosopher put it: either God is willing to control evil but unable, in which case he is impotent, or else he is able but unwilling, in which case he is evil. The undeniable facts of life preclude God's being both willing and able.

Curiously, our philosopher leaves out of the consideration the fourth possibility: that God may be both unwilling and unable to rein in evil. Actually, there are a lot of things God cannot and would not do because they are logically self-contradictory (like committing suicide). This just might be one of them. Which brings us to the shocking absence from this discourse of any definition of "evil". Surely we need to be clear what it is we are complaining about?

"Evil" as used in the vernacular is a relative term - one man's evil may be another woman's blessing. Much of alleged evil is a misperception grounded in irrational belief, e.g. belief that one is entitled to certain privileges. Most of our individual complaints when viewed all together simply cancel out leaving little that God might be expected to act on. Nevertheless, it is true that the necessary conditions of existence include an unquestionable evil: the real possibility that our enjoyment of being may be diminished or destroyed without notice. Here is why.

Existence, or, more precisely, being, is a process, a sequence of events or changes ("events" and "changes" mean exactly the same). As they say, it's just one thing after another. Note that no change means nothing is happening so there is nothing to experience and without experiencing there is no being. Change is not just essential to being, it is being, it is what the experience of being consists of. Philosophers often point out that "being" is actually "becoming", a condition of constantly changing.

Now comes the problem: change is intrinsically unpredictable (although subject to certain probabilistic constraints). We cannot predict the future with absolute certainty, we can only make educated guesses what the future might bring. It is always a surprise: things never happen exactly as expected. And it has to be that way: if future were perfectly predictable nothing truly new could ever happen. With no real change possible nothing could happen at all. Existence would not be possible.

The uncertainty about future assures that our intent can never be perfectly realized and failure is always a possibility. That is the absolute evil that afflicts us all indiscriminately and it is an unavoidable as well as a necessary condition of being. We cannot exist and not be exposed to the possibility of frustration, failure and loss. But, of course, change brings with it also new and unexpected possibilities for success. It makes the truly new possible. Which is why we can, at least to some extent, intentionally shift the probabilities of future events to increase our chances of success. Indeed, we must if we are to have any hope of improving our lot according to our heart's desire. And so do plants and all living creatures, indeed, all that exists. And therein lies a yet subtler source of unavoidable evil: competition for scarce resources and the zero sum game in which my win is your loss. The problem of individuality.

Individuality is the direct result of change. Change creates the distinctions between then and now, here and there, this and that, me and you, creating all the distinct, individual things and beings that make up the world of experience. But the very essence of individuality is a particular, unique point of view and the need (and desire) to look out first and foremost for the No. 1, me, here and now. This is the basis of natural selection, the chief mechanism of evolution. And the only way to avoid inflicting evil on others is to give up one's individuality and ultimately one's being. However, it is possible to make up for the evil we can't help inflicting on one another by cooperating with others for net mutual benefit.

Cooperation is a strategy for minimizing the evils of individuality and optimizing overall well-being of a couple, a group, a clan, or even an entire species. It places limits on individual expression to suppress, without killing it, the individual tendency to struggle for dominance over and exploitation of others. It is a dynamic, potentially unstable balance that requires constant commitment and vigilant maintenance by all involved. It is the way of all successful organizations, whether of individual elementary particles, atoms, molecules, cells, plants or animals. It is the intelligent intentionality in the world and, some would argue, the manifestation of God in nature. But the ever present potential for evil and injustice is its inseparable and absolutely unavoidable component.

Still, the ultimate objective of being, as much intensified as thwarted by the struggle with evil, is the enjoyment of it. That, as best as I can make out, seems to be God's intent. Of course, individual ideas of "enjoyment" vary - "having power over others" is an almost universal one - but in the end the only way to true enjoyment of being is to let all ideas go and simply pay attention to what is actually the case.

Paul Wyszkowski

The State of Humanity: an Overview

December 17, 2013

A severe case of evolving pains is what we have here. Complicated by our recently acquired ability to meddle in our own evolution and by its accelerating rapidity. Actually, this could be our saving grace - or our doom. Remains to be seen.

In the meantime there's a great deal of mostly unnecessary suffering the underlying causes of which are fivefold:

      -  birth defects and diseases including mental and physical disfunction (nobody's perfect but some of us are less perfect than others)
      -  lack of, or improper education and nutrition
      -  irrational beliefs and ignorance
      -  overinvestment in our personalities, and
      -  inadequate attention and control.

We are all afflicted to some degree with all five of these ills, and there are enough of us afflicted seriously enough to guarantee continuing mayhem in foreseeable future and well beyond. But not forever. This, too, shall pass and civilization as we know it shall end with a bang or a whimper or, possibly, if we're lucky, in a burst of glory as we break through to a higher state of being.

Luck is definitely involved because of the intrinsically chaotic nature of reality in general and our own circumstances in particular. We are largely out of control - struggling for balance but nowhere near it nor assured of ever achieving it. Hope, faith and perseverance is all we have to go on. And because we're all screwed up to a greater or lesser degree, charity is essential. Without it we are sure to mutually exterminate ourselves, perhaps thereby making the universe a better place to be for other, higher forms of life.

None of this should be a cause for making ourselves miserable. It is as it is and our chief duty to ourselves and the world is to enjoy. Enjoy ourselves and enjoy the world as best we can while doing what we can to find our balance and save our souls. We do have a limited but real influence in the shaping of the future. The rest is, as they say, in the lap of the gods.   

Paul Wyszkowski

Of Sleeping Princesses and True Love

December 1, 2013

The two classic tales of sleeping Princesses ("Snow White" and "The Sleeping Beauty") couldn't be more different in their concepts of "true love".

"Snow White" posits that true love requires no knowledge of its subject (this echoes the mystic's love of unknowable God). What moves the Prince to kiss apparently lifeless Snow White? We have to immediately discard two possible scenarios as unacceptable: one in which the Prince comes across this well preserved corpse of a beautiful girl and takes advantage of the situation to help himself to a necrophiliac kiss; and the second, in which the Prince projects his fondest fantasies onto the lifeless doll in the coffin and falls in love with his own imagined creation. Most people will agree that neither of these scenarios fits the idea of "true love". That leaves the third scenario: the Prince's kiss as a selfless vow to cherish and care for this beautiful but essentially unknown creature, were she alive and awake, whoever she might be, for better or worse and ever after. (Since the Prince doesn't actually expect Snow White to wake this commitment is somewhat theoretical, but never mind). This is a magical, idealistic concept of true love, based on a leap of pure faith and probably the only kind likely to be efficacious in bringing sleeping Princesses back to life. I doubt anything less would do. However...

In the tale of "The Sleeping Beauty" the situation is very different. This is a Darwinian story of the survival of the fittest. It starts with a longstanding legend of a sleeping Princess who is an object worthy of desire, both carnal and spiritual. To wake and possess her one must prove one's true love (or at least one's worthiness) by overcoming great obstacles deliberately set in the way. A multitude of Knights and Princes, like sperm seeking the egg, make the attempt but only one makes it to the Princess. The kiss here, even if sincerely meant, is essentially a formality. It is the prescribed antidote to the sleeping spell and a formal claim on the Princess's person and affection. True love is seen here as a relative value, a matter of sufficient valiance, persistence, mental and physical fitness necessary to win the desirable prize. The winner thereby proves he's got what it takes to love "truly", i.e. to provide and protect. This is a pragmatic view of true love in which the commitment is to winning the prize with no promise of "happily ever after" but, rather, a reasonable chance of a viable and fruitful partnership in life as she is lived. (We are tacitly assuming that the Princess is indeed a prize worth winning, as advertised). 

The p.c. elephant in the room, of course, is the fact that there does not exist in the world's folklore a tale of a Sleeping Prince (Frog Prince comes close). But, in principle at least, the genders (and even species) of the sleeper and the waker are not the material facts in these tales and could be adjusted to suit. If you don't mind kissing gay frogs.

Paul Wyszkowski

From the Universal to the Particular and Back

September 4, 2013

It has been pointed out (by me among others - see "The Twelve Texts" below) that existence is a mix of chaos and order. It has to be. Without chaos (unpredictability) there can be no real change so nothing new can happen. Without order there can be no recognition and, consequently, no experience of anything. No experience of anything, and nothing happening - the definition of non-existence.

The evolution of the universe seems to be about achieving an optimal balance between order and chaos at particular times, in particular places. Clearly, it cannot be achieved everywhere at all times. Existence is the experience of change so the world must and does keep changing. The order/chaos balance can only be optimized for the present here-now moment. Definition of what is optimal keeps changing as the situation changes. This is a dynamic balance which requires constant readjustment. And the Big Question is: what is the optimal balance anyway? How do we know whether it is optimal or not?

My faithful readers already know my answer: the balance between chaos and order which maximizes conscious enjoyment of being is the optimal balance. The assumption being that consciousness (experience of change) is the basis of all existence and has its origin in a hypothetical transcendental desire for joy. This is as good a hypothesis as any and better than most because it is inherently optimistic. (Pessimists may be funnier and live longer but optimists enjoy life more so they win.)

If we are, as I argue, all playing a part in a universal process aimed at evolving optimal modes of being, our own individual intent must reflect and serve the universal transcendental desire for joy. But this desire can only be manifested and realized as particular local action, at each particular here-and-now.

Ultimately, on location and in the moment, we must act as autonomous  local agents of the universal desire, making decisions based on our own perception and analysis of the local circumstances. Local information is accessible to the universal desire only through the window of our individual consciousness, and it can only act through our individual actions which are guided by our limited understanding of the here-now situation.

So we make mistakes. Our perception is not perfect and neither is our analysis. Sometimes we're close, even if only by accident. Sometimes we're way off base. But we can learn and we can, at least potentially, improve with time, at least until we ourselves, like all organisms and mechanisms, begin to break down to be eventually replaced by the next fresh generation of the transcendental desire's local agents.

However misguided our efforts, the ultimate objective remains the same: conscious enjoyment of being. To some extent, on some occasions, we do succeed. Since I believe in evolution (and in the transcendental desire for joy) I believe the extent and frequency of our successes is likely to continue increasing over time though not necessarily smoothly and not without lapses. Inevitably, it's the three steps forward, two steps back mode of progress. It is also entirely possible that the situation on the ground may evolve faster than we can adapt to it, say a stray asteroid that we can't manage to deflect in time, leading to our extinction. That would be a pity but only an infinitesimal blip in the history of the manifestation and realization of the transcendental desire which has forever at its disposal.

Even though our individual will is an expression of the transcendental universal desire, at the local level we own the responsibility for our choices and their consequences. We're not without resources of which our brain is one of the most useful, that is, if we actually use it. We can never get it perfectly right, but we can get it right enough for life to be a joy. At least potentially.

Paul Wyszkowski

On the Necessity of Luxury

July 8, 2013

The three fundamental objectives of being human are to stay alive, be well and enjoy life. (There are people who perversely derive their enjoyment from being miserable but that's another story.) These three are all of a piece: the hope of enjoying life is what makes us want to stay alive in the first place and, of course, functioning well biologically is necessary to both staying alive and enjoying it. But the enjoyment of life is special - it's the objective of our existence that gives it meaning, even in those cases where our only hope for enjoyment of life extends to a presumed afterlife, beyond death. (Because of the chaotic variety of nature, capacity and opportunity for enjoyment of life varies widely for individuals.) In any case, we absolutely believe in our right to enjoy life and the U.S Declaration of Independence specifically recognizes as "self-evident" the right to "pursuit of happiness".

Enjoyment of life requires something more than mere survival - it requires prosperity, that is, an excess over the minimum we need to survive. This excess is the definition of luxury although we tend use "luxury" to refer to what we perceive as extreme excess. But it's all relative - one person's perceived "luxury" may be another's daily routine. Here, in the "developed" world even the poor live in high luxury from the point of view of the "undeveloped" world. Whatever the circumstances, enjoyment of life is a dynamic process that constantly seeks to maximize our present enjoyment and to expand our capacity for enjoyment. It's what we call "realizing one's potential". Luxury is found at the cutting edge of that process as its natural byproduct and reward. It includes all arts which are the ultimate luxury.

There is a dark side to luxury. We often forget that the right to enjoyment of life is universal, not a privilege of a few maintained at the expense of many. And we tend to forget that luxury is supported by a complex infrastructure that provides for the basic needs including social order, defense against barbarians, technology and industry, and all of this requires constant attention and effort to maintain, update and improve. When we disregard or trample on the rights of others or neglect the infrastructure, decline and disaster inevitably follow sooner or later.

Darker yet is a dependence on luxury for self-regard. Instead of enjoying luxury as just reward for effort, some, especially those who come by it effortlessly, may come to see luxury as that which defines them and gives them substance. The inevitable collapse of such impressive but empty shells is a quintessential human tragedy.

The dangers and temptations of luxury notwithstanding, it is the fruit of human striving for excellence and self-transcendence. It's not that we cannot do without luxury, it's that we cannot be fully human without creating and appreciating it.

Paul Wyszkowski

Ontology for Dummies
(An appendix to "Elements of Existence")

May 25, 2013

These days, being a "dummy" refers simply to lacking expertise in some particular field of knowledge. Thus a brain surgeon may be seen reading "Rocket Science for Dummies" while a rocket scientist peruses "Brain Surgery for Dummies". In this spirit I dedicate this essay to all of us (me included) who happen not to be expert ontologists. But please don't feel unwelcome if you actually are one. You just might find some of this interesting (you may well be the only one).

Back a while ago I wrote a pamphlet entitled "Elements of Existence". It was aimed at those consumed by existential curiosity (namely me). I also thought that it might be of interest to those suffering from existential angst (namely just about everybody) provided they were willing to wade through the technicalities. Of course, for those who are neither existentially curious nor existentially anxious there is no help, neither do they need it. If you are one of those, it will not profit you to continue reading. For the rest, here's a brief and, I devoutly hope, a clear summary of the core ideas in "EoE" (some thinking is required). 

Elementary introduction to elements of existence

In "EoE" I argue that the fundamental element of existence, that is, the simplest necessary and sufficient condition for something to be, is a consciousness (experience, awareness) of a difference between two states. I base this assertion on my personal observation that where there is no consciousness of a difference there is no difference, and where there is no difference there is nothing - nothing is distinguished from anything else. I believe this is an accurate representation of what is actually the case. 

So what exactly does that mean? "Consciousness" is that which is informed by our senses though its sources of information are not limited to the senses. Consciousness is a universal "organ" of appreciation (perception of value) capable of being informed by all sources. It is the sine qua non of existence. In the simplest possible, elementary case, consciousness creates, and is informed by the difference between just two states. I define "state" as "what is actually the case". This also happens to be the definition of "information" and of "reality" these two being synonymous with "state". "Difference", of course, is that which distinguishes one thing (or state) from another. (It takes some thought to digest all this so I suggest rereading this paragraph.) 

Note that it is necessarily the difference between two states that informs consciousness and not a particular individual state. The reason for that is that there can be no such thing as an isolated, solitary state. Every state is the result of a distinction from some other state or states. It is the function of consciousness to distinguish between states, in effect creating the distiction, and become informed by it. This process constitutes the necessary and sufficient condition of being. It is how the world is created.

The observation and the event are one and there is no observer

I gave the fundamental element of existence (as defined above) the technical name "observation/event" ("o/e" for short). The name underscores the fact that we are not  talking here about "an observation of an event" as if this involved two separate items: 1) an observation and 2) the observed event. The single act of consciousness distinguishing between two states constitutes at once the event (the difference) being observed and the observation of it. "Observation" and "event" are merely two different labels attached to one action. There can be no observation without an event and vice versa. The two are actually one and the same and inseparable. (Note that this implies that no event - that is, no difference - goes unobserved.) 

It follows that at the elementary level, there are no, and cannot be any independent observers external to the observation/event itself . However, at levels of complexity many orders of magnitude greater, a global "consciousness field" can form in an organic association of great many o/e's (such as, for example, you or me). Such a complex consciousness field can act as a virtual external observer by virtue of its global perspective. But that's another story.

Fitting the pieces together  

Now we come to the crux of our inquiry. Given that there appear to be many more than just one o/e making up the universe of our experience, two questions arise:

1. How are multiple o/e's related to one another? by what mechanism are they ordered into sequences and patterns that account for our experience of the world?

2. Do o/e sequences have a beginning and an end? Can we meaningfully speak of the first and the last o/e in a sequence?

Enter the probability field

O/e's must occur because non-existence is not an option (non-existence is self-contradictory). (In "EoE" I speculate that existence manifests a transcendental Desire for Joy, but that's another story). In absence of some kind of a "probability field" assigning a specific statistical probability of occurrence to every possible o/e, any possible o/e can occur spontaneously and absolutely unpredictably, regardless of the nature and magnitude of the difference between the two states. ("Absence of a probability field" simply means that all next o/e's are equally probable.)  

However, the ocurrence of an o/e automatically sets up a probability field. It makes ocurrence of some of the possible next o/e's more likely than others. For example, o/e's involving large differences are usually less likely than o/e's involving smaller differences. Subsequent o/e's are subject to this statistical influence, although occurence of any one o/e remains absolutely unpredictable because there isn't any direct "cause and effect" mechanism connecting one o/e to another.

On the universal scale, the instantaneous state of the universe (the "present" - an outcome of the history of the universe to date, a.k.a. the "past") gives rise to the complex (and ever changing) probability field that influences occurrences of all subsequent o/e's (the "future").

Connecting the o/e's

The states created by an o/e can be the "link pins" for chaining sequences ofo/e's. Each state can become a predetermined "reference" state from which another state is distinguished by the next o/e. The information of the "reference" state sets up the probability field for this next o/e. That's how o/e's are linked to one another to make chains. More than two o/e's may be linked at a single state to form multidimensional networks, but that's another story.
Once an o/e occurs it cannot un-occur though it may be followed by another o/e which effectively undoes its action. Each o/e becomes a historical, unalterable fact, confirmed and manifested by the long range effects of the probability field it sets up. Note that for an o/e to be informed by a probability field the field must be already there at the instant of its ocurrence. This is the mechanism that establishes the irreversible nature of action and assures that o/e's occur in ordered sequences (or networks) that reflect the influence of the probability field. It accounts for the unidirectionality of the dimension of time (actually space/time but we won't go into it here).

A change is as good as a difference

I defined an o/e as the consciousness of a difference between two states distinguished and related by that difference. It can be also thought of as consciousness of a change from state A to state B (change = difference= observation/event). But which state is A and which is B? In the case of a single isolated o/e the question has no answer. But where multiple o/e's are linked into chains, state A is the one established by and shared with the preceeding o/e.

What about that "first" o/e which started the evolution of the universe?

The big bang was a lulu, but it can't have been unique. We think of it as the "original" o/e in that it seems to have occurred in absence of a probability field but we don't know that. In any case, absence of a probability field is not a deterrent to occurrence of o/e's. On the contrary, it probably "mandates" their occurrence. There is evidence that "empty" space seethes with "mini bangs" which don't evolve into sub-universes because the competition from the established universe makes it unlikely. Nevertheless, some of them may do just that, especially after the established universe thins out sufficiently (which it is in the process of doing).

Finally, will there be a "last" o/e that terminates the evolution of the universe?

In a word, no. The probability field, once established, can never completely disappear. The probabilities can get down to very low numbers but the improbable is not impossible. A single improbable o/e can reignite the evolutionary process that has run down. In boundless space/time such an improbable o/e is certain to occur sooner or later. Also, see above. 

There's much much more to it than this essay touches upon. For example, there's the effect of conscious intentionality on the probability field and the matter of consciously self-guided evolution (self-transcendence) but, as they say, that's another story.

Paul Wyszkowski

The Twelve Texts

September 18, 2012

To celebrate the 400th "Fresh Today" and the tenth "Feeding the Mind's Eye" exhibition (September 29 and 30 in DC) we offer as the Occasional Essay the twelve texts that accompany the exhibition which consists of 23 kaleidographic images, all of which have appeared on "Fresh Today". - the Ed


To make sense of what it sees
the Mind's Eye looks for Symmetry,
the visual rhythm and rhyme
that may point to a possible meaning,
in hope of finding in the apparent Chaos
some conformities of Order.


Symmetry is the essence of Order.
Order makes Meaning possible..
Repetition of any random pattern
catches the Mind's Eye
by implying significance
and purposeful intentionality.


Symmetry gives rise to the
predictable patterns of Order
that make understanding possible.
In the unpredictable randomness
of Chaos we face the absolutely
unknown and the truly New.


Chaos is the agent of
the unexpected, irreversible,
the undeniably real Change.
It is the source of all wonder,
surprise, adventure, terror,
decay, renewal and transcendence


Order and Chaos are inseparable.
In their interplay, a Right balance
joins understanding with
wonder, awe and appreciation.
We call such balance Beauty
and experience it as Joy.


Excess of Order
constricts, oppresses and deadens.
Excess of Chaos
confuses, corrupts and destroys.
Between these opposing poles lie
possibilities that include Beauty.


Experience of Beauty surprises us
and changes us unpredictably.
Yet we have the power to shift,
by conscious Intent,
the balance of Order and Chaos
closer to our sense of Rightness.


The object of Art (and Life) is
the conscious creation of Beauty
(directly or indirectly)
by intentionally re-balancing
the interplay of Order and Chaos
closer to our Heart's Desire.


In the dynamic process of
balancing Order and Chaos
Beauty cannot remain unchanged.
Sometimes we catch its image
as an Art Object to keep for a time
and appreciate at leisure


The variety of Art is infinite
but it is always the reflection
of the Heart's Desire for Joy
whether celebrating, lamenting,
hinting at the inexpressible
or imagining alternative worlds.


Science and Art both strive
to balance Order and Chaos,
both driven by the Desire,
one to understand, the other
to appreciate and enjoy,
two aspects of one Desire.


Absolute Order and absolute Chaos
cannot exist and have no Meaning.
Beauty, Being and Meaning
arise as the Right balance
of Order and Chaos
created by Intent guided by Desire.

Paul Wyszkowski

The Three Absolutes of Existence

May 22, 2012

Might as well start by listing them. They are: consciousness, imprecision and unpredictability. These three are responsible for all the joys and miseries of life as we know it. And they make existence possible.

Waidaminit, you say.  What exactly is the difference between imprecision and unpredictability? Isn't the latter merely a consequence of the former? Only partially. Actually, even if you could, in one instant, know the state of the universe with absolute precision, you still would not be able to predict what will happen in the next instant . Only what is likely to happen but without any guarantee that it will actually happen (except in the statistical sense, for a sufficiently large number of instants).

To go on: consciousness is, of course, a sine qua non of existence. Without consciousness there cannot even exist a concept of existence. By imprecision I mean the incompleteness and indefiniteness of the perception of the whole from any particular point of view. In a system made up of distinct parts (and all existing systems have distinct parts with distinct points of view) this is inevitable because a part cannot contain the whole. And unpredictability is what makes change (and therefore evolution) of a system possible. (For a fuller explanation see "A Means to an End" below). All three are absolutely necessary for anything to happen, that is, to exist. Necessary, but not sufficient - what is missing is Desire. But that's another story (see "Will and Desire" below).

Some scientists and philosophers of a classical, deterministic bent of mind cannot bear the thought of absolute unpredictability. With typical human ingenuity they found a logical solution to their problem (the problem being their intellectual intolerance of uncertainty). Essentially they propose that everything that can happen next does in fact happen, with absolute certainty. But since all the various possible outcomes cannot coexist simultaneously in the same space-time, at every instant the universe splits up and effloresces like a bunch of broccoli into as many new separate universes as may be needed to accomodate every possibility. (This process is repeated at every next instant in every new universe).

That's impressive but there are a couple of problems with this bold idea (besides its being unproveable). For starters, it does not  remove uncertainty from individual lives - we still don't know and have no way of knowing which branch of the broccoli universe will be the one of our individual experience. While the concept of an infinitely branching universe eliminates the need for absolute unpredictability it accomplishes absolutely nothing with respect to our experience of being. It is, in fact, completely unnecessary and silly besides. It makes so much more sense and it's so much simpler to welcome and embrace unpredictability as an inherent aspect of existence which is necessary not only to make existence possible but also to make it a surprising, exhilarating and enjoyable adventure.

Of course, there is always the other side of the coin: in the imperfectly predictabe future things can and will go wrong. But that's exactly what makes life an adventure worth having. Especially since, as it turns out, we do have some say in what happens next. But that's another story (for which see "The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics" below).

Paul Wyszkowski

Will and Desire

April 21, 2012

In professional philosophical circles (of which I am not a member) "will" and "desire" are technical terms with well established definitions. Frankly, I lack the will and the desire to dig them up. It's easier (and so much more fun) to make up my own definitions. Not being a professional I can get away with that. (Here I offer a prayer of appreciation for having avoided a professional career in philosophy even though it was by far my favorite subject at the university where I actually studied engineering. But that's another story.)
So here are my  definitions of will and desire, in reverse order:

Desire - literally, that which makes the world go round (and much more besides). The impulse behind all change. Why anything happens. At the most elementary level it is the potential of an energetic state, that is, its "desire" to return to the zero energy state (a futile desire, incidentally, since the zero energy state is not attainable). But it gets deeper and subtler. I define Desire (with capital D) as " the origin of the energy of a state". (So if energy is the same as mass that would make the Higgs boson a particle of Desire? Interesting...)

I assume that at this point everybody has tuned out, so the rest of this essay is just me talking to myself. It's kind of liberatng...

To go on. In contradistinction to the apparently simple drive toward self-annihilation observed at the most elementary level, in complex organisms with high levels of consciousness Desire actually manifests itself as the drive toward self-preservation and self-enhancement. (In my philosophy, which we won't go into here, the true object of Desire only becomes observable at higher levels of organization.)  Note, however, that at the higher levels of organization/consciousness the inevitable errors of perception and analysis (i.e., judgement) can and often do lead to undesired outcomes. Which brings us (I guess that's me, myself and I) to my definition of will.

Will - organized effort to effect the desired result. While we (and all creatures) are driven by Desire (which is a given of existence) will is entirely rational and logical. It is the choice of a practical strategy and a commitment to carrying it out as a means of achieving what we Desire (or think we Desire). The choice of the one best possible strategy is not guaranteed or even doable. In fact, there is no such a thing though some strategies may be better than others. The choice is conditional on circumstances and our (ever iffy) understanding of them.

In the case of elementary or relatively simple organisms lacking self-consciousness, will does not involve a deliberate choice and commitment. It simply consists of yielding to the requirements of the physical logic of the given situation. This, over generations, automatically tends to lead towards enhanced viability and greater complexity provided this is achievable under the prevailing circumstances.

And that does it for this essay. This has been an exercise of my will and Desire intended for your intellectual amusement. And, of course, mine (that's important since very likely there is no one else reading this; and yes, I am amused).

Paul Wyszkowski

The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics Revealed At Last!

March 27, 2012

"Thermodynamics" is the tradtional name given to that branch of science which defines what is possible and what is not. This is, as you may imagine, a Big Deal. To me, the most interesting part is that thermodynamics is a statistical science. Yes, its laws appear to be absolute but only in the statistical sense. "Statistical" means that even though over sufficiently long periods of time events will tend to follow precisely predictable patterns, in the short term anything is possible. This is most significant and leads directly to the critical Fourth Law of Thermodynamics of which science has had only dim inklings until now.

The three and heretofore only established Laws of Themodynamics can be summarized as follows:

        #1:  You can't win (you can't get something for nothing)
        #2:  You can't even break even (work is always less than 100% efficient), and
        #3:  It's the only Game in town and you must play (or die - i.e., cease to exist, same thing).

We now forthrightly state for the first time ever the Game changing Fourth Law which actually makes sense of the whole dismal thing and opens it up to new possibilities:

        #4:  But you can cheat, provided you don't get caught.

It is possible to cheat because, as noted above, in the short term anything is possible, including cheating. And if you make the term short enough (shorter than any detector can detect) you can disregard all laws of physics and perform miracles.

The scientific community has been aware for some time that nature cheats anytime it can, that is, anytime it cannot be observed. What has been generally underappreciated is that such cheating is not only possible but absolutely necessary for the universe to be able to evolve without self-contradiction. All the logical paradoxes inherent in changes of state (changes of state are what existence consists of) can be magically disposed of by cosmic equivalent of prestidigitation. The Big Bang itself was the biggest cheat of all (that we know of). According to the first three laws nothing can come from nothing yet the Big Bang evidently came from nothing. This was possible because there was no one there to point out that it actually wasn't - a perfect oportunity for cheating on the grandest scale.

Of course, once we accept that nature must cheat in order to exist, we're faced with the question: why must nature exist? The answer to that question lies outside the realm of thermodynamics. Nevertheless, whatever the purpose of existence (if any) may be, without the Fourth Law there would be no way to achieve it. The Fourth Law provides the necessary mechanism by means of which Conscious Desire may engage in and guide the statistical process of the universe's evolution. Telekinesis, anyone?

Paul Wyszkowski

Of Fools and Heroes

February 28, 2012

A well-known and frequently observed phenomenon: two men (or women, although women tend to be more realistic and hence more ambivalent) in essentially the same circumstances have diametrically opposite views of their situation. Thus, one of them is full of rage and bitterness, believing himself deeply wronged and deprived while the other, actually no better and no worse off, is filled with delight at what he perceives as bounteous blessings. One is driven to wrest from the world by violence what he believes it owes him, the other gives himself over to enjoyment of what he has been given. Both are fools and which is the greater is debatable.

By fools I mean those who, whatever their actual beliefs, are absolutely convinced they understand what they are doing and why. Heroes, on the other hand, are those who seek to increase their understanding which they recognize as incomplete and insufficient. This is a demanding, confusing, inevitably messy and necessarily life-changing process - the stuff of a hero's evolving, adventurous life. Meanwhile, fools remain locked in position, petrified in their respective attitudes whether throwing themselves against the windmills or blissing out in the moment.

Both the fools and the heroes are motivated by the same universal desire for greatest possible enjoyment of being. They differ in how they propose to achieve it. Heroes have a statistically significant probability of at least some degree of success while fools face a statistical probability of failure..

According to Wyszkowski's First Law existence is not and cannot be all fun and games. Play time has to be paid for. Wyszkowski's Second Law states that in the statistical long run fun and games can only account for up to half the content of existence (though it could be a lot less). The rest consists of erecting and maintaining the necessary infrastructure (physical and psychological) and various forms of largely self-imposed suffering (most of it avoidable). A hero maximizes opportunities for enjoyment of being by attention to what is actually the case, to what can and needs to be done under the circumstances to come nearer his/her heart's true desire and just doing it. You might call it the optimal application of consciousness. Than which I cannot imagine a greater good. 

Fools, on the other hand, have only luck to rely on and the only absolutely reliable thing about luck is that it cannot be relied on. Actually, the best thing that can happen to fools is to run out of luck. Heroes, too, run out of luck but since they don't rely on it in most cases this may slow them down but does not stop them. But fools can actually profit from bad luck: if it doesn't kill them it may wake them up and turn them into heroes. Cases abound.

Of critical concern is the matter of proportion of fools to heroes in this world. As I accumulate experience with time, I am ever more acutely aware how greatly fools outnumber heroes (see also ancient statistics cited by Jesus as reported in Matthew 7:13-14). However, it's complicated. There are few if any absolute fools (they tend to self-destruct) and few if any heroes are untainted by foolishness. It does appear (not surprisingly) that it takes relatively few heroes to compensate for the destructive influence of great many fools. As a consequence, we have managed, despite the apparently overwhelming majority of fools, to develop a carapace of "civilization", however thin and fragile, that has nevertheless made it possible for us to prosper and multiply exponentially.

Of course, this can't last. There is no such thing as endless growth within a finite closed system that is our world. Our prospects for getting off it are not good at least not in the foreseeable future. I put more faith in the possibility of a sea change in human nature that would massively increase our consciousness and concentrate our attention. What I call "angelification" of humanity which, as of this writing, is still predominantly animal in nature.

Paul Wyszkowski

A Means to an End

February 1, 2012

I am nature's means of appreciating itself. That is the conclusion I have come to after a careful consideration of the question "what and why am I?".

If the object of existence is joy, and it's either that or nothing, then what is chiefly needed is a mechanism for experiencing joy. That would be consciousness. As such, consciousness has to be there right from the beginning (if any) as an intrinsic characteristic of existence. Furthermore, the evolution of the universe has to be ultimately directed towards organizing consciousness to maximize its capacity for experiencing joy. I, Paul Wyszkowski, am just one such lump of organized consciousness by means of which the universe may enjoy itself.

Now, it has not escaped my attention that the universe is not enjoying itself maximally everywhere and everywhen. There are, evidently, puddles (and sometimes oceans) of pain, misery and desperation scattered throughout conscious experience. And where joy is actually being experienced its quality is variable and transitory.

This is where we must pay the devil its due. Logic tells us that evil, defined as whatever is destructive or obstructive to the maximal experience of joy, is inevitable and as much part of existence as is consciousness. Existence is a process, that is, a succession of changes. The thing about change is that it is always at least to some extent unpredictable - unpredictability is the essence of genuine change. Because of this there can be no guarantee that change will be constructive with respect to the experiencing of joy. Hence the inevitability of evil.

However, there is a saving grace and its name is probability. Probability, the degree to which change can be predicted, can be seen as a consequence of intentionality inherent in the universe. Experience shows that probabiities of future events can indeed be influenced by conscious intent. However, probability cannot be controlled absolutely - where there is change there is necessarily uncertainty. Probability can only be influenced statistically over a large number of events. This is sufficient to make possible molding the future intentionally to enhance the universal experience of joy.

More highly organized consciousness can be potentially more effective at influencing how the universe unfolds. However, to be effective consciousness must be focused on the object of its desire and pay close attention to what choices may be optimal under given circumstances. We cannot, in any case, completely avoid evil. We can only minimize it. (On the other hand, inattention can greatly magnify evil's destructive effects).

So, bottom line, it seems that my job, my raison d'être as an instance of organized consciousness, is this: to assist in maximizing the universe's self-appreciation and self-enjoyment. With that understanding I can commit to this project wholeheartedly, keeping in mind that it is not a zero sum game and cannot be achieved by exterminating evil (that, fortunately, is impossible) but by making creative use of it. Evidently, we absolutely need an adversary to keep us surprised, challenged, changing and evolving. Our wellbeing and our ability to enjoy the world (in both the transitive and intransitive sense) depend on it.

Paul Wyszkowski

The Romantic Universe

January 5, 2012

 The five conventional points of view long established in the theatre (and in literature in general) are the tragic, the comic, the romantic, the "realistic" and the "naturalistic". Although plays and novels typically use some blend of these they are customarily classified according to the dominant one. 

In a tragedy, a character's personal desire is rigidly set as the absolute with which the world must be compelled to comply. The inevitable and irreversible result is that the world as it actually is prevails and  the protagonist is destroyed in the process. 

In a comedy there is a learning process - the clash of desire and reality is not fatal but rather transforming, leading to a satisfactory resolution. 

In a romance the assumption is that our intentionality can change the world, at least to some degree, and that the future can be molded closer to the heart's true desire (which in a romance is usually assumed to be intrinsically trustworthy).

In a "realistic" play the world is assumed to be indifferent to the protagonists' desires - achieving their objectives is to a large extent a matter of pure chance.

In a "naturalistic" play the world is assumed to be actually hostile to the protagonist - it's war. The protagonist must battle the world to achieve desired objectives, or just to stay alive. 

These are all particular points of view and each captures some aspect of the truth of the human condition. But I believe the most realistic of them is the romantic point of view.

Both the "realistic" and the "naturalistic" conventions set up an artificial duality between the protagonist and the rest of the world which I consider to be unreal. After all, the protagonist absolutely belongs to the world as an inseparable part of it subject to the same laws of nature as the whole. The conflict is not between the protagonist and the rest of the world but between different perceptions and interpretations of the world. Tragedy depends on the luciferian premise of absolute pride which is intrinsically unrealistic and doomed to fail. Comedy is somewhat more realistic in that it allows for change and evolution but its optimism is often unwarranted. It is romance that offers room for genuine hope even though without guarantees which, I believe, most accurately reflects the nature of the world as it is. 

Paul Wyszkowski

The Problem with God

December 15, 2011

"That which people call 'God' is not God" (opening line from Lao Tse's "Tao Te Ching", my paraphrase). The number of people who understand this is vanishingly small. Whether we profess to believe or disbelieve in God (or a God) most of us don't actually know what we are talking about. And to the extent that we believe that we do, we are a danger to ourselves and to the human society in general.

For better and for worse, words are sufficiently fuzzy and slippery to ensure that what we say we believe (or disbelieve) is not an accurate representation of what we actually do believe at the level of feelings where what we believe matters. When we are being true to ourselves (which is admittedly seldom) we act not in conformity with our words which, in any case, we only think we understand, but with our feelings which we know absolutely. Of course, our feelings are often in conflict with one another but that's another story. (By the way, one fundamental object of prayer is to discover what it is we truly feel and desire).

The ideas of God (and there are a great many of them out there) are, essentially, metaphors for what we feel to be true. However, words cannot convey fully or accurately what we feel and what we feel is only a partial perception of reality from a particular point of view. As Lao Tse wisely observed, what we say we mean by "God" is not what we actually mean by "God" and what we actually mean by "God" is not God. Which is not to say that it is not some kind of an inkling of God, one that may well suffice for our circumstances. Indeed, we neither can nor should nor need to understand God completely which would require becoming God ourselves (something that may or may not be our final destiny). For the record, my own idea of God is not as the object but as the origin of our truest desire, leaving plenty of room for a debate about what that is.

Not believing in God is exactly equivalent to believing in God. It's a matter of defining "God" (what is it that you believe or not believe in?) and all definitions of God are necessarily false if only because they are necessarily incomplete. The best we can do is to associate God with being itself (thus reducing the argument against the "existence of God" to an argumant against existence itself which is absurd coming from an existing being). What matters is whether we believe that being is good (i.e., has value and meaning) or not (i.e., has no value and no meaning). This matters because it influences directly our capacity for enjoyment of life, individually and as a society. Generally, we'd rather enjoy life than not and that's why we are virtually all of us believers (including most of those who label themselves "atheists").

The lamest argument against existence of God is that God is merely a product of wishful thinking. Actually, our wishful thinking, our desires, including the primary desire to enjoy our being (however distorted by ignorance and irrational beliefs) are probably the clearest manifestation of divine presence.

Paul Wyszkowski

Junior High Stuff: Homer Today

November 5, 2011

Among the cognoscenti Homer is considered the greatest poet ever. As I see it, his greatness lies in his brilliantly accurate observation and compelling rendition of characters in action, not in his philosophical insights. He is a reliable and vivid reporter rather than an interpreter of or a commentator on the facts of life.

As for the facts, the Illiad concerns itself with a single theme, the personal quarrel between two tribal warrior-kings, Achilles and Agamemnon, which threatens to doom the Greeks' prospects for victory in their ten year old war with Troy. Their quarrel is, as a reviewer of a recent translation of the Illiad put it, "junior high stuff". (Actually, he said it isn't but it is, it is).

Achilles and Agamemnon are jocks who are also spoiled brats. They inhabit a culture which worships jocks and encourages, even insists on their self-aggrandizement. Athletic ability and physical bravery are the highest values (besides tribal loyalty) and are maximally rewarded. Thus a celebrity jock's personal possessions, his loot, including female slaves (especially female slaves - great sex was a very important part of the reward) represent the measure of his standing and success as a celebrity jock. Our heroes' famous and furious quarrel (which shakes up heaven and litters earth with corpses) is, in fact, over a captive Trojan girl they both claim as their just reward.

You may be noticing parallels here with our own mass culture which is not essentially different from that of the ancient Greeks. Hence the continuing relevance of Homer (ironically largely unappreciated by those whom it most concerns because of lack - or perhaps impossibility - of a good vernacular translation).

What is different today is that, first of all, we number several billion vs. several million in Homer's time; we have developed several socially revolutionary technologies (chemical, biological, nuclear, and digital); and, most significant of all, we have among us individuals whose depth of understanding of the world in general and humanity in particular exceeds that of any preceeding thinkers and philosophers. That is not to say we have all - or any - answers to the fundamental existential questions. However, some few of us have a better grasp of what these questions might be and how various proposed answers might play out in real life.

In other words, we are better equipped, technologically, intellectually, and - dare I say? - spiritually to enjoy our lives if that's what we want. Unfortunately, most of us are not even as clear as a typical ancient Greek in our self-understanding. We have, in general, failed to use our considerable present advantages to improve the quality of our lives to a level significantly higher than those of Homer's contemporaries whose lives (like most of ours) were indeed junior high stuff, gods not excepted.

Paul Wyszkowski

Schrödinger's Cat Saved

October 13, 2011

Everybody has heard about Schrödinger's cat. You haven't? OK, everybody else please be patient while I retell the tale for your benefit. Schrödinger was a physicist with a macabre turn of mind. To illustrate how silly quantum mechanics really is he proposed the following experiment: put a cat in a black box you can't see inside. Together with the cat, put in a can of poisonous gas equipped with a mechanism which will release the gas if it gets a signal from a radiation detector which is pointed at a low intensity radioactive source.

Now the thing about radioactivity is that it is an absolutely random process. The source (which could be a speck of radioactive uranium, for example) will emit particles of radiation now and then at unpredictable intervals. The next emission might be a second from now or a week from now. There is absolutely no way to tell. (For a higher intensity source the average interval will be shorter but still unpredictable). So once the cat is in the box there's no way to figure out whether it is already dead or still alive other than actually looking in the box.

What did Schrödinger have against cats? I don't know but his proposed experiment certainly gained him a lot of notoriety. As I said, everybody's heard about Schrödinger's cat. Except you.

Actually, this is not at all about the cat (in an even deeper sense, as I will show, than Schrödinger knew). What Schrödinger tried to illustrate with his grisly experiment is a problem with quantum mechanics which asserts (rightly enough) that an unpredictable event remains unpredictable until it is observed. That seems perfectly commonsensical but Schrödinger asked, well, what about the cat? Once we open the box we can observe that it is either dead or alive. But until we do that, what is the status of the cat inside te box? Whether it dies or lives is absolutely unpredictable so, according to quantum mechanics, until actually observed the cat must be both dead and alive or, rather, neither.

You have no idea the amount of furious scientific and philosohical debate Schrödinger's question precipitated. It went on for decades and is still being debated (Schrödinger first asked it way back in early 20th century). It all hinges on one highly conceited (and unwarranted) assumption that all scientists and philosophers insist on making, apparently without exception. The universal assumption is that an "observation" requires a human observer, or, to be exact, human consciousness.

Actually, as some bright readers might have already figured out, in Schrödinger's contraption the observer of first instance is the radiation detector. The detector "knows" at all times whether a particle of radiation has been emitted or not. The rest of the paraphernalia, the poison releasing mechanism, the cat and the box are all irrelevant. The detector may not know whether the cat is alive or dead but it knows whether a signal went out to the poison releasing mechanism or not. It does not matter that the observer is not human - it knows what it observes because it has been designed to know and to act on this knowledge.  

So there is no reason to assume that the cat is at any time at once neither dead nor alive. Quantum mechanics does not require that. The quantum mechanical aspects of this experiment end with the observation by the radiation detector. Everything after that is, for practical purposes, perfectly determinate. No need to risk killing the cat, even hypothetically. 

Paul Wyszkowski

Uncertainty, Change,Time and the Heart's Desire

September 10, 2011

Here is my thesis: without uncertainty there can be no change and therefore no time. In this essay I show its logical necessity and surprising consequences. It turns out uncertainty is not only a necessary condition of existence but also of a life worth living.

Let us assume the opposite of my thesis is true, that is, that there is absolutely nothing uncertain about the universe and all it entails. That means all of it must be completely known and determined because our postulate states that there neither is nor can be anything about the universe that is unknown and therefore uncertain. Such a universe without any uncertainty is necessarily a static universe, forever fixed in its form and properties. It cannot change - there is no way for it to change. It is what it is, a single eternal instant, if indeed it can be said to exist at all. (A changeless universe is unobservable because there are no events to be observed - nothing is happening - so there is no evidence of its existence.)

I conclude from the above that for a universe to exist, change and evolve, some aspects of it must necessarily remain unknown and therefore uncertain.

Our actual experience of the universe suggests that there is no one specific property of the universe that is intrinsically unknowable. However, when we try to determine exactly some particular property we find we cannot simultaneously determine some other complementary property (vis. the Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). This makes sense. It would be strange if some particular properties of the universe were arbitrarily singled out for unknowability. This way there is a democracy of unknowability with degrees of unknowability symmetrically balanced among the various properties of the universe (the more we know about one the less we can know about the other). Thus the universe can change and evolve without any particular aspect of it being absolutely unknowable even though as a whole it remains, as it must, indeterminate.

Of course, only in a changing, evolving universe time (and, for that matter, space) can have a meaning. Time is a sequence of observed events, that is, changes in state of the universe. So is space. We measure out space by the number of events between here and there just as we measure out time by the number of events between now and then. It's just a matter of direction with the one distinction that the direction of time seems irreversible. There is a good reason for that: the uncertainty which makes change possible is resolved once a change has ocurred. It  becomes a certain fact and cannot be made uncertain again.

Actually, movement in space is also irreversible but because of apparent lack of change in seemingly stable spacial environment we fail to notice this irreversibility. In fact, we can never return to the place we started from. But that's another story.

The inherent and necessary uncertainty of the future of an evolving universe has one consequence of colossal significance to us humans: it allows for the possibility of consciously shaping the yet unformed future closer to our heart's desire. Without that life would be pointless.

Paul Wyszkowski  

A Significant Life

September 2, 2011

Significant in what way and to whom?

This question points to the conditional nature of significance as a quality of a life. It is not necessarily a positive one. For better or worse, wealth, power and fame confer a great deal of significance upon a life. On the other hand, even for those leading a life of solitude their self-regard can be the bene- or maleficiary of their perception of life's significance.

Is maximum public significance, as some believe, something to strive for as the main objective of our lives? Given the relativity of the value of significance (which can be positive or negative, it being a matter of opinion which) I cannot see it as the fundamental measure of the value of a life. Rather I see it as an important but largely incidental and circumstantial byproduct of a life. (I believe that the fundamental objective of life - and being in general - is joy rather than significance but that's another story).

Thus I find that my own publicly insignificant life is not without value. Actually, I deeply appreciate my life. It is highly significant to me. I sometimes wish it were more generally significant to the benefit of some of the many less fortunate who might possibly learn from my example. But then there are innumerable highly significant lives out there, both historical and contemporary, from which many (including me) have drawn and continue to draw inspiration and which offer far better examples than mine. 

However, in concluding from this (essentially correctly) that I therefore need not concern myself with public significance or insignificance of my life I should not disregard the need to pay attention to the occasional opportunities for my life to become more significant to others (in a good way). Such opportunities do arise from time to time and to deliberately ignore them would be life denying. 

Then there are all those sociable high energy individuals for whom actively seeking out such opportunities constitutes the very meaning of their lives. Their definitions of "a good way" vary but, in any case, significance is generally a secondary consideration.

Paul Wyszkowski

(09/02/11) TABS writes:

September is the perfect occasion to set sail on a sea of thought concerning significance. The launch of another school year and the first red leaves below the maple tree bring Pogo’s whither and wherefore to mind.

I think your choice for joy has a lot of merit. Looking for significance in everything makes me debate the dance of what this being called me brings to the party and what tune the fates as piper play. Whether foxtrot, tango or waltz it sometimes has the sense of truly reeling. That's the Omar Khayam effect.

When young I did eagerly frequent doctor and saint
And heard great argument about it and about
But evermore came out by the same door
As in I went.

There is a warning note in that but when touched by art or argument the transformation, if only the softening of a judgment, feels true.

We often go to the pool of your photo reflections to dream or laugh or sigh and smile. The scent of your significance lies there.


Archived Essays

Contents (click title to retrieve, close file to return to this page):

     1. Art: What's Truth, Beauty and Goodness Got to Do with It?  (May 20, 2002)
     2. Art as Language   (August 12,2003)
     3. How to Deal with Art  (October 24, 2004)
     4. Where Order Meets Chaos  (September 2, 2005)
     5. And the Winner is...  (February 14,2006)
     6. Photography and Art   (March 30, 2006)
     7. What Good Are Pictures That Don't Change?   (May 29, 2007)
     8. The Rationale for Religion   (July 22, 2011)
     9. If a Tree Fell in a Forest...   (August 4, 2011)