The Anatomy of Pure Stupidity, in One Act

The Anatomy of Pure Stupidity, in One Act

[Socrates and Stupidus of Athens have just met each on a charming footpath on the edge of town. Socrates has just noticed a sizeable object, that, for no conceivable reason, is plummeting towards earth at an alarming rate of speed.]

Socrates [pointing upward]: Look, what is that?

Stupidus: Oh, that’s just a statue of Zeus, falling from the sky.

So.: Yes, I am aware of the concepts, “statue of Zeus”, “sky”, and “falling down”. What I am asking, more properly, is what is going on there?

St.: You mean, besides the fact that heavy bodies always fall to the ground?

So.: Exactly. What I want to know is how it happens.

St.: Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, there is such a thing as the law of gravitational attraction. And it is because of this law that heavy bodies always fall to earth, and never away from it.

So.: Yes, yes, the law of gravitational attraction was invented just to put into formal terms the very phenomenon that interests me. Can’t you understand why this law does not explain how heavy bodies fall, but rather that they just always do fall. I already know that this happens. I just want to know why it happens.

St.: Okay, I think I know where you are driving at with this. You see, every event has a cause. What happens is this. When a heavy body is in a certain position in the sky, this causes said body to have another position, just a little further down, at the very next moment. It’s a very simple principle, really, and it can be stated like this: Everything happens for a reason.

So. [gritting his teeth]: Yes, point taken, put I don’t think that you have quite cleared up any confusion. That is, I readily understand that every effect must necessarily have a cause. My only concern, if I may, is what causes gravity?

St.: I’m quite certain that I have mistaken your meaning. Are you trying to say that there should be an underlying principle or principles that cause the laws of science to exist? If I am incorrect about this, please let me know.

So.: Yes, actually, I think that is a good way of putting it. Are you never curious as to the true nature of things, such that things like our laws of science can possibly exist?

St.: Well, there we have it at last, Socrates. The problem is that you speak of a “true nature”, as if that is something that the human mind could possibly know. I’m afraid that you, my fellow democrat, are an idealist. I think that you may have read too much Kant. Perhaps you should brush up on the more modern approaches to philosophy, for instance, British empiricism or American pragmatism.

So.: You haven’t enlightened me to a new way of thinking, as I am well aware of the, shall we say, “common sensical” approaches to philosophy. My only fear is that these approaches are merely easy ways out of answering questions that are all too vexing, such as, “Why is Zeus currently plummeting to the ground?”

St.: So, you are saying that these philosophies are, in a word, lazy. Do I speak the truth? And furthermore that the people that subscribe to them can be characterized as intellectually lazy?

So.: I simply don’t understand how you could take it any other way. I mean, something is obviously happening here that cannot be apprehended by mere sensation. And is it not the duty of reason to understand the nature of this something?

St.: But it is reason that tells us that certain kinds of knowledge are impossible! What could be more reasonable than to stop asking questions that are impossible to answer?

So.: I applaud you on your logic, as it is flawless. However, do you mean to assert that it is impossible for reason to develop a system of thought that can satisfactorily describe why something like the law of gravity is possible?

St.: No, that is not exactly what I mean. I rather mean that while it is indeed possible for reason to think that it has developed such a system of thought, it is also impossible for reason to know that this system is indeed a faithful representation of the true state of affairs. What we have, therefore, is the difference between thinking something to be true and knowing that it is, in point of fact, true.

So.: Reason has two different aspects, does it? The one is thinking and the other is knowing? And the former is a lesser version of the latter? Is that your position?

St.: Yes, you see, reason must have empirical proof in order to verify its judgments. Without this proof, all that you can have are opinions, and never facts.

So.: But don’t you see that there is now a new problem? That is, how can we speak about reason forming judgments without sense data already at its disposal? And do you not see the difficulty inherent in assuming that reason initially requires the evidence of the senses in order to have, as it were, judgment content, and that reason again requires this very same evidence in order to determine whether its judgments have objective value? It seems that the good logician Russell would have a field day with this line of thought.

St.: You accuse me of fallacious argumentation, Socrates. I do not take such accusations lightly! Are you now suggesting that I should simply ignore the evidence that shows itself as plain as day, and keep myself locked within a world of my own imagining?

So.: Have you not heard a word that I just said? What makes it so hard for you to understand that the senses just provide the content, in regard to which reason exercises its judgments? Do you really think that there is such constant novelty in the world of sense perception that reasonable minds must never stop to take the time to figure out what must be the case in order for that world to exist?

St.: Well I dare say that you give me pause to think, Socrates, however, I feel that it is undoubtedly true that there is never profit to be had when it comes to speculating about things that can never find a use in the real world. This kind of daydreaming, after all, is the opposite of what it means to be pragmatic, and to live a good, decent life.

So.: Now you intrigue me, Stupidus, because you say that there can be no value attached to the purely reasonable creations of the human mind. Are you saying this about all creations of the human mind, too? What about all of those works of fiction that are so compelling to the masses that they spend many of their hard-earned drachmas to enjoy them?

St.: You have hit upon something, my friend. You see, on the one hand, the masses are being entertained, and on the other hand, no such benefit is to be found.

So.: Well, we have certainly come a long way from our original discussion about the falling Zeus statue. Am I supposed to understand from all of this that philosophers should not concern themselves with the discovery of truth, but rather with the discovery of the best ways to make money? Are you altogether denying that humanity has a higher calling than the beasts, and that is to, from its own devices, discover those ideas that can be said to be universally true? And that those who do make such discoveries—for example, enlightened men such as ourselves—should not seek to persuade others of the reasonability of said discoveries? And all of this so that humanity might one day be able to live in a state of truthfulness and harmony rather continue in its present state of deceit and chaos?

St.: Honestly Socrates, you tire me. I, after all, have a job and a family that I must attend to. I was merely trying to have a pleasant walk around town, and now my mind feels like it is twisted into knots. So, I will now bid you a good afternoon, and we will depart on good terms, as always. So long!

So.: Good bye to you as well! Give my regards to Lois and the boys!

[A statue of Zeus hits the ground on the exact spot where the two men had just been standing, shattering into a million tiny fragments.]


St.: What is exactly wrong with using sense data twice, at the beginning and at the end of the proces. Can’t we form concepts, judgments based on our memories of sense data, and later test these judgments with more fresh and a bigger sample of sense data. Would Socrates be so kind as to explain the no doubt evident point Stupidus is missing?

So.: …

[A statue of Zeus landed straight on the head of Socrates as he was pondering why the statue was falling from the sky]

To verify sense data with sense data is circular. This does not mean there is no use in doing it, of course practically we do this all the time, and it makes sense to do it. But the point is that from a position of reason or logical justification, experiences of the senses, assuming they cannot be 100% trusted in their own right (which is precisely the assumption that this entire debate makes, and one that is rational), cannot be verified by the senses, but must be validated by some other means - that is, once again, if we are to concern ourselves with rational justification, which of course is sort of the point of philosophy, and is the reason why we dont just assume that sense data can be 100% trusted.

We aren’t just verifying sense data with sense data, we’re verifying theories, judgements, concepts based on memories of sense data, with new sense data.

If it makes sense, it good for me. There’s no reason to complicate matters.

Two problems here. You are just begging the question if you assume that we need to rationally justify the senses to begin with. I guess i can’t argue with that.

And It’s not the senses that can’t be trusted, our senses don’t lie. It’s our selective memory of sense data and “reasoning” that distorts. That’s why we need to verify our judgements and theories with new sense data to see if the theories hold.

True. The senses don’t say anything about what is stimulating them. They transfer the stimulus vibration via nerve conduits to the brain for memory activation and translation/interpretation.

Indeed, much of interpretation will undergo distortion caused by selectivity per predilection, thus making it difficult to see things as they are.

Judgments and theories that hold true across the board, require a preponderance of similarities in verification in the physical world. Through trial and error such certifying evidences can be achieved by applying thinking, derived and capitalized upon from areas in consciousness, that lends itself to matters of material nature.

Yet, heading in a direction away from the material realm in conscious thought – and away from the attempt to link up certain independent events to form concrete philosophies and theories about life – we can see no model or archetype in nature concerning individual peculiarities and traits. No two things in all of natures creations are identical even to the genetic level. No two leaves on a tree are the same, no two snowflakes and no two persons. So, it stands to reason that each living organism, although similar in generalness, will express its own singleness by virtue of its uniqueness. Some may immediately revert to standardization here – closing themselves off to the notion of the senses being undisturbed by a ‘coordinator’ that deliberately coordinates sensory activity for its own purposes – saying that all perspectives are viewpoints taken into consideration but only as relating to something already known to be under scrutiny.

I’m not saying anything profound would be discovered for all to witness emanating from any particular individual, but to the individual himself to be free, in a state where the senses are allowed to ‘live’ with their independent careers sending uninfluenced sensations through out the body, something new is bound to happen. How much impact this individual may have on the world would be microscopic.

Certainly in contrast to the standards of the world and the ideas and beliefs that it adopts, a person who touches life in a unique place functions in a way that would set him apart as courageous but probably irrational as well. But irrationality should not be confused with un-rationality. It’s better to question the goals and assumptions the theories are based on when it comes to the nonmaterial aspects of living rather than questioning the reality of the unprecedented way each of us functions and expresses his life.

Stupidus is far more bearable than Socrates by a long way.

“Explanation” is what we call it, but it is “description” that distinguishes us from older stages of knowledge and science. Our descriptions are better - we do not explain any more than our predecessors… and we infer: first, this and that has to precede in order that this or that may then follow - but this does not involve any comprehension. In every chemical process, for example, quality appears as a “miracle,” as ever; also, every locomotion; nobody has “explained” a push. But how could we possibly explain anything? We operate only with things that do not exist: lines, planes, bodies, atomes, divisible time spans, divisible spaces. How should explanations be at all possible when we first turn everything into an image, our image!
… as we describe things and their one-after-another, we learn how to describe ourselves more and more precisely. Cause and effect: such a duality probably never exists…

  • Nietzsche TGS 112

Stupid Socrates.

Socrates was before Kant. So how does he know about him? Maybe, there is a modern day Socrates? That statue took a particularily long time to hit the ground as they carried on quite a long conversation before impact.

But, it was well written.

My reason for writing this dialogue was to vent my frustration over the gulf that separates how I understand the notion of physical theory and how “common folk” understand it. And by “common folk,” I am not referring only to so-called working class people such as plumbers and fry cooks. I am also referring to those people that we would expect to have sophisticated perspectives concerning the natures of given physical theories; I am referring to theoretical physicists themselves.

My frustration caused me to come up with an idea of “stupidity” that is very far from typical. In my concept, stupidity and dumbness are highly different from one another. To be “dumb” just means that one naturally possesses a relatively modest capacity for appreciating the subtleties of the intellectual sphere. Stupidity, however, is a much more difficult thing to understand. By and large, though, the most stupid people often possess very sophisticated reasoning skills. But there is just something inside of them that causes an inability to recognize the meanings of certain profoundly crucial philosophical problems, with the result being that they often think that they have “solved” these problems, when in reality, they have only truly evaded said problems.

I came up with the idea of a person (Stupidus) that is most definitely not “dumb,” but is very much, one could argue, a perfect representative for stupidity. That is, he understands his world in a way that is a reflection of the culture in which he lives, and it is precisely this understanding that allows him to “get along” with his life in a decent, unproblematic way. The average Athenian will of course have no issue with people like Stupidus, because they are probably very much “stupid” themselves.

I feel that I have been becoming more like Socrates over the past two decades, and that the world at large has correspondingly been turning more “stupid.” The fact that I take the world of ideas so seriously has caused me to get into all sorts of personal problems, which has caused me to grow resentful towards those people (such as theoretical physicists) that are supposed to be interested in compelling ideas–but who, in the end, usually just end up taking the intellectually lazy ways out, in order to “get along” in society.

To be more explicit about my problem, I have developed an idea about the way in which physical reality can be represented that does not deal in mere empirical prediction, but rather in full-fledged theoretical description. In developing this idea, I realized that I would have to fuse together the most essential aspects of the world of the “very large” (i.e. theories that deal in the structure of space, such as general relativity) and the world of the “very small” (i.e. theories that deal with the structure of matter, such as quantum theory). The problem here is that the only way to accomplish such a task is by way of re-examining certain fundamental concepts–i.e. the supposition that physical bodies, fundamentally, must always be purely external to one another. It should be fairly obvious to anyone here that no amount of algebraic manipulation can ever get a theoretician to see nature in terms of anything other than pure mutual exclusivity.

But as I tried to point out in the above dialogue, there is a vast difference between pointing out certain manifest facts–such as the law of gravitational attraction–and giving compelling accounts of how such empirical laws can be understood in their very possibility. It is difficult to convince contemporary theoreticians that they must concern themselves with such philosophical subtleties, for the simple fact our upper-level educational institutions tend to encourage students of the natural sciences to quickly apprehend myriad technicalities, rather than the methodical discovery of grounding principles that can give structure to otherwise random collections of data.

In the past, I have tried various ways to get people to recognize the value of my system of thought, as a fully intuitive depiction of purely objective physical reality, rather than as an algebraic formalism whose lone function is to provide predictions of empirically sensible (subjective) phenomena. So, I am no longer interested in trying to convince “stupid” people of my ideas in a straightforward, rhetorical kind of way. I feel that such an approach will always be doomed to failure. My current strategy is to spend as much time as necessary dealing with underlying philosophical principles before moving to the more technical aspects (which are not so technical that the average “stupid” person would not be able to follow).

As such, the first point of issue is to rid ourselves of the notion of “void space”, for the reason that this notion simply relates to our everyday experience of the distances between phenomenal objects rather than to some deeply significant idea of how such a thing as “distance between observed objects” is at all possible. That is, our first goal is to discover a paradigm of observer/observed interaction that is built upon ontological unity (i.e. mutual inclusivity), rather than upon a paradigm of logical multiplicity (such as in the popular exposition of Einstein’s special theory of relativity) that relies upon the concept of separation-by-void-space at its foundation.

I enjoyed reading through this. Good work.

I fear I may be ‘stupid’ to you. When I read this, I am reminded of thoughts that have often occurred to me. There seems to be laws that govern our universe. Everyday, the Earth spins, and everyday we’re pulled towards it. The sun still burns, it provides heat. Water stays wet, and always reacts the same with fire. These things seem like they could easily be different. We could live in a world where water is green and edible. Where when something spins it creates light. That we get our sustenance from sound because that’s the way it is.

Our entire understanding is from circular logic. That’s why you can ask ‘why?’ and never come to a conclusion. I would love to see a way that we could find a constant answer that explains everything, but this answer has been sought after by everyone, including the ‘stupid’. Honestly, I believe you could answer the question “Why is it falling towards us?” with any point of the circle, such as “Because grass is green”. Kinda like theories of time travel, where they say if you alter anything in the past, the future will change relative to that action. Same goes for the circle of laws that govern our universe, if you change one point, everything would have to change accordingly.

When laymen speak about universally valid “governing laws”, they are largely thinking of a mechanistic paradigm of theoretical physics that has not been “in vogue” since some time in the 19th century. This is not to say that lawfulness, as a concept, is somehow lacking, but rather that it should not necessarily be taken as a particularly fundamental one, when it comes to providing the most compelling descriptions of physical reality.

A perfect example of this new way of thinking is the notion of “randomness”, as developed by the more popular accounts of quantum mechanics. But this concept only comes to us when the problem of predictive knowability (epistemic certainty) is the guiding theme rather than the problem of ontological possibility (intuitive believability). We presently have, therefore, things like Heisenberg’s indeterminacy relations as axiomatically given points of departure, and it is because of this fact that theoretical physics, in my opinion, finds itself in such a sorry state of affairs. Thus, it becomes necessary for me to, as it were, pound the pavement in forums like this in order to start shifting the conversation towards an idea of theoretical physics that truly does justice to the notion of theory-as-thesis—i.e. a self-consistent set of propositions—and away from the idea of theory-as-hypothesis—i.e. claims that, in and of themselves, are somehow insufficient.

The way I see it, the only way to start developing believable accounts of the “inner nature” of physical reality is to stop relying so heavily on the concepts of simplistic algebraic calculability (i.e. the analytic equations of Newtonian calculus), and to start thinking in terms of spatially integral structures that can best be described through geometric and topological means. These necessarily extensive forms (as opposed to the non-extensive “point masses” of classical kinematics) we may think of as being “atoms”, not in the modern/naïve sense of specific collections of void-separated “particles”, but rather in the ancient/philosophical sense of fundamental building blocks of physical reality. And it is important to avoid the language that speaks of atoms as entities that are “uncuttable”, because this implies the possibility that atoms are simply “extremely hard and dense”. But these characteristics are merely empirical “givens” that have nothing whatever to do with atoms as purely theoretical constructs to be used in believable models.

The very instant that we allow our imaginations to roam freely by way of thinking along these lines, then we are given license to start thinking of atoms as ideal, space-filling geometric forms that exist within one another, which effectively eliminates the problem of “spooky” action-at-a-distance (“quantum entanglement”) in one fell swoop. But this kind of a picture has never before been given an explicit formulation, such as I am now [slowly] attempting to convey.

At this early stage, it may be useful to know that my theory is perfectly consistent with Erwin Schrödinger’s understandings of the nature of physical reality. Schrödinger’s contribution to theoretical physics, for all practical purposes, came about simultaneously with Heisenberg’s, and Schrödinger’s is the one that ultimately became more significant, in terms of the final formulation of quantum mechanics. Schrödinger’s idea (as inspired by the doctoral thesis of de Broglie) is that matter can best be described by oscillating, space filling waveforms—which are known as [harmonic] standing-waves. But it must be understood that these elementary entities (atoms) are purely ideal constructs, just as are circles, squares, and the Platonic solids. When this fact is fully appreciated, certain characteristics, such as ponderability and impenetrability, that are associated with empirically given objects, no longer carry any theoretical significance, with the result being that arbitrary numbers of atoms are seen to be capable of existing in precisely the same space.

In the end however, Schrödinger’s waveforms were [mis]appropriated by the physics establishment in terms of being identified as “fields of probabilities” within “quantum state space” rather than being actual, harmonically oscillating, space-filling waveforms that can indeed be represented within the context of “classical physical space”. It is typically said within the physics community that Schrödinger somehow “misunderstood” the significance of his own theoretical invention, and that he was “misguided” in his lifelong pursuit to discredit the canonical interpretation of quantum theory as a science that deals primarily in the statistical likelihoods of various experimental outcomes rather than in theoretical descriptions that provide a thoroughly believable account of the way in which nature is constituted.

We may understand the path that I am attempting to take as pure mathematics, in the sense that Kant understood it; that is, as a system of thought that deals in the creation of a priori synthetic propositions. And the results of this system are objective because they depend upon the purely formal aspects of the faculty of intuition, which are the conditions for the possibility 1) of the cognition of objects and 2) of experience in general. The goal here is to present a directly imaginable schema to the understanding in order to develop within the subject a sense of onto-logical—i.e. theoretically physical—self givenness. This can be contrasted with mainstream theoretical physics, wherein mathematics is used merely to “formalize” the lawful interrelations between empirically given phenomena, thereby leaving the question of the substantial nature of the thinking subject completely unasked.