Is the Universe a Simulation?


Many mathematicians, when pressed, admit to being Platonists. The great logician Kurt Gödel argued that mathematical concepts and ideas “form an objective reality of their own, which we cannot create or change, but only perceive and describe.” But if this is true, how do humans manage to access this hidden reality?


Can semiotics, language, and education trap us?

Education frees us from whatever ignorant state came before it. But it can also trap us in a different sort of ignorance.

For example, someone who feels lost and alone may join a street gang and learn many new things while forming new alliances. But that same person may well trap themselves in a criminal life-style. Once learned, the education a gang provides can prevent gang members from learning even better things.

I believe all education can be like that if we are not careful. To be clear, education in this context refers to learning anything.

Another way to say the above is once we learn or take on a new semiotic matrix or code, we may become trapped by it. Many people who fell for the semiotics of the Obama campaign retained their “belief” in him long after he had shown himself to be a disappointment. Because many of his supporters are good people, they were trapped in his attractive, but false, semiotic matrix of hope and change.

Similarly, another person may learn that his religion is wrong and take on the semiotics of “science” without realizing for many years that science has limits and that it can operate in ways that resemble fundamentalist religion.

I think we can say with few reservations that it is axiomatic that semiotics, language, and education can trap us even as they free us from whatever state came before them. They do not always trap us, but they almost always can trap us if we are not careful.

A microcosmic example of how language can trap us might be this: you say something sort of muddled, get called on it as if your statement were much more specific, and before you know it you find yourself trapped in defending a point of view you never held.

A teenager might want to learn about psychology and in doing so learn what the word personality means. Then they might decide that their personality is of some type. Then they may get trapped in molding themselves according to their understanding of that personality type. The same thing can happen with astrological signs—you read yours when you are young and retain for many years, if not a lifetime, some sense that you belong to the semiotic matrix indicated by that sign.

In good science, real skeptical science, bold science that demands explanations of facts, traps are usually discovered and overcome quickly. But science has a limited range and it cannot do very much for the emotions, subjectivity, or authentic uniqueness of each individual.

Individuals can overcome some individual or subjective traps through science and general learning, but they can never overcome them all in those ways. Our deepest and most significant subjective states can never be well understood through generalities.

And if those subjective states contain errors or traps (as they surely do), they can only be cleared up by observing those errors or traps as they function in real-world situations.

An especially alert and intelligent gang member might gain insight into what his gang membership is doing to him and how it is trapping him. But he will surely retain many of the gang’s subjective interpretations of the world around him even after he has left the gang. His comprehension of cultural semiotics—the semiotic matrix that he perceives around him—will remain deeply imbued with the gang’s interpretations long after he has left.

For example, the former gang member may retain a  sense of pride that makes him quick to anger. He may retain feelings of fear or non-belonging after leaving the gang. Psychotherapy may help in these areas, but a practice like FIML will do even more because FIML will allow the person to see how their former interpretations of the world are still actively functioning even though they may have repudiated the general semiotics of those interpretations.

Joining the gang liberated him from his former state, and then leaving the gang liberated him from the strictures of gang life. But in both cases, his new education has imposed a new semiotic code that can easily trap him in new mistakes and miseries.

The same can be said about all of us concerning almost anything we learn, which means practically anything we do. If we do not come to fully understand how our subjective states—our interpretations–actually function within the semiotic codes we have taken on, we will be trapped in the new state even as we have been liberated, partially, from the former state.


Edit: Just found this: Negative effects of joining a gang last long after gang membership ends.

How to think about the mind?

It is not linear, though a spoken sentence has conspicuous linear features and can often be profitably analyzed linearly.

It is a network where many parts connect robustly with other parts and where some parts connect only weakly. Unconnected parts can arise but usually they are rapidly incorporated into the network, even if only weakly, even if only to be rejected from it.

The mind in many ways resembles the system of language. Add semiotic codes and the resemblance grows stronger. Add random and not-so-random associations between semiotic and linguistic elements and the resemblance seems even better.

Emotions, except in their most primal form, have to be defined by language, semiotics, or associations to have impact or “meaning.”

Charles Peirce doubted the value of linear logical notation, preferring notation employing two or three dimensions. His existential graphs became the basis of model theory. (Interestingly, his work in this area was ignored until 1964, long after his death.)

While the human mind may be more than just a network, much about it can be explained by thinking of it as an associative network. While many mental associations are not logical, or even rational, in a formal sense, virtually all of them make subjective sense to the mind experiencing them. My associations with snow will be different from yours, but if we cared to we could compare them and come to a better understanding of each other.

A key to grasping how our minds work is to approach the very rich subjective network of mental associations—both logical and not—through the linearity of language, especially short bursts of language spoken in real-world situations.

Grasping our minds in this way probably cannot be done in a laboratory and outcomes will rarely, if ever, repeat themselves even outside of the lab.

Most science is based on repeatability and controls, such as a laboratory setting. Yet, clearly, not all investigations—even very rational, logical ones—can be pursued in those ways.

FIML practice uses the linear “logic” of short bits of real-world conversation to access the large associative network of the mind as it is actually functioning in a real-world situation.

In this sense, FIML practice does something that cannot be done in any other way. No theory can embrace everything you say and no theory can capture the complex interplay of feeling, speech, meaning, biology, and circumstances that actually comprise the most significant moments of our lives.

FIML, thus, is a sort of science of the moment, a shared science that allows two people to analyze their minds as they actually are functioning in the real world.

How delusions are formed

Delusions must start somewhere.

A recent study (Emoticons in mind: An event-related potential study) convincingly demonstrates that our responses to emoticons as simple as a colon next to a parenthesis :) are similar to our responses to real human faces.

Clearly, this response has been learned. No infant is born with that response and no one anywhere had it just a few decades ago.

Our tendency to respond to :) as a face arose with its use in email and texting. This response is now a well-established “public” response to a “public” semiotic. In this context, public means “understood and shared by many people.”

A public semiotic is a sign with wide currency. It is a unit of culture and often of language itself. We can see in the case of the emoticon :) that a new sign can arise due to unique circumstances and that that sign can come to have a deep meaning for many people.

The sign :) seems quite beautiful to me because it is very simple, very easily produced, and very telling about how our minds work. If the elements of the sign are reversed (: people no longer respond to it as a face, though of course we could learn to do that if the reversed sign were used that way more frequently.

I remember the first time I saw a derivative sign ;) and wondered briefly what it meant. If you had a similar experience, you may be able to remember how such a simple sign can bloom in your mind and go from something that is unknown to something of considerable significance in just a few seconds.

That is an example of the birth of a sign, the birth of a semiotic in your mind.

When the semiotic is public, we strive to learn what other people mean by it. When it is private—that is, with a meaning known only to us—there will be other, often very significant, implications.

What would a “private sign” be like? A straightforward example might be a code we use in a diary. Such a code would have at least one visual sign whose meaning is known only to us.

Another kind of private visual sign might be a facial expression that we have come to interpret differently from other people. My guess is everyone has a good many of these. That is to say, the “idiolect” of facial expressions we each use to understand other people is at least as various as different idiolects within a spoken language.

Now add tone of voice, posture, accent, word choice, topic choice, and so on to this mix. Each of those areas of communication uses signs that can and always will be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, including private ones.

Now, consider how an individual may get lost in all this. If someone ever smiled at you as they hurt you, you may have learned to be suspicious in your interpretation of human smiles. Or you may employ your own smile in ambiguous ways.

Now consider all the signs of communication and how many possible interpretations there are. Then consider the study linked above which shows how deep our responses can be to something as trivial as the sign :).

One way we form delusions occurs when our interpretations of communicative signs become too private and/or do not correspond well with the interpretations employed by other people. The other way we form delusions occurs when our interpretations of signs does correspond well with the interpretations employed by other people, but those other people are wrong.

In “public” situations—professional, commercial, business, school, etc.—it is fairly easy to communicate well enough based on established norms. But in interpersonal communication, you can only take “established norms” so far. At some point, you will have to understand your partner and be understood by them in much greater detail than “established norms,” or public semiotics.

Here is a newspaper article on the study linked above:  Happy days: Human brain now registers smiley face emoticon as real facial expression.

Memory is not reliable but changes to fit present circumstances

“Our memory is not like a video camera,” Bridge said. “Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It’s built to be current.” (Source)

The unreliability of human memory is not a new topic, but this study fairly convincingly shows how our memories conform to what we are doing and/or how we have been using them.

One can plausibly extrapolate from this that humans change how they remember and understand themselves and others based on the data of now. A moment of frustration, for example, may cause us to see someone near us in a different light, through no fault of theirs.

If our frustration is with how we are being (mis)understood or with our difficulty in expressing our thoughts, the implications for how we understand the person we are speaking with may be even more serious.

Experienced FIML partners will surely have realized that even minor misunderstandings can lead to large acts of “reframing” events in an emotional way that can be seriously distorted.

Edit: Beyond innocent misunderstandings (which, unfortunately, can have tragic consequences), this area of shifting memories is where a good deal of interpersonal abuse occurs. In the worst cases, one (or both) partners abuse normal human malleability to lie. In less bad cases, one (or both) partners is easily excited by their own distortions and quickly comes to believe them, effectively lying to themselves as well as their partner.

In other cases, individuals or entire groups of people may decide to tell a significant lie (slanted history, for example) and then hurl their lie passionately at others. This frequently causes the person being lied to to react with shame or concern based on the liars’ emotional display and not on the facts of the matter. A person being subjected to such verbal abuse will often conclude that if the other person is so passionate, they must have a serious point that should be considered. Doing this with a deliberate liar allows emotions to unbalance or reframe facts in a way that serves their purpose.