Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In the box

So I have been reading about the holographic principle and now I'm confused whether I am part of a fourdimensional shadow of a deeper, many-dimensioned universe or a threedimensional reflection of the twodimensional quantum flickerings at the universe's horizon.

The holographic idea (the second of those two if it's not clear) grew out of thinking about information at the horizon of a black hole, and from the Aspect experiment that showed nonlocal effects in subatomic particles (particles moved in ways that would imply communication faster than the speed of light, which is forbidden by Einstein's theory -- it's a small annoyance that the common parlance takes "theoretical limit" to imply there is no limit, whereas a theoretical limit is one that's well established). One notion is that particles that are not apparently connected in our "reality" are in fact more closely bound at the universe's horizon.

Which implies a level of interconnectedness that's axiomatic in eastern philosophy: it's an open question, I believe, why the west pursued reductionism, concentrating on understanding the world's constituents seen as individual entities, while the east pursued holism, concentrating on understanding the world as a whole thing, and things in it having no meaning in themselves but gaining it when consider in relationship with the whole.

And I get to thinking, I've always seen us as distinct, but not different. But couldn't either idea be wrong? I remember someone telling me that her belief was that there was one consciousness and we were just pieces of that -- avatars of that, I suppose you could say. And that seems to me similar to the Hindu idea, that there is a unified soul that we partake in.

For the second, sometimes I look at a person and think, what if we truly are different? It is all beetle in the box. I don't know that a person thinks like I do, feels like I do. You imagine, don't you, that other people do not have feelings you don't have, thoughts that you couldn't think. By which I mean you don't necessarily feel what someone else feels, but you know what something else like it might feel like: you might not lust for the same body as them, but you know lust; you might not want what they want, but the feeling of wanting is the same.

And one day I might say, they are just shades of being human; even those you think are evil have motivations that feel right to them. We learnt, starkly, in the Second World War that ordinary men can deal in horror, but each of them can feel he is doing the right thing. Each, were he asked to define evil, would not include any thing he himself had done. Because these were ordinary men, not psychopaths who could know evil yet still want to do it.

And another, I might think instead that I just cannot fathom why a person has done what they've done, or if I know why, I cannot understand how the reward for it motivates them. Particularly when they are prideful, because I don't imagine they can be proud in the way I am, which is more like a cry for help than a boast.

Then I think, yeahbut I cannot fathom why I've done some of the things I've done. I could explain them, but the explanations would be my best guesses.


The idea of interconnectedness has always appealed some because I have felt, for as long as I remember, as though I don't have roots, and can't help wondering whether it's because of never belonging anywhere or because of something in me's not wanting to. But I like people. Probably as much as I like dogs.

Not being able to find that thing that connects you is painful, if you like people. And feeling it dwindle to the point where you can allow disregard to reign again is more painful still.

But sometimes when a person speaks, it becomes so clear that Wittgenstein had it right: the words of our shared language do not refer to anything real; if they were coins that we traded, I would see my head when I looked at them, you would see yours. It becomes so clear that you have no idea whether what they are describing is what you would be describing if you used the same words, that in fact it is as though you spoke entirely different languages and were communicating through a third language, which neither of you spoke all that well. And you know that even for yourself, the same word can describe very different things. I say "laugh" when I mean a belly laugh, an I can't stop but I'm afraid I will literally piss myself laugh, or when I mean a snicker over some small joke, or the dry thing you do when you are laughing "socially" -- your boss told a joke that wasn't funny or a workmate is telling a humorous story about their partner. I say "love" when I talk about how I feel about my mum, my daughter, my partner, but each has a different meaning.

As an aside, Zenita told me she loved me the most of anyone in the world, and I was thinking, did I build that? (I told you you could not match me for pride.) Did I do kindness enough for her to think that (or to think it worth saying, at least)? Did I spend love and now gain it back because I did?

What does it feel like to her? I loved my dad when I was eight. Would it feel like that? (Not that I can remember, but by the same application of empathy we were discussing earlier, I can imagine what would be possible and what would not, because whatever I felt then would not feel that much different now.) Would it be something that I could not even experience? (And of course I do understand that we must in some way be constrained by what our transmitters can transmit, how we are set up chemically and physically -- but we cannot be very different because natural selection would, given time, favour one setup over the other if they diverged enough to allow it.)

I do not imagine small girls do analyse why they feel what they feel. They just feel it. When you inspect their feelings, they are often opaque. (Do you like your teacher? Yes. Why do you like her? Shrug. Is she nice? I guess. What does she do that's nice? Stuff.)

Actually, that wasn't an aside. Turns out it's what I have been thinking about. The imprecision of our terms only matters at all when understanding is truly important.

But sometimes it feels like there are five in the conversation: what you feel, the way you understand it, the third language, what they feel, the way they understand it. And maybe everything is lost in translation.


The many-dimensioned thing is not as much fun. I mean, it's deep. Try to imagine what motions can even be like in those other dimensions, if we are reflections of them. You almost feel like you need to drop a tab before you can even start to think about it. But because we exist entirely within the reflections, and have no means to delve into the deeper reality (and one imagines, never will), it is purely metaphysical and has no application to our lives, except that we're curious what it's all built of, and if there's a way it's really like, well, we really want to know that.


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