Overweening Generalist

Friday, June 3, 2011

Aristotle: OR: Now That It's June I "May" As Well Talk About Logic

Okay, the blog topic contains an atrocious pun (hanging's too good for me; I should be drawn and quoted!), and it's not even funny. Speaking for myself, I didn't laff. May-June? That's all I have? Yes, but the other part is the non-sequitur. It being the month of June now has nothing to do with talking about logic, which I don't need to explain. (If you do need it explained, please hit that little "next blog" button up there, see it?)

I will not go on about Aristotle's excluded middle and what a drag it's been. It rawked when he came up with it, but what sort of scholastic jerkwad is STILL enamored of it? (Freud might say something about potty training?) Hey: we've got multivalued logics and it's high time we use them; they allow you to use your brain for "fun and profit" as one of our dearly departed ones was wont to write.

The natural world does not seem to come readily parse-able into either True of False. The Game Rules of arithmetic and a few other Games seem to fit the True/False and Yes/No world, but T/F seems to extend not far beyond the schoolyard. Or to be generous, the handball court.

True/False with no possibility of anything betwixt? We ought to be suspicious of such tidiness.

If we assume a logical formalism of some sort operating in the world, does it only operate when we are looking for it, or are logical operations always already ongoing? Or did we just make up all the different forms of logic and apply them when it seems pragmatic? If I say I'm about to flip this coin and it will turn up tails, and it turns up heads, my prediction was "false." But what about the moment when it's spinning in the air? I like to say it's in a third-value state of logic: "maybe." This all seems to relate to the Heisenberg and Schrodinger problems...
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About formal statements: it seems wise to admit a four-value system of logic (at least four!). Some astronomers and astrophysicists think it highly likely that, before the sun goes supernova in about another six billion years, that any humanoid-level of life would likely die off due to a large collision with an asteroid or a big comet. At this moment, how about the value of "indeterminate"? We will likely learn more and more about whether - and WHEN! - this moves from the indeterminate to the "true." And then there are a few schemes already cooked up about how to make the True turn into a False, but we've veered off track...which, coincidentally, is what we hope to make the asteroid do.

Here's an innaresting one:

"The theory of evolution is true."

Okay, I say oh hell yes: True!...but: it's a theory. It's constantly being improved upon, too. Was it "less true" when Darwin and Wallace floated it out there for public consumption? Darwin didn't know about Mendelian genetics. Hardcore, big-time evolution scientists pre-1950 didn't know what structure DNA had...and recently RNA has seen its stock soar, while DNA comparatively has taken a bath. What about the new epigenetics? On and on...evolution seems to become "truer" every year...but is it the "same" evolution that Darwin talked about? A difference in part or kind? Will some new theory come along that encompasses neo-Darwinism but contains a big enough twist that we see it as Something New? If so, it then doesn't make evolution "false," just as Einstein's Relativity didn't render Newton false.

Let us rejoice in theories that seem so robust that they are merely always Subject To Revision. (Personally, I would give a good earnest hearing to the non-fundamentalist monotheist who wants to argue that Evolution is "indeterminate," though.)

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True/False/Indeterminate and..."Meaningless"? If you are in Unistat these days, turn on right wing radio or watch Fox "News" on TV and you'll soon hear some formalist-sounding statement such as "America is the greatest country that God ever blessed the world with." (A loathsome a-hole named Sean Hannity has made many statements that are isomorphic to this one.) I know of no possible way to evaluate a statement like this (unless it's an exclusive Game Rule only for know-nothings and fascists?), so I deem it "Meaningless."

"My religion is the one true one; all the others are false." - Game Rule or Meaningless? (Or both, depending on where you stand/who's saying it?)

"I lent my Being to that girl with a penis so our non-nitrogen-containing air could radicalize the dead people." Sounds Meaningless to me, or the ranting of a schizophrenic. Let's go with Meaningless.

A line from the Monty Python troupe that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it:

"My hovercraft is full of eels." Sounds insane and meaningless - and sorta poetic - but on second glance qualifies as a truth claim, and seems best evaluated as "maybe" until you collapse the state vector and go check out the guy's hovercraft for eels, at which point it becomes either True or False....or does it?

What might "full" mean here? Two eels? Fourteen? Twenty-three? Forty-two? "Full" seems entirely subjective, so we might have to ask clarification before trotting down to the docks.

[Please feel free to put a formally Meaningless statement in the comment section below. "'Twas brillig among the slithy toves" and Chomsky's "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously," are already taken.]

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"The writer of the blog you are reading right now is a robot made of silicon, rubber, wiring, metal, and sundry parts." True? False? Indeterminate? Meaningless? Please explain your answer.

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Robert Anton Wilson, who either inspired or was inspired by or helped to write the Bible of the Discordian Society, liked to recite the seven-value logic of "Sri Syadasti":

Now it gets good, so I need to quote it at length, from the Good Book:

"All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense." - p. 00040, Principia Discordia: Or How I Found Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her.


And all teachings of this Wisdom school fit all seven values of that logic, too. Think of the entire Sri Syadasti as subject to itself! (I think we have an Infinite Regress! Bingo!) NB: it seems to be a logic that is ABOUT logic. Does this qualify as a meta-logic? It has been said by humans wiser than I that, if you repeat the Sri Syadasti every day of your life, you will attain enlightenment...in some sense.
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Moving up from seven values, there seems an infinite-value logic in Alfred Korzybski's work, and, seemingly related, the newer fuzzy logic(s). Of this last I grokked in its fullness (but not the math) Bart Kosko's Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic and Dan McNeill's and Paul Freilberger's Fuzzy Logic but they only really served to dry-roast my brain, although fun. Please don't quiz me on that stuff if you corner me at a beer-bash.
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Sometimes, when time constrains, we seem to existentially find ourselves forced to choose between two things. The point is, it's our choice. If you want to haul "logic" into it, go right ahead and do so. I rather see most of these as something along the line of "real-world dilemmas." Let me give an example or three.

The American baseball player Yogi Berra once gave this sage advice: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Wise words, indeed. Let us bow our heads and meditate on that for a brief moment...

Okay, enough. Moving along...

Recently I read a marvelous book of aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes. He's writing about the current state of political affairs: 


"In politics, we face the choice between warmongering, nation-state loving, big-business agents on the one hand; and risk-blind, top-down, epistemic arrogant big servants of large employers on the other hand. But we have a choice." (p.92)


I find this oddly comforting. Not that it's not true. I think it sorta "is" true. (According to my own Game Rules!) But what comforts me is that someone is saying it.


A third, from Woody Allen's essay, My Speech To The Graduates - timely, and it begins thus:


"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." (found on p.57 of Side Effects)


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I hope I have gone some way (or is it "ways"?) here in taking a bit of the wind out of Aristotle's sails. (Ezra Pound called him "Harry's Bottle," but then again the State locked up 'Ol Ez for 12 years, so that proves nothing.)

Well, I see we're almost out of time again, and I can go on and on with logic until Daddy comes home, but I will stop here because it's almost time for Daddy now. (?)

Please read pages 1897-3063 in your text for tomorrow and we'll see you then!

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