In debates (or even just discussions) people sometimes ask how we know the physical world is really there. A variation asks how we know that what we perceive as the real world is the same as what other people perceive. (One example of this is the inverted spectrum.)
The most accurate answer is: We don’t. Not for sure, anyway. There is at least one assumption built in, but it’s one we have to make to escape our own minds. According to ancient philosophical tradition, the only fact we know for sure is that we ourselves exist. (Although I think there’s an argument to be made about a priori knowledge.)
But, as with the excluded middle, accepting reality as an axiom seems almost necessary if we’re to move forward in any useful way.
Lately I’ve been reading about compatibilism with regard to free will. While I’ve considered free will before, especially in the context of determinism, I’ve never explored compatibilism, and I decided it was time I got around to checking it out.
What triggered my renewed interest was, firstly, the movie Arrival (and the short story on which it’s based), and secondly, the HBO series, Westworld. Both have thoughtful science fiction with themes concerning free will (or its lack).
When one of my favorite physics bloggers, Sabine Hossenfelder, wrote a post about free will, it inspired me to write one, too. Monkey see, monkey do!
In Greek mythology, the hero Theseus, who slew the Minotaur and escaped its maze, returned from Crete to Athens where the Athenians preserved his ship in seaworthy state for more than a thousand years. It was an emblem of courage and a reminder of a national hero that many Greeks considered more legendary than mythological.
The Ship of Theseus was carefully maintained. Parts that rotted away were replaced with exact replicas. And in a ship made almost entirely of wood, crude iron, rope, and sail, everything rots, so eventually everything gets replaced.
Which makes the identity of the ship an interesting question.
We sometimes say that dogs are living in the now. Sometimes we say that of people who live in the moment and don’t think much about the future (or about the consequences). Whether we mean that as a compliment — as we generally do with dogs — or as an oblique implication of shallowness depends on the point we’re making.
There is the tale of the ant and grasshopper; it divides people into workers who plan for the future and players who live in the now. The former, of course, are the social role models the tale holds heroic. The grasshopper is a shifty lay-about, a ne’er do well, a loafer and a moocher, but that’s not the point.
The point is our sense of «now» and of time.
In a discussion a while back I mentioned in passing that humans sense wetness and time. That was challenged on the basis that we don’t sense time at all and — when it comes to wetness — sense only pressure and temperature. There is some truth to that. We don’t have an actual time sensor, nor do we have specific “wetness” sensors.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since (not constantly; you know, on and off). A key question is whether wetness can be reduced to pressure and temperature and remain wetness. And time is a topic all on its own!
For the record: Here is my final answer…
It was never the plan for this blog, but I’ve found myself several times writing about morals (for example: here, here, and very recently here). In those posts I touched on what morality means and how we might define it. I make no claim to breaking new ground or having anything particularly insightful to say — just my 1/50th of a buck based on my own observations, thoughts, and experiences.
The last week or so a set of three thought threads wound through the loom of my mind and seemed to form an interesting fabric. They have to do with the nature of morals, the usefulness of reason, and our modern sense of otherness.
Today I’m going to try to make something out of that fabric.
You couldn’t know this, but my blogging workspace is littered with balls of virtual crumpled paper. The ones writers make when they rip failed writing attempts from their typewriter, smush them up in disgust, and toss them disdainfully over their shoulder. This post — which has been in my mental queue for well over a year — has the strongest resistance to being written that I’ve ever encountered.
I wrote the note you see here somewhere back in 2013. It seemed like exactly the sort of thought chain that would make an interesting post. Many of the items in that chain (consciousness, art, science) are things that fascinate me and are even areas this blog tries to discuss.
So why is a post about it so dang hard to write?
I’ve been playing with Python and POV-Ray, catching up on movies, enjoying the continued nice weather, and even getting in some reading. Yet it’s still weird how little I seem to get done considering the days are all mine. (And I still haven’t fully shaken the sense that all this free time ends at some point.)
For now I plan to focus on project work—the previously mentioned Python and POV-Ray playing—so there may be a pause in the posting while I putter (possibly a plethora of pauses). Please stay tuned!
In the meantime, I have some questions: