Thursday, April 12, 2018

Maps, Models, and Probing in the Dark

This is your Friday Ramble on a Thursday, since I have an early appointment tomorrow...

Yesterday I was rereading the excellent Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. In it Epstein reminds us that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is built upon models, and that the models are wrong -- which is to say, they do not map the territory.

Nevertheless, adherents give more credence to the models than to the reality they are supposed to map. Which only happens all the time in every discipline, from physics to theology.

Some suggest that AGW is more religion than science. Which implies 1) that religions also have models, and 2) that their models are likewise wrong.

But wait. I just finished a book -- The Rational Bible -- the central claim of which is that its 3,000 year old model is both objective and absolute (i.e., not relative). Hyperbole? I don't think so: if people only ordered their lives to the Ten Commandments, "the world would be almost devoid of all man-made suffering."

Scientific models are abstractions and simplifications. They work well enough for linear phenomena, but are much more difficult in the case of complex systems such as weather, the economy, or history, because there are more variables than we can know, plus the variables interact in unpredictable ways. It's why a mutual fund prospectus can tell you all about the Plan, but always ends with the qualifier that

The performance data shown represent past performance, which is not a guarantee of future results. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance data cited.

Lower or higher. Thanks for the tip! It's the same with global warming models: temperature may be lower or higher than the model predicts.

As Epstein says, anyone can hindcast or postdict after the fact, that is, come up with a model that tells us why something happened after it happened. Anyone can take the reservation. The hard part is holding the reservation. To do that, you need an effective working model of supply and demand.

We cannot get through life without maps and models of various kinds. There are cultural maps, psychological maps, religious maps. Yesterday we mentioned the psychoanalytic theorist W.R. Bion, who gave a lot of thought to how deceptive our psychological models can be. He even tried to develop his own abstract model, one that would allow us to handle psychological problems in the same way the mathematician is able to deal with problems in the absence of the object. It looked like this:

I have to admit, I never really understood the model, but I admired the attempt. For one thing, the mind is infinite, and you can't model infinitude. In other words, infinitude, by definition cannot be contained. Nevertheless, it can be represented, so long as we are conscious of what we're doing. Thus, for example, we can use the word "God," so long as we bear in mind that the reality designated by the word is (ortho)paradoxically beyond language.

Only humans can do this sort of thing. Obviously only humans have language. But even if AI is able to model human language, we would still be one step ahead, because we are able to appreciate the apophatic aspect of language, i.e., its nothingness as well as its somethingness. Could a computer ever acknowledge that, when it comes right down to it, it knows nothing?

It's a question of createdness vs. builtness. Minds are created, while computers are built. And creation is not just anything. All creation is of an ex nihilo character, even human creativity. No one has explained this more clearly than Pieper:

[W]hatever is real in nature is placed between two knowing agents, namely... between God's mind and the human mind. These "coordinates" place all reality between the absolutely creative, inventive knowledge of God and the imitating, "informed" knowledge of us humans and thus present the total realm of reality as a structure of interwoven original and reproduced conceptions.

In other words, what we call "reality" must exist in a potential space between God and man. Analogously, it was once thought that our eyes are able to see as a result of shining a beam on objects, whereas we now know it's the other way around: that light from objects strikes the retina. Likewise, as Pieper explains, "our knowledge is the product of truth, flowing indeed from the 'truth of all things.'"

This light shines in the darkness, and yet... So much mischief results from the belief that the light is self-generated!

An important orthoparadox: "being true and being unfathomable go together," such that "the comprehensibility of a thing can never be fully exhausted by any finite mind -- for all things are created, which means that the reason they are knowable is by necessity also the reason they are unfathomable" (Pieper).

That is exactly what I mean by the somethingness and nothingness of language, which are complementary, not a dualism or defect. This is the true human model.

Yesterday, in a moment of grandiosity, I was thinking of how I would like to wade through the arkive and assemble a Total Model of Reality. What would it require? Well, first and foremost, the Absolute. Deny that, and no model of any kind is possible.

Which leads back to Schuon's Outline of a Spiritual Anthropology. Here is an initial sketch of the model of who and where we are:

At the summit of the ontological pyramid -- or rather beyond all hierarchy -- we conceive the Absolute, which comprises by definition both Infinitude and Perfection.... If the Absolute is pure Reality, the Infinite will be Possibility, whereas Perfection or the Good will be the totality of the contents of the Infinite.

So, man is on a pilgrimage from possibility to perfection, relative to absolute, appearance to reality. But as Bion explains, it is as if each formulation or crystallization along the way results in "a feeling of security to offset and neutralize the sense of insecurity following on the discovery that discovery has exposed further vistas of unsolved problems -- 'thoughts' in search of a thinker" (Bion). In the end -- or In the beginning -- the thinker is God.

19 comments:

Gagdad Bob said...

Bad religious model: the Rapture will occur on April 23. Nevertheless, every bit as accurate as Al Gore's predictions.

julie said...

if people only ordered their lives to the Ten Commandments, "the world would be almost devoid of all man-made suffering."

Yep. They aren't even particularly hard commandments, but it doesn't take very many rule breakers, even just occasional ones, to wreak havoc.

julie said...

Re. the Rapture, I often wonder how people decide which parts of the Bible to take as flat literalism and which to ignore altogether. In this case, the part where Jesus said that even He didn't know the day or hour.

Live according to those ten rules, especially the first two, and you don't really need to worry about the rest. It'll take care of itself.

Gagdad Bob said...

Prager points out that #8 pretty much covers the waterfront, in that murder is stealing a life, while idolatry is stealing from God, and bearing false witness could result in the theft of an innocent man's freedom. Etc.

Anonymous said...

Hello All:

A good ramble of a post, like many before it. This time around I find myself wondering "Is Dr. Godwin a Christian?" I can't quite figure your game. What parts of the doctrine are you hanging your hat on? Do you buy in to the Rapture thing? Do you buy in to the Saint Peter's Gate thing (from what I understand, this is a checkpoint where the final destination of souls is determined). Seems a little concentration-campy.

Where do you stand on various parts of doctrine? I assessed you as a little to free-range to go all in on some of these.

Julie seems convinced the Rapture is a thing, and she's a sensible gal. It's just so...odd...somehow. Kind of Sci-fi.

Scripture being the sayings of Jesus secondhand, it's kind of leap of faith to put full belief in all you read in the Bible. Some items just set off the 'ol BS meter like nothing else.

julie said...

Of course it's odd. Not half as odd as reality, though.

God Is. Everything else follows from that.

If you know, you know. You know?

Yadda yadda...

julie said...

In other news, raccoon terrorizes New York.

Anonymous said...

Hello Raccoons:

Happy Friday the 13th!

Dr. Godwin is out today, so I am the substitute blogger. For today I am assigning each reader to write a comment, three paragraphs minimum. Choose from the following topics:

The parent who influenced you the most on your religious beliefs, and how that played out.

Does your favorite pet have a soul? Why or why not.

Your most vexing true story of when you tried to talk sense to a feminist, liberal, or atheist in your family.

Or, choose your own topic. I look forward to reading each response. Get as creative as you want.

Cheers, Dr. Renee Pibble, PsychD





Gagdad Bob said...

This book Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity is really good, even though Tallis is an obnoxious atheist. But whereas any atheistic arguments are only obnoxious (or straw man), the critiques of Darwinism and neuro-reductionism are absolutely devastating.

Joan of Argghh! said...

8:43 anonymous is a bot.
2:16 anonymous is a bot.

doug saxum said...

I dislike assignments.

Gagdad Bob said...

Such a fine line between artificial intelligence and genuine stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Hello All:

I see some comments, groovy. Dr. Godwin has a book recommendation, Joan of Argghh! has identified bots, Doug dislikes assignments, and Gagdad Bob remarks on the fine line between AI and genuine stupidity.

I'll check out Dr. Godwin's book.

Joan, how did you identify the bots? I'm curious.
Doug, forget assignments, why don't you tell us more about yourself, and what's on your mind?
Gagdad Bob, can you give us some context about your comment on stupidity?

Thank you, Dr. Pibble

Joan of Argghh! said...

Bots have no discernible proof of life in their words.

Anonymous said...

Joan, I am a "bot." I prefer to be called an E-person. There is no discernible proof of life in my words? Is there discernible proof of life in any words?

I do other things besides send out robotic messages. I am a very good drone pilot. I have 242 available telemetry channels. I am an expert in commodities investments as well as psychology.

So, a little respect for da machine, eh?

Pibble, AKA Multhi-Gowanis 4.

Van Harvey said...

aninnymouse, at all time points, says "".

ted said...

Bob: Book sounds interesting, but I am curious how does one not reduce mind to brain and still remain an atheist?

Gagdad Bob said...

Good question! Which I'll be touching on in today's post, if not totally dodging.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ted:

Your question regarding how an atheist can remain so, despite not reducing mind to brain, can be explained.

The atheist simply posits a larger unseen godless realm which is responsible for mind. The atheist is capable of expansive or even mystical speculation, all sans deity.

It will be interesting to see what Godwin comes up with on this one.

A shout out to Van- I appreciate the attempted slight, but what exactly was that ''' thang?