Random Thoughts on a Sunday Afternoon, Episode Six

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Louisville Kentucky1. If anyone has been keeping track, they will have noticed that I haven’t written many blog posts over the past few weeks. There are several reasons for this, many of which are quite predictable and include a lack of free time and an excessive amount of stuff to do during these infrequent bouts of free time. (For example, I spent the last three days in Louisville, Kentucky, at an academic conference. That is why the five pictures included in this blog post all show scenes from downtown Louisville. For the record, they were all taken by me between about 11:30 AM and noon on Friday, April 5.) Despite the aforementioned fact that I have not posted much on my blog lately, I would like the record to show that I had started many things that were intended to become blog posts, including some potentially good ones for Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, and April Fools’ Day aka The First Day of Baseball Season. The Holy Saturday one was practically finished, too, so I’m kind of annoyed with myself for not going ahead and finishing it on time. However, I can now inform you that I actually have two finished drafts, so I actually can promise at least two new blog posts after this one in the relatively near future.

2. (Added much later in the day) I would just like to stick a disclaimer here and say that I haven’t really read through much of this after typing it, so it is going to be even more random and disjointed than usual, and probably will contain many typos. Sorry ‘bout that, but I’m not going to actually get around to posting this if I take the time to edit it.

Louisville Kentucky3. After church this morning, I stopped at Wal Mart to pick up some hand soap and some band-aids.  For some reason, these are both products that are challenging to find. The hand soap was somewhat easier, but the band-aids greatly baffled me. They had gauze bandages and little circular band-aids, they had band-aids with pictures of cartoon characters and specially shaped band-aids and water-proof band-aids and special non-stick band-aids for sensitive skin. But they didn’t have regular band-aids. All I wanted was the kind of band-aids that you put on your toe to keep it from bleeding in dance class. But they didn’t have that kind of band-aid, so instead, I got absorbent non-stick band-aids with comfortable fabric that stretches with movement and innovative adhesive that stays on long without irritating the skin. So the box tells me. It seemed like the closest thing to normal band-aids that I could find.

4. Today, as I left my dorm to go get food, people stared at me. This was not surprising, given the fact that I was wearing black boots, blue-and-white socks that went up just barely past the top of the boots, a fairly formal purple floral skirt, a very casual T-shirt, and the earrings and necklace I had worn to church this morning. I fear that I may have committed some kind of fashion crime.

Louisville Kentucky5. It struck me as being very interesting that in today’s gospel reading, (John 20:19-31) Jesus identifies himself first to the group of disciples and then to Thomas by showing them his hands and side, where he bears marks from the crucifixion. I have always been puzzled by the fact that, after the resurrection, people who knew Jesus keep on not recognizing him, but it’s cool to note that even the very first Christians recognized Christ by His sacrifice for them; the crucifixion was the foundation for their faith. Another fascinating thing along the same lines is Luke 24:13-35, the part where Jesus talks to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They come to realize who Jesus is and to understand what he has done when he first explains the scriptures to them and then breaks bread and gives it to them. It’s Word and Sacrament.

6. I wish I was doing a jigsaw puzzle today. Given the fact that it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and I have yet to accomplish enough stuff to justify the existence of this day, I can’t really take the time to start one now. But a jigsaw puzzle seems like a fun thing to do right now, and besides, I have the feeling that there are many rambling thoughts I need to be thinking, and jigsaw puzzles are good things to do while thinking rambling thoughts. Unfortunately, I don’t really have time for rambling thoughts right now, either. That’s problematic, because it’s really hard to think organized thoughts when my brain is in rambling-thought mode.

Louisville Kentucky7. My hands smell like early December. It’s this new hand soap; I like its scent much better than the previous hand soap, but it seems all wrong for April. This anomaly in time disorients and confuses me.

8. Maybe this is just some kind of senioritis thing, but I have lately found myself having a very hard time distinguishing between reality and imagination. Just a minute ago, I suddenly and randomly remembered a certain recent conversation, but I couldn’t remember whether it was in real life, a dream, a movie, or just my imagination. I couldn’t even remember who the other person was. It doesn’t help that I’m taking a class in postmodernism, and some part of my mind is fascinated by the question of what constitutes reality.

Louisville Kentucky9. Along the same lines, I have noticed something very odd about college life. This is especially true of my current phase of college life, in which I am trying to figure out what in the name of Galoompa is going to happen after I graduate. Anything that has to do with “the real world”- looking into financial aid, jobs, places to live, etc .- involves sitting around and staring at a computer screen. Likewise, homework either involves computers or books. But when I step away from all of that and do something like running away to a certain secret hiding place and flipping over logs to look at the bugs underneath them, or driving in a literally real car on a literally real road, I can guarantee that everything happening in my head is abstract and/or imaginary. If I’m not pondering hypothetical questions or reliving conversations that never actually happened, I’m probably making up stories or determining details of some imaginary fantasy world. So “the real world” apparently exists only in my computer, and imagination apparently exists only in the outside world. The question is which reality is real, or rather, in which reality I am real. And the other question is, whether I’m actually trying to find reality or hide from reality.

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I am on a quest to abandon reality

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I have become somewhat disenchanted with reality. It’s not cool; I don’t like it. For this reason, I have decided that I would like to leave. I plan to move to Kroopskicoonx as soon as I can figure out how to do that.

Pictured: Saturn, because I don't have a picture of Kroopskicoonx.

Pictured: Saturn, because I don’t have a picture of Kroopskicoonx.

Kroopskicoonx is an imaginary planet. I made it up for a science fiction thingy I was writing a month or two ago, because I needed a planet to name as the home of the incomparably brilliant Inctovery Yurinch, a mathematician whose groundbreaking work in time anomalies was instrumental in understanding why time behaves differently on different planets. It is worth noting that these different planets are also imaginary; in reality, it is my understanding that the nature of time does not depend upon the planet in question. But we’re not talking about reality right now. We’re talking about the imaginary cosmos that includes the imaginary planet of Kroopskicoonx.

The science fiction thingy went on to discuss the mathematical reasons why some planets have stuff like time zones while others have planetary constant time. (Of course, these mathematical principles are intellectually over my head, not to mention the fact that they are imaginary, so I had to make up a lot of words and cite a lot of imaginary mathematicians to discuss them.) The thingy did not give any additional information about the planet Kroopskicoonx, although I have since then imagined a few more things about it. It is somewhat smaller than Earth, with approximately the same land/water ratio. The population is significantly less, though; there are only about twenty million inhabitants of the dominant species, who are humanoid and closely resemble Earthling humans, although their skin is a bit greener, their ears are lower down on their heads, and they don’t have toenails. Also, they have seven fingers on each hand, and therefore tend to count in base seven, when they aren’t counting in binary since they have two hands.

Obviously, there are many details that I have yet to imagine. Because I am an odd person, I do in fact intend to imagine many things about this planet until such a time that I can move there. Upon my arrival, I shall surely be glad of this, for it’s very confusing and disorienting to move to a new form of existence without prior knowledge of what your new home is like.

My current dilemma, of course, is how to leave reality and get to Kroopskicoonx. Right now, sadly, I am a real person in reality and an imaginary person on Kroopskicoonx. The goal is to reverse this and to be a real person on Kroopskicoonx and an imaginary person in reality. One could argue that it doesn’t work that way; that it is Kroopskicoonx that is imaginary and not me, so I can’t be imaginary there if I’m actually real, where “actually” means “in the real world.” But I disagree with that logic. It’s not that I’m trying to say that reality is subjective; it isn’t. Kroopskicoonx is imaginary from any perspective. It’s imaginary by definition because I imagined it and it doesn’t exist apart from my imagination. Its inhabitants would not see that any differently; they are well aware that they are imaginary people.

x is the imaginary dimension, y is any real dimension, A is a point in reality, and B is an imaginary point.

x is the imaginary dimension, y is any real dimension, A is a point in reality, and B is an imaginary point.

But think of it this way. Think of reality as a place that has a positive coordinate in a certain imaginary dimension, and my imaginary world as a place that has a negative coordinate in this same imaginary dimension. When I travel to Kroopskicoonx, I will be moving towards it, which means that to it, my displacement is positive, and I shall become real. That doesn’t mean that I will really be real, because my location will then have a negative (and thus imaginary) coefficient. But I will be imaginarily real in the same way that I am really real and imaginarily imaginary now. Just as two negatives equal a positive, two layers of imaginariness equal reality, provided that we are discussing a single dimension of imaginariness. If we bring multiple dimensions into the picture, it is of course possible to be imaginary in more than one dimension, just as it is possible for a point to have negative values in both the x-direction and the y-direction. But for the sake of this discussion, we are talking about only one imaginary world and only one imaginary dimension.

Now, I just need to know how exactly to travel in that imaginary dimension. On the one hand, I should be able to do that because I’m the one who imagined this dimension. On the other hand, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I get to make up all the rules. Indeed, ‘tis an odd and non-humanoid entity to which I am alluding, for it has three hands and the third hand is this: perhaps it is not even possible to really travel in an imaginary dimension. Perhaps I am stuck in reality for good. That would not be cool.

Unedited Ramblings, Episode One

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I would like to propose the theory that there are four different types of ideas, which I shall refer to as the concrete real, the abstract real, the concrete unreal, and the abstract unreal.  The concrete real consists of material objects and specific events, whether these events be historical occasions or what I had for lunch last Friday. (It was pizza, by the way. Just in case you were wondering.) The abstract real is things such as mathematical principles, the laws of physics, and philosophical and theological truths. For the sake of this description of my classification, I will not discuss at length the question of whether truth is objective, but since that question is already implied by the use of the word “truth” in this context, I will acknowledge that I am assuming the existence of objective reality and objective truth. I don’t think that point is actually all that necessary to this system of classification, though, because it isn’t necessary to take into consideration whether something is objectively true or observed to be true. For example, ethical rules fall under this second category whether those rules are innate or socially constructed. Basically, this category that I call the abstract real is made up of things that exist, but not in a tangible or directly observable way. We can only use these ideas by representing them with words and numbers, which technically are arbitrarily designated signs and sounds with no inherent meaning of their own.

I felt like I needed a picture here, and I figured this was a good place for a Matrix reference.

I felt like I needed a picture here, and I figured this was a good place for a Matrix reference.

The third category, which I am calling the concrete unreal, refers to fiction or to any game or form of entertainment that involves pretending. It is the things that don’t actually exist, but can be imagined to exist because they follow the same rules of being as things that do exist. We can imagine that it would be possible for these things to be true in the objective reality in which real things exist. Even magic and science fiction fall into this category, despite the fact that they disagree with reality in some ways, because we’ve all experienced many situations that seemed to defy those rules of reality to a small extent. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to use the ideas of invisibility or magical mental powers or technology beyond the scope of our own. However, it’s much more difficult to imagine a world in which two plus two equals five (not because “two” or “five” have been redefined, but because numbers actually work in a different way) or where there are fifty dimensions in coordinate space instead of three, or where there is no such thing as time. These types of concepts are not only outside of the realm of reality as we know it; they can’t even be explained with the words and numbers that work just fine to explain things within reality. These types of ideas are what I am calling the abstract unreal.

It may be fairly obvious that I started writing this blog post in my head while doing the reading assignment for my class in postmodernism. In general, I disagree with postmodern ideas and even find them kind of disturbing, mainly because of the underlying principle that everything is subjective and there is no such thing as Truth with a capital T. The books that we’re using for this class stress that you can’t boil postmodernism down to a simple description, but they only say that because it is so anti-postmodern to think that you can classify ideas under a label. I disagree; I think that you can classify ideas under a label as long as everyone using the label agrees about what the label means. That’s the whole point of labels. If they don’t always work, it’s because people misuse those labels, either out of ignorance or out of a postmodern-inspired inclination to mess up the validity and reliability of description. I agree that shapes on a piece of paper or a computer screen have no inherent meaning, and that language only is capable of communicating because we have assigned certain meanings to certain sounds and shapes. But once those meanings have been assigned, I think that we’re supposed to stick to the rules in order to ensure that the rules continue to work.  Despite the oft-repeated statement made by a couple dolls my sister and I used to have, you can’t redefine words to suit your present needs.

So, on those counts, I disagree with postmodernism, but I think that there’s still much to be said for the distinction between that which is being signified and that which signifies. Just as a portrait of a person is not that person and a photograph of a mountain is not a real mountain, a word is not an idea, just something that represents an idea. To read or even to listen to someone speak is to decode a system of metaphors that represents ideas (whether they correspond to reality or not, and whether they are concrete or abstract) with arbitrary sounds. As weird as postmodernism is, it’s right about the fact that every medium of communication, whether by word or by image, only has meaning because we assign meaning to it.

BoFor example, my sisters who live at home sometimes email me pictures of the cat or post pictures of him on tumblr. When they do so, they’re sending me a two-dimensional visual digital image of him that technically has no more in common with him than does a picture of asparagus, for example, despite the fact that Bo himself has very little in common with asparagus. But when I see those pictures, they make me think of him and they remind me of what an awesome cat he is. That is not the way I would react to a picture of asparagus. Most likely, if any of my sisters were to email me a picture of asparagus, I would be completely baffled, because I have fewer connotations with asparagus than I do with the cat. (It is now extremely likely that I will get at least a couple asparagus emails from my sisters in the relatively near future, and if that does happen, I won’t be very baffled after all. I have just added a connotation to visual representations of asparagus by mentioning it in this context.)

Gone with the WindTo relate this back to my four categories of ideas, the cat and the asparagus belong to the concrete real. This computer in front of my face is concretely real, and so are the books stacked behind it. Directly in front of my face, I see my linear algebra textbook. If I was to pick that up and open it right now, I would see a bunch of numbers, equations, and algorithms for solving those equations. The things in that book are abstractly real. The mathematical theorems described in the book are true, but they can only be described and explained by words and mathematical notation printed on a page or written on the classroom blackboard or spoken by my professor or written in my notes. Behind me, there’s another bookshelf where I keep most of my non-school books. A lot of them are fiction. For example, I could pick up Gone with the Wind, open it up, and start reading about the Civil War. The book is concretely real, the Civil War was concretely real, but the life of Scarlett O’Hara isn’t real. It never happened, but it conceivably could have. Most of the historical events in the book really happened, and there really were people very much like the characters in the story. Just as the words on the page represent the story, the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara represent the experiences of people who really lived in Georgia in the 1860s. Thus, the story of Gone with the Wind is concretely unreal. That book is the obvious example because it has so many historically verifiable facts, but the same goes for fictional stories that are less solidly based in reality. Most of the books on that shelf are set in places that really exist, or have characters with believable and realistic personalities, or make some metaphorical statement about the real world. For most of those books, all of those things are true. And in none of them do the rules of space and time work significantly differently than they do in real life. (With the possible exception of my Douglas Adams books. And also the possible exception of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, because I still have absolutely no clue what that book is saying, even after having read it three times.) The line between what I call the concrete unreal and the abstract unreal is quite a bit fuzzier, but I still think there’s a distinction. To use the terminology from my postmodernism class, the concrete unreal can be described and expressed using the same signifiers as the concrete real. A drawing of a fictional character doesn’t necessarily look different from a drawing of a real person. But the abstract unreal doesn’t make sense when expressed with the signifiers that we use to talk about reality.

The question that it would make sense to ask here is why I think there’s any significance to making these distinctions. The short answer is that I love making distinctions; making distinctions is fun. Inventing a system of classifying things or ideas is a very entertaining hobby. The longer answer is that I think that these four categories I have just labeled correspond to different types of intelligence. The concrete real is scientific, the abstract real is mathematical and/or philosophical, the concrete unreal is literary, and the abstract unreal is artistic. An intelligent person is someone who has some grasp of all four types of ideas and who excels in at least one. A genius is someone who has a good grasp of all four types of ideas and who is able to express the ideas from one category in the terminology of another. That’s what’s so impressive about great theoretical physicists like Einstein; they build real concepts out of thought experiments that start as abstract unreal ideas.

Since this blog post has been slapdashly written and probably has not followed a logical and organized structure, I am not going to bother coming up with a good way to conclude it.

 

I Think I’m Imaginary

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Once upon a time, I thought it through and came to the conclusion that I don’t exist. I don’t actually remember now how I determined that and, in retrospect, I suspect that my logic may have been faulty. Evidence seems to suggest that I actually do exist. For one thing, I seem to be physically real because I can feel my fingers on the keyboard, and my wrist itches because a mosquito bit me yesterday. Also, I can see my reflection in the window, since it’s dark outside and light inside. That seems to be a pretty good indication that I exist. And if I Google my name,

According to the internet, this is me and Gottlieb

the internet says I exist. (It also says that I was born in Russia in 1863, married someone named Gottlieb, had seven children, and died in North Dakota on February 25, 1939. That’s very interesting.)Then again, the internet has been known to lie before. And actually, I also really can’t claim that my reflection in the window is reliable proof of my existence; a reflection is by definition not real. I definitely can’t claim sensory perception as proof that I’m real, because that could just be my imagination.

This is Descartes, the guy who thought he was.

Of course, I could use Descartes’ logic to demonstrate my existence by pointing out that I think, therefore I am. The problem with that idea is that I can’t really prove to anyone else that I think. In fact, there are several people who would gladly testify that I don’t think. (To be specific, those people are my siblings)Nobody else can conclusively prove that I’m not just a robot with artificial intelligence (“Or artificial stupidity”, I’m sure my siblings would say) or some kind of elaborate illusion, or a figment of someone’s imagination. And if nobody else can prove my existence beyond a doubt, then it would be really jumping to conclusions for me to assume that I’m real.

It really does seem to me, though, that I’m conscious and sentient. But if I’m actually not real, how would I even know what real consciousness and sentience feels like? Maybe I just think that I can think because I don’t know what thinking really is.

The big question is, if I’m imaginary, who’s the one doing the imagining? It can’t be me; imaginary people aren’t capable of independent thought.