Thursday, June 11, 2009

Do Freudians know that I don't dream of electric sheep?

Weird. Had a dream last night.

That's weird enough on its own. I don't normally dream. (And, yes, look, I know the old debate too well, whether I actually DO dream and just don't "remember" it or if I don't actually dream, since an unperceived, unremembered dream is not really a dream. Can it for now.)

My actually-remembered-dream was about me wearing my famous bee shirt. This is a black-and-yellow striped long-sleeve Polo-style shirt I bought a couple years ago at a night market in Changhua. It's a famous shirt for me since, one, I almost never wear long sleeve shirts and, two, it never fails that as soon as my students see me, one or two of them, at least, will drone, "Beee!" (Mad skillz: I never stop teaching, see?)

Anyway, I guess my recent sleep cycle has messed with my head––up too late, up too early––so I dreamt last night. There I was walking around in my bee shirt. It was a fuzzy, but not warm, day: the light was warm but the air wasn't, like the downy lighting in the finale of The Return of the King. (But no, not everything was in giddy slow motion and there wasn't all that homoeroticism either.)

Anyway, there I was walking through a garden attached to a mini-Versailles. By my side was the garble-faced woman of my dreams, scrambled unrecognizable by the aimless refracting of my memories and the instinctual urge to get the dream over with before I woke up. Blue was the color of her dress, then velvet… well, actually, Mr. Mingus, it was only maroon silk. What kept happening, though, was that, every time we ran into a group of other guests (at this large wedding in a mini-mansion), we chatted a few minutes before noticing that at least one other person, and usually many others, were also wearing my bee shirt. It was a hoot, me pointing my finger-gun at others in my shirt, and others shooting finger-bullets back at me, all of us chirping and clicking and buzzing and chuckling from the corner of our mouths. In bee shirts.

This went on for who knows how dream-long, until, I guess, the dream-plot started in. I found myself, with my scramble-faced beloved, standing around a pit, eight-feet deep, full of, well– let me start again. We walked away from the incessant others in bee shirts and I found myself––literally, I found myself, and my beloved, in multiple copies, milling around an eight-foot deep pit. Mini-Versailles buzzed on obliviously.

At that point, I was coming in and out of consciousness, over and under the sheet of dream dust. So I was really trying to hang on to my vision of my dream. I kept lunging back at the pit for a better look. And, lo––the edges of the pit were crumbling inward clump by chunk by lump. I and my beloved were being buried alive, moment by moment. Imperceptibly we descended, or rather, were descended, in mound after surreptitious mound of soggy earth. Slow enough that we didn't, apparently, all mind staying in there, but steady enough to keep us from clambering out when we wanted. Multiple copies, I realize, meant all possible probability lines (hat tip to Sergei Lukyanenko) sketching how we might make it out of such a pit, were being systematically interred. Me and her in Taiwan. Me and her in Florida. Me and her in New Yawk. Me and her, me and me and her and her, and me, and her and her, and me again, and her. And nada.

Looking down I could now see her face clearly, as well as the her at my side. In time, as the mud clumps climbed, it became evident that, while she and I could climb down into the pit to rescue one of our alternate selves, we could not ourselves climb back out.
Indeed, she at my side could descend the pit and hand me a new her so that I could go on my, our, way. On the other hand, I could descend the pit and hand up a different me for my own her to enjoy back in the shade of mini-Versailles. Either way, one of us would have to lose the other, or we'd both have to lose our odds of lasting together: perpetual unity in the shrinking pit or perpetual disunity in the gardens.

Despite how grim it may sound, this really wasn't a nightmare. The me-her exchange was more of a clownish what-in-tarnation circus rehearsal. Pathos, in dreams, is no more perceptible an obstruction than light and time and gravity.

* * *

"Quantum particles: the dreams that stuff is made of."

–– David Moser, as cited in Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near (1999), p. 110.

And then I awoke, alone, free from the pit and free from any of her. But not free from the expectations that all vivid dreams entail. What did it mean? What does it mean? Who was who and why was what what? The conscious mind demands order over the disorder of the unconscious mind, in a way similar to the need our unconscious mind has for pruning and rearranging the accrued burrs of the sensory flowers we trample through each day.

So I set upon this dream like latex-gloved hands over the rubbery corpse of a Roswell alien on X-Files. (Did I just write that? I must have been distracted by my dream.) Obviously my dream means that I grieve the loss of my beloved and I feel incapable of salvaging the damage. I could "let her go" but then "we" would be buried; or I could stick with her and ride the whole enchilada down into the pits of zero probability.

But what if I'm wrong? What if my dream actually doesn't mean anything? What if it is really just a rare glimpse into the way my brain rearranges its recent sensory contents? What if any dream is just one part of my brain––say the limbic system––'peeking at' another part of my brain during cognitive inventory and housekeeping? What if, in other words, my dream was merely an elaborate neural misfire? What if it didn't refer to anything concrete or even intelligible in the world I occupy, but was merely "what brains do at night"?

This is hardly a mere academic musing. On certain theories of mind, the workings of the brain are radically distinct from the abstract contents to which they "correspond." Just as the only red in a rose is put there by the neural confabulation of our own brains, so the only reason a cat is called a "cat" is because one group of brains (in a strange synchronic and diachronic semantic tradition) utter that phoneme when triggered (?) by that organism. There is nothing, however, about the cat itself which bears or produces a meaningful, real link between its existence and our calling it a "cat." The materialistic world of physical matter is deaf, dumb, colorless, seamless, odorless, flavorless, and lifeless. In a word, meaningless.

Hence, for all his materialism, Freud ought have realized there is no way to "interpret" the "meaning" of blind neural processes in deterministic skinbags on Viennese recliners, since whatever his clients were claiming or denying was but the epiphenomenal midden pile being steadily bilged out by a brain enslaved in a strict deterministic causal chain. The meaning of the words on their lips was strictly subservient to the chemical entailments in their brains, and therefore causally irrelevant to a materialist. There being adequate physical grounds for certain brain processes doesn't, as C. S. Lewis notes well in Miracles, mean there are really good reasons for the effects caused by those brain processes. I might be able to explain the grounds for you saying what you said or feeling how you feel, but that "real" explanation will have nothing to do with the reasons you give for what you say and how you feel. Brain effluvia are no more to be interpreted than entrails on the altar. There is no patient behind the psychosis, no mind behind the brain.

Now magnify this problem to literally cosmic proportions. Now imagine that the cosmos itself has no Mind behind its Matter (e.g., in this postling from unBeguiled). Now, whatever we may say about the universe––its laws, its structure, its components, its relations, its beginning and end––are only so many anthropocentric impositions on an otherwise amorphous, unintelligible surd. There is no Intelligence running the show, so there is not actually even a Show. "The tale (mythos)," writes Aristotle in his Poetics 1450a38, "is the soul of the drama." By soul (morphe), of course, Aristotle (…as a good Aristotelian) means the "inherent organizing principle" of something in nature or art. All tales are, necessarily, intelligible wholes made up of otherwise unintelligible parts, organized around the author's "point" and motivated by the tale's "end." To lack an ending, much less an author, is utterly to lack a tale. And a tale with an audience is as nonsensical as an audience without a tale. So, if there is not really any Mind or Moral behind the great cosmic show, can we really be said to be observers? If the Universe, like our brain tissue, does not intrinsically mean anything or have some higher organizing sense, then how can we make sense of it? To make sense of the nonsensical is to make nonsense of making sense. Poetically speaking, our only hope of watching the show on earth is by believing the script is in heaven.

The reason we remain an attentive audience, despite our critical reviews of the nonexistent Author, is that His own voice is as inscribed in the shtuff of quarks as it is in the matter of our minds. We see the wisdom of God in the co-viewing of our brains as they perceive the world. We don't see the world only, as if were a detached immaterial intelligence, but see ourselves as observers watching the world. The brain emerges from the world, and therefore makes a kind of sense to us, its intra-users--but only if the world itself makes sense in the first place. We know by nature that the world is worth watching, because we know we are by nature actors in a drama at play.


UnBeguiled said...

If I flip a fair coin, a certain order emerges. For example, the ratio of heads to tails will get closer and closer to one. Also, the absolute difference between heads and tails will tend to increase as the number of flips increases.

So, from randomness we get an intelligible order. But this emergent order obviously was not designed. It's the product of randomness.

At the most fundamental level, our universe is random. But, orderliness emerges. There need not be an uber-spooky mind beneath it all.

Crude said...

What's so "obvious" about the fact that it was not designed? It's more obvious to go with the view it was designed, and that a mind was involved. We can never be sure that "randomness" is ultimately "randomness". But we're absolutely certain that order and minds (even if just one, in the case of the solipsist) do, in fact, exist.

Order illustrates that what seems random isn't necessarily so. "Random" is, if anything, a statement about our own ignorance. But we know more than enough to make the data swing against the mechanist materialist.

UnBeguiled said...

Hello Crude,

Realize this is a conversation Tator and I have been having in one form or another for about 4 months.

Nevertheless. Are you seriously arguing that the outcome of random coin flips is indicative of design?
I advise that you consider your answer carefully.

Crude said...

That's a false question, Unbeguiled. You ask if "the outcome of random coin flips is indicative of design" - but I'm questioning your use of "random" to begin with. Now you're asking me to assume your take on "random" for the purposes of a question about it.

Are you telling me that coin flips - even coin flips that you yourself can't foresee the result of - are utterly undetermined, unforseeable, and give results that are in no way predictable and orderly?

My turn to advise you: Consider your answer carefully.

UnBeguiled said...

Read my first comment again. With a fair coin, any individual flip is random. But an order emerges, as I clearly explained.

To what does the pronoun "it" refer to in the first sentence of your first comment?

Crude said...

First, you didn't explain - you just stated. And second, you're mistaken anyway. The coin can be "fair" while the flip is not - whether due to guile or simply knowledge. What determines "fairness" in the case is a lack of knowledge on the part of players. I don't suggest playing poker against an Oracle, even if the deck is utterly normal and you get to shuffle. It just ain't fair. ;)

"It" refers both to our universe, and the order that comes from it. There's nothing "obvious" about the lack of design in the universe (Hell, take a good long look at the history of philosophy on this question. Sure didn't seem obvious to Aristotle, or Plato, or Aquinas, or countless others.), nor about the randomness (unless it's a mere statement about the knowledge we as individuals possess - kanji strokes sure look random to me.)

UnBeguiled said...

Now you are just being pedantic.

"If I fairly flip a fair coin . . . "

How's that?

I thought your "it" referred to the coin flips, and that you were arguing that the emergent order I described was the result of a guiding mind.

Is that your position, or not?

Crude said...

How's what? "If I fairly flip a coin..." ... ? Finish it and I'll do my best to answer or illustrate what's wrong. I don't think it's at all pedantic to point these things out - precision is important in these discussions.

Nor am I comfortable calling the result "emergent order" unless we define what that means. You were talking about how order "emerges from randomness". I pointed out that the "randomness" you see these things emerging from is a statement of ignorance on your own part. In fact, that's as far as you're ever going to get - you need quite a leap of faith to decide it's random in the sense you need it to mean.

I'm also not comfortable with saying it's a "result of a guiding mind" unless I get a little pedantic - sorry - there as well. One could make a full-fledged argument about utter determinism, but I don't need to go that far. The fact that computers can do quite a stellar job of simulating fairly flipped fair coins (aheh) shows how mind can be present even with the creations of limited beings.

Also - what about my own question? "Are you telling me that coin flips - even coin flips that you yourself can't foresee the result of - are utterly undetermined, unforseeable, and give results that are in no way predictable and orderly?" Feel free to get picky with me if that question's not to your liking, but I'm trying to be fair here!

UnBeguiled said...

"If I fairly flip a fair coin, a certain order emerges. For example, the ratio of heads to tails will get closer and closer to one. Also, the absolute difference between heads and tails will tend to increase as the number of flips increases."

That is a demonstrable fact.

My question: Do you think this phenomenon indicates design?

I answered your question.

The Cogitator said...


Is there anything random or undesigned about the coin itself by which it follows an intelligible statistical rule? You say "an" or "some" order emerges, but in fact, statistically, only one form of order emerges, namely, 50/50. Why doesn't heads come up 1/3 of the times over, say, nine billion trillion trillion flips? Why not 1/10 of the time? The coin's structure, in conjunction with precise physical relations, produce intelligible results. Sheer randomness is incoherent.


UnBeguiled said...

face palm . . .

The Cogitator said...

"face palm . . ."

In earlier times I believe people called this kind of reply "hand wave." But I can't keep up with the lingo these days.


UnBeguiled said...

I'm sorry. I know no other way to respond. If you find design and purpose in randomness, then where will you not?

As I have said elsewhere, such is the genius of the nonfalsifiable.

The Cogitator said...

Ddue, here's my point:

Let's bracket for now the terms "purpose" and "design." They are loaded words.

I am simply arguing for the reality of intelligible dynamic order in the physical world.

You say I am playing both sides of an unfalsifiable position, but I say you are doing much the same by wanting to have your cake of "random physical naturalism" and eat your cake of "complex intelligible laws." This is illegitimate.

Is the world formally and integrally intelligible or is it not?

If it is not, how can you presume to find intelligible order in sheer unintelligibility?

If, however, it is intelligible, how can you posit such intelligibility without intellect?


UnBeguiled said...


It is not, nor has it ever been, my position that the universe is chaos.

My point is that some regularity along with randomness can result in increasing levels of complexity and order (locally).

It just does not follow that order can only come from an intellect. Quarks act like quarks. Why? I don't know. Saying god-did-it just begs the question.

Isn't this horse dead enough?