Category: tram

tram #3

June 6th, 2016 — 3:34pm


It has been a while since i saw the guy and the girl on the tram. This time i only caught the end of their conversation before they got up abruptly and left.


“So there can only be one observer in a coherent system of knowledge” said the girl with the orange hair.

“All particulars must be either observed or not observed, but never both. And to say what kind of knowledge we have of a something, it is essential that we know if it is observed, and to discover this we must have a single clearly defined observer.”

“Is this because you have been reading about Schrodinger’s cat?” asked her friend.

“No it’s not just that. The cat helps. I mean, the alive/dead state of the cat wave form collapses when it is observed. We know that. But it is the same with anything.  The moon doesn’t even exist when i look away.”

“How can that be?”

“Well there are two ways. Firstly, because the collapse of the wave form. But more importantly, it all goes back to how i know anything.”

“You see, in the beginning, when i was a baby, there was just a stream of sense data. It was sense data and the knowledge, the only piece of knowledge i think we have, of existing. It’s not even knowledge, just a sort of being, it comes before thought.  It comes before observation. Because this stream of sense data.. it’s like the number plane, it just keeps coming. And at some point, i suppose, we are able to say ‘well that’s different’. We notice something has changed. And that probably is our first observation. So it goes “i exist ===> i observe (a change).  The opposite way to Descartes actually.”

“And this sort of thing must go on for a while, and all the while importantly the tape is running, so we are recording somehow, we have memory. And then we notice something and we realise that have noticed it before and that’s the first ‘ah’ moment. It’s importantly different to just floating on the stream. Maybe it happens in the first few days when we notice the pattern of our mother’s heart beat and everything swelling with it. So it’s our first pattern recognition event. And it’s our first real knowledge.”

“But we are making a leap already,without even noticing it, we are leaping into knowledge of the future. For we are going to assume, something having occurred before, and it happening again, we are going to be ready for it to happen in the future. We don’t know, of course, this is the problem of induction. There is no certainty. We cannot even know, it is the first fear perhaps, that our mother’s own heart beat won’t even continue. It seems regular, it seems to always be going on and on. We don’t know. Although in time, in the mind of a tiny baby in the womb, perhaps it comes to be taken for granted. And so we come to rely on patterns and we start to map out the future from the past.”

“And then there is the great event, that first death which we all experienced. The heartbeat ends, the darkness is blown away, the cold rushes in, and we are born.  What a bittersweet thing, to lose that heartbeat, and yet discover that we still have one of our own. What can be left to discover after that…”

There was a sudden jolt and everyone on the tram was knocked over, the girl dropped some books, which spilled over the floor. I dropped a coffee i was holding and after i finished apologising to the old lady with the dog, i noticed that her friend had already helped her to put them back in her bag. Then it was her stop and they both got off.

I saw them again the next day though, and they still seemed to be talking about induction. This time the boy was talking.

“All observations are based on the knowledge that ‘I am observing’ which is derived from those first few months of life.  It is all built up from the earliest beginnings, with thoughts such as “when I open my eyes, the light arrives”. All this knowledge is inductive, we still haven’t got any further than that first step of noticing the stream of sense data. We just have a steadily growing bank of past experience to draw more complicated reference to.  It is impossible to get past the supposition…”

The girl interrupted.

“But the stream is still there, the sense data. And this is the important thing, this is the only thing that is real. Everything else has been built up out of nothing. And so this is why unobserved entities simply can’t exist. They have no reason to exist. There is no grounds for them to exist. The cat doesn’t even exist until it is observed.”

“what about other minds then?” asked the boy

The girl thought for a minute and then replied.

“Consciousness is not an observed entity. Consciousness shares its character with that first thought, “I exist”. So the grounds for the existence of other minds is stronger than for other sense data. It is like discovering our own reflection in something. Other minds are not ordinary matter.”

They walked away then and i have not seen them again since.

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Tram #2

June 13th, 2013 — 12:20pm

tram courtesy

i saw that strange couple on a tram again today. They were still discussing philosophy.

“the theory of all possible worlds being actual concrete worlds is just fantastic. I mean, i don’t personally find this a challenge to my conception of existence at all” said the man.

“oh really?” said the girl “how so?”

“well, the word ‘concrete’ is actually a distraction. It begs the question a little. If you are going to call this reality ‘concrete’ then what you are immediately suggesting that it is already established that this reality is a solid thing in comparison to other kinds of reality. And in order to elevate other kinds of reality to ‘concreteness’ then there is so much concrete everywhere most people will find that just a bit absurd, a bit greek perhaps. but let me argue another way. This reality as i see it is nothing like concrete at all – it is in fact a dream. It’s a very good dream, and it’s the dream that i am dreaming now, so it is the superior dream among dreams. But it is simply that, a dream. And dreams can indeed take as many forms as you imagine. There is no limit. And each one can take the form of ‘reality’ no matter how absurd it might seem from the perspective of this particular dream, once you are in the new dream, everything is coherent and ‘concrete’ if you like. So the many worlds theorem describes for me perfectly the life of my dreams and imagination, infact this is the fabric of my universe in a nutshell, so i don’t have any problems with it at all.”

The girl was munching on some chips and chocolate, when a little caterpillar crawled out of an apple that sat on her lap.

“so this dream, this reality, which happens to be the concrete one at the moment, is like an apple” she said

“how so?” asked the guy

“So in your many worlds theory, for every reality which exists, there must be countless other realities which are exactly like it in every respect – except for just one thing which is different, which makes them separate realities. Let’s not look at how small that different thing has to be, let’s just say it is the smallest thing that anyone notices. So before you even get to the really crazy realities out there where donkeys talk and pigs constantly fly around, there are in fact already an infinite number of realities which are identical to this one, except for that one thing which happens to make them different. And what could that one thing be? Well it could be anything at all. In fact, your theory must say that there is an actual reality out there which is precisely the same as this one, where you and I are having this conversation, but suddenly in the middle of this conversation which is happening right now in that other universe, a pink rabbit quickly flashes into and out of existence right in front of us, for a second, just long enough to notice. And then both realities continue in exactly the same way, because in that reality it is completely normal for a pink rabbit to have flashed up. I am not talking about the reality which is like this one up till now, where the rabbit flashes into existence and out, and then there are other consequences which start to go to work to make that reality digress from this one – no, that is not the alternate reality i am interested in. I am interested in that reality where the whole design makes it possible for a pink rabbit to wink in and out of existence right at this moment and for that to be perfectly normal, and for everything else to go on in precisely the same way as in this reality, right to the end of time. I am interested because it says something about cause and effect. It says that cause and effect can be made to do whatever you want, once you stand back from the system. The rules can be re-written in any way you like. And in fact, until that pink rabbit came and went we perhaps wouldn’t know what the rules of reality were, or even what the alternatives were, because they hadn’t been fully realised before that point. And even if something really happens right now which in another reality might be the most absurd thing, which in another reality is the equivalent in absurdity to a pink rabbit winking in and out of existence, we wouldn’t know, because for us we are conditioned to think it is normal.  We are in fact conditioned by the reality we inhabit, just like water fits it’s puddle in just the right way.”

“i’m not sure about that” said the guy. “Anyway how is that like an apple”

“Well, i was going to say that each world makes complete sense in every respect, in relation to these other worlds which are similar to it, except for that one crazy pink rabbit. And in fact, it is this exception which gives the worlds a connection to each other. For if you flipped it around, and looked at this world from the reverse world, it would just be the most crazy thing that a pink rabbit didn’t appear at this moment. It would seem to make no sense at all, it would be as if all the laws of the universe just broke down right then. You have to get into that mindset where the rule book is in fact just as complex and arbitrary as reality itself, and there is really no explanation for things being as they are, except that every possibility must get played out somewhere. This might seem difficult to accommodate at first, but it really is the most natural solution, and it reflects the world of my imagination perfectly. Of course this moment in time would probably stand as the most significant and astounding proof of the ultimate theory of everything in the pink rabbit universe. But every universe will have such a moment somewhere, perhaps at the moment it is ‘created’. It will be a signifier, a little glitch when seen from the outside. This is the stem of the apple in fact, the origin, the moment that modus ponens breaks down.”

The guy nodded, and took out a little notebook and started to scribble in it with a pencil stub as he spoke.

“The ultimate theory which explains all this is going to be as complex and arbitrary as the reality it describes. In fact is will be a mirror image of reality, and just as endless. That is why we need a simple tool box of rules which are fit for most every day purposes, even if they have their faults. It is not as if there is ever going to be an ultimate tool which can accomplish every task on earth is it? Who would want to use such a tool? Tools will keep getting better more refined, but i think that hammers and axes will remain useful for a long time yet.”

At that point it was my stop and i had to get off the tram.

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cold winds; tram

June 3rd, 2013 — 9:17am

tram - thanks to

Overheard when i was on a tram the other day, a man with no hair but tattoos all over his body talking to a short girl in a bowler hat and torn jeans:

“I have a philosophical idea that i’d like to run past you. It seems that unlike in the sciences where there are generally accepted theories, in the humanities at any one time in any one discipline, there are many competing theories, and every one of them is constantly being trashed by certain camps which uphold a competing theory, and as a consequence there is no agreed way of discerning any real objective truth about anything. But i wonder if it is the nature of subjectivity that in the humanities no theory can every be truly known, as there is no apparatus associated with it. Even if we think we understand a theory in fact it is just our own recreation of it in our own mind which have fabricated, an imperfect copy, so we can never do the original the justice it deserves. I’ll exclude various borderline humanities like oh psychology where there perhaps is a certain intersection with material and focus on the purely theoretical. This problem is the cause of the endless disruption, and in fact hinders progress in the humanities because we are constantly reverting to ground zero, every theory is a house of cards which is liable to tumble at any moment so there is no real progress. Well, the problem at the core of it is i think that we expect theories to all occupy the same reality-defining space – like they do in science (where they all do attempt to define the same reality ie the physical world). But in the humanities that space is actually a subjective space, which is the mind of whoever is contemplating it, and there are a potentially infinite number of these spaces. The upshot of this is that there can be contradicting theories that are equally valid, so long as they occupy a different space. The point is not to find one theory that rules them all, but simply to build within whatver mind/space you occupy a theoretical stucture that ‘suits’. And by suits i don’t even mean that it has to be correct exactly but perhaps there is an aesthetic quality to it as well. Anyway that’s as far as i’ve got with that thought. Oh except to add that more can be done by accepting a theory’s self defined truth and attempting to build onto it (as there can be no invalid theories as long as someone has chosen to put it in his mind/reality) than by attempting to destroy and replace it. There might still be disagreements about how one applies the theory to this reality i suppose. ”

“So you’re saying that theories are like tools” said the girl with the torn jeans and hat. “that it is no use debating whether a theory is true or false. each theory inhabits its own theory space, which it can only share with theories which are complementary. but that does not mean that theories which are contradictory are false in any absolute sense. They are simply false in that particular theory space. in their own theory space which they inhabit they are true. What really matters is how useful a theory is. And a theories usefulness is a direct function of its simplicity – which in fact, is its beauty. When we wish to apply theory to a problem, we should chose the tool that fits the task. The others can remain on the bench. The classic example is Newton’s physics vs Einsteins relativity. Newton’s theories are much better for many applications, it is no use saying they are ‘false’, it is more like arguing about how fine a point is required on the chisel. The same is true of theories in the humanities, or any discipline. Effort needs to be applied to demonstrating the usefulness of a particular theory, rather than attempting defend it as ‘true’ which can actually never be resolved.’

At that point i had to leave the tram.

Cold winds blow off the Monaro.. it is the time of year for bone white knuckles and frost. The land is hard, hard. The old farmers used to say this. We all occupy the tiniest fleck of existence between the vast twin cosmoi of death: the death that is after, and the death before.

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