Archive for January, 2011

The comments to my last post have prompted this one.  I have often been confronted with disagreement; much more so than others. Being outspoken on the subjects of meaning and relevance accounts for some of the excess.  It seems as if most disagreement is rooted in a confused sense of relevance and meaning in the world.

I believe most people would agree that social and political problems hinge on a fundamental difference in points of view.  It is the same as saying that everyone sees or perceives of things differently.  It is the exemplification of the screen of relativity; that everything in the world is relative.  If everything in the world is relative in this sense of ‘being’ relative, it is relative first and foremost to the point of view of the observer.   This begs the question: Is it even possible that there is a shared and (relatively) objective point of view about existence?

If one cares to look into the literature of relativity and objectivity, it is fair to say that there is substantial confusion among academics.  The first cause of confusion, in my view and experience, is that people seem to forget they are subject to the physical and biological nature of being here and that confuses their thoughts and actions. Related to that is the way people lose touch with the nature of being in existence. It is pretty common to say that someone has lost their perspective. It could also be that they lose their point of view.  It takes critical thinking to find it again.

An important first step of critical thinking is to establish a point of view, for example.  If we are talking about meaning that people share, we also need a shared point of view. I will call this shared point of view “a proprioceptive insight to being in existence” and remark that it is an objective viewpoint that applies equally to everyone.

A proprioceptive insight relates to the stimuli connected with the position and movement of the body that are produced and perceived within an organism. We are concerned here with individuals, and the production or creation of meaning within human beings.  I will point out that when we include the “social context” in connection with such production, in addition to meaning connected with or reacting upon the position and movement of the human body, one finds the symbols and objects of language, and the leaders, cultures and institutions of human societies, numbering among the stimuli.

Proprioception is seen by some scientists, psychologists mainly, as one of the common senses.  In my view, all people develop their own proprioceptive insight that nonetheless centers on their own existence.  It is due to this fact, that everyone, in essence, everyone in a body, already shares the same point of view towards external objects and sense-data.  Some people are more aware of this than others.

Dancer’s, for example, exemplify a highly-developed if not exceptional and professional insight into the proprioceptive sense of their own bodies and the relationships of the movement and positions of their limbs –in a formal sense– according to the design of movement.  They posses a keen ability to recognize, or they acquire sensory knowledge of, the position and location and orientation and movement of the body and its parts. In order to create her work of art, using all her physical capability and know-how, the professional dancer strives to interpret the movement designed by the choreographer with the finest technical precision and detail and most obvious fidelity.

Few people will have the proprioception of a dancer and still fewer know or admit to such an objective view of the world –even while it is an essential element in the formulation of one’s knowledge; one that can be uncovered with critical thinking. It may be due to this sort of ‘forgetfulness’ and the adoption of contrary viewpoints that people lose sight of what is relevant, significant and decisive. So this post will examine the unfolding of meaning from an objective or proprioceptive point of view. Along the way, hopefully, we will see how a person can be easily misled. Note that I am composing this from experience that I will mention at the end.

To understand why this forgetfulness affects society, let’s start with what is learned in early childhood.

During the early months and years of their lives, children begin their learning by occupying themselves with apprehending the extent of the sensations to all parts of their bodies. In each child’s life, eventually one’s insight or knowledge of proprioception is extended to sensing external or projected objects and happenings (simple occurrences, events or beings in and of themselves) in relation to the position and location of the body or its parts. “Ultimately all observation, scientific or popular, consists in the determination of the spatial relation of the bodily organs of the observer to the location of ‘projected’ sense-data.” — Alfred North Whitehead in Symbolism Its Meaning and Effect (Barbour-Page Lectures — retrievable here. Note that: All quotations in this post are taken from this source.)

In this age of modernity, many people seem to wallow in immediate sense-data and their own inhibitions and diversions while they act as if the future is irrelevant and ignore salient facts that may determine their own fate. These people will often treat the sheer conditions of existence as accidental, or as something indiscernible, ineffable and unimportant; when exactly the opposite is true. As Alfred North Whitehead tells it: “The bonds of causal efficacy arise from without us. They disclose the character of the world from which we issue, an inescapable condition round which we shape ourselves. The bonds of presentational immediacy arise from within us, and are subject to intensifications and inhibitions and diversions according as we accept their challenge or reject it.

Whitehead goes on in his lecture to talk about and define causal efficacy and presentational immediacy at some length; I would urge my readers to take it in using the link above, it is not so hard to follow. Here and now, I want to focus on the conflict that arises from these bonds, the effects it has on the individual and society, and the forgetfulness that increases doubt and uncertainty. It is the conflict here that is also at the root of the failure to resolve substantial public and political issues; such as can be seen in the problem of terrorism.

Politicians have created this problem of terrorism that binds us to activities that do too little to eradicate it. The very notion of terrorism spawns its own form of presentational immediacy that causes the senses to be hijacked –in that one’s own attention is steered away from the possibility of resolution– being faced with a vague yet terrifying unknown clouds the senses with emotional anger or fear. This is the case in America, where many Americans gladly accept the erosion of civil liberties, once guaranteed by its Constitution, as necessary to defend against the inevitability of a terrorist attack.

There is as little resolve to defend against the erosion of civil liberties as there is to deprive terrorism of its existence in this world. As Whitehead defines it: “Irresolution in action arises from consciousness of a somewhat distant relevant future, combined with inability to evaluate its precise type. If we were not conscious of relevance, why is there irresolution in a sudden crisis?” For too many people, superstition, uncertainty or doubt is indubitably and simultaneously a part of the definiteness of the present; it affects people: making them unwitting pawns of the would-be “controlling presences” that lurk behind the projected sense-data –the presentation of terrorism in the popular press and in politically-charged rhetoric, for example.  But let’s not get hung up on politics.

Whitehead wrote: “The reason why the projected sense-data are in general used as symbol, is that they are handy, definite, and manageable. We can see, or not see, as we like: we can hear, or not hear. There are limits to this handiness of the sense-data: but they are emphatically the manageable elements in our perceptions of the world.

Note that much of the projected sense-data are symbols in some deeper sense, e.g., as politicians, religious leaders, experts, can be used as symbols in and of themselves; as well as the propositions, facts and information we get from or about experts, politicians and religious zealots in the news and on the Internet, for example. Most of what we take as symbol is generated from the immediate sense-data –such as one’s own symbolic conception of terrorism– and it takes its place among the manageable elements of one’s experience. We can surely hear and see as we like according to choice and free speech, but as Whitehead warned there are limits to this handiness.

When these symbols come to represent the inevitability of the way things are –to be taken as the controlling presences of now and the future– they have been taken too far. Referring to the manageable character and definiteness to the presentational immediacy of projected-sense data used as symbol, Whitehead tells us that: “The sense of controlling presences has the contrary character: it is unmanageable, vague, and ill-defined. But for all their vagueness, for all their lack of definition, these controlling presences, these sources of power, these things with an inner life, with their own richness of content, these beings, with the destiny of the world hidden in their natures, are what we want to know about.

Some people tend to take, or rather mistake, trending topics, popular knowledge and celebrity as what they want to know about –it is because of this feeling, perhaps, that celebrity is important to them. The trouble is that, for some, the mistaken person or object of desire joins the controlling presences in their lives.  Rap artists and comedians become role models. Dissidents and zealots command the press and the public attention. Neither politicians nor athletes can escape their celebrity.

Yet: “As we cross a road busy with traffic, we see the colour of the cars, their shapes, the gay colours of their occupants; but at the moment we are absorbed in using this immediate show as a symbol for the forces determining the immediate future.” Neither politicians, artists nor experts gets involved in this immediate task. How then can they rise to the occasion of being among the controlling presences in one’s own life?  Whitehead tells us by explaining that: “We enjoy the symbol, but we also penetrate to the meaning. The symbols do not create their meaning: the meaning, in the form of actual effective beings reacting upon us, exists for us in its own right. But the symbols discover this meaning for us.

Confronted with a need to cross a highway, the symbolic definition of each element of the projected sense-data is not as weighty as the relevance of the immediate future and the accord between the immediate goal and the natural forces –those regarded as controlling or regulating the phenomena. The need, the lack of a traffic signal, the sequence of moving vehicles, their speed, and the makes and models of the cars, along with their descriptions and occupants, uncovers or shows much of that meaning in the weight of the relationships symbolizing the present configuration of ‘projected sense-data’.

The projected sense-data co-mingles with the objects of presentational immediacy and one’s own sense of the familiar. Emotional desire moves us to immerse ourselves in determining the relevance of the immediate future to the wholeness of the present and the efficacy of our intention. If it were otherwise, if we were delving into the accurate definitions because the projected sense-data were unfamiliar, as is the norm with computers, the relevance of the immediate future would necessarily be inhibited –perhaps with devastating consequences.

In human beings, unlike machines, all possibilities are potentials as we act from the proprioceptive sense of our own being in relation to this confrontation with reality and the forces determining whether we make the passage safely or not. The emotions that move us, these forces and future possibilities, coalesce into a unified state of relevance at the precise moment of resolution.  This unfolding of meaning –the apprehension or grasp of it, in and of itself– provides all that is essential.

Now I don’t really expect many reader’s to get my meaning, and all of sudden become capable of perceiving the unfolding of meaning; that otherwise, and for some people, all happens in a flash. Those people who have experienced such occasions, can recall and think about the salient features.  Whitehead wrote that: “Certain emotions, such as anger and terror, are apt to inhibit the apprehension of sense-data; but they wholly depend upon a vivid apprehension of the relevance of immediate past to the present, and of the present to the future. Again an inhibition of familiar sense-data provokes the terrifying sense of vague presences, effective for good or evil over our fate.

In the case of crossing the busy highway: the cars, the road, the state, the occupants, past experience, the present, everything –all the ‘projected sense-data’ — is condensed into points or bodies in a space and time that is (all-at-once) intrinsically connected to our own proprioceptive being and location. What has happened, what is happening and what will happen next are each relevant and each commands its own body of being in the projected sense-data. “Our relationships to these bodies are precisely our reactions to them. The projection of our sensations is nothing else than the illustration of the world in partial accordance with the systematic scheme, in space and in time, to which these reactions conform.”

I hope my readers will bear in mind that the projection of our sensations is both real and imaginary, and they too take refuge in, and stay true to, the systematic scheme of existence, in space and in time, that is the changeless and unbounded wholeness and efficacy to creation.

Together with Tom Adi, I went looking for “meaning” beginning in the early 1980’s, or rather, we went looking for what constitutes meaning. I believe we not only found what constitutes relevance and meaning or semantics in natural language, Tom found natural laws to the wholeness and accord that exists between causal efficacy and presentational immediacy. In my view, Adi’s elementary processes are the same entity as Whitehead’s controlling presences.

Beginning with the assumption that all bodies (abstract as well as concrete bodies) are in motion, according to physical laws, and; using a polar coordinate system for making measurements of orientation, distance and length from a center point; we tested Adi’s semantic theory and procedures thoroughly. First, an algebraic language was created using Adi’s elementary processes and conditions of existence as its abstract/mental objects.

These processes, called Assignment, Manifestation and Containment, and their conditions of existence are most recently explained here.  We also developed algorithmic methods for reasoning about this “relation of meaning” between the words or symbols of text expressions. During this exercise we learned more about these elementary processes and the conditions of existence.  It is fair to say we are still learning today as we have only broken the surface.

We transformed the language, mathematical apparatus and methods into computer software (Readware) to test the reasoning and new theories of semantics, language learning and cognition.  We submitted the software to repetitive, formal and informal capability testing in text analysis, classification and text retrieval use cases –where relevance, recall and precision is measured. Performance testing was conducted from 1987 until 2007 in which it passed all tests with exceptional margins.

Some of the work has been peer reviewed and published in scientific journals and books; this report is in the public domain.  Yet, it takes a proprioceptive sensibility to make use of the functions. It also takes critical thinking to understand this work, and to understand the sense of meaning and the conditions of the existence from which we all issue.

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Consider the nature of conceptual vs. data processing.

Data are elements of conception.  A conceptual element of human insight or imagination is not data. A conceptual element or concept is symbolic of human insight and fancy, i.e.; it is a function of creative thought –of engaging the imagination, the intellect and the creative force of existence in symbolic and physical processes of creation and its renewal.

A creative process is thereby directive and a concept is no arbitrary symbol. A concept represents the unification of symbolic processes of conception: the interplay and engagement of the intellect and imagination and psychological and physiological processes in the creative processes and conditions of conception; in the activity of perceiving and experiencing creation.

A concept can thus be seen as a part of the larger totality of Creation. Such a totality engages not only of the intellect and imagination but also of the harmonious order, essence and totalities, or coherent wholeness, of subsequently experienced (and socially distributed) psychological, physiological and creative processes and conditions.

As I showed in my last post: The essence of the order, structure and the coherent wholeness of the creative processes and conditions are condensed and objectified by way of shared conceptual insight. Such objects are often perceived, copied, reflected upon and instituted as the names of things, and used as words and expressions in the language.

Consider these long-lived conceptual institutions: Beauty. Justice. Liberty.

In the foreword to David Bohm’s book On Creativity, editor Lee Nichol writes:

We have found, developed and formally tested that language and the objective terms in which conceptual processes can be (computed) understood and measured.  While the independence assumption has led AI into torpor, a new interdependence assumption coupled with conceptual processing and critical thinking can lead to a new era of creative computing.

Creativity, not intelligence, is the hallmark of humanity.  However, the prevailing view is that the concepts and insight to creativity cannot be computationally defined and that creative thought is vaporous and empty of any substance. The power of thought or of concepts to engender creative actions in human beings remains shrouded in religious or mystical superstition.

We need assistance and support though, to change that view and help to usher in a new era of intelligent progress and creative achievement.

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