Logic: Assumed Connections

Knatz.com / Teaching / Thinking Tools / Reason /

Assumed Connections
Leading swiftly to other considerations, featuring

In one of his LoveDeath stories Dan Simmons has the little girl who’s lost her brother ask her father,

If there’s no God then there’s no heaven and if there’s no heaven … then where’s Scout?

I recognize the logical connections of her cosmology to be typical of our and other cultures; though as adults we wouldn’t put it quite so childishly.
So how do we put it adultly?

Ah. That’s why we need great philosophers: and even with such our confusions (and theirs) may be merely a bit less unsophisticated (and if they were sophisticated to the Nth, they might still be fallacious.)

I don’t want to stay with the girl’s logic for long: because I’m not sure what good it would do, and because I have another target; but:
Notice her assumed connection between God and heaven. Monotheists are told that God created heaven and earth. Monotheists are told that God rules in heaven. Therefore: no God, no heaven.
A kid could be told that his imaginary friend owns the Brooklyn Bridge. The kid could grow out of his imaginary friend. Is there therefore no Brooklyn Bridge?

There is no necessary connection. A Brooklyn Bridge too could be imaginary; until you’ve walked across it, driven over it, heard Sonny Rollins practice there at night, see it daily from your office window … Hearing Sonny doesn’t prove anything whatever about your imaginary friend.

Actually, Sonny’s on the Williamsburg Bridge in this pic.
thanx gwarlingo

One thought before I segue to my real subject: Notice: the girl changed her belief variable, “God,” without altering one whit that belief variable’s matrix. She lost the God without losing the cosmology.


In the story, the girl is alive. She had had a brother. In the story, her brother is now not alive. Where did he go?

It’s a comfort to children (of all ages) to be told that he went to heaven. It’s satisfying to children (of all ages) to think that their enemy died and went to hell.
But, needing explanations for the over-sized minds that emerge from our over-sized brains, do we have a better explanation?

How’s this one?

Water evaporates. There it is, water, in the bowl. After a time the bowl is dry. What remains? Maybe a little stain from whatever was dissolved or suspended in the water: there’s always something. It too will eventually evaporate, but much more slowly. Even iron can evaporate. And no, you don’t have to melt it for one or two atoms to pop off into the atmosphere.

So, did little Scout evaporate? Well, I don’t doubt that he left a residue: something to be buried, or burned, put in a grave, an urn. Maybe the residue at the time of death weighed exactly what little Scout had weighed. But where did “Scout” go?

Realize: When the water evaporated, just because we no longer see it doesn’t mean that it no longer exists. Physics has changed and changed some more, and is still changing, but all recent physics agrees that the water has merely changed state: from liquid to gas. I don’t believe that any physicist has yet tagged every water molecule, every atom within every molecule, and tracked each one after evaporation. No, the theories believe that all those water molecules are still floating around somewhere, some reacting further so that this and that molecule is now oxygen here, hydrogen there. The theories assume, and have experimental support, that the atoms, every one, still exist.

So does Scout still exist?

Well, his sister is still talking about him, isn’t she? That’s as much life-after-death as many a past culture hoped for. But aging Hollywood starlettes saying they talked to him last night over the Ouija board is not good experimental evidence. Scout’s molecules are somewhere: in the grave, in the worm, in the beetle … breathed back into the random. And I don’t think this evaporation metaphor can take us much further.

Try this one:

Where does your lap go when you stand up?

A lap is an arrangement of things that otherwise arranged are not lap. And that’s what a person is: a temporary arrangement of things.
I’m grateful to my highschool friend who asked me the above question — Where does your lap go when you stand up? — when we were perhaps fifteen. I’m grateful to him in the same way that I’m grateful to my Sunday School teacher for his emphasis that the church was not the building we called the church: the posts, lintels, the mortar … Both gave me a start toward my adult thinking about extension, intension … pattern … emergence.

But I move on to the metaphor which, properly looked at, is as far as I can now take us:
The birds flock. They fly in what we call a vee formation. Where does the vee go when the birds cease flying as a flock? Whether they’re shot, go to ground, to water, to roost …

The vee doesn’t evaporate; it ceases: for the moment. The vee can reemerge so long as there are birds and they flock and can fly as a flock.

emergent formation
thanx getyournotes

Scout is not just evaporated, he’s the lap that stood up, but can’t sit down again. He ceased: though some memories of him remain. But: he was not the last boy. The girl can have another brother. And if fate or her parents don’t cooperate, other girls have other brothers.

Death is nothing to worry about. Lost individuals are nothing to worry about. Extinction is to worry about.

You bankrupt yourself sending your girl to college. She’s a genius. She’s just figured out how to stimulate civilization0, civilization1 to mature into civilization0, civilization1, civilization2. Or, she will be able to figure it out, and do something about it, once she has a few more tools and gets old enough for the society to ignore her less. She attends her first class, buys her first text book, opens the first page on her way back to the dorm, and is hit by a truck.
It’s terrible, you loose your whole investment … But there will be other geniuses. And society may not ignore all of them for ever.
(Though societies too die.) (And that’s the hope!)

Death is nothing to worry about. Lost individuals are nothing to worry about. Extinction is to worry about.

So long as there are people, and sex, and birth, and development, an environment possible to live in, death is nothing to worry about.

PS Extinction we should worry about; but extinction isn’t the only death we should worry about. The girl who died before she could stimulate us to evolve into civilization…1,2 was expendable so long as some other genius with the same capacity can get born. If Shakespeare never lived, there were still other great poets. (Who knows how many great poets didn’t emerge because they got force-fed too much Shakespeare? too much Homer? too much Milton?) That dead girl could have been the species’ last opportunity.

The Death of Opportunity

What we should worry about besides extinction, if only we knew how, is lost opportunities. If only we knew how!

Scout and the dead girl are fictions. But there’s many a lost opportunity, a window that was opened and then closed, permanently.

In 1970 Ivan illich published his design for convivial learning. I offered to establish it in the real world. Give me the resources, and I’ll act as community bulletin board. I’ll register and regurgitate who’s who, what’s where, who wants to get together about what, and what’s people’s feedback about the preceeding. I also offered to act as coordinator among any and all other such community networks: potentially the world’s first — and only needed — internet.

No one needed to own or learn to operate a computer. My Free Learning Exchange didn’t even need to own the computer: so long as main frame time could be rented. (I never imagined that I would have to learn how to operate a computer — I wanted to be the librarian, not the programmer; I knew plenty of agreeable programmers to hire: had the public supplied the resources as well as their relevant information.) (In fact, I wanted to be the librarian so that I could teach through the library!)

Some individuals registered their resources. Some individuals sent a couple of dollars. And after a couple of years, of working full time for not even expenses, my volunteers evaporated. The public did not flock in the invited way.

Had we, the war in Vietnam could have evaporated over night. Nixon would have been running for reelection; but the public could have realized that it could wholly ignore its government, its schools, its media, its manipulated markets … We don’t need any of that any longer: we have FLEX!

That window closed. That window cannot reopen. That window is dead. That window is extinct.

In 1971, perhaps 1972, IBM told me that a reasonable estimate for a budget for FLEX — for New York City — would be twenty million dollars a year. If today the public gave me twenty billion dollars, I couldn’t do it. It’s not just that now I’m old. No one could do it.

Two decades later, the godawful, expensive, planned-to-be-obsolete, soon-to-be-privatized internet blocks out the sun.

We could have freed ourselves. We didn’t. I believe that it’s not just our opportunity that evaporated, but that our preference for being spoon-fed to force-fed by other’s interests is irremediable.

The jail was opened … and everyone stayed inside.
That flock didn’t fly. That emergence didn’t emerge.

Was it, as everyone told me, impossible?
I believe it is: now. I don’t believe is was then.
In any case, it didn’t happen.

One bird can fly,
but one bird can’t fly as a vee.

2016 08 15 When I heard that Sonny Rawlings practiced on the downtown East River bridges, I just glowed with pride to live in New York, to know the city, to be hip. When I actually saw Sonny once on one of the bridges, I practically burst.
Funny thing is: I had never been that much of a Sonny Rawlings fan! But he was always on my horizon. I was listing to Sonny play with Miles, on Dig, c. 1957, when I “improvised” my Bird & Dudley poem.

Now Bird & Dudley went uptown to score
In Dudley’s car, and furthermore
With Dudley’s gold they made the scene
To get the horse to turn on clean
To the moon!
But, Dudley’s stupid so it seems
And didn’t dig that Bird’s being mean when he says,
Now we’re way up, but downtown’s down,
So you get out and I’ll turn ’round.
And so he did.
From what I’ve heard
All Dudley said, was
Man, where’s Bird?

Famous story of what a badass junkie Bird was and how stupid Dudley (a bass player) was. Bird drove off with the car and the junk.
Son of a bitch, how did I ever get involved with these role models?
I’m gonna go out of a limb: I think the tune was written by Sonny: could’a been Miles.

Thinking Tools

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in reason, thinking tools. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s