Monday, September 11, 2017


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tongue and cheek by jowl through the little gray cells

If quantum physics must supplant Newtonian physics, what are the implications for biology (and all the other sciences, for that matter, not to mention philosophy, ethics, and whatever else you care to name ... linguistics, anyone?)? At some point physics and biology must agree. (Or not. For those who know, things are just as they are; for those who don’t know, things are … just as they are.) If atoms come together to form molecules that come together to form both diamonds and dogs, the same process (processes, if you wish) must act on both. If matter is energy and energy matter, if nothing has substance, then substance is nothing, neither dogs nor diamonds. All and everything is naught but potentialities, possibilities.

Metaphors, analogies, analogs take on more important roles in this unified notion of science. Dawkin's notion from The Selfish Gene that humans are "gene machines" must yield in the new order of things. Mechanistic metaphors add a simplicity that is misleading to the proceedings and fatally misstates the nature of organic things (inorganic things as well no doubt). Newtonian physics does the same.

If the static view of the process of atoms and universes is adopted, this stasis underlines the dramatic quality of both planets and peanuts. They become tangible items, objective, 'real'. Understood as a dynamic process, however, these peanuts and planets (and all that other 'real' stuff) become something if not intangible at least less substantial, merely an energy blip, say; and a 'solid' then becomes more like electricity or water (or like the spinning rotor of a helicopter, 'acting' rather solid, but not solid at all).

A solid that is a solid, but that is not a solid, sounds a bit like one hand clapping. Allow me to turn to linguistics now to deal with this business of words and the meaning of words and so reach some conclusion about reality.

Language, like particle physics, is not a static business. Language is nothing, in my view, if not a dynamic process. A story told of T.E. Lawrence is that he spelled the names of his Arab characters in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom using a variety of letter groupings. When an editor called Lawrence to acquaint him with his various misspellings, Lawrence replied, Perfect. The names, in T. E.'s view, were not static entities, but changed in accordance with situational demands: emotion, location, inclination, and a host of others. English speakers do much the same thing. Tommy becomes Thomas becomes T-dog.

Most studies of language generally use various categories to create a more manageable subject. The four most common are phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. More, no doubt, have been added. We are pattern seeking folk and where a group of two might do, a group of four will do even better, and a group of eight better yet and a group of ... hair splitting ad nauseam. Be that as it may, the basic group stands. Phonology is the study of the sounds of the language (and the human physiology necessary to make those sounds). Morphology studies the grouping of those sounds into intelligible groupings of sounds (not, technically, 'words', though 'words' certainly gives the flavor of what morphology is about). Syntax is the organization or structure of words, the rules concerning how they can be grouped. Semantics is the study of the meaning of words.

Wittgenstein's theory from the 1930's that meaning is derived from use seems to be holding its own. Given that, the meaning of words (and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and entire well crafted essays) remains a slippery slope. 'Solid', as we have already seen, can be used a number of ways. Clearly, Mr. Johnson's rock was a solid. Mr. Einstein's rock was not.

The question that arises is, so what? Does it matter? Can we ignore 'solid' and take a shortcut through the bank walls picking up some spending money on the way? No problem. Well, some problem. Physically, nothing changes. Hit the wall, raise a bruise. Intellectually, everything changes. To give but one example: To understand that nothing has substance is to understand the subjective nature of all prejudice, whatever the -ism. No basis for differentiation exists. Value systems, ethics, morals will have to be reexamined. (A counter argument is, of course, that anyone who can understand the argument made here will understand the folly of prejudice. To add one more loop, reason explicates the argument; emotion feeds the bias: A logician might still be a racist.)

So, what?

Any attempt to write a cogent Unified Theory combining all the sciences---primarily particle physics and biology---might require a team comprised of a competent batch of evolutionary biologists, a competent batch of nuclear physicists, a few generalists from other scientific endeavors, a mathematician or two, a linguist (only one would be best for no two can agree), and a tolerant metaphysician. If Merlin became available, he would be perfect for the job. The various roles of the scientists and the mathematicians seem self-evident; the job of the linguist is less obvious. He or she would be needed to clarify possible meanings of words and to help construct an appropriate metaphor. The metaphor would be, from where I sit, the critical piece. (Spare me, please, the computer.

Any semblance of a resemblance between organisms and binary systems is naught but smoke and mirrors. Ask this question: Is language a binary system? Might it be? One hundred muscles and a dozen or more physical components [lips, teeth, tongue tip, tongue body, tongue base, epiglottis, larynx, to name just the most obvious] produce the sounds of the language. All of these 'parts' have to work together nearly simultaneously in order to do their work. All of these 'parts' seem to be networked with groups of neurons in the brain that initiate the process. To say, 'Yikes! There's a worm in my apple' begins with perception [we see the worm in the apple, neurons fire, a message is sent to the amygdale and, if we had first taken a bite, we might spit before we apprehend the message about the worm)]. Perception leads to messages to various neuron groups; a word is formed, or words, and we say: Yikes! There's a worm in my apple. And this explanation is probably simplistic. At least three rather complex networks work to produce the words. A binary system? Doesn't seem so to me.)

Before one generates a theory of what language is and how it works, perhaps a theory of what perception is should be offered. Language seems to begin with simple pattern recognition: Perceive a pattern (Yikes! There's a worm in my apple.). After perception, comes language; and the rules for symbolic representation of perceptions (commonly, for English, using some expandable notation such as NP + VP + Obj or Subject-Verb-Object) can be applied to explicate what is said. Most linguistic studies work at expanding the model to be all-inclusive. The object might be defined as a NP with a prepositional phrase embedded that contains a NP and on and on. This is usually known as a recursive system (loops looping within loops) and allows for an infinite number of unique expressions.

If one begins begin with the notion that the human animal is a pattern-seeking creature (before language or ideation, there is organization and differentiation), and that this pattern-seeking must precede language, then some form of symbolic representation is needed to explicate the pattern-seeking. The proposal here takes the form of an either-or-proposition. The statement proposed seems applicable to everything organic from amoebae to aardvarks (not just the human animal; and, as we‘ll see, to the inorganic 'creatures' as well). The statement is:

either:     P = aHA

where P = seek pattern, and aHA = stop at harmonious array.

or:    P = pp » ppp » pppp .…. A

where P = seek pattern, and pp » ppp » pppp = continue seeking pattern, and A = analysis that leads to theory.

The second part of the statement indicates a comprehensive search for fundamental particles (some harmonious array), a search that continues infinitely, or ends when analysis yields to theory. This is science. Occasionally one might have an aHA moment when analysis and intuition merge to some conclusion, an ending fraught with potentiality.

a harmonious array

If 'fundamental particles' all become 'dynamic processes' than all of Newton becomes static representationalism. How true the static models remain becomes problematic. Particle physics (i.e., the interdependent interactions of discrete bits of energy) might be analogous to electricity and the universe (or an atom or a mushroom) might be analogous to a light bulb. Hit the switch to 'on' and there they are; hit the switch to 'off' and there they are not. It might be argued, of course, that 'dynamic processes' are also mere representation, metaphor. That seems to be a function of language for which there is no escape. Mathematics? The numbers add more formality and have a tighter (in the sense that a band is 'tight') sound; but representation remains.

Arguably, the universe does not exist anywhere outside of our own minds. (“Beginningless time and the present moment are the same. There is no this and that,” says Huang Po.1 ) And if you are inclined to scoff at metaphysics---the business of mystics---then you're missing the space probe, dude. Enlightenment looks exactly like electricity feels. Everyone has experienced moments that might be called epiphanies (defined nicely by James Joyce; feel free to look it up). Enlightenment feels just like that only more so, a moment when you suddenly know. If we become one with the universe, then consciousness, words, language, physics, biology, all might cease to exist. Or rather existence and nonexistent become one and the same, or two sides of a coin, or create your own metaphor.
Of course, if that's the case, we have nothing to discuss. It's a great deal more fun to probe the final frontier (particle consciousness?).

(Just a quick note on chemically induced 'epiphanies' or 'enlightened states': Chemically induced insights are to intuitive insights as Rhett Butler is to Clark Gable.)

If we begin, then, with our two algorithms:

either:     P = aHA

or:     P = pp » pp » ppp ..... A

what follows is the proposition that the human animal will seek, at every opportunity, either a pattern that leads to some harmonious array, or that leads to an analytical solution provided by some fundamental unit. Works of art, generally, provide examples of the first case. Science, generally, provides examples of the second case.

It might be prudent to backtrack here, and ask if all organic entities follow this same pattern. Amoebae seem to if we allow 'pattern' a broader definition. Temperature change causes a reaction in amoebae. Looking for lunch, Mr A sends out a foot. The foot finds not food, but heat. The foot withdraws. The 'pattern' of heat did not suit Mr A and so it went looking elsewhere for lunch.

Pattern seeking, given this broad scope, seems to be rather fundamental. Even cell division, a subject that many think still wants a good explanation: amoebae get to a certain size, the nucleus splits, and daughter cells come to be; but why? They die otherwise. Well, they don't know the difference. Probably just the way chemicals are. Probably has something to do with stability and instability of particles. Probably doesn't have anything to do with living and dying at all. That would be just so much anthropomorphisizing. Maybe the particles are just looking for a stable pattern to be in. Maybe something else.

Is all that circuitous? Never mind. Hopefully we'll find a harmonious array up ahead somewhere.

Let's throw one more wrench into the works. Can these algorithms be reconciled with Natural Selection? By defining a particular molecular combination as an array or pattern, what is selection but the process of replicating the most successful (in terms of longevity, fidelity, etc) arrays? The algorithms don't work as neatly, but they work. And if patterns are denied, perhaps the denial is a function of the tools we are using (procedures, analysis, and both the language of mathematics and the language of writing). When mind is engaged indirectly (or not at all---hmmm?), insights (anecdotal evidence suggests crucial insights emerge when the mind is engaged in some mundane activity such as boarding a bus, or pedaling a bicycle down the garden path) can then be subjected to procedure, analysis, and language.

A third proposition seems necessary for the sake of completeness and circularity. This second 'or' adds little complexity, but does cover a common state of mind: The new statement reads:

or:       P = pp » ppp » pppp ..... ? wHA

All we need to show is that what mind does is seek patterns. (A definition of 'pattern' must include both redundancy and relationship.) So our formula might look like this:

either:        P = aHA:cx

or:     P = pp » ppp » pppp .…. A

or:     P = pp » ppp » pppp ….. ? wHA

where 'P' is once again pattern seeking and 'aHA:cx' becomes some indefinite array. Just which array is fixed on becomes a function of context (cx). Lower case 'p' and its reiteration becomes the infinite search for a harmonious array that, for some, will terminate in analysis and subsequent theory; but for others will continue indefinitely into a frustrating future.

Best to keep in mind that one man's aHA is another fella's ?wHA.

And what of rocks? Crystals are arrayed differently than sediment. And photons? Fire them individually through the double slit and watch the pattern emerge. And frogs? Discrete bundles of energy that form an array that humans have labeled amphibian. The taxonomic record itself is a tribute to our drive to find patterns.

It seems that any Unified Theory in whatever discipline must begin with patterns. Are the patterns 'real', or are they creations of Mind? Again, it is a circuitous and futile exercise to say nothing exists but Mind. (This is what Huang Po says! Yikes.) It is plenty to say that all things---organic and inorganic--- array themselves into patterns; or, conversely, that all things---organic or inorganic---are pattern seekers. It seems to come to the same thing.

Is Consciousness a pattern of Mind? Does Language mirror Mind and/or Consciousness? The jury is still out. (Smoke 'em if you got 'em.) Is biology best described at a quantum level using the patterns of particle physics? Will quantum physics provide an analogy for universal processes? Is the analogy not an analog at all but a 'reality'? Is this all merely semantics? Language stringing us along? Mind hanging us out to dry? Turning slowly, slowly in the wind, crows coming to peck at our eyes, vultures … (whoa, Nellie, when did E. Poe morph in?)

Basta. Let H. Po have the last word: the ultimate array is no array is all arrays.

One and infinity be equal.

One hand applauding.


1The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, translated by John Blofeld. Evergreen, 13th edition, p58 

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