I think I wrote this around 2004.
What is going on here? Who am I and how do I fit into it? Is there some theory of the world that you and I would necessarily agree on? What are we arguing about? How do we determine who are members of the sets “us” and “them”? What’s my motivation? Why do people live? Is there an external reason for it? Does the universe care about us? How do I decide what to do next? What makes me happy, and why? Is it more prudent to live by principles or to take a momentary approach to deciding what is right? What makes us form groups? What makes our groups break up? What is change? What causes me to change? What is the effect of change on me? Can I go back? Is there more than one thing I could have done?
1. What is going on here?
A wasp is walking on my window. I just put down a book. My fingers are moving over a keyboard. I just scratched my eyelid. I’m typing what I think. I’m reading what I’m typing. I’m thinking about what I’m reading. I’m imagining someone else reading what I typed. I’m imagining that person imagining me typing what they’re reading.
What is going on here? We have molecular models, atomic models, mathematical models, physical models, psychological models, religious models, philosophical models, medical models, and other models of what’s going on here. To answer the question “What is going on here?” I have to think about what is going on when I ask the question “What is going on here?”.
What is going on when I ask the question “What is going on here?”? The tiny moving pieces in my head just decided to send my body signals to sit at the computer and type questions in English? One in 250 human beings at some point will attempt to write a book, one in 14 of those will write something of a philosophical nature, one in six of those will write something of an existential nature, and I just happen to be one of the almost three people out of every 250 who writes down existential questions? There is a field of chaos and turbulence, of which I am a part, and due to factors external to me and events preceeding my existence, the evolution of the chaotic field of which I am a part has led to this moment of a new state of chaos, of which, if I apply a psychological model, I might say “He’s obsessively asking himself what’s going on.”? God has ordained that on this day I put into language some of my thoughts…or…God saw that I was confused, and God is answering my questions through automatic writing? A young man is considering his existence? A white male, 26, physically healthy, of above-average intelligence, mildly bi-polar, is having a depressive episode?
What is going on here, when I ask the question “What is going on here?”? Clearly, it depends on who you ask. It depends on the model that person is using to figure out what’s going on when I ask the question “What is going on here?”. A medical doctor will have a different evaluation of the situation than a computer programmer. A psychologist will have a different evaluation than a physicist, than a Christian, than a witch, etc. In an extreme example, my confederate in a war might interpret my asking “What is going on here?” as a signal that he should launch the bombs, because that’s the meaning he and I decided beforehand to attribute to the event of me asking that question. These people are all modelers, interpreters of situations, applyers of preconceived ideas to symbols imagined from sensory input.
Is there a general form for these models that modelers use to determine what is going on? Where and how do they get their models? How do they represent their models? When and how do they update or replace their models? What are the mechanics by which they compare their reference models to instance models imagined from sensory input?
Is there a general form for these models? Math? Language? Symbolic logical syllogisms? There are many specific lingual forms for these models: the particular notations of various sciences and cultures (local notations: local either by geography or lines of heritage or local to a limited conceptual domain). What is going on here? The computer-illiterate French matron says “Rien d’importance.” The South African two-year-old says “I’m hungry.” The mathematician says “We’re factoring a 2048-bit number.” The C++ programmer says “a virtual method of a class called ‘factorIt’ is iterating through a vector of integers.” Could they all possibly be talking about the same thing? No. But they’re standing in the same room. They each have models of the situation. There is some overlap between some of the models: the mathematician understands basic C++ programming and the C++ programmer understands basic math. Everyone in the room knows (thinks) that the big blue box is a computer. Everyone in the room has a stomach, and they’ve all been there the same amount of time, and each of their stomachs is telling them that its time to eat. Their models overlap in some places and not in others. The brief summaries of their models given by these people illustrate that, just like their models, their expressive notations overlap in some places and not in others. Are their expressive notations the same as their internal model representational notations? Certainly not. And while it is beyond my knowledge to say exactly what their internal representational notations are (in terms of how the larger constructs, their ideas, are composed of the smaller constructs, the tiny moving pieces in their brains), it is unnecessary to do so; observation of the content of people’s various expressive notations is sufficient to conclude that at the idea level, among people, there is some overlap and also some disparity between internal model notations. If I ask someone “What is the syntax in C++ for declaring a variable?”, I will often be able to determine, from the person’s response, whether or not I think the person has an internal model of this aspect of C++ syntax that is functionally equivalent to mine, even though it may be the case that there are differences in the mechanisms by which each of our brains represent ideas, and differences in how, at the idea level, our particular models are stated. If the person responds to my question by saying “I’m hungry.” then I won’t be able to do much useful comparrison of our models of this aspect of C++. Lets say that my internal model is such that if someone asked me what the C++ syntax is for declaring a variable, I would say, “First you put the type name, then you put the variable name.” If, when I asked someone else the same question, the person said “First you put the type name, then you put the variable name.” then I would know that our internal models of this concept were functionally equivalent; they may be represented differently on a synapse level and they may be represented differently on an idea level, but if you give us both the same task (“Declare a variable that has type ‘bool’ and name ‘dog’.”) we would both arrive at the same ordering of the type name and the variable name (assuming we were approaching our task seriously). If, when I asked someone else to tell me the C++ syntax for declaring a variable, the person said “You put the variable name, and before it you put the type name.” then I would know the same thing as before, that our internal models of this concept were functionally equivalent; this person and me might be representing our ideas differently at the level of synapses, and we might be representing our models differently at the level of ideas, but, based on our expressions of our respective models, we know that if you apply that person’s model to an existing variable declaration and you apply my model to the same variable declaration, both our models will agree on whether the declaration is proper C++ syntax. Obviously, if someone responds to my question by saying “You put the variable name first and you put the type name second.” I would know that this person and me have different internal models of C++ variable declaration syntax (assuming this person answers my question in a sincere manner).
Is there a general form for the models modelers use to determine what is going on? On the level of synapses, I can’t answer this question, and I don’t care to (but others do). On the level of ideas, it seems likely that there is some overlap and some disparity between the forms with which we represent ideas. Is it important, in order to understand what is going on when I ask “What is going on?”, to understand the nature by which you and I form ideas from other ideas in our brains? That depends on who you ask. If you ask a certain type of neuroscientist, then it is important: without knowing that you won’t really know what’s going on. If you ask me, then its not important: I’m not a neuroscientist, and, to me, it’s enough that (since we have partially overlapping understandings of several general expressive notations) we can, without knowing how we think what we think, exchange at least some information about what we think.
What do you think is going on when I ask “What is going on?”? That depends on who you are, and what your model of the world is. Same for my original question: What is going on? If I’m asking the question, the answer depends on who I am and what my model of the world is.
2. Who am I, and how do I fit into the world?
I am my model of the world. Am I not also other things? Am I not my skin color and my my eye color and my height and my fatness and my smell? No. Those things are part of my model of the world. They are part of my model of the world because my methods for gathering information about them are sensory. Whatever world it is that my senses connect to my brain is unknowable; all I know is what I get from my senses and what is modeled in my brain. Everything that I know, therefore, including me, including all parts of the world that I know, all ideas, all memories, all pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, and smells, is my model of the world.
If my model of the world includes me and includes “the rest of the world”, then there is no substantative difference between “me” and “the rest of the world”. The way I designate “me” among the world is this: “me” is the category of what it seems I control; “the rest of the world” is what it seems I do not.
How do I determine what I control and what I do not? Try something. Try wiggling my finger. It moved. I thought about it moving, and it moved! I am God (of my finger)! Try flipping through the pages of this book. They flipped. I riffled through them with my thumb and they moved. I am God (of this book)! Try willing myself to have hiccips. It didn’t work; I don’t have hiccups. Hmmm. I’m not God of my hiccups. Ok. Try making Rishi come into the room. I say, “Rishi, I need some hot pussy action!” She comes into the room. I am God of Rishi (sometimes). Did I cause Rishi to come or did she come on her own? Did I cause my finger to move or did it move on its own? We could argue that question forever, but why? Let’s be functional about it (what it is is what it does): for a particular event that I can represent and differentiate among my thoughts, I’ll keep track of how many instances of the event are present and how often those instances of that type of event stand temporally proximate to events of me wanting or planning for the event to happen. Fingerwiggling: in all my thoughts, I can specifically remember 100 times that I moved my finger. I can infer that I’ve moved it many more times than that, by looking at all the stuff I’ve typed, but I don’t remember more than 100 specific wiggles. In my model of the world, there isn’t a single occurrence of a thinking-make-finger-wiggle-right-now event, for whom, within 0.05 seconds there isn’t a “matching” finger-is-wiggling event. Do my thoughts make my finger move? I couldn’t say. All I know is that there’s a high correlation between thinking-make-finger-wiggle-right-now events and finger-is-wiggling events. Since, in my model of the world, my thoughts are inside my model of “me”, this presence of such a high correlation between those two events is sufficient reason for me to believe I’m telling the truth when I say “My finger wiggles when I want it to.” If my model of the world was different in that …