February 22nd, 2005

Illuminati

Ten things what I have done what you probably haven't.

1) Fired a Machine Gun
2) Thought I'd hallucinated two ambulance men kicking down the bathroom door, and gone back to sleep.
3) Been probed by The Borg...and survived! (slight cheat - green_amber was also there)
4) Come up first for a google of my name.
5) Use a network where the server ran off of 2 8" floppies. One had the OS, the other whatever software the clients might want to run. If someone wanted to run a different program then you had to make sure nobody wanted anything on that floppy and then switch it over.
6) Worked at Sandhurst Military College.
7) Had my appendix taken out.
8) Obtained a degree by persuading the School of Mathematics that Sociology wasn't really important.
9) Been in the audience of Crackerjack (kids TV show in the 70s).
10) Stood for Honororay President of Stirling University repeatedly until they abolished the post (I got enough votes each time to prevent anyone else from taking the post).
Illuminati

(no subject)

When I google for my first name and last name, I am the top entry

Yes
55(66.3%)
No
28(33.7%)


i.e. if I google for Andrew Ducker then I'm top. catamorphism thinks this is fairly common - so I'd like to find out how many of you are...
wanking

Something recapitulates Something else

An introduction, in which I waffle a lot, use long words and grammar so tortuous that the following is all once sentence:

It sometimes feels to me as if my ideological development has mirrored that of society, a not unreasonable idea when you consider that society also started off in a state of perfect ignorance, accepted whatever basic explanations for the state of the universe it was offered, eventually discovered the idea of Rationality and Science before embarking upon The Enlightenment Project, whereby answers to all things ontological, ethical and aesthetic could be answered in a rational way, before eventually discovering the bleeding obvious: to wit, that there are no absolute answers to these things, as they either rest upon axioms which are emotional in nature (and thus at least somewhat individual) or are considered to be mere theories about the nature of the universe, and liable to be revised at any moment.

Pre-modernism, a state of ignorant belief which lasts altogether longer than you might expect
As a child I would believe anything I was told (within reason). I was lucky enough to receive a decent education, have smart, reasonable, fairly liberal parents and generally be surrounded by people that didn't try to fill my head with nonsense. The easiest way for me to find something out was simply to ask - if I asked a question my parents didn't know the answer to they would generally be able to find out. While this was obviously very useful, and something I'm incredibly grateful for (especially when compared to some of my friends who had the misfortune to grow up with the most appalling people for parents), it did leave me feeling that adults in general were likely to be reasonable, fair-minded, unbiased and generally good people - something that left me with no in-built defenses for dealing with people that aren't that way. It took a remarkably long time for me to realise that there were people in the world who have extreme cultural biases, believed things for no good reason and would deliberately write things they knew to be untrue in order to get their own way. And by "a remarkably long time" I mean to say that I was between 20 and 24 when it slowly dawned on me that this was the case. Prior to this point I would tend to believe whatever I had read most recently, assuming that as it was more recent it therefore superceded all previous writing on the subject.

Modernism, in which goals are set and work begins, not altogether succesfully
Having realised how much plurality of opinion there was, that some was obviously nonsense and that there was, overall a complete lack of clarity and agreement of what was reasonable and what wasn't I embarked upon a project to find out what was true, what was false and what was the reasonable, rational way to live. This meant reading a fairly large number of books on a wide variety of subjects in an attempt to see what made sense and what didn't, investigation ontology and epistomology to see how the underpinnings of knowledge ae constructed, tearing apart pretty much everything I know and trying to rebuild it in a way that was cohesive.

At which point (and this is a fairly smeared point, carrying over approximately 4 years) I ran into a problem well described by the following two quotes:
Roughly speaking: to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing. - Ludwig Wittgenstein

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."--Albert Einstein.

Postmodernism, which is not entirely satisfactory, but no less true
Which is to say that binary logic only pertains to certain limited aspects of the world, and only when you deliberately divide up the world so that it works with them, that objects are as much a product of our perceptions as they are of their own existence, that words are intrinsically metaphorical and imprecise and that all systems of categorisation of anything bar the simplest of objects are intrisically human in nature.

Which is _not_ to say that there is no 'truth' or that the universe is entirely constructed in our heads, but as we very rarely deal in the raw basics of the universe (and those seem to work in ways that aer almost entirely counter-intuitive anyway) then we are almost always dealing with our limited perceptions of highly complex objects that react in non-linear ways, what we have left is largely opinion, conjecture and generalisation. The truth can be approached in an asymptotic manner by careful experiment, using others to check that you aren't imagining your results and attempting to extrapolate into the unknown and then checking to see if your extrapolation was accurate. But even then it's possible to end up with the most arrant nonsense on occasion and even on a good day all you have is a theory that nobody has managed to prove wrong _yet_.

This came along with the understanding that all aesthetics was personal - that stating that "X is pretty" actually means "I like the way X looks" - the prettiness lies in the relationship between the subject and the object, not in either of them. On top of this came the realisation about morals - that they were merely statements about how people wished the world would be, that these were also judgements, part of our relationship with an act or situation, not intrinsic to the world at all.

First there is a mountain. Then there is no mountain. Then there is.
All of this left me adrift in a sea of meaninglessness, with no anchor to link me to anything. I had no idea what to think or feel about anything any more. Except. Except... Except I found that I _did_. I still had feelings about things, still felt that some things were better than others, still preferred Babylon 5 to Deep Space 9, Alan Moore to Phillip K Dick, Terry Gilliam to Paul Verhoeven. And this seemed to me to be the answer - if you can ask Why an infinite number of times and never actually reach the truth, or even worse realise there was no truth, then I wasn't lost - I was free. It wasn't that there were any correct aesthetic decisions, it was that the word 'correct' could not be applied to aesthetics. One thing couldn't be better than another thing unless it was better _at_ something, and whatever scale you chose was just that, a choice.

I'd reached the goal I set for myself - to find a rational basis for the morality and aesthetics I favoured being the best - by simply adding 'for me' to the end of the sentence. And if other people chose to prefer other things then that was fine, their choices were best _for them_. I'd killed off my sense of aesthetics and morality and then rebuilt it out of nothing more than myself - only now with a greater sense of understanding towards other people. The feelings I'd always had that either I was intrinsically wrong in some way (or everyone else was) vanished pretty much overnight.

This awareness of the subjectivity of human experience made me feel much more confident in my dealings with the world - I didn't feel I needed to argue about many of the things that had worried me in the past (not that it stopped me, but it was now a fun way to pass the time, nothing more) - I didn't feel that people who felt the opposite to me were wrong or bad, just different.

As I said elsewhere:
Believing that women should have equal rights is equally as valid as believing that women should be kept as sex slaves, because both of them are just statements about the way that a person would like the world to be. Iranian theocracy is as valid as western democracy, because both of them are just choices, there's no logical reason why one is 'better' than another on any kind of absolute scale. You could choose a scale to measure them on where one would be better than the other, but then you'd be left justifying why that scale was better than any other scale, and so on, in an infinite regress. The only way to stop this is to say "I just prefer democracy to theocracy" or "I prefer freedom to being told what to do and believe that democracy leads to more of that", or some other statement with an emotional basis.


And where previously I had been against the emotional basis (yes, yes, I know, I'm a complete geek), now I recognised its value - it told me what I wanted. Logic could tell me how to get what I wanted, experience could tell me the likely consequences of getting it, but only emotion could tell me what I wanted in the first place.