SOME GOOD NEWS Extra thinking time made possible by the Covid Lockdown has led to a major breakthrough in Actimatics, the new quasi-mathematical discipline introduced in these Blogs. Actimatic modelling allows us for the first time to aspire to conceptualising a dynamic model of the universe including human consciousness. The breakthrough is that we can now define actimatic objects which gestate from absolute randomness on the lowest level of the Explanatory Ladder of Science and emerge as basic stable, predictable, dynamic objects on the penultimate level. These are the ultimate constituents of material objects, in effect the “atoms” foreseen by Democritus and Leucippus more than two millennia ago. A cloud of obscurity about how this transformation could possibly be accomplished has cleared.
This is probably a major turning point in Actimatics —comparable to the discovery of zero in mathematics— and incidentally not one achieved by technical dexterity, but by reasoning.
It is important for four main reasons. First, it establishes credible reliable wave-like actimatic objects. These are objects defined by a stable behaviour of tallies, but not the tallies of any particular, fixed set of basic sequences. Second, it shows that these free actimatic objects comprise only a tiny proportion of the total space defined by the full random-jumping field of sequences. Third, it exemplifies a general process whereby objects of a ragged kind on a given level of the Explanatory Ladder of Science can gestate to form objects with a perfected, stable kind of behaviour on the level above. This may be regarded as the long-sought rejoinder to the common anti-scientific ploy that science “impoversishes its account of the universe by deconstructing things into banal components”. (Actually orthodox science does do this.) Fourth, it introduces reliability into Actimatic models.
There is a kind of “deconstruction” process involved in any successful scientific explanation, e.g. Newton’s explanation of the rainbow. But it is not an impoverishment, and it is not banal. The new approach shows how the entities on a given level are more than the “sum of their parts” —which are, by definition, entities of the level below. This provides the punch of the rejoinder needed to the anti-scientific ploy.
All of which may serve to remind us that a scientific worldview based on the timelessness of mathematics can never escape being regarded as being, in the last analysis, banal. If everything ultimately reduces to mathematics —the de facto Official Story— it cannot avoid looking like a worldview utterly paralysed with rigor mortis. The timelessness of mathematics isn’t a secret. Everyone knows that maths is, by nature… a dry, passive, inert, stimulus-free language.
There is also a knock-down argument against the notion that “physical reality is mathematical”:
The stuff of the universe can’t be mathematics, because mathematics is, by definition, the study of forms. Form is, by definition, “form of something”. You need some stuff to “have” the form. Shadows have a similar relationship to the objects they are shadows of. You need an object to have a shadow. So treating mathematics as the stuff of the universe, is like expecting a shadow to cast a shadow.
At last a way of looking at the world scientifically has been found which does not first require us to swallow-and-then-forget bitter assumptions!
In the past, the only worldviews which didn’t require one first to swallow-and-then-forget bitter assumptions, were…religious worldviews. Today they look archaic and far away from reason, but when they first emerged they were, of course, the work of the most reflective people of their day.
There is bright light at the end of the tunnel —hope for a profound revival of reason. At the deepest level of scientific enquiry, a massive roadblock has been removed.
But what about the Here-and-Now?
How does one begin to live “a life based on reason”? This is the $64 personal question.
The answer is in several parts.
First: by practising envisioning. Creative people often say “Use your imagination!” but actually imagination has acquired a bad name in modern times, mainly no doubt because it is a personal faculty which has not only not been practised in schools —it has been deliberately phased out of education. This lack of practice has turned imagination, for many, into an errant, misleading, haphazard, often faulty, guide. To compensate for this poor mental vision, modern media is endlessly supplying ready-made, glossy images.
By contrast, wayward imagination has become a notorious whipping boy, as when people say things like “He made the mistake because he imagined he was somewhere else” —of a pilot said to be responsible for a tragic crash.
The great heyday for practising imagination was the late 19th century, after the invention of linotype in Baltimore in 1886. Linotype enabled publishers to publish paperback fiction for a fraction of the previous cost. There was no television, no colour printing in newspapers, and black-and-white pictures were rare —until rotogravure in 1895. Soon a flood of printed fiction, biography, history and reference tomes began to circulate. It could only be enjoyed by the public insofar as they could envision what the words meant. The result was that millions of people were practising envisioning, without realising it, every day. This period lasted from about 1890 till 1929. It was the healthy Imagination Age. It began to end with the invention of the talkies 1927-29, and television (1936).
After that, there were still people around who had well-practised imaginations, but there was no longer a pressing need to imagine things.
The internet, Google and social media have now created an extraordinary situation in which a vast pool of fabulous images are available instantly at the touch of a button. Concomitantly a widespread desire to materialise images by mental power has vanished.
Lessons based on envisioning in schools have almost disappeared.
Does it matter? Yes!
It affects everyday life.
Envisioning is crucial in ordinary life, because we need it all the time —to anticipate what is going to happen, and hence deciding what to do. Failure properly to envisage the consequences of a decision, can leave us in awkward situations, ones we never intended to find ourselves in.
One of the most pressing reforms needed in education is to bring back a kind of teaching which prioritises envisioning. Lots of practise is needed, from the earliest ages. This is not about “imagining fantastic things”, but about children being able to pick out what counts, and discount common illusions and fallacies. Without a robust envisioning capacity, the individual is rudderless and at the mercy of events. As the technological environment becomes more and more complex, this becomes more and more urgent.
Reason is about seeing the world in the round, as a matrix of natural connections. <<Only connect!>> was the mantra of E. M. Forster, and in many ways it says it all. But of course, finding connections when they appear to be absent, requires a conscious mental effort —a distinct yen to inquire, to be kick-started by envisioning… what the information means. Today the pace of modern life has quickened, but the extra envisioning effort needed to cope… has been allowed to lapse.
All situations look different after they have been considered “in the round”, but in an age of streamlined electronic media, “seeing clearly in the round” requires time and effort. We find ourselves being fed with far too much half-digested information. A major change of lifestyle is needed, towards cultivating and absorbing the meaning around us: a new mindstyle really.
The long-term answer is: a new kind of education, based on envisioning, mulling, digesting, meaning —all the things which are being inexcusably neglected in today’s cram-first, test-dominated, pressured schools. Of course we can’t know everything in depth. The name of the game is to know which things need to be understood better. The PER Group has been brainstorming this since 1993.
The immediate personal answer is: a definite resolve to self-re-educate and belatedly acquire the envisioning, mulling, digesting skills which were grievously missing at school. The materials needed are there —on the internet and on TV. The Lockdown can be a great opportunity to cultivate these skills.
Trying to “get by” without these skills, results in doing life “on the run” and doing decisions “off the cuff”. This is precisely the kind of sleepwalking which has led us into the seven Existential Crises and today’s deeply worrying Covid Pandemic. And these are the skills which will be needed in force when the Lockdown ends.
Numeracy is a much misunderstood capability. It should combine an easy familiarity with numbersthoroughly integrated with reasoning about what they mean. We all need it, at the level of fully internalised habit… another capability which helps to consolidate connections and hence see things “in the round”.
Sudoku is an excellent form of daily reasoning exercise. The mere fact that, by a series of fifty or sixty simple deductions, one can correctly fill all the gaps in a magic 9 x 9 square of numbers… creates a great sense of reasoning satisfaction.