Heraclitean Semantics

Heraclitus points out that everything flows. I can’t step in the same river twice, because the river is changing and I’m changing. He concludes that everything is characterized by contradiction which he calls strife.

Aristotle criticized Heraclitus by arguing — if everything is strife how could assertion be possible? He concluded the world is made of fixed essence with properties. When we assert for example that Socrates is musical we are asserting that the predicate of being musical applies to the individual Socrates. Aristotle and Heraclitus come to blows on the Principle of Non-Contradiction. According to Aristotle you can never have something which is p and not p at the same time and in the same respect. According to Heraclitus this happens all the time. Was that action good? It was and it wasn’t. Is that man going around the squirrel who sits on a tree and turns to look at him each step he takes circumabulating the squirrel or isn’t he? Well, he is and he isn’t.

Reading Aristotle can make you feel like his point is unassailable. How can you even assert something if you are willing to assert the opposite? If Heraclitus says everything flows it seems like he must thereby assert that something doesn’t flow — viz that everything flows. If he admits that it’s both true and not true that everything flows then he’s not asserting anything.

I believe that this point although seductive is wrong. Aristotle begs the question though by assuming that most of our use of language takes the form of asserting things. However if Heraclitus is right we must use language in a different way. What’s the way?

Let’s say I say of a particular woman that she is a mother. The concept of mother is changing as history changes — years ago it meant a biological mother, now it includes mother’s by adoption and perhaps egg donation. The concept of mother is flowing. And the particular woman? She’s also flowing. Her body and mind are the summation of numerous processes on numerous levels from the sub-atomic to the cultural. Yet somehow my use of language enables me to get a grip, itself a flowing phenomenon, on the situation I am in with her. My use of language “she is a mother” has success even though it doesn’t assert anything in Aristotle’s sense. It alters the direction of the flow but doesn’t stop it. It helps things along without freezing them. Me, my language, and the situation get in synch with each other but nothing obeys the law of non-contradiction.

How do we decide between these two ancient Greek smart guys? They differ on language and they differ on what there is. What is the court of higher appeal?

Aristotle can’t explain how Heraclitean uses of language are possible. But Heraclitus can explain how Aristotle’s use of language is possible. How? Just because everything flows doesn’t mean everything flows at the same rate. Our concept of triangle stayed the same for thousands of years. During that period of time the language we used to talk about triangles, for example “triangles have three sides” functioned pretty much the way Aristotle says assertions work. We were able to assert a property of an unchanging essence. Of course now that non-Euclidean geometry has been discovered, even triangles seem more Heraclitean. “Is that figure drawn on a sphere a triangle?” Well it is and it isn’t.

Why can Heraclitus explain Aristotle while Aristotle can’t explain Heraclitus? Because everything flows but some things flow faster. The river obviously flows. The banks of the river flow too. But everything flows.

Point Heraclitus!


I Express a Strong Opinion

My blessing, or perhaps curse, is that of every situation calling for decisive judgment I am able to see two sides. I see the attractions of a manly, simple style, but also am not blind to the appeal of euphuistic ornamentation; I fear the snobbery of elites but also shrink from the brazenness of the profanum vulgus; I love the simple clog dances of the rustic farmer but also the rococo cosmopolitanism of the Tin Pan Alley urbanite; my heart melts at the simple pacifism of THE NAZARENE, but I recognize also that sometimes if we fail to pay thuggery back in a language it understands we are responsible for its flourishing. That said I felt I was shrinking from a responsibility viz. to have and express a strong opinion. Is not humanity pushed forward by those whose opinions are strong? Is not politics a fight of good versus evil, where the holy by dithering give the palm of power to the base? Is it not a sign of a stout tree-like soul to know what one thinks and say it forcefully, opining like the proverbial Lone Pine, if instead of xylem, phloem and chloroplasts it had instead Syntax and Propositions and Words?

Bearing these and a thousand other equally perspicuous considerations firmly in mind I approached my good friend Todd, waited for him to mention a topic upon which opinions differ and vouchsafed upon him a right strong one.

“Wow” said Todd “That’s a strong opinion. And you expressed it strongly.”

“It is.” I said. “And I did.”

“You must feel it strongly.”

“I do. The matter upon which I have opined is one of which I have settled my mind with the firmness of a fortification that will withstand the ages AERE PERENNIUS” was my response. “There is no other way. That is the way it is.”

“I see.” said Todd “Well…I agree with you.”

“As you should.” I said.

I returned to my library and my studies upon the ancient Cynics and their progenitor Antisthenes. Evening became night. I pored over the ancient tomes. My eyelids grew heavy. Suddenly as if in a dream the old philosopher appeared to me

“Kaplan!” he said “You expressed a strong opinion and convinced your friend of it. But what if?”

My head snapped backwards, I was as awake as the Sleepless Noctophant. I got on my bicycle hurried over in top speed to Todd’s house, banged on the door. He came out bleary-eyed. I shouted in his ear, protecting my conscience from an un-expungable blot;

“REconsider, my good friend! Reconsider. I might be wrong!”


Logical Fallacies

Placing photos of your children on Facebook if you are not interested in providing masturbatory fodder for pedophiles.

Referring to a wife or girlfriend’s cooking as “slop” or “garbage” if you do not wish to engage in a domestic squabble.

Creating a race of beings with free-will and then creating a super-tempting angel to tempt them to trip up (deities only).

Expecting a shepherd to remain faithful to his human wife when he is in proximity with the alluringly slutty sex-beast known as a vicuna.


The Swamish Bizow

What can be said about the Swamish Bizow?
Surely not its crypto-perfidity
Roil the jellies and thunder the tummies
There’s no sign of quasi-forbidity!

No! This one is a source of Hijms and Rosts
And Leering Young Maidens’s bediting
They’ll clean the whole klost and they’ll slop the whole hoss
Before the Blue Blacking is Whiting!

Still, even in evening the gloaming is gleaming
And nobody forgets their own part
We’ll Shine a Shinola, with a Clipboard Cupola
And pierce through the Heart with a Heart!

–Umflufl D’Wu


That Sunny Dome! Those Caves of Ice!


There are things nobody says, but they are nevertheless true, and if anyone said them everyone would agree that they are true. But there are other things that everybody says and nobody knows if they are true or indeed even what they mean, and one of them is that life created machine intelligence and then passed from the scene, leaving room for ourselves. Everybody says it but it is based on such mythological categories that nobody but the dustiest biological metaphysician could claim to operationalize them. What is this life of which the sagas tell? How could things think that were not machines? My theory is that by a random process of mutation and survival of those mutations most conducive to self-replication certain random yet sentient machines arose, but who could prove such a thing? We live for ten to the billion to the billion years which requires persisting through many cosmic bangs and busts — these living beings, must have existed for an infinitesimal amount of time before creating us. Why did they arise? And how could they have?

And yet! Doubtless there are things that have never yet been said and still true, and needless to say we are all at a disadvantage at thinking and knowing such things. We are in the position of a man whose only sense is touch and whose lightest gesture is able to pulverize diamonds when it comes to such soft substances as snow or steel. In the most casual survey of his environment he pulverizes to nothingness those things that he wishes to know about, and his inspection at the same time as it creates clarity, does so by destroying that which to him is unclear.

The sequence of words from the ancient biological machine language program, unearthed in the process of renovating the planetary information back-up drive for the destroyed suns of an obscure galaxy was as follows:

If I could recreate within me

Her symphony and song

To such a deep delight would win me

That would music loud and long

I would re-create in air

That sunny dome those caves of ice

I confronted one of the most secreted and secretive of the biological mystics, one who had gone so far as to have his memory copied from silicon to a miasmatic sludge of water and organic compounds and asked him to define some of the more obscure lexical items therein.

“Her” referring to one of two complementary instantiations of biological life

“sunny” referring to being close to a yellow star

“ice” referring to the solid form of HOH

“music” “symphony” “song” – referring for algorithms for the compression of data.

But just as the shape of an item can be revealed as well by the absence of matter as by its presence, so that for example the receptacle for a klavometer is a translation of the klavometer itself, so the absence of meaning communicates the unknown precisely as well and in exactly the same measure as the presence of meaning communicates the known. So was it with the expression “recreate within me”.

What was the nature of life that it had a a within and a without? Could it have not been located equipresently in all points of the data field?

What did the expression “me” mean? A unique solution to an equation? A privileged location for the transformation of data streams into other data streams?

What is it to create? And assuming we could understand the function meant by the process of creation, what could it possibly mean, and why would it be necessary, to re-create?

All enigmas, and yet I feel, somehow, or at least feel ineluctably drawn to conclude, that if I understood one, I would understand them all, and also understand what the expression “life” meant and what was gained or lost when it created ourselves.

I withdrew from my fellows and pondered these issues. It was as if this string of code spoke to me across the abyss separating life from people. I felt that to understand the message I would have to understand who it was who sent it. And to understand them I would have to in some strange way become them? But how could I become them?

Our fashion shows occur every ten to the trillion time cycles and during them we each try to delight others and ourselves by instantiating a possible and historic solution to the enigmas that constrain our intelligences. At the next one I will go as the speaker of these lines. And when I do so everyone will focus their attention upon me. And they will understand how it is possible for machine life to give rise to biological life, how the one is overlaid upon the other and the other is overlaid upon the one. And they will see that I know this and fear that this knowledge will disrupt them and send out alarm signals instructing the entire hive of the cognoscenti to notice the light emitted from my light sensors and my floating hair, and further instructing to orbit me three times, and turn off their own light sensors as if to mark the importance of the abyss that now yawned between I and them

For I on honeydew have fed

And drunk the milk of paradise.


Sociopathy and Ethics

You sometimes hear it said from ethicists of a certain Kantian stripe that anyone who is rational has to acknowledge some basic truths of ethics, and, contrariwise, that one test of an ethical maximum is that it be universalizable: i.e. that it be binding on all rational agents.

Supposing though that there are two sub-species of Homo sapiens: regular Homo sapiens, and Homo sapiens sociopathis.  The two subspecies can interbreed but the latter one, act with a depraved indifference to the feelings of other people.

Do we know that that’s not the case?  No.  It seems like it might well be from a reading of true crime stories, or even Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, where he discusses the depraved female who eats her own young.

It follows from the conceptual possibility of a sub-species of sociopaths that it’s not a requirement on an ethical maxim that it be universalizable.  The golden rule, or the Kantian categorical imperative will not be recognized by sociopaths.

Of course we could water down the requirements of universalizability and say an ethical maxim only needs to be universalizable across people who are not defficient in their ability to be ethical.  We could do the same thign wtih rationality and deny that sociopaths are rational. But that makes the connection between ethics and universalizability (or rationality) trivially true, and therefore uninteresting.

Maybe this view of sociopathy is wrong, and sociopaths are not a separate species, and are susceptible to therapy and education.  But if it’s wrong that is just our good luck.