I criticised the Human Brain Project about this time last year, and recently responded to this Aeon piece by Robert Epstein;

“The Empty Brain.
Your brain does not process information,
retrieve knowledge or store memories.
In short: your brain is not a computer.”

Well actually, of course, I say it does and it is;

Your brain does process information,
does store memories
and does retrieve knowledge.
It does do computation.

What’s wrong is the component model of a computer as some kind of CPU plus RAM/Storage. As I said when I commented earlier in the week, it’s actually a good article (recommended again today by Massimo Pigliucci) it just suffers from headline-writer’s click-bait.


[Post Note : Someone rejecting the same Epstein piece & headline above and who agrees with me for the same component modelling reasons:]

Yes, Your Brain Certainly Is a Computer

Did you hear the news, Victoria? Over in the States those clever Yanks have invented a flying machine!
– A flying machine! Good heavens! What kind of feathers does it have?
– Feathers? It has no feathers.
– Well, then, it cannot fly. Everyone knows that things that fly have feathers. It is preposterous to claim that something can fly without them.


Vaguely (subconscious irony) aware of David Gray’s upcoming Liminal Thinking publication, and reminded today by a Facebook post from Johnnie Moore (which itself has a hat tip to Jon Husband) that set me thinking – a riff linking some thinking, rather than any deep reading of the references (yet).

Johnnie’s trigger was “Tyranny of the explicit” which obviously resonated with my whole agenda. The memetic problem that we over-value the explicit, demand the implicit is made explicit, because it’s much easier to count, express, communicate, manipulate, select and validate explicit forms than simply accept the implicit. Our culture – the objective memeplex – rejects acceptance of the implicit. Ease-of-argument wins over value-of-content. (Obviously very consistent with my current Wittgensteinian Logical methods vs Language games vein of work, but that’s not the riff here.)

No, what fired off the links was the Liminal Thinking graphic on David’s web pages, presumably in his book:

Culture OS 016

The thing is the 3-layer model is my “everything comes in 3 layers, even the layers” mantra. Any “layer” of anything has three aspects, itself and interfaces to two others. This is useful anytime we express conceptual models in 2D or 3D views representing lines and surfaces, as we do mentally all the time whether we capture them explicitly or not (whiteboard, powerpoint, any information model in any publishable form – see “ease” memetic point above). But that’s a generic point. (XPLANE is the branding of David’s consulting business, which obviously uses his liminal thinking thinking – an obvious allusion.)

The specific important point is that this particular

Conscious <> Liminal <> Unconscious

3-layer model of thinking maps in an interesting way to a particular physical model of the brain

Left Hemisphere <> Corpus Callosum <> Right Hemisphere

Now, left-right brain myths won’t go away, even though many now find it easier to simply dismiss such ideas. The point is explicit myths about left-right brain differences are wrong. What is important is their three-layer architecture, not their differences. The interface mediates how processing in the two halves communicate with each other and keeps different forms of thought processing separate at any given time. Apart from some major, broad specialisations of dedicated connections, most of the cortex is generic and plastic enough to be involved in any kind of processing of any topics of consideration at any time – but the architecture is always there to enable joined-up thinking. (See Iain McGilchrist) Pretty sure the real (best) conceptual model of thinking has to be:

Particular & Explicit <> Liminal (Interfacing) <> Abstract & Implicit

The problem looks like explicit dominating the implicit, but in fact they interact not directly, through a zero-substance interface, but through a significant and substantial interface in which important processing happens. How literally the conceptual maps to the physical is not important – ie our physical models are ultimately conceptual (informational) anyway. Liminal thinking processes are worth understanding, valuing and learning to use.

Looking forward to Liminal Thinking by David Gray.

I’ve cited (for example) C J Werleman and Anne-Marie Waters as activist-commentators who undoubtedly “get it” and are undoubdtedly committed to making change for the better for all of us. Helping to escape the mess we’re sliding into. And I say that even though both engage in the kind of rhetoric I often find counter-productive – too negatively focussed on specific partisan and personal targets. When I feel the need to criticise them, they know it, but that’s messy risk-taking politics for you. Somebody has to do it. (The court-jesters have to do it too – the Frankie Boyles, the David Baddiels and the Rod Liddles – but they are less directly concerned with leading and creating solutions.)

Whichever current aspect of “the mess we’re in” takes the current headlines – terrorist-extremism, human-rights, religious-secularism, migration, islamaphobia, ant-semitism, there can be no doubt that Israel’s relationships with its Arab neighbours and the West’s relationships with both are the major factor at the core of the mess. The mess we’re in is the Middle-East problem. Apart from more general international political and strategic issues like access to oil & gas, land and natural resources, Israel would be the specific tangible element we could point to. If we had to focus on one “thing” – Israel would be that thing – as in “Israel is the problem, so let’s solve it.”

This much I’ve said before, and the tangled and flawed history of events and responsibilities that got us to where we are now, are constant topics here. If we wanted to get there we wouldn’t start from here, but here we are and wishful thinking is no solution.

Saying Israel is the problem is a million miles from concluding Israel is a mistake so let’s somehow just get rid of it; undo the mistake. Several post-WWI/WWII generations of jews, including those that call Israel home, have human rights (and responsibilities) like the rest of us. It’s “antisemitic” to suggest the current mess is prejudiced on the “fault” of their being Jewish and/or Israeli. It’s not antisemitic to agree that Israel is a problem in need of a solution.

My own main agenda happens to be the intellectual honesty of how we understand and make decisions around such complex problems in the real world – nuance is the friend of truth – but political action requires much more. C J has been publicising his own recent first-hand Israel-Palestine experence. Today Anne-Marie has just announced her “Project for Israel” – getting to the core of first-hand understanding of what really are the current problems.

Give her your support.


[Post Note: As if to prove my point, people who get the real underlying problems engage in rhetoric targetted negatively at each other. Whatever happened to good fences make good neighbours?

I’ve latched onto the idea of a Gestalt view of the world several times in the recent past, and spent most words describing the idea in a post earlier this year with reference to von Bertalanffy’s Problems of Life.

As noted in several other recent posts, I’m reading Ray Monk’s Wittgenstein, the Duty of Genius (DoG) and finding it excellent. After one post picking up points from the first (Tractatus) half of that biography, I have been finding so much more good material in DoG that my notes would, as ever, produce as much blog post as the original text I’m reading. Too much. However, the gestalt idea recurs many times with Wittgenstein, firing off connections with my other existing thoughts.

Monk is emphasising that Wittgenstein’s views on confusions in describing what it means to “get” a joke and or “appreciate” a piece of music or art, are really the same confusions he is pointing out in philosophical problems with science:

Understanding humour, like understanding music, provides an analogy for Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophical understanding. What is required for understanding here is not the discovery of facts, nor the drawing of logically valid inferences from accepted premises – nor still less, the construction of theories – but rather … the right point of view.

We are too easily “Aspect Blind”. We are so used to seeing our model of the physical world as the dominant worldview that we tend to see other aspects – gestalts – as secondary, less tangible objects. We discount or fail to recognise these gestalts as real objects, even fail to see them entirely. We fail to see that the dominant physical model (of science) is itself a gestalt, albeit a very important and useful one.

So many Wittgenstein references to aspect blindness put me in mind of Hofstadter and his Tabletop thought experiment for illustrating Creative Analogies by imagining objects and relationships orthogonal – on a different plane – to those explicitly available in the model in the explicit design space or theatre of operations front of you. The physical objects on the tabletop are – in some sense – no less real than those you can imagine, even though they may be unreal in the physical sense. It’s not a problem that they are not physically real. In fact they’re so useful, they are necessary to human reality.

Indeed Wittgenstein already made the same connection:

“What would a person who is blind towards these aspects be lacking?
It’s absurd not to answer: the power of imagination.”

Three corollaries come to mind, without further elaboration here: One, that physics is fundamentally at root Information & Computation (previously on Psybertron and recently in New Scientist). Two, that the gestalt idea is pretty fundamental to physical problems with Anthropic Principles. Discounting trivial AP interpretations, all our models of the world – even our most objective physical sciences – are modelled from our actual human perspective in the cosmos. Our models are all anthropic; they are our gestalts (previously on Psybertron). Three, that creative analogies with approximate relations and definitions are valid because they are approximate (analogous but not identical). If they were one-to-one mappings in every respect – tautologous identities – they wouldn’t tell us any new knowledge. What matters is how good they are. Reminded me of Dennett (a) putting off definitions until you find something worth defining and (b) working with the kinda / sorta operator in developing arguments, ideas and theories.


[Post Note : Drafted and published simultaneously with the above is Rev Sam’s (Elizaphanian) most recent post, also on the imaginative aspect of physical reality (targetted at Dawkins). As I may have mentioned, Sam of course was person who first introduced me to Wittgenstein.]

[Post Note : Having now read to the end, so much more I could say, but strangely the one item for now is the phrase immediately following the last one quoted above:

…. the power of imagination.

But the imagination of individuals, though necessary, is not sufficient. What is further required for people to be “alive” to aspects (gestalts) [and therefore humour, music, poetry, arts generally] is a culture.

That “Tabletop” from which leaps of imagination are made is the smorgasbord of existing things accepted as being “a thing” in the surrounding culture. I’m guessing in the arts and humanities, no-one would find that cultural take remotely controversial. Of course what we’re saying, Wittgenstein and I, is that’s just as true for philosophy, politics, economics and science. Established memeplexes provide the background, the platform, from which new memes can spring. The previously accepted things are no more real that the new imagined things. It’s their ongoing acceptance, standing the empirical tests of time in terms of validity and utility, that differ. The imagined can become accepted and culturally established, or not.]

As part of my recap / catch-up on Wittgenstein I’m at last reading Ray Monk’s “Duty of Genius“, much referenced in other readings of course, but reading the original for the first time. This is my mid-point review (his 1929 return to Cambridge) to capture my own agenda points with notes under 3 headings:

The Job Done – Did Wittgenstein believe he’d put philosophy to bed in the Tractatus?
The Incompleteness – Is Gödel consisent with the Tractatus on incompleteness?
The Kunmanngasse House – A metaphor for the Tractatus

[DoG – the Duty of Genius]
[TLP – the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus]

The Job Done

I’m finding very little to disagree with in DoG and indeed it is truly excellent in joining the man to his work, a recurring interest of mine to understand where P was coming from when they wrote X. Lots of clarification and deepening of detail as well as confirmation and reinforcement of the broader themes. Scholarly and human. Recommended. Excellent as I say.

As I’ve said many times, the one Wittgenstein meme that continually nags me is the suggestion he believed he’d solved philosophy in writing TLP and that this was why he ostensibly removed himself from philosophical activity for the decade 1919 to 1928.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Discounting for a moment that his knowledge of academic philosophy as a whole was limited and selective beyond Russell (eg Kant, Schopenauer, Nietzsche) due to his age and experience, he knew philosophy was a lot more than the immediate target audience of TLP. For the logicians it was all that could be said, but what couldn’t be said with formal logical language – metaphysically, ontologically, epistemologically – was as he had also said, a lot more and a lot more important. He had solved the problem of logicians, if they could understand what he had done. Nothing more, nothing less.

Frustrated that they didn’t get it, again as he knew they couldn’t do immediately without the will to do so, he left them (hopefully) to study and absorb what he had done, whilst he went off to walk his talk. To walk his non-talk in fact – to live, experience the aesthetic of real life – to do the more important part of philosophy. Watch me. He was taking his own medicine, again probably frustratedly hoping they would notice his message.

Of course lived experience through and after WWI had a massive psychological effect on intelligent humans as well as the enormous physical effects on people and states in general. But, even in normal times there would be no best laid plans for developing the greater unspoken half of any human enterprise. Plans apply only to the formally describable elements. Very much puts me in mind of T E Lawrence.

Whilst he indeed had no interest in elaborating or extending TLP (its scope was complete, to him) he was of course keen to hear of it’s progress.

To Ogden in 1923, who had suggested his own “Meaning of Meaning” solved a problem with meaning in TLP, Wittgenstein said:

“I believe you have not caught the problems which I was at in [TLP] (whether or not I have given the correct solution).”

He was realistic enough to know his work wasn’t perfect (complete and consistent) but he was simply not interested in debating any detail criticisms of TLP until he saw evidence that his main objectives were accepted or even recognised.

Later the same year working on detail TLP clarifications with Ramsey whom he did find sufficiently open and sympathetic (and able), Ramsey is “illuminated” to confirm that:

He [Wittgenstein] is very interested in it [clarifying TLP] …

Although, what he is not interested in and why, he continues:

… he says his mind is no longer flexible and he can never write another book.

Corresponding with Keynes Wittgenstein makes it clear why he is resisting a return to formal philosophical activity. He would dearly love to in fact, he knows there is useful work to be done, but he can’t:

… because I myself no longer have any strong inner drive towards that sort of activity …. the spring has run dry.

He is fixated on the specific importance of TLP not being recognised, that he is effectively unable to move on until it is. Especially frustrating that the need to move on is all the greater since what is not said in TLP is the more important part of the necessary work. There is no doubt of his obsessive personality regarding whatever his current project. Not listening is normal for him. Accusations of madness are not in short supply either, and he understands the psychology that actively pushing and promoting (the written contents of) TLP to anyone not already sympathetic to his agenda, can only backfire on his credibility. Harranguing those previously sympathetic has already consumed all their available attention and patience. He’s obsessive to the point of madness, and he knows it.

Relationship-wise Wittgenstein undoubtedly needed mutual intimacy for any human interaction to work. The formal content of any argument is the smaller part of what it takes to add any value. The humanity is all. The contradiction is all too clear to him as his frustrations lead to his own inhuman treatment of others when the inability to communicate what is necessary. That’s his point, the Catch-22 of TLP. He himself is consistent about this, whatever the topic or context. As he says to Eccles

It is no use writing to you about [it]
as I couldn’t explain the exact nature of [it].
You will [have to] see it for yourself.

The job of philosophy is far from being complete in TLP. Living life beyond the page, you have to see it for yourself before the job can progressed to completion.

The Incompleteness

This inability to properly define what is needed axiomatically in philosophical logic has obvious parallels with Gödel in mathematical logic. So having seen the view from Gödel’s side, I was interested to see the connection from the Wittgenstein perspective. Monk makes only two Gödel references in DoG.

Firstly, Wittgenstein’s work was planned as 1/4 of the whole agenda at the 1930 Konigsberg conference, whereas the conference was in fact overshadowed by von Neumann’s unplanned announcement of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem(s). Since his proof was based on numbers, it has been debated whether it really only applies to arithmetic rather than the whole of (mathematical and philosophical) logic. I happen to believe that IF you want to express your philosophy in that kind mathematical logic you are indeed bound by incompleteness – consistent with both Gödel and Wittgenstein. As Monk says, Wittgenstein’s only comments on Gödel were primitive and dismissive, so:

Whether Wittgenstein accepted this [common] interpretation of Gödel’s result is a moot point.

[Follow-up – S. G. Shanker reference.]

Secondly, in the 1940’s, Wittgenstein had some significant and regular interaction with student Georg Kreisel who later went on to become an important Gödel scholar. Although Wittgenstein considere Kreisel to be …

“… the most able philosopher he had ever met who was also a mathematician.”

… it seems ultimately they were really talking past each other. Kreisel’s work was to be part of mathematical logic whereas Wittgenstein’s was seen as an attack on the same field, and Kreisel was dismissive (and perhaps embittered):

“Wittgenstein’s views on mathematical logic are not worth much.”

“The [Blue and Brown] books are deplorable.”

As Monk says, Wittgenstein’s precise relation to Gödel is moot, which looks like a lost opportunity.

The Kunmanngasse House

And, finally for now, at this mid-way point, the Kunmanngasse House architected in typically obsessive and austere detail by Wittgenstein is a wonderful metaphor for his work so far.

Hermine [Wittgenstein, sister] said … even though I admired the house very much […] it seemed to be much more a dwelling for the gods than for a small mortal like me. [I felt] opposition to [its] perfection and monumentality; to this “house embodied logic”.

Monk adds … the qualities of clarity, rigour and precision that characterise it are indeed those one looks for in a system of logic rather than in a dwelling place. Wittgenstein made extraordinarily few concessions to [humans].

Shit is complicated, “simplistication” is bad, and the phrase of the day is:

Nuance is the Friend of Truth

Apparently Thomas Paine said:

“He Who Dares Not Offend Cannot Be Honest”

Yet again today, people who should know better confusing the ideas that freedom of expression is universal and that no-one has the right not to be offended, with the idea that there is some universal right to offend.

It is in fact perfectly true to say:

“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending religion, culture and tradition.”

[Tweet (quoted above) by Chief Inspector Umer Khan deleted in response to twitter responses, including from the BHA.]

There is however no corollary that says the offender has any rights to harm or curb the freedoms of the offendee. I first ran up against this confusion when the main topic of the World Humanist Congress 2014 was Freedom of Thought and Expression. The Congress debated and created an “Oxford Declaration” that elaborated on the equivalent UN Declaration on freedoms of religious and non-religious thought and expression. Both declarations are actually very good, and subtly nuanced in all their glory:

In the same way, IHEU, BHA, NSS and all free-thought secularists everywhere are offended when the UN declaration is abbreviated to “The Declaration of Religious Freedom” implying any universal freedoms for religion in general, we should all be equally offended when the absence of any right not to be offended is abbreviated to:

“The Freedom to Offend”

There is no such right or freedom to offend anyone (religious or otherwise) in any declaration anywhere.

As a political campaigning organisation BHA has the same right as anyone to abbreviated soundbites to get our messages across and our immediate aims achieved. But we must not confuse the rhetorical soundbites with actual truth beyond immediate campaigning aims. The truth is much more nuanced.


Previously on Psybertron – There is No “Right to Offend”.
(With links to two follow-ups, and a fourth summary of all three.)

Just a quickie to support several ongoing conversations:

Road Map – the terrain, the lie of the land, the landscape, the features of the context space, possible multiple destinations that different plans might aim to arrive at. Only the topological / schematic logic is important – that the destinations exist, and that they are linked functionally – some logical ordering in how they would need to be achieved – if there were agreed plan(s) / project(s). Obviously the choice of what to show on the RoadMap always presumes some worthwhile set of objectives.

Strategy – the “what and why” rationale and an outline “how” plan for a chosen (set of) main target destination(s)

Plan – an actual plan, intent and project resources organised to do specific things to deliver specific destination(s). A specific route through the road map to reach the given strategic objective.

Tactic – any other what, why and how priority actions alongside the plan or strategy, especially if they don’t self-evidently fit their strategic logic and objectives.

There is no once and for all hard-line definitions of what falls within each of these, but they are distinct at any time. Once a tactic is elf-evidently part of the plan or strategy, then it is. Until then it’s not. Plans can be strategic and/or tactical. Once specific strategic objective(s) and or plan(s) are agreed, then a road-map can be redrafted to reflect or emphasise only that chosen scope, etc. But what is unsaid in a given context remains unsayable and is always more significant than what is not.