Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Social Epistemology /
@ K. 2008 06 01
|Finite / Finity||Infinity …||Limits|
The Hindus have bandied big numbers about for a long time. Christians have talked about this and that attribute of God being “infinite” for nigh on to two millennia. The Christian talk wowed me as a kid, so did the Hindu big numbers once I came to hear of them. But then, around age eighteen, I read mathematician Georg Gamow on infinity and I realized that, in comparison to Gamow, prior thinking about infinity hardly qualified as thinking. Now though, late in my seventieth year (age 69), something new occurs to me: our thinking about finite things has lagged even more dangerously. I give a gross example, but don’t think that that’s all I’m talking about: we’ve hardly even begun: Why did we wait till we’d largely wasted half of the planet’s oil before the public began to get a sense of it being limited? Politics and economics are involved in the answer, but so is cultural blindness, shallow intellect, and institutions dedicated to retarding the evolution of sentience.
This is a new topic for me. I can’t say right out, efficiently and with style, what I mean. Bear with me as I build this section scrapbook style. You may see my developments and conclusions coming before I do. Don’t hesitate to email your guesses to me. Mount them yourself under your name and email the link to me.
The Power of Finitude
Recently, in particular since learning forms of Solitaire new to me, such as Free Cell, in jail, I’ve been feeling finitude as a power: a power that could help our hand find success. In Free Cell (as in many a game) it’s easy enough to make poor choices early on only to find yourself blocked from making any more moves: or, the only legal move you see just swings a card back and forth between two options, gaining nothing: like a blinker in the computer game of Life. The life forms didn’t all go extinct, but those remaining are sterile, they can’t move. But careful play sees dangers, recognizes problems in advance, and patience is rewarded by knots untying and chaos resolving into the order of the four suites, all mounting from the meta rank, ace to king.
When I’m stuck I feel it, almost as a certainty: if you haven’t blundered too grossly, there has to be a move. Don’t abandon the deal, don’t cheat: find a legal move, then another will open.
I recently tried to discuss this with a confidante. I compared the feeling of the power of the finite to what Hugh Kenner said about Bucky Fuller’s tensegrity geodesics: beginning to build a model, the pieces all just want to fall to the ground in disarray. Gravity rules. But a nearly completed tensegrity icosahedron “feels” the potential of the crystal form and starts trying to “jump” toward completion. Inanimate nature suddenly is not inanimate. Forces normally invisible manifest.
(2013 06 25 Jan and I recently read aloud to each other Tom Wolfe’s masterful description of a stud stallion and the mare in heat: Man in Full: common enough in nature, invisible in civilization!)
The history that we’re “normally” conscious of is in large part fiction that the magicians concoct to protect whatever they see as buttering the bread of the haves. The culture works for its principal owners. So: we learn about pharaoh’s priests not believing Moses; then being shown, to their sorrow. We learn about Hitler, not believing in American production, then learning better, to his sorrow. But scraps of alternate histories exist: where “magic” comes from the scientists: and it isn’t magic. And those who “saw” it weren’t mystics, not in the old sense.
It is a characteristic of Christianity to pretend to know the future: God will win … I will be in heaven; you will be in hell … These days I find claims about divine infinitudes and revealed foreknowledge to be repugnant, but I also suspect that they are harmless compared to our toxic ignorance and shallow imagination on the subject of limits. I don’t know the future, I don’t want to know the future — it comes soon enough as it is; but I still have the habit of imagining Judgment, as I was encouraged to do. But the judgment I now imagine has no god of magic in it: and the humans involved have no understanding of it, not even a perception that it exists! Sentience is involved only as a personification of failure: as in: God and Satan say, after the last human has died, “Well, there was no real sentience in that batch. Let’s give this strain a try.”
To paraphrase: the last tree in the world’s rain forests falls just as the researcher says, “Eureka, I just found the cure for cancer, greed, and overpopulation in this Amazonian yellow tree frog” just as the last Amazonian tree frogs die out.
(2013 06 25 Last night Jan and I watched John Boorman’s Emerald Forest (1985): The termite people (us, imperial white men) are cutting rain forest along the Amazon, building a dam. The forest people lose their land, start preying on each other, selling other tribes wives as call girls in the destrooyers’ dance halls. The Invisible People pray to the frogs: bring rain, wash away the dam!)
Here I’m accusing humans of not thinking through what ought to be obvious. Even Nietzsche said that the “ocean” was “infinite.” Sorry, Fred. It’s finite: just like the fossil fuels.
Some Is Not All
Humans commonly think that if we evince something then we necessarily evince it well. We can see. Very good. There’s no doubt that sight confers advantage. Before the microscope and the telescope it was easy for us to think that what we saw was reality, that sight needed no improvement. Indeed, people rallying against Darwin’s theory of evolution cited the human “eye” as an example not only of design, but of “perfect” design.
For the moment I’ll give only one bit of evidence that we don’t see well at all. People looking at the night sky have routinely talked of the infinity of stars. Actually counted, the stars visible to the unaided eye of an observer on earth number only about two thousand, regardless of pollution. Science aided by telescopes “sees” hundreds of billions of galaxies, the galaxies themselves containing numerous stars: up to the hundreds of billions. There our sight doesn’t even see 1%. Not 1% of 1%. Not 1% of 1% of 1%.
We do see. We see some things. By no means to we see all things.
We think. Do we think well? Can our thinking improve? Could we ever think all things and think them perfectly?
(Not on my watch.)
(I’m sorry. That’s a joke. A joke that perhaps only I get without explanation, so perhaps it’s a bad joke. It’s an Ed Harris line in a movie, repeated by President Bush II. The line betrays the egocentrism of the military mind, the alpha kleptocrat claiming omniscient paternity over some otherwise helpless nestlings: the planet, civilization … Martians will not invade us while I’m in charge.)
We have sight: a finite amount of it. We think: but never perfectly.
(Ah, there’s something that may well be infinite: how much we could improve.)
(But no. Even with that crack, that’s not the way to think of it. Ted Williams was celebrated for hitting the fast ball: a difficult chore. In his best season the best fastball hitter hit .400. That’s a bit better than getting a hit one third of the time. It still means failing to get a hit 6/10ths of the time. A player may improve and improve; but no matter how much he improves he should not expect to improve much more once he gets near .400. That’s got to be close to the statistical “right wall” that Stephen Jay Gould writes of.)
We say we are intelligent. I agree: so long as we don’t mean “absolutely, perfectly, infinitely.” We say we are sentient. I agree: compared to a rock. And without ET handy to compare notes with, we don’t know how we’d stand up against other sentiences in the galaxy, or in the universe.
The Bible says that God made man in his own image. The Bible often has things exactly backwards: man knows himself to be an unsuccessful magician; but instead of outgrowing his infantile hope for magic, man transfers his longing for magical control to God. OK, that part is a contrast. But then we imagine our perfect magician as like us in so many other things.
Never mind, that comparison was distracting me. I’ll edit it up, or out, another time. What I meant to get to is our imagining God as perfect this, and infinite that. I say we know no more of what “perfect” should mean than we know of “infinity” without Gamow and his successors.
I loved God and his infinite love throughout my childhood, and well on into middle age. But now I’m old, and I’m as out of patience for unqualified love as I am for attributes of an ill-considered infinity. What business does God having loving me? unless he knows me. And how well can he know me after only talking to me a few times spread out over half a century? What meaning can it possibly have for me to love him without knowing him better? A parent loves an infant unconditionally: for a few months, perhaps a few years. Beyond that we don’t dare say anything different: not in this culture, not if we want to be employable.
Understand: I am not discussing these associated thoughts. Much more could be said on any of them. But this file is for spewing things about limits, the finite: showing applicability where it’s seldom thought of. The finite impacts on many things that I hadn’t seen before, and see no reason to believe anybody had ever seen before me.
Unfortunately, my record of communicating things previously unseen has not been good. Of course it’s no worse than the records of other pioneers before me! And there’s another example. Communication. I fall in the fire. I scream. You know that I hurt myself, the fire burned me. You’ve been burned yourself, you know that it hurts.
Jesus gets scorged and crucified for being a good guy, for not smiling while Rome and the Temple wet their beak in the pennies of the poor. Getting scourged hurts. Getting crucified hurts. In fact, it’s fatal. Has Jesus communicated with us?
I see “No” as well as “Yes.” I see a lot more no than yes.
|We have communication. We can communicate.
But the amount of communication we have is finite. Imperfect. Immature.
Never mind the group fiction “Jesus.” Look at pk. has anyone ever understood a word I’ve said? Yes, more than once. Has that understanding ever spread, become general? So that the committee understands me? the group? the authorities?
If they do they’ve done an outstanding job of keeping it secret. And now the US has even censored my attempts to keep trying! The court destroyed my web sites, and as of 2008 07 5 I am still forbidden to so much as tell the public how or why I was arrested. That’s like Pontius Pilate asking Jesus the questions and then Pontius Pilate also giving the answers. The court said its say, then it also said my say. I was warned, Speak the truth, and you’ll never get out of jail. So, when it was my turn finally to speak, it was like Catch-22’s Clevinger warning Yossarian: Keep your mouth shut: if you hope ever to be back on the internet: the internet the kleptocracy stole from you, and Illich, and your idea of Jesus: the group’s guess about God.
The power of the finite I was referring to above requires that the finitude be known. We play cards with a deck in which it is known by all players that there are four suites of cards: ace, two to ten, jack, queen, king. That’s thirteen cards of each suite, fifty-two cards in all. Free Cell would be very iffy if we couldn’t rely on the deck’s contents. With all 52 cards dealt into eight files and you’re looking at a four of spaces as the bottom card of file one, it’s a certainty that there are two cards somewhere in the array than can go under the four once you find it and free it: the three of hearts and the three of diamonds. That’s true this game, it was true last game, it will be true next game. The probabilities of exposed cards matching is the same in all initial deals.
Finite / Infinite