Category Archives: Computer Game Philosophy

What is a Computer Game?

Using the Cartesian method we could enumerate this question as:

  1. What is a computer game?
    1. What is a computer?
      1. A system designed to logically process information.
        1. System: an causal structure
          1. Structure: A consistent arrangement of elements.
          2. Causal: Making something happen or not.
            1. A causes B if…
            2. “If the engine hadn’t stopped there would have been an accident.”
          3. Designed: Made with intent for purpose.
          4. Logically: principles that flow without contradiction from:
            1. The law of The Excluded Middle
              1. X is either true or not true.
            2. These principles are AND, NOT and OR.
              1. There are principles derived from these like XOR.
    2. What is a game?:
      1. An activity that satisfies the following:
        1. It has rules
        2. It has objectives
        3. It is done for fun
          1. What is Fun?
            1. A fun activity increases positivity without there necessarily being a corresponding external effect.
            2. An activity is fun if someone says they do it for enjoyment.

The New No Go Game

More than a couple of times in my life I’ve tried to learn the Game Of Go.

This is the ancient Chinese game that is harder to solve (AI or heuristics) than Chess, or, I think,  any other game.  Only in 2016 was the best player properly beaten by a computer. One with the multiple  brains and yadabyte memories driven by the vastness of The Google. It was a big moment for Humanity, I think.

go-game

Many good games are easy to learn and  hard to master. The Game of Go isn’t like this. It is really hard to learn, and very few master it. They say it takes decades to become a mere “quite good”. 

This, to me, has an inevitable subtracting effect on my enjoyment of the game; it is just so hard to be quite good.

It would take so much time and, during that valuable T-Spend, mostly, it would not be fun. There would be few “yeahs!”

It would not have many of those moments of understanding a new tactic or strategy that are common in other exceptional games.

The reason for it’s hardness isn’t like in some games.

The problem isn’t the games complexity, that is , how many rules and parameters and interconnections are involved in it’s realisation, AKA, “playing”. 

Nor is it the game’s depth – that meaningful, relative measure of the structure of the hierarchy that represents the emergence of the tactics, strategy and fun experienced by the players.

Rather, perhaps uniquely with the Game Of Go, it is the game’s  vast possibility space that seeds the issues for me.

Possibility Space

A thing’s “possibility space” is the conceptual framework that the thing occupies. A puppy has a possibility space. So does a movie and an omelette.

The concept of “Castling A King” doesn’t exist in the possibility space of Naughts And Crosses. Nor does it exist in Hopscotch.  But it does exist in Chess.

 When you think about things in terms of their possibility space, you gain a new perspective.

Possibility space is useful to be seen as layered:

If CAK is in Chess and it is possible that Eastender’s might involve Chess (Eg in an episode. Which, of course, it is) then CAK is in the possibility space of Eastenders (Which, it is, isn’t it?).

This does not mean the same as the trivial “CAK is in the possibility space of all things, because, eg, Time-Travel.”

Possibility spaces are much easier to apprehend when they are seen as tied to shared frameworks. Think of how this influences the emergence of  “plausibility” as a property of a narrative.

To be meaningful possibility spaces should be internally consistent. It is for this reason that I would say we wouldn’t say that CAK was in the possibility space of Eastenders but not of a historically accurate soap opera set in The Stoneage.

Lastly, possibility space isn’t just about points of property possibilities, but also emergent phenomena that the game originates. The excitement of backgammoning someone is not contained in the necessary and sufficient game description of Backgammon, but it is clearly in the possibility space of the game. It is a foundational property of the gameplay. We can deconstruct the possibilities and we can abstract the possibilities.

The Game Of Go is not deep in its structure. Because the board is nineteen wide, as opposed to eight in chess, there is a computational explosion in the amount of information that needs to be broken down and abstracted in order to significantly understand the game. It is a huge and wide and shallow sea of choices but from this sea emerges game phenomena that I have no idea about. I can see they are going to be there, but I cannot conceive of them. I think if you try to learn Go you will soon understand this, if you don’t already.

Then the realisation is this: until you get good enough to meaningfully understand  these emergent game phenomena, then Go is going to remain a relatively shallow game. Shallow tactics and strategies compared to the big picture games of the Go-masters.

In my opinion Go is not very fun to learn because it is so very hard to average.

There is a time/cost/fun/potential/learnability/etc equation with any game.

Thought Experiment: The Glove Game

Close your eyes and imagine an ordinary, small, red ladies glove.

Imagine that in the wrist part of the glove is a slit and one side of this is a small red button. Imagine that on the other side of the slit is a small loop that can go around the button, to hold the glove in place on a hand.

You have just imagined a glove. Now imagine this glove floating in a void of nothingness. No other things, no time, no light, no observer. Just the glove. All there is is this glove. Imagine the Glove Universe.

In fact it seems that one cannot imagine a universe that’s just a small red ladie’s glove. It is not conceptually possible for a number of reasons:

You can’t imagine something being “small” if thats’ the only thing there is. Smallness is a relative property, it needs more things to be realised than just one.

You can’t imagine something as being red if there is no light and no observer. Colours don’t make sense in the glove universe. You can  imagine the surface of the Glove having properties that, were it on your left hand right now it would look red to you or I.

Perhaps the most interesting reason for why you cannot really imagine the glove universe is because a glove is a special kind of form called an “enatiomorph”. A donut shape is not. Nor is a cube. The letter L is enatiamorphic in two dimensions. A glove is a three dimensional enatiomorph. 

It must be right or left hand, it cannot be neither, but it cannot be either without a counterpart. If we had two gloves, and they were incongruent (didn’t fit together) then we would be able to say of one, This is Left and of the other This is Right. But with just one, we cannot.

Things are enatiomorphic in terms of the way they are placed within the world. Back to the glove…

Perhaps, even without the above three issues, we just cannot imagine a glove universe in anything like the same way we can imagine tomorrow’s weather or the things we can imagine.

Perhaps we really can’t imagine the unimaginable. Ponder that.

Luckily, we don’t need need to imagine the unimaginable to be able to think about it. We can discuss idealised worlds that are unimaginable. We can learn from them. They can be tools. This is what thougts experiments are. So now let me guide you through one that I think you will enjoy. I have done this many times face to face.

The Glove Game: Round One

Imagine the glove universe as best you can. It is glove shaped from your perspctive. If you can think of something to loose in the description you can just ditch it. Tru to get to the most idealised thought of a glove.

You are trying to describe something that is logically true of all things that are gloves.

You are trying to describe something that is logically not true in totality of any thing that is not a glove.

We can enumerate:

  1. It is a tube that ends in five points at the end of five smaller tubes.
  2. One of the tubes is shorter than the others.
    1. This tube also is joined to the main tube at a point closer to the main tube entrance and off to one side.
      1. It can Extend to the plane of the other four tubes.

What is the most minimal optimal definition of a glove?

When I asked you to imagine the glove at the start it had a small button and a loop etc… Take all that kind of detail out of your imagination. Break it down to the things that are essential to being a glove. Let us call this idealised glove, the simplest glove.

 

What statements are true of the simplest glove?

What does it mean to say something is True here?

Criticise this definition: “A statement is True about the Glove Universe if what it describes can be found within the Glove Universe.”

 

    • The Glove has four fingers and a thumb.
    • The little finger is not longer than the middle finger
    • The thumb is not between any fingers.
    • It is possible the tip of the thumb could touch the tip of the index finger if the rest of the glove remained the same.

Imagine a list of False statements about the glove:

  • The volume of the thumb is greater than the volumes of the other fingers combined.
  • The glove has symmetry.
  • It is possible to weave the thumb through the other fingers
  • The glove has the same topology as a doughnut.

What about this statement:

    • The Glove Is underneath a Hat.

Is that false? It isn’t true, but it isn’t clear if it is False or meaningless. These kinds of statements are a big issue in the Philosophy of Language.

 

 

A statement is Meaningless relative to the Glove Universe Game if it is nether True nor False about the Glove Universe. You might like to think of Meaningless statements as containing things that simply cannot be found in any possible Glove Universe.

  • True statements describe things that exist within the Glove Universe.
    • By “things” here we mean structures, relations, properties that are contingent upon the stipulation of the universe.
  • False statements describe things that do not exist within the Glove Universe but could exist within the Glove Universe.
  • Meaningless statements describe things that can not not exist in the Glove Universe.
    • These statements are meaningless in the glove universe
      • Paris is the Capital of France.
      • Mars is often called “The Red Planet”
      • The glove is larger than an elephant.
      • All gloves are smaller than houses.
      • The glove belonged to Audry Hepburn.
      • The Glove is left handed.
      • We understand this experiment.
      • All games are not fun.

 

This experiment has highlighted a number of things. Perhaps most importantly it’s shown what a Thought Experiment is, in case you didn’t already know. A thought experiment is simply a stipulated possible Universe that is created to be experimented on or questioned about.

We make Thought experiments all the time, “If I won the lottery I would..”, “Imagine all the people, living in Harmony…”

It’s also shown that thought experiments are about what’s relevant to them by stipulation, not by assumption. You can imagine things that are not really possible to exist or imagine and yet, you can see how still we can ask relevant questions about them.

The last thing we saw from this experiment is that all possible statements seem to fit into only one of three categories, True, False or Meaningless and that which list any statement belongs on depends on the stipulated nature of the relevant universe. 

Should I salute magpies?

One of the key advantages of practicing CHE is the ability to quickly sift through life’s mundane choices, enjoying them and knowing that, by and large, you have made what for you were the right choices when it comes to Home Economical issues. How should one clean their clothes, house, self and mind. Is Amazon Prime is justified? Which vitamins should I supplement? How much is optimum salt?

Consider the CHE equation: Should I wear my seatbelt?

It is simple to see on a three-space Risk/Cost/Benefit vector graph that, yes, of course you should wear your seatbelt. It is irrational not to, if you value self preservation. What is interesting is that such indubitable Cartesian conclusions map into the same kind of epistemic grid as things that on the whole seem woo, irrational or nonsensical.

Consider the CHE equation:  Should I salute magpies?

This one, when you flesh it out, has a few more nexi than the seatbelt one, but the structure is almost the same; where the two equations differ is in the two driving assumptions.

  1. Wearing Seatbelts: It is possible that wearing a seatbelt could save the wearer’s life.
  2. Saluting Magpies: It possible that saluting a magpie could increase the saluter’s  Luck.

In the case of 2, once we accept the possibility of Luck then it is no difference of kind to move on and reason something like:

  1. There is something special called Luck.
  2. It is possible this Luck can be increased by agency.
    1. I’m assuming that if there is a supernatural (“nonprobabalistic”?) reality to luck then it can be something that can be in some sense accumulated or bestowed on.
      1. If this assumption is not accepted then you seem forced to accept that there is Luck but it is distributed stochastically/probabilistically.
        1. Luck would be real but its distribution chanced, which seems absurd.
  3. It is possible saluting magpies could entail 2 (Luck increase).
  4. Saluting magpies is an extremely low risk activity.
  5. Saluting magpies is an extremely low cost activity.
  6. It is rational to solute magpies.

But if we don’t accept the reality of Luck, we cannot go with Assumption 1 in the CHE reasoning above. It all boils down to the reality of Luck.

With anything abstract and potentially magical in a CHE equation, it needs to be weighted. Is there evidence? Is there mechanism? Is there equivalence? Even then, unless there is a refutation, all we can ultimately say is IDK.

  1. I cannot be certain that there is Luck.
  2. I cannot be certain that there is no Luck.

The Reality of Luck

I haven’t researched what others have said on Luck, I assume it has been spoken about lots. One thing that seems clear is that people who believe in Luck are believing in something that’s up there with ghosts and deities. For example, for there to be a reality to  Luck there needs to be some kind of external agent, some Intelligence, that says “Bob is going to be more likely to win this coin toss.”

That’s a huge new guest to one’s ontological buffet, and I think you cannot have Luck without that. So, if you think your rabbit foot brings you luck, you are tacitly assuming, and please CMV, that there is/might be a deciding and intelligent agent affecting your life.

Luck also has implications to do with temporal logic. The kind of arguments against the logical possibility of changing the past might apply in the case of Luck.

  1. At t1 x was not going to happen to P at t3.
  2. At t2 P has luck bestowed on them.
  3. At t1 x was going to happen to P at t3.

Is that right? I don’t know, it seems so to me.

The point is that accepting Luck is not a small thing, it is a huge thing that brings with it the world being profoundly different to the world without it. But as skeptics, that is no reason to deny the possibility of it.

What about evidence and mechanism? Is there any?

The Physical Argument For Real Luck

We cannot get evidence for Luck. Even if 1000 times out of 1000 I do better with my lucky charm than without it, that could always just be a coincidence.

What about a mechanism for how luck could work? Suppose you were a creator being and you made a universe with individuals in and you wanted to be able to bestow Luck upon them.

How would you do that? What mechanism, in this world, could you use. You would need to use a mechanism that was compatible with this world, or else there would be risk of contradiction. You would need a way to change the outcome of events while the changes being nomologically compatible with reality.

In fact, it seems our universe does have such a mechanism, built in at the bolts,  which would allow consistent changes to be made to outcomes – this is quantum indeterminateness. True randomness exists and it could be used to facilitate the bestowing of luck.  It is not against the laws of the universe that a bullet could suddenly veer off course. It could happen. If you wanted to bestow Luck upon your creations, you could use the indeterminateness built into your creation.

The reality of Luck has no possible evidence, has a huge ontological payload and has a plausible mechanism in this universe. If I had to choose I would say I do not not belive in the reality of Luck – but I do not have to choose; uncertainty is certain in my world view.

Conclusion: Should I salute magpies?

Real Luck could be real or not. It is fundamentally unknowable which is the case. Luck, if it was real would be something worth having – it would be irrational to think otherwise. Given this, and the minuscule cost and risk of saluting the magpies, in my opinion, the CHE solution to the equation is that yes, I should salute magpies. Why would I not?

MSM The Miracle Mineral?

My Cousin lives in LA and will only eat food that has been blessed by monks from at least three different Asian religions and then tested, by both mass spectrum analyzer and professional taster, that it is not just Organic but Kosher. He never eats sugar, except in tea and coffee and all other food and drinks. 

Even though he is like, really, into healthy living (The last time I stayed with him we spent over eighteen hours in West Hollywood’s biggest health food stores, subsisting just on wheatgrass and zen noodles. These are not a brand name, but a fad that only exists in this particular part of West Holywood and only for one summer in the late nineties. The idea was simple. Gluten was bad. Noodles tasted nice. Instead of being made with carbohydrate, they were made with Zen. They also had a bread made with sourdough) he had never ever once recommended me anything. Not once…

Until two months ago. On the phone he said that he had been taking this supplement and it had changed his life. I didn’t need more of a recommendation, I was all over that stuff within moments of getting off the Skype. I didn’t look into it like I normally do, I just went ahead and took a trip down the Amazon. A family pack for a month was a tenner.

Only then, once the order dispatched email was in, like a really bad scientist and skeptic, did I start to investigate it.

Now over the last decades online I have investigated many things using the power of the internet and books. In the crazy woowoo world of snake oil and superfoods, you have to really get skilled at operating the former from the latter. To think that all claims of benefit are snake oil is just ignorant and unreasonable. Equally to think that just because it had a webpage it has legitimacy is very poor think skills.

This is how I generally do it.

Firstly, the big question is cui bono, who benefits?

If its something that you cannot make at home or but freely then that’s a redflag to me. This doesn’t mean that that crazy hybrid amino acid transmogifer isn’t going to be amazing, it does mean that while it is proprietary, you should assume there is profit in the promotion, even without benefit.

Secondly, is it safe?

This is a real tricky one to get through and still today there are a bunch of things I just am not sure what to think of when it comes to their objective safety. MSG, Vitmin E…

Thirdly, is it worth it?

To me this is the great question that only you can ask, but there are some guidelines and, espeically if many are recomending if for no proffit, it is a good sign.

Forthly, is it open?

There are chemicals in, say, apples. which just seem to do us good. Anyone can access these chamiec

There is also a very proven strategy which is to repeaedly and occasionally stop taking X to see if you iss it. If you do it long enough I think you will get attunes to what is good for you and what is not.

I have been taking it for two months now and, so far, really rate it as a wellbeing optimiser, as something I can imagine I will continue to take; like D3 and Boocha.

  • MSM is very very low risk.
  • It is quite a low cost.
  • It is very high anecdote.
  • It has significant scientific evidence.
  • It has a plausible and demonstrable explanatory mechanism.

Have I found it works?

I do feel more energy. I have started running, at about the same time that I started taking it. So its a bit of a mishmash when it comes to isolating the cause. Did I get into running because of MSM or JMR?

I have suddenly started writing poems again like I haven’t for many years, is that MSM? (The point here is the action, not the quality).

Anything else?

Today, for the first time in my life I ran 5k. MSM? It felt like I was going to collapse in a cardiovascular blamache. MSM?

Tonight, it was a consensus that I played the best poker of my life. MSM? I still lost badly, MSM? I dunno!:)

Here are some links for your own perusal:

 

Chase The Butterflies

I have long been a collector of the various ways we humans have found to express that abstract goodness to life, and the singular, hopeful, response to that goodness; Seize the day. Play The Game. Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

My Uncle Andy died a few years ago, he was a great man; all thought. My older cousin, and Andy’s first male nephew, Yeof , he came to stay, from LA. Just the other day. He told me how Andy had been such a fertile influence on his life; as Andy was to many. He told me of the wise and pristine advise that his uncle had given him, without claim, many long, long years ago… .

“Chase The Butterflies”

Uncle Andy ’47’10

Thought Experiment Two: The Single Point Universe

This thought experiment is exactly the same as with the Glove Universe, except that it will have less parts. We will simply stipulate a new Universe for the game and then look at the Truth Lists for this Universe

Imagine a universe that is just a circle. No different on the inside or out, but a circle, perfect in its simplicity.

Your Glove Universe and my Glove Universe would have been distinct, it’s very unlikely we could imagine identical gloves, especially not if we started getting really trivial with our Truth List. Perhaps yours had stubbier fingers than mine or yours had thick external seams whereas mine were concealed.

With the Circle universes our Imaginings, and thus stipulations, will be identical. To see this, try to imagine a statement that could be true of your perfect Circle Universe but not True of mine. If you can imagine one in your Universe then you have cheated and not imagined a perfect circle.

Now let’s play the Truth game with this new perfectly circular board.

I will write my Lists using Bullets from now on. I am no mathematician but perhaps I may start my Lists like this:

    • True:
      • The proportion of the area of the circle is Pi times the radius squared.
    • False:
      • The circle has exactlly four axis of symmetry.
    • Meaningless:
      • The King is dead.

It is a lot harder with Circles than Gloves to fill the Three Lists because the very act of stipulation/imagination/creation limits what’s possible to say about the Circle Universe. Also, and importantly, the fact that all circles in the Game are perfect means they must also be identical. Two things are identical if the totality of their Truth Lists contain all of the same statements on each List, as would be the case with Perfect Circles but nor red gloves. We can imagine the difference in gloves, but not in perfect circles. And therefore, if follows that we can have no differences between our Circle Universes, to show me wrong here you just need to come up with a statement that would be true of your universe but not mine (without changing the rules of the game.)

We are going to move to the even more simple “Board” for our next variant of the Game, in the next part of this Thought Experiment.

Imagine a Single Point universe.

I don’t know what that means in any deep or metaphysical sense. I can’t imagine a Single Point Universe like I think I can a Glove Universe or a cosmic Universe and I certainly can’t imagine it like I can imagine yesterday’s lunch. But, just like with gloves and circles and anything else, I can fill out the Truth List for the Single Point Universe.

So… let’s play, fill out the Truth Lists for a universe that is just a point. No space or time, without change and structure.

When you try to do this, you will soon see that the Meaningless List can be added to easily, but the other two, Truth and False, are much more challenging.

There are only two true statements I can think off about the Single Point universe, and even these I am not sure what they mean. Here is my Truth List for the Single Point Universe:

    • True:
      • The Point Exists.

 

    • The Point is Identical with Itself.

How can I even be sure that I can have these two True Statement’s on my list? I am not sure that I can, but it strikes me that whatever “existence” is if it is True of the Glove Existing then why would it not be True of the single point existing.

We have stipulated that the universe contains no change. It follows from this stipulation that the point must be identical with itself. If it was not, there would be a change, either in sequence or structure (We shall see what these terms mean in future experiments).

Let’s look to the False List:

    • False:
      • There is no existence.
      • The Point is Identical with Itself.

 

The Single point universe has two False statements on its List, these are, as you can see, simply the opposite of the Truth List.

If this was the case, if the two lists contained items that couldn’t exist within the same game’s Truth lists, then we would have a problem, the most fundamental of problems, the Contradiction.

Underlying all of these Games we can play is a rule set that contains as its most fundamental rule:

There Can be No Contradictions

It doesn’t matter what Universe we try to imagine, if we are reasonable then the underlying truths of Logic dictate that things will be consistent. There can be no contradictions. Soon we will see how emergence is a dependency relationship and we will be able to test this with any statement against any possible universe and see that this NonContradiction flows thought reality, possible and actual.In other words, if you are not prepared to accept this most fundamental rule then these Thought Experiments just cannot be for you:)

Conclusion: The Single Point Philosopher

The Single point universe is logically the most Simple Universe anything could consistently imagine or represent. All we can say are four nontrivial statements, is “that it exists” and “that it is identical with its self” and the negation of these two statements. That’s all we can say, but as we shall see in the next experiments comes, from this most minimal of atoms we can create some amazing things. Before this, I think it would be good to ask the questions we cannot really answer about the Single Point Universe.

So far we haven’t been anywhere near what is traditionally and culturally considered the deeper side of philosophy. In fact, we haven’t really been doing any “philosophizing” at all in these two thought experiments. We have been reporting “the facts” about imaginary universes rather than asking the big Why/What/How? questions common to Philosophy.

As a final exercise, which is ideally suited to the bath, bed or pub, I want you to think about the Single Point Universe in as many ways as you can (or can’t). Try to contemplate the Single Point universe, as we have been; asking questions and suggesting answers. Try to meditate on the single pointed universe, focussing on it with as little distraction as you can (I find this very hard!). Try to visualise the Single Point Universe, even if you never can. Try to doubt it. Try to disprove its possibility.

And when you have tried the above, try, however you can to answer these kind of questions:

    1. Could it exist?
    2. Can I make sense of it not existing?
    3. What is the difference between it existing and not existing?
    4. Does it contain Pi?
    5. Does it the anything like time or space?
    6. Is it true that 4+6=10 in the Single Point Universe?
    7. If it exists can it then not exist?
    8. Are the Truth Lists of the Single Point Universe contained within the reality we are now in This Universe. Are all things identical with themselves in this universe? Do all things in this universe exist in some sense in this universe?
    9. What happens if we add another point exactly like the first?

If you are like me you won’t be able to clearly answer most of the above, but that really doesn’t matter.

Thought Experiment One: The Glove Game

Close your eyes and imagine an ordinary, small, red ladies glove. Imagine that in the wrist part of the glove is a slit and one side of this is a small red button. Imagine that on the other side of the slit is a small loop that can go around the button, to hold the glove in place on a hand.

You have just imagined a glove. Now I want you to imagine this glove floating in a void of nothingness. No other things, no time, no light, no observer, just the glove. I want you to imagine The Glove Universe.

In fact, you cannot imagine a universe that’s just a small red ladies glove. For a number of reasons:

You can’t imagine something being “small” if thats’ the only thing there is. Smallness is a relative property, it needs more things to be realised.

You can’t imagine something as being red if there is no light and no observer. “Colour’s” don’t make sense in the glove universe (Though you can imagine the surface of the Glove has properties that were it on your hand right now would make it red).

You can’t imagine just a glove because gloves are what’s called “enantiomorphs” (One of my favourite words), this means that they are left or right handed structures that cannot exist without a “counterpart.”

Perhaps, even without the above three issues, we just cannot imagine universes in anything like the same way we can imagine tomorrows weather or the things we can imagine. Perhaps we can’t imagine the unimaginable.

Luckily. We don’t need need to imagine the unimaginable to be able to think about it discuss it and learn from it. Too see this point and too see some other things we are going to play an imaginary game, but one we could all play any time.

The Glove Game: Round One

Start a document that has room for three lists. You can use pen and paper, bullet points, mental notes, whatever, it really doesn’t matter. I will use bullet points for my side of the game.

Label the first List, “True List.”

All you have to do to win Round One is add more True statements about the Glove Universe than I do. When we say “True” in the context of this game we mean:

True: “A statement is True about the Glove Universe if what it describes can be found within the Glove Universes.”

Here is my first Truth List:

  • True:

    • The Glove has four fingers and a thumb.

When I look at the imaginary universe I see that this is True. The meanings of the words are from outside of the Universe but what they represent can be found inside the Glove universe. If you’re going to try to imagine a six fingered glove, then you lose the game because the game requires an “ordinary, small, red ladies glove.”

It isn’t hard to come up with True statements about the glove as my “True List” shows:

  • True

    • The Glove has four fingers and a thumb.

    • The button is not between the index finger and the thumb.

    • The little finger is not longer than the middle finger

    • The thumb is not between any fingers.

You can add to your list and I can add to mine and on and on we go. Sometimes we may come up with statements where it isn’t so clear if the statement is True. For example, what do we say about?:

It is possible the tip of the thumb could touch the tip of the index finger if the rest of the glove remained the same.

I don’t know what to say about this. It mentions possibility and conditionals (“if the…”) that don’t seem to belong. We shall discuss these in Round Three, for this round, its pretty clear, none of us can win.

If you want to imagine that the loop is has a tangent that intersects the seam of the thumb at 23% degrees, that’s fine, it’s your thought experiment and so long as your Stipulation of any single fact is consistent with your stipulations of the other facts, you can “imagine” it. And this means the Truth List is just a repository for facts that are consistent with a universe that consists of just an “ordinary, small, red ladies glove.”

The Glove Game: Round Two

For the next round, we have to start on the second List. Label this the “False List”.

The winner of Round Two is the person who comes up with the longest statement list of False statements about the Glove Universe. To see if a statement is False just see if the thing it describes is to be found in the Glove Universe, if it is not, then the statement is False.

Here is the start of my “False List” (Comments are in the lines below):

  • False:

    • The volume of the thumb is greater than the volumes of the other fingers combined.

      • Although we can easily imagine gloves with very big thumbs, that would be outside of the rules of this game which requires “a small red ladies glove…”.

    • The glove has symmetry.

    • It is possible to weave the thumb through the other fingers

    • The glove has the same topology as a doughnut.

It’s pretty easy to come up with False Statements about the Glove Universe. And like with True Statements, when seeking False Statements we also find some statements that don’t seem to be False. For example:

    • The Glove Is underneath a Hat.

Seems to be False because the Glove is not underneath a hat. However, it’s not False and yert equally it doesn’t to be a True (That is, Not Flase.). These statements that don’t fit on either list will be discussed in Round Three.

The Glove Game: Round Three

The Third List in the game is the “Meaningless List” and it will take only statements that are meaningless relevant to the Glove Universe. This will take a little bit more to appreciate before we play.

A statement is Meaningless relative to the Glove Universe Game if it is nether True nor False about the Glove Universe. You might like to think of Meaningless statements as containing things that simply cannot be found in any possible Glove Universe.

  • True statements describe things that exist within the Glove Universe.

    • By “things” here we mean structures, relations, properties that are contingent upon the stipulation of the universe.

  • False statements describe things that do not exist within the Glove Universe.

  • Meaningless statements describe things cannot exist in the Glove Universe.

    • That is, “cannot exist” without cheating and stipulating something other than a “”a small red ladies glove…”.

With an idea of what it means to be “Meaningless,” here is my Meaningless List:

  • Meaningless:

    • Paris is the Capital of France.

    • Mars is often called “The Red Planet”

    • The glove is larger than an elephant.

    • All gloves are smaller than houses.

    • The glove belonged to Audry Hepburn.

    • The Glove is left handed.

    • We understand this experiment.

    • All games are not fun.

This game is rubbish!

Nobody could win Round One, nor Round Two and it now it looks like nobody can win Round Three. In fact, it strikes me that there are always going to be more meaningless statements because most possible statements simply won’t refer to things in the Glove Universe and thus, are meaningless.

Conclusion to the First Thought Experiment

This experiment has highlighted a number of things. Perhaps most importantly it’s shown what a Thought Experiment is, in case you didn’t already know. A thought experiment is simply a stipulated possible Universe that is created to be experimented on or questioned about.

We make Thought experiments all the time, “If I won the lottery I would..”, “Imagine all the people, living in Harmony…”

It’s also shown that thought experiments are about what’s relevant to them by stipulation, not by assumption. You can imagine things that are not really possible to exist or imagine and yet, you can see how still we can ask relevant questions about them.

But with the Glove Game we have employed a useful tool in the Truth Lists that allows us to speak about the possible universe in a pretty precise and useful way. I hope in the next experiment you will have an even more intuitive understanding of the potential.

The last thing we saw from this experiment is that all possible statements seem to fit into only one of three categories, True, False or Meaningless and that which list any statement belongs on depends on the stipulated nature of the relevant universe. This will become very important in future experiments.

The next Experiment will be published here shortly.

What is Karma?

A twitter post compelled my to quickly try and get down on pixel paper my thoughts on what Karma is.

As with, I think all Dharmic concepts, Karma is best understood as pertaining to systems rather than objects/people etc. So before explaining how I see Karma I’ll outline what a Moral System is to me:

Moral systems have emergent moral properties.

A moral system is a system that can emerge moral properties. I am a moral system. You are. Society is. Religion is. Schools are… and so on. All of these moral systems share the possibility of having moral properties attributed to them. Properties such as right, wrong, fair, cruel and just.

Moral properties are internal, in that they refer to the system or they are external in that they refer to some other system.

In addition these moral systems have the potential of specific attitudes towards other moral properties; my dislike in your unfairness, your compassion for their suffering, a charity’s stance against world debt.

Moral systems have emergent evaluations of moral properties.

Moral systems are able to refer to their own moral systems and in these references they necessarily will value distinctions between moral properties. (I believe it’s these constant valuations that all moral systems have to make that add the core bivalence between right and wrong into our moralities.)

A value within a system is a propensity to pursue or avoid some future state to which the value pertains to. If I value cream-pies then I will pursue those. If I hate cucumbers, I will avoid those. The same is true of moral properties, as moral systems will behave in accordance as to how they value the moral properties they can pursue and avoid.

All of these evaluative properties we can boil down into two abstract notions, the positive and the negative. Loosely, the positive are the things I or you would prefer to be the case and the negative are the contrary.

Karma is the causal interconnectedness between all Moral Systems.

I think that Karma is simply the network of moral causes and effects that radiate from each of our actions out into the world and, importantly, into ourselves.

The moral effects of our actions may be external; you make someone happy, you annoy an entire country . or they may be internal; your pride at your kindness, your guilt at your selfishness. This is all Karma is. We are in a sea Karma. It is our lies and admissions and hopes and fears and all of these motivators that guide not only us as individuals but the institutions around us.

Often people mistake Karma as being a substance or energy or force, and you can see why because all morality is potentially interconnected it is has this substantive aspect but that is just an illusion. The only sense in which Karma can be accurately seen as a Force is by analaogy to physical causation.

The cue ball causes/forces the black ball to move. The bad deed causes/had the karmic effect that Bob was sad.

If you are a good person the chances of you having a good life are increased, not because of some supernatural reward system but because of the “karmic feedback” of your actions and thoughts, internally and externally.

If you are a bad person then your lies and violence and guilt etetcera will increase the chances of you having more negativity in so many ways. Not only the obvious, like punishment etc but also in terms of ones psychology. The Buddha realised this and now so many studies are confirming it.

I think most people, when you take away the “majic” decorations that millennia of Buddhist culture have added to the concept of Karma would see it as the simple and obvious fact: good moral causes have good moral effects.

Understanding Dependent Origination – The Enlightenment of Dharma

Dependent Origination is the least taught, most misunderstood but most important aspect of all of Buddhism. Dependent Origination is the natural law that the Buddha fully realised when he became enlightened. It is not magic, it is not mystical, it is to do with the grounding truths of all logically possible realities and how they affect the emergent realities we experience as sentient humans.

At first site Dependent Origination, to western analytic minds, seems so obvious, it even has exact analogies in classic logic and metaphysics that have propagated from the pre-Socratic philosophers to modern reason. But what the Buddha did was to not only see it as fundamental but he understood the subsequent effects Dependent Origination has in all aspects of reality and, importantly, the limits it puts on reality.

To understand impermanence, emptiness and negativity is to understand the Dharma but to understand why all systems are impermanent or why there can be no ego, the answer comes back to Dependent Origination.

“If you know Dharma, you know Dependent origination. If you know Dependent Origination, you know dharma.” The Buddha

What Dependent Origination is Not.

If you ask a learned Buddhist what Dependent Origination is, or read in the vast majority of texts concerning it, you will most likely have described a complex wheel of causation. This wheel has twelve stages that encompass rebirth, suffering, ignorance and is termed The Twelve Niddyas.

Historically the Twelve Niddyas came at least four hundred years after the Buddha’s life yet they have become interpreted as being the actual concept of Dependent Origination rather than a mystical (pertaining to the supernatural) interpretation of Dependent Origination as applied to some notion of rebirth. This is a catastrophe to a widespread understanding of Dharma because it obscures the original and crucial meaning of the concept and thus excludes a deep and true understanding of Dharma.

An analogous case would be to say that a constructed, complex economic cycle that nobody but a PHD economist could understand was the law of “supply and demand” and then to expect budding economists to be able to move on in their studies from the confusing and inaccurate set of first principles.

Dependent Origination is a simple and rational principle, when properly understood its about as far from the mystical as one can get.

What Dependent origination Is.

Think for as long as you can about these four statements:

  • If I knock at your door, I am on your doorstep.
  • If I walk up to your door, I will be on your doorstep.
  • If I am never on your doorstep, I will never be knocking on your door.
  • If I stop being on your doorstep, I will stop knocking your door.

And then ask yourself these questions:

Are the statements all true in this world? Is there a possible world where the statements might not be true? Are the statements true together, that is, if one is true must they all be true? You can easily come up with trivial examples where they are not true, for example, standing off your doorstep and knocking with a big stick, but without adding any extra information to the statements, it seems that they are absolutely true in all cases.

If, like me, you are forced to conclude that the statements are true in all possible worlds in which they make sense, then you understand the foundational formulation of Dependent Origination. That is it! An anticlimax compared to the esotericism of the Twelve Niddyas, perhaps, but it is this conditionality that is Dependent Origination, nothing more.

In scriptural terms Dependent Origination is most simply expressed as:

  • When there is thisthat is.
  • With the arising of thisthat arises.
  • When this is not, neither is that.
  • With the cessation of thisthat ceases.

1.

The first point we need to make about the above expression of Dependent Origination is that the this and that stated will be any this and any that. This is hugely important Dharmically because it referring to all possible things, all possible systems and events and representations. What the Buddha realised was that conditionality isn’t the domain of some isolated syllogism but that it applies to everything, necessarily (The Buddha had no idea about quantum randomness; I am not sure how this would fit in with Dependent Origination.)

When you take this and that as being any possible this and that then it can be seen that Dependent Origination bestows three properties on the causality of reality:

  • Transitivity– Conditionality is transitive. If P then Q then R, if not P then not R

o Note that in the world there are countless ways for events to happen, eg, you may open the door for another reason than me knocking on it. But that would be a different event, even though “on paper” it’s the same event.

  • Generality –Conditionally applies to any causally related events at any level of abstraction.
  • Totality –Conditionality applies to all events/systems/things. There is nothing outside of the conditionality of all things.

Everything is a cause and everything is an effect and the effects of causes are never singular and the causes of effects are never singular. The Buddha realised how reality is the vast, consistent and complex web of change, that there are no distinct unchanging things that can possibly be connected with reality.

Why is Dependent Origination Dharma?

I outlined here about the Three Marks of Existence, Annica, Anataman and Dukka, and how all of Dharma flows from them. I belive when you understand Dependent origination it is possible to see how these Three Marks are necessarily the case. Even now after many years thinking about this it hurts my head to see it all as one body of truth. I think this is why Meditation is considered so important to Dharma practice, as it may offer a way to apprehend these conceptual structures outside of the rigid lingustic structures we are used to relying on. But here goes:

Annica – All things are impermanent

Because all conditioned things originate within this transitive web of causation it follows that there is nothing to remain a constant. There is no thing that is isolated from the changes that flow following the principle of Dependent Origination. This applies from the neurons in my brain that make my knuckles tap on your door to the sound wave you hear and everything that follows from that and leads up to that.

As soon as an event happens, as soon as a thing changes, it is gone and the next change is happening, the effect becomes a new cause. And so on. And so on.

All conditioned things are impermanent. Everything is change.

Anataman – There are no objects/egos/souls

Because all things (systems, events..) are conditioned things it follows that there can be no thing that is isolated from the web of causation and equally no thing that appears from nowhere within the web of causation (QM randomness aside?). If Dependent origination is true in all possible realities then all possible realities are consistent. Consistent interconnectedness and impermanence preclude the possibility of their being something that is excluded from interconnectedness (a distinct thing) or immune to impermanence (an eternal thing.)

Ontologically impermanence and interconnectedness manifest in the impossibility of anomalous things, like miracles and souls. Psychologically impermanence and interconnectedness preclude the possibility of a constant distinct self/ego. There are no distinct objects in mind our world, however the illusions of perspective may make things seem to the contrary.

Dukka –Negativity/Suffering/Decay is Inevitable

Consider a deck of cards arranged neatly in suits and imagine the order changing (shuffling) as all things do. Any change will be a change away from that order, and, in addition, the probability increasingly decreases the more the deck is shuffled that it will to the original neat order. The deck of cards has a finite possibility space and the vastest extent of that space is change away from order not towards

The same is true of all systems that constitute reality; change will take place in a finite possibility space. In physical terms this fact is captured by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In economic terms by the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns. In human terms by realisations such as “the more of Great Thing X you have, the less great X becomes.” Change reduces the possibility space and if that space is valued by some other agent (like you) then change tends towards the negative.

These kinds of realisations are the opposite of difficult, if dogs could think like us, they would think the same. It’s not just that all things change but that most change tends towards the negative. The Buddha realised that this fact was self-evident. Moreover, when the inevitable negative was apprehended by sentient beings with qualitative experiences (like you) the realisation, conscious or not, will be bound to create negative experiences in the being.

This is why we suffer, the Buddha thought; because we constantly crave for the inevitable negative to not be the case. Accepting our impermanence and the impermanence of our good experiences is one thing but clinging to the hope that that may not be the case is fundamentally going to only bear bitter fruit. It cannot be any other way.

Dukka applies to solar systems and ecosystems and air-conditioning systems, but where it solidifies into suffering and strain is when the inevitable negative is apprehended by sentient systems, just like me, just like you. The only way to lessen the negativity of the inevitable negative in ourselves is to end attachment to transient things and to remove ignorance about the ontological status of things (ego, object, others…) and see the world as it really is. The method he reasoned from these realisations was to follow the Noble Eightfold Path and embrace the transitive and the inevitable negative.

Conclusion

Dharma is science and reason, to think otherwise is to place the contaminating teachings of scholars and monks who came centuries after the Buddha’s teachings as being more authoritative than the original teachings. It seems this has happened with all religions, but with Buddhism are lucky. We still have the original, wonderful, rational, sceptical discoveries of The Buddha available to us, but in addition, we don’t need them. We could erase all of Buddha’s teachings and start again just from that first principle of Dependent Origination that enlightened the Buddha and arrive using nothing but reason and insight through the Three Marks of Existence, the Four Noble Truths to the practice of The Noble Eightfold Path.

Dharma is simple and rational, not mystical and obscure. It takes us from the core truths of reality to a personal and social morality and understanding where compassion and love are not assumptions but conclusions entailed all the way up from the first principles.

Dharma is truth, to prove it wrong one merely needs to disprove Dependent Origination.