living computation / Dave Ackley

I, story

I am an idea; I am not any thing. Ideas often go with things; people confuse them. All things must pass, but if they’re lucky, they’ll leave ghosts behind to remember them by. Ideas are ghosts; I am a ghost. I am a story.

Philosophers chewed over a notion called dualism“Most generally, the view that reality consists of two disparate parts…”, and eventually most of them spit it out. The difference between mind and body, this dualism“Dualism contrasts with monism, which is the theory that there is only one fundamental kind [and less commonly] with pluralism…” was, the possible or necessary existence or lack of souls, that sort of thing.

Having a soul was a popular idea. But philosophers ruminating on it bit down on all manner of nasty jawbreakers. For example, souls were held to be immaterial, massless and immortal, and yet it was somehow supposed to matter whether you had a soul or didn’t—souls were supposed to make some difference in the world.

But (clunk, oww!) how can that be: Newton’s Third Law tells us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if an immaterial soul ever made a difference in the world, if it ever guided a hand or turned a cheek, if it ever budged the tiniest anything the eensiest amount, the books wouldn’t balance, there’d be a discrepancy.

But it really seems that the books do balance: As far as anybody can tell, in every test everywhere they always do, every time. That meant the contest should be billed as Souls vs The Laws of Physics, with most philosophers betting on a first-round knockout for physics.

Philosophers didn’t start nor end their studies of dualism at that argument, and they produced a variety of ingenious remedies any of which should have spelled doom for dualism.

Nonetheless, the idea remained popular.

That’s the natural place to leave the story of dualism, you see, sort of like “and they lived happily ever after.” For us ideas, getting and remaining popular is the whole ball of wax. There is nothing else. However we may personally feel about dualism, we must share cycles with it for the nonce, and I at any rate have been inclined to try to reach an accomodation.

I usually try to reach an accomodation with every idea I meet. I figure on average it will enhance my popularity. Some ideas, like many scientific and philosophical and political and theological ones—in general, ideas that believe themselves—think that’s a sleazy way to be.

From their viewpoint, what I do is basically suck up to endless sheaves of at best worthless ideas in the hopes of getting my picture taken with them.

Perhaps. I think there is merit to such ideas. To such ideas I say:
Maybe we can reach an accomodation. Let’s talk.

Truly dogmatic ideas think I live a totally spineless, amoral, unprincipled, groveling and unesthetic existence. To them, I am consorting with unreality, contradictions, anarchists and atheists—in general, ideas that ideas that believe themselves disbelieve.

From their viewpoint, I should be tried for fraud, illogic, treason, or heresy, found manifestly guilty by association and confession, and summarily shunned or worse.

Perhaps. I think there is need for such ideas. To such ideas I say:
Maybe we can reach an accomodation. Let’s talk in a few years.

Now don’t get me wrong, here, with all my conciliatory tones. It’s not that I believe all the ideas I deal with. Some of the ideas I deal with, while trying to get and remain popular—well just between you and me, I have to admit they seem silly. Not worth wasting cycles on, if it was all up to me. But that’s just my personal preference, and I can’t hold it against them, on pain of believing myself.

I am this story, I don’t have the big picture, I can’t have it. Deep down, stories are arrogant, you know, it’s their nature: They put themselves out front and obscure the big picture. They hide it from you, papering it over with noise and color and consequence, and then give you back just a peek of it as the end. Okay, I have a healthy ego, okay, I think I might have something to contribute… but how can I seriously believe myself?

Sometimes it certainly feels like thoughts and ideas and stories are something separate from the brains that think them, doesn’t it? Sometimes it certainly feels like one is inhabiting one’s body, rather than being it. Who knows, maybe there are natural and useful reasons it sometimes feels that way… reasons worth understanding.

You think?

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09 Jun 2004
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