Saturday 20 May 2000

Me & shirt

Pic of the day: Look what I found in the cupboard among the washed trousers. A brand new, unopened Marlboro Classics shirt. Presumably bought one of the last couple years, put away and then forgotten. (This one cost about $100 at the time. Perhaps they still do.) This is the guy who has occasionally asked whether it is a good idea to feed the starving, or if it will just encourage them to breed without working. (On the bright side, the shirt has not encouraged me to breed.)

Loopy philosophy

In Philosophy Now, there was this quote (or rather translation) from Jean-Jacques Rousseau: "It is philosophy which isolates a man, and prompts him to say in secret at the sight of another suffering: 'Perish if you will; I am safe.'" (Rousseau may or may not have been aware that posterity would count him among the philosophers...)

To quite some extent I agree with Rousseau, in so far as I think there is a connection. I am not sure it is direct, though. Rather I think that philosophers tend to be introverted people, much like my humble self. And as such, we are prone to have a tighter feedback loop of the mind than most people. I have spoken before of my belief that self awareness comes from a simple yet sensitive feedback loop in the mind: Somehow we divert the output of our thoughts and feed it back to ourselves for review rather than just pouring it out to any nearby member of our species. This mechanism seems to be poorly developed in small children and in some adults, none of which I shall mention by name here.

For the continued survival of the individual, not to mention the species, it is important that the feedback loop is not total. Or our minds would become like black holes from which nothing escapes. After a suitable refinement the thoughts are supposed to emerge, now the conscious thought of a sentient being, not just the instinctive outcries of an animal. This is the factor that probably makes sentience so rare: If not well balanced, it will incapacitate its owner more than non-sentience does.

The philosopher then tends to have this deeper gravity well. And as his thoughts go the extra rounds in the accellerator of the mind, they change and often become less accessible to the more casual mind. In this way, estrangement occurs. But the looping back on ourselves tends to increase both our good and our bad character traits to new heights. Sometimes philosophers - as well as artists - reach new height, thinking thoughts that need to be thought by someone, but at great expense to themselves. And their loved ones, come to think of it.

And of course, for each such philosopher and artist, there's a number of introverts who are just loopy. Whose thoughts go round and round but don't really get anywhere. Hey, why are you looking at me like that?


I just looked in a New Scientist magazine from August 1993. (I guess that actually makes it Old Scientist...) My eyes fell on the intriguing headline: Forgive me, computer, for I have sinned. Heh. Turns out someone had made an automated confession booth. It was of no actual use, however, because the computer was not ordained ...

I would not be surprised if it now is possible to confess over the Internet. I can't say for sure. I am not a Catholic, nor do I personally know any, and they are the acknowledged world leaders in confession. But that's confession as a ritual, as a sacrament. And with all due respect for that, confession may be too essential to remain hostage to religious competition. I think we all need it.

For what was I myself doing at the very beginning of today's entry? Was I not confessing my greed, my vanity, my essential egotism? (Of course it can be argued that the need to confess is also in its basic nature egotism, as it comes from a need to better one's own future or alleviate a heavy conscience. But let's not take an extra loop here.) Forgive me, computer, for I have sinned ...

There is the obvious difference from the confession automat, though, that I'm not really writing to the computer. There are supposedly people reading this. It is more like speaking on the marketplace or the main street. Or at least a small fast food outlet. Whether I lament my sins or boast of my virtues, I know that there is a reasonable chance that someone will read it. And that's the way it was meant to be, though I don't know who is reading.

Perhaps someone who is reading this is writing their own online journal, or perhaps they are chatting or mailing with someone else who does. Perhaps eventually some small detail in these pages make them say something, and it prompts another reader to say something else. Eventually I read something that is a refinement, an improvement of my own immature thoughts on some subject. Like some kind of macro neurons in the immense brain of the Internet, we have created a new feedback loop. A higher level of consciousness? Perhaps not yet. It takes more than loops to be conscious. Still, it is an intriguing thought.

Or am I just being loopy again?

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