Monday, June 23, 2008

Language and thinking

Last week I had to travel by plane, going from one time zone to another that was 2 hours earlier, and then back home, so I had the curious sensation of time dilation where 3 hours converted themselves into 5 hours. Funny if you think about it, but if you apply relativistic considerations to my flight I can actually be dilating the time slightly more, but the effect would be probable imperceptible to my mind ,but not unmeasurable, so interestingly even if it doesn't exist in my consciousness, it still exists in reality. As always, depending on your basal philosophy you could say that the difference is only made when you actually measure it, or you could say that even the non measured events exist...but I don't really want to go that direction today.
Most of the times that we consider the relativistic events we don't realize that as much as we would like it not to happen, this is actually one of the factors that is keeping us from contacting alien cultures. Yes, that means extraterrestrial cultures, not cultures outside the united states...and I will use this nice segue to go towards the topic of philosophical language differences affecting our capacities to transmit the content of our thought to other peoples.
One interesting difference is that for example in Spanish you would NEVER have any confusion in between an alien (extraterrestrial) and an alien (foreigner). You can always say that there are synonyms that you could use and that would take away the confusion, and that is right, but the fact is that the meaning that can cause the confusion exist in the language can tell us something about the culture behind it.
Is this cultural factor taken for granted when I communicate with somebody else in English? The problem is that if you are a native speaker you may never see this factor coming and it could shape the way you think, even if you are trying to have an adequate mechanism of thinking. Everybody always refers to the fact that if you just use logical phrases you can avoid this, and there are people that have tried to make a language where due to the structure of the language you can't actually tell lies or make illogical statements, but you have to realize that our rate of success with the introduction of made up languages is pretty bad. Esperanto is probably as know today as the language of the Klingon, and I am almost sure that "Klingonian" is probably being taken care of better than Esperanto...whatever that can signify of our priorities as a culture.
Another thought that crossed my mind while I was writing this is that we could use the changes of a language over time to track the changes of thought pathways of the population that uses it. I am sure that this must not be an original ideal (remember, there is nothing new under the sun!). But I am always a little bit more Machiavellian...what if we could use this the other way around. What if we could have a group of peoples that are introducing a change in our language use with the purpose of changing our perception of reality. Again, you could say this is not that original, as in 1984 they had double speak and the restriction of language to force the population to obey and restrict the pattern of new ideas possible. But I think that Gene Wolfe in the Book of the New sun demonstrated brilliantly that even with a small range of expression, only by varying the context of a phrase, you can express many more ideas than what you would expect, something the author of 1984 didn't consider. See the part when they interact with a member of the "enemy" culture that is indoctrinated to only talk with phrases taken from a "sacred" book. The implementation by Wolfe is so astute, that I was floored the first time I saw it in action (read it in action?)
No, what I am going for is the idea of slowly modifying some impressions of the reality only by changing the perception of some words/groups of words. One example would be, if I may be ironic for a moment, the transformation of "alien" and "foreigners " into a dirty word. Only leaving another more difficult word or expression like "non X-country citizens" as the acceptable word usage. You could have a group of people respond to every usage of the word in printed/verbal/electronic media respond to an appearance of these words in a very negative fashion. After a couple of months/years, you could see the transference of the negative connotation to the actual alien people.
This phenomenon may sound familiar to you, as it did to me the first time I thought about it. Yes, it could be a sociological use of the politically correct language. The fact that words like blind, dumb, mute are becoming non-PC could also alter the perception that people have about this minorities. I am not sure if the people that decided to use this reductionist language were doing it with this purpose, but it has a good likelihood of doing this, even if it's not intended. Think about the "N" word, that I can't even put in my blog unless I want to become a target of all the hate mail of half of the country. The fact that we construed that word into a "bad" word carries the underlying effect of demonizing the word, and by verbal/mental correlation, making the people to whom you may apply this word carry a negative connotation that they don't deserve at all.
Now think all the subconscious messages that our words carry. Obviously some of them are due to forces of society that we all construe to (i am happy that calling somebody a Klansman is derogative). Notwithstanding that, the fact is that a lot of those messages are not very nice. What if there is a group of people that actually is voluntarily doing this. I understand that the general forces of society can't be reliably fought, but what about focused groups of people. Should we have a group for preventing the subversion of the meaning of words?
You may think that this is just conspiracy theorizing at its best, but I can see very nice commercial applications of this concept. I am sure that at this time the ad industry is using this concept, although it may still be more in a correlational stage instead of in a change of meaning stage. What I mean with this is that the industry right now wants us to correlate their products with a particular word that denotes or implies a concept. Think Apple products or IBM and its "think" motto. That is an obvious correlation of word to the product. But can they change the meaning of the words not to facilitate the selling of their product but to make our thinking patterns more accessible to buying them? If that is possible, and I think it is, the potential for abuse is huge, as we would NOT be able to combat it with rational thought, because it would be integrated in the modus operandi of our brains and as multiple persons that study reasoning have said, you can't really use the tool to detect the defects of the tool.
After all this digression, then I actually found a point to come back to my argument of being a multiple language user and the fact that this alters my perceptions or my thought patterns. Unless the Machiavellian group modifies multiple language at the same time (that would take serious money/manpower) then somebody that uses more than one language can actually detect this pattern of change and could actually contrarrest these modifications, by noting the slight discord between the intrinsic meaning of a word/concept in different languages.
So yeah, that is another good argument for having us aliens (not the extraterrestrial ones!) here to help...mmm...maybe I have something here...the protector of English language...Pedro Perez and Wi Xiang Fong...
Well, it's time to think another thought

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Let there be Disharmony

So, one post with value thinking for once. Yes, I have a bias against value thinking, because I am bad at it, ja, ja!. But I have to admit that it is the only way to really appreciate art in its multiple manifestations. I am sure that is has to have internal consistency, if not, the appreciation of "master pieces" would be completely random, and there wouldn't be any great masters of any type of art. Also it should be able to withstand the aggression from multiculturality, as there a lot of values that are different through the cultures, but the mechanisms on how to apply them should be the same...or not? I don't really know. I only dabble into value thinking with my raw uneducated appreciation, and see if it stands the trial against other people with more experience. Could Value thinking be only empirically gained? I would say no, because the artist itself has to have some judgement of its work, whichever form it takes, and we have great artists that produced only one marvelous work or artist that have started in an age were they couldn't have acquired such an exquisite level of experience that could explain their level of proficiency.
Another thought that I had was...Could I actually reason about value thinking? By definition value thinking is personal, because it interacts with different opinions that you have formed through your perceptual life, and obviously none of us, even twins have the same perceptual life. But then I realized that I was making a reasoning error, conflating the object of thought with the mechanism of thought. In a more understandable example, you may not understand the mechanics that underlie how a car works, but after observing somebody drive, you can actually make very accurate predictions of what the car is going to do, depending on the driver's actions. So you could use a certain type of meta-thinking to analyse the characteristic of how value thinking works, even if you shouldn't use non value thinking to evaluate the opinion (defined as the value that person X gives to object Y) that somebody forms about something, because it would be misapplying the thought analysis tool, and the result that you would get would be of no value to the type of reasoning you used.
Oh my...Well, I was supposed to use value thinking in this post, not to discuss ABOUT value thinking...You can attribute it to another of my thinking defects, that is thought pathway shift, where I start with one line of reasoning, and I see another branch that I like better and I go towards it, forgetting the first one...and you see, it's happening again
So now to our main topic.
I wanted to talk about this video:

I have to be sincere. I should hate this video. I am not a big fan of electronic music (although i like chiptunes when it's well made), and I am a big proponent of harmony and symmetry.
When you listen to this video, you realize that the music is disharmonious...but it's actually on purpose! The beautiful woman dancing (masako yasumoto) obviously is an asset to the video, but I actually ran the video without looking at it, and I still loved the music. The handling of the elements of disharmony in the music, associating them to repetitive patterns of music or synchronized loops in the video actually enhances the feeling of shift in the usual pattern of musical presentation, but actually makes it more beautiful. Ms. Yasumoto's dancing is phenomenal, even if I am sure that I am underestimating her technical proficiency. Her ability to gracefully execute asymmetric patterns of music surprised me, and I actually enjoyed seeing how she handled the rough parts of music score. The editor of the video had a great understanding of the superposition of harmonic and asymmetric motifs and used the video loops in a great fashion.
I remember a phrase in an old comic book that I read a long, long time ago, where one hero actually disables the all powerful villain's tool with a simple concept. He introduced disharmony in between the parts of the weapon, and in that way he was able to win the unwinnable battle. The phrase is the title for this post, because as soon as I finished seeing the video, I wished for the director, Hiroshi Kizu, to continue introducing more of this beautiful combination of disharmony in the

Ah, that feels good...Value thinking at its best...for me at least, and that's all that matters.
Well, it's time to think another thought

Friday, June 20, 2008

Irrationality always happens

Tonight I went home by train. I usually try to get into a car that is as empty as possible because like that I can sleep or even better, I can read the newspapers that the passengers from the previous train time have left in the car. Yeah, I'm cheap. Or you could say I'm "green"? Or I am a "new economy" practitioner?...Nah, I'm just cheap.
Interestingly, when I was checking for newspapers, I saw a group of papers attached by a clip that was left there, I don't really know if intentionally or not.
It was a financial paper called "Irrationality always happens", by Structural Logic, which is, I found later, an independent research company, that deals in corn equities and similar evaluations.
You could say that it was the divine providence/insert your favorite anthropomorphous supra human law! Obviously a little bit of thinking made me realize that I was in front of a "Friday the 13th" phenomena, where because you are paying more attention to a particular factor, you notice it more than what you would if you weren't paying attention . I will probably talk about this in the future, as it is one of the main errors in reasoning, and the subtler versions of it are pretty sneaky.
But what I wanted to talk is about the train of thought suggested by the title of that article. It was not an article about thinking, but about trading corn and other commodities , and all the related factors, like how to predict how the markets are going to react so certain characteristics of the environment. One of their points was that even though the people react in irrational ways to changes, you could still use this characteristic to predict the market, because the irrationality of it always happened.
I have to admit that as soon as I saw their point I thought that it was a genial idea, so I proceeded to evaluate why I had that reaction...mmm...probably the use of "thought" for my first impression was not the most precise, as it was more a first pass impression...I think there is another topic there for another day. So pardon me the imprecision at this time, and lets continue(and importantly, this is lack of precision is actually relevant to the rest of the thought pathway!)
So is this real? Does Irrationality always happens? If we expand the use of this concept from only economics to other thought domains, I would say that yes, but with some caveats. My main reasoning basis was statistic. If you have a certain thought pathway, that is, a series of connected thought processes that depend on the previous one either serially or in parallel, there is a non zero probability at every time that you will make a mistake. If it's a logical thought pathway, that is a group of thought processes based on only logical statements (logical as in the philosophical/reasoning methodology, not as in "oh yeah, that makes sense"), you have a probability at every step of making a mistake applying the rules of logic, or even more common, of expanding your thought pathway outside the realm of logic to another realm of thought, like subjective value giving. Also you have the non zero probability of going from one sub part of logic to another, that has different rules, without noticing it, either because it's a very subtle detail, or because simply you don't know all the precepts of that sub part of logic analysis.
Even more prone to this is reasoning based on reality based data, that is, using as your input for your reasoning not logical rules, but information that you got from a source. At this time, the sources of errors increases exponentially, going from an error of the source, a communication mistake from the source to you, a misunderstanding in the definition of the terms (my favorite kind of error, and the type that I see the most happening around me). This in addition to the mistakes that you can have only on the basis of your application of logical principles to the analysis of your data.
Another factor that I have to consider in my thought pathways is that a lot of times I have an "intuitive" solution in mind when I start, "intuitive" meaning that I reached a conclusion from the basis of the problem without going through any steps. This sadly introduces biases, because I don't like to be wrong, even though I have learned that this happens quite frequently. This bias can actually affect my thought processes to the point that the thought pathway will be deviated towards my "intuitive" solution even if it's not the right one, because "obviously" I have to be right, so I should reach through elaborate reasoning the same result that my "intuitive" thinking. The fact that this can actually be the adequate thought pathway, it doesn't mean that it should be like that. But it is hard to avoid...hopefully your egos are more rational than mine!
Is this impossible to avoid? I suppose that an imprecise simile that could be applied for this is comparing it to entropy. You can't really decrease the total entropy of a system, but you can, by increasing a sub part of it, decrease significantly the entropy of a particular system. We should be thankful for that, because we wouldn't be here discussing this topic if this feature of reality didn't existed. The same way, I suppose you can decrease the irrationality of a certain group of thought processes, so that a specific thought pathway reaches an adequate ending. This probably explains why short thought pathways tend to be less susceptible to mistakes. Also the use of a "repair" thought process parallel to your main pathway is always good, just like a good editor is good for a writer, because he/she will see errors that the author can't because of their involvement in the process. Obviously, the use of a repair thought process introduces another source of errors, but after testing it multiple times, you can at least evaluate how frequent this "repair" functions costs you in thought precision, similar to the way that DNA, when it replicates has DNA polymerases that review the strand for holes or misalignment of nucleotides, that has a certain rate of error, but low enough that the cell is able to replicate, and controlled enough that if the rate of error is more than acceptable, the cell undergoes apoptosis (cell suicide).
But the errors will always persist, mainly in reality based thinking, because of definition problems. If you think about this post itself, I have discussed a lot of things about irrationality, but I have not even defined the concept (I told you this was my favorite type of error!), so I am sure that if you review my reasoning with a different definition of irrationality you can actually reach different conclusions or just plain disagree with what I just wrote...Even myself, by rereading my reasoning, I realized that my internal definition of irrationality was actually not well defined, and that made me use actually two different concepts for irrationality, not that very far away from each other, but that take some precision from my reasoning...well, another day, another learned concept. Most of my propositions are still conceptually sound anyways, and the internal discussion that this topic raises let me realize that I have to take active measures to limit the irrationality in my thought processes, either by tightening my definitions or by restarting the thought pathway after obtaining the conclusion so I can see if I am not biasing my processes because of preconceptions or just by misapplication of logical concepts.
Well, time to think another thought [and use error checking mechanisms too ;-) ]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another point of view

The idea of complexity is significant in the evolution of human beings' thought processes.
But in some occasions this complexity is apparent, only due to our incomplete knowledge of reality.
Beautifully demonstrated in this video is...where do Moebius transformation come from?:
I hope some day when I try to explain something complex I will be able to find another point of view to explain it in such a clear way.
A point to take into account is that sometimes if you change the sphere of thinking (kind of the "dimension") you can find an easy answer to something that has been bothering you. This tends to happen to me when I am putting a string of verbal arguments, and I reach an impasse or an absurd proposition. Depending on the realm of the thought process, I can put it in graphical/geometrical display and I am able to get out of the problem, a lot of times very easily. This is actually very helpful when you are inmersed in verbal circular thinking and you have not realized it...yes, it happens to me a lot, I need more practice!
The question that I therefore ask myself this difference in resolution capacity due to the nature of reality/thought process (if it's not based in reality) or is this difference due to the intrinsic capacities of different modes of thinking?
Reading some arguments about string theory made me think that probably the nature of thought reality is similar to a model whose characteristics you are able to calculate with string theory tools while another one, that is theoretically equivalent to the first one, is impossible to calculate. That phenomenon always astounded me from a down to earth stand point. Let me put it in another way...
For two objects/dimensions/versions of reality/whatever you want to call them, that by definition are equivalent, you have one mathematical/physical tool that tells you that you can obtain the properties of one of this objects very easily, but for the other it's almost impossible! And sometimes only by changing the tool you can obtain the absolute opposite result. Just amazing (This has to do with Calabi-Yau shapes, but for those who are allergic to physics, you don't need to know them to understand the underlying concept).
This could be a nice approximation to my point about the different modes of thinking, but sadly I can only connect these two sets of thought pathways through analogic reasoning, not through any other mode of thinking...and analogies can happen without being actually real associations(yeah, correlation does NOT signify causation. Stupid reality messing up with my beautiful theoretical constructions).
It would make sense anyways that different types/modes of reasoning have different areas of dominion of reality, just like you can't really apply logical thinking to an artistic evaluation and viceversa...or can you? Could this be another example of me not knowing that "extra" dimension that would link several types of reasoning?
Sadly due to the intrinsic characteristic of this thought pathway I can't really obtain a result, because the argument is based on my inability to find this relationship! (argghh, I hate when I do this, because most probably it reflects a mistake in my train of thought, but again, that is why this blog is called Learning to think, not "I know how to think, and let me show you how easy it is!")
Well, is time to think another thought

Monday, June 16, 2008

Out of internet, not able to think?

I am traveling right now, and I am not able to have a consistent Internet connection. If you are an Internet addict like me, I am sure you can realize that this is actually a distressing situation. So many little tidbits of information that I want to verify that I am putting in my PDA to check later, so many events that I want to check on that I can’t. This obviously made me think about the correlation between thinking and information. Obviously that we need certain data to start our reasoning pathways, but do we really need further data along the process? In cases of, for example, scientific reasoning, there is an structural necessity for new data to continue the reasoning process, although the beginning of it could be based (I can tell you by experience!) in false, incomplete or in certain occasions even non-existent data. There was this idealistic view in the past about scientific knowledge, where the investigator, this god-like figure, only observed the phenomena that occurred around him, and after he/she obtained the data, then, and only then,she/he was able to postulate a hypothesis. Obviously time and behavioral/sociological investigation has shown us that this is a fallacy. Popper and Kuhn with their incisive thinking about science and the scientific process also gave us the philosophical bases to sustain this observations.
But what about other types of thought processes, like rhetorical, “day to day” thinking, or even theological/artistically thinking. You could say that Socrates always was asking questions to the public/disciples/poor victims, but I have the clear impression that he knew perfectly where he wanted to go with his line of reasoning and the questioning was only to give him more time to exercise (yep, the peripatetic school of philosophy must have had a very low rate of cardiovascular disease). That is one of the reasons why I agree completely with Bertrand Russell when he mentions that Socrates (or Plato if you think that Socrates was only a figment in Plato’s imagination, this obviously I will leave to other more knowledgeable people to discuss) was a really hypocritical philosopher. I still remember the first time I read Russell’s commentary about Socrates, I was so shocked, but at the same time relieved that somebody with a much bigger intellectual stature than I was having a similar opinion of Socrates. Coming back to my main point, Socrates had a thought pathway already planned from the beginning, and with his talent for conducting a discussion, he guided other people to reach the conclusions he already had (again, this is my opinion on Socrates’ discussion technique, I am sure than there are people that will disagree). This shows a reasoning pattern that looks like it “needs” outside data, but it actually doesn’t.
Artistic reasoning, on the other hand, seems to me that requires constant information feedback due to the nature of the beast. I’ve have not know of somebody that can paint a remarkable piece without reevaluating constantly what they have done and their interaction with their subject until now.
Why should we care about the interaction between information and thinking processes? Well, while I was thinking about it, I realize that it’s an essential factor to decide how to proceed with certain thought pathways compared to others. I could see this mainly by analysis of my reasoning mistakes.
On my own thinking, I’ve realized that due to my poor training for it, I have troubles separating my styles of argumentation, this leading to dumb reasoning mistakes. For example my logical arguments are contaminated by statistical data or life experience data, leading to horrible conclusions, and some of my life experience evaluations are botched by trying to “logicate” them, that is using logic in a realm not appropriate for it.
I’ve also seen/read other peoples’ mistakes (at least I consider them as mistakes) in this same realm. For example, in Dawkins’s book the god delusion, which I’ve read only some parts, you can see this. As a caveat, I have to admit that I am aware that evolutionary theory is a scientific fact, just like gravity, although for the mechanism of it, there still lot to know (intelligent design is NOT an alternative, it is more like a nice tale to tell your children, but it is NOT a scientific theory unless they come up with a way of falsifying the idea of God, which until now I have not read about). I do not want to discuss at this time the topic of Neo-Darwinism/evolutionary theory versus ID, although I am sure that if somebody read this and cares enough about the topic I am going to hear more than I would like. I will probably talk about it in the future, as is very near to my scientific principles)
Returning to my argument about Dawkins’ book, you can see how he proceeds to explain in a very consistent fashion his arguments of a non directional evolutionary process. This he does by using scientific evidence which is completely fine by my reasoning process. He also tries to use sociological /historical arguments to prove the worth (or lack)of the social institutions that maintain religions as a structure for living. Some of them are OK, some of them are kind of weak, but sadly the research there is in its infancy. But then he proceeds to use this data to support some of his value arguments about the importance of the idea of God. And this is where I think that he is not reasoning in an adequate fashion. Value argument are based on your opinions about a certain topic, in this case God. The fact that the church may or may not be harmful for us as a group is a completely different aspect in the realm of thinking than the usefulness or value of God as an idea. I think that he is completely entitled to give the idea of God a certain personal value, but I don’t think that his arguments are the appropriate ones in a thinking-as-a-procedure kind of way to prove the value of it.
Another thing that sounds like a reasoning hole to me is the conflation of the value of God as an idea and the value of the hypothesis of the existence of God in our reality or not. The opinion (I actually wrote fact on the first go, then I realized that I was making the same mistake, you see, it is so easy to make those) that you may or may not appreciate the idea of a god has nothing to do with your argumentation of his/her/its existence.
You shouldn't use the evidence/techniques from a realm of thinking in a different realm, at least not directly, as it leads in some occasions to improper conclusions. I really consider that different types of thinking need different type of information, and even, that they actually may be dependent differently from influx of information, some of them needing continuous feed back and some of them needing only the basal information. I have not found a logical argument against this, neither scientific one, although it’s not my domain of expertise, and this is where YOU come from, dear reader, to debunk/find holes in my reasoning. Oh I am sure there must be some, but hopefully I will be able to improve.
And that is what I think…
Time to think another thought

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Other interests

I also want to use this forum to add different topics of interest that have popped in my interest radar, either books, movies, videos, etc, that I consider interesting, or thought provoking...
Or simply fun and dumb like this video by robyn...there is absolutely no redeeming factor in it, except that it is a fun way to part with 3:06 minutes of your time! http://

Oh yeah...I feel that the link above could separate me from 3/4 of my possible readers, but the fact is that I like a certain degree of silliness in my life, so it will obviously be reflected in my blog, even if it's not voluntary...
Time to think another thought now

Defining the blog

Well, i am sitting here in front of my laptop, after deciding a name for the blog. It was actually interesting to see that even if I had an idea of what I wanted to write in this blog, I didn't realize that putting the concept in one phrase would be so hard.
I tend to be very wordy in my explanations, and worse than that, half of the time I am graphical, that is, I have to draw little pictures about what I am talking about to carry the idea across.
While I don't think this is a bad thing in itself, it makes the process of writing a blog a little bit more difficult.
What I want to do with this blog?
Well, as the title says, I just recently realized (a couple of years ago) that I didn't know how to think. Obviously, the regular day to day stuff, the automatisms of life, are no problem (I am NOT mentally retarded, thank you very much). But I realized that most of the analysis of topics in my life, personal, political, ethical, etc were very superficial, and that if I dug a little bit on them, they actually were full of logical inconsistencies. And I decided that I could try to learn how to think better to avoid this.
I understand that a lot of concepts in life will never be clean cut, because there is actually not a really clear solution. I am fine with that. But most of these concept appear blurry or lack of precision not because of their intrinsic nature, but due to failures in either the flow of my reasoning, the structure of my thinking or other random factors.
Then I realized that one of the best ways of correcting this it to put my ideas, about whatever topic comes through my mind, and post them in a public forum, so if there is a reasoning failure in them, they could be brought to my attention.
I realize that there are hundred of thousands of blogs out there right now, as all of us feel entitled to be important(and that is a great topic for another day!). This entails that the probabilities of me being read by a significant portion of the intelligent Internet sphere is very low. This was a real roadblock for me, until one day I just sat down and wrote down a first draft for my blog, and I realized that I think faster than I type...
You would say at this time "what does that have to do with the topic at hand?" Well, the fact is that by thinking faster than typing, this helps me to have a first step critic. Myself. I was able to see some of my logical inconsistencies and my circular thinking even before I pressed that orange button that says "publish post". Then I realized that even if nobody read the blog, I would be able to get something from it...not that I don't want to be read, but statistically speaking, it is highly likely that my readers would be in the minority or near zero.
And that give me a basal purpose for blogging. And isn't it why we do everything in life that is worth doing? (ah, so typical, finishing a blog with a morally uplifting quote/textbite...I am starting very well...)
I'm going to think another thought