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Permanence Reviewed

This essay presents a more developed exploration of the core ideas presented in The Pressure of Light

Contents:

Section 1: Remembered-Thinking-Theory

A Proper Comparison Between Remembered-Internal-Events and Remembered-External-Events Sheds New Light on Old Epistemological Questions 

While External-Event-Hypotheses Eventually Achieve Maximum Entropy, Internal-Event-Hypotheses Eventually Achieve Zero Entropy

Perceived Uniformity-in-Nature Originates in Remembered-Thinking

Section 2: The Principle of Infinite-Heterogeneity-in-Time

The Mind Oscillates Between a State that Interacts with Normal-Time, and a Reflective State that Exists in a Consciously Created Past

Without Determinism, Without the Past, there Still Remains an Intuitive Sense of Time

Section 3: Permanence Reviewed

References

By Andrew Malcolm, creative writer and epistemological thinker

Section 1: Remembered-Thinking-Theory

If you wanted to fill in the details surrounding a memory of an event, like viewing a show at a music festival, what would you do? You could revisit the site of the festival, ask friends you went with to share stories, or see the same show again somewhere else, meet the performers, and ask about their perspectives. But what if you wanted to fill in the details surrounding the memory of a thinking-event, like a fantasy of yourself on the stage instead of the performers? You could repeat the fantasy again, this time with more awareness of what was happening in your mind during the visualization, but how would you know for sure that any of the qualities of the repeated fantasy match those of the first iteration? How would you know for certain you visualized the same sights, the same sounds, or experienced the same affiliated feelings, or even started and ended the fantasy the same way, with the same duration in between? For the memory from real life, you have people, things and events in the external universe that confirm for you the continuity between where the show took place, how long the show lasted, and who or what was involved, but nothing can confirm this kind of continuity for you in terms of your thinking-events. In fact, this experiment leads to an unanswerable question: how do you really know that you had any of the thoughts that you remember having?

Remembered-thinking-theory asserts that the human mind is incapable of knowing for certain that thinking-events written into its memory actually happened, and is even less capable of confirming, through its subsequent analysis, the purpose, cause, context or intention behind remembered-thinking, or the similarity of remembered-thinking-events to other presumed-to-exist iterations of the events. This at first suggests that remembered-internal-events are weaker in structure in the universe than remembered-external-events, but a proper analysis of the structure of internal and external event-memories shows that the opposite is in fact true.

A Proper Comparison Between Remembered-Internal-Events and Remembered-External-Events Sheds New Light on Old Epistemological Questions 

The contrast between the inherent qualities of remembered-external-events and remembered-internal-events I believe sheds new light on a central epistemological problem that Einstein summarized well with his opinion on the matter:

“At this point an enigma presents itself which in all ages has agitated inquiring minds. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things? 

“In my opinion the answer to this question is, briefly, this: as far as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” (Einstein, 1921)

In Geometry and Experience, Einstein continues to contemplate the question with enlightened writings about axiomatics in mathematics. Axiomatics in mathematics, in the context of this essay, are the exemplars of permanence*. A most important axiomatic statement in mathematics is that between any two points there is one and only one straight line (which is a concept of permanence because it’s asserted true and unwavering forever). There is a subtle evolution to Einstein’s thinking about straight lines and Euclidean Geometry, encoded in how he speaks about the abstract rigid body, and then later in how he speaks more concretely about practically rigid bodies†. Slowly he came to the epistemological belief that straight lines, and Euclidean Geometry itself, do not have a true physical representation in this universe:

In a discussion following a 1911 lecture on special relativity, he says, ‘”A body moving in a certain direction gets flattened, it becomes an ellipsoid in the direction of motion. Thus, rigid bodies do not exist, because all bodies are in motion. This is something that runs counter to the naive conception, and it is what disturbs many physicists, namely, to have to assume that rigid bodies do not exist.” (Einstein, 1911).

In his 1916 book on Relativity, he says, “The subtlety of the concept of space was enhanced by the discovery that there exist no completely rigid bodies. All bodies are elastically deformable and alter in volume with change in temperature.” (Einstein, 1916). 

And in the same 1921 lecture that heads this section, Geometry and Experience, he says, “I attach special importance to the view of geometry which I have just set forth, because without it I should have been unable to formulate the theory of relativity. Without it the following reflection would have been impossible: in a system of reference rotating relatively to an inertial system, the laws of disposition of rigid bodies do not correspond to the rules of Euclidean geometry on account of the Lorentz contraction; thus if we admit non-inertial systems on an equal footing, we must abandon Euclidean geometry.” (Einstein, 1921)

The brain is a prediction machine, and the outcomes of its predictions must have played a significant role in its evolution. So Einstein’s epistemological thoughts lead to an evolutionary question: how is it that the brain would come to predict the existence of qualities like undeformable rigidness, perfect repetitions, and seamless continuity, and crystallize from them magnificently complex and useful structures like Euclidean Geometry, when those qualities themselves simply do not exist outside the brain’s own conceptual systems?

*Permanence in this essay represents perceived repetition, continuity, causal and contextual relationships, and all their knowledge descendents (e.g. abstract concepts, or mathematical systems). It is almost synonymous with uniformity-in-nature (which represents the debated philosophical belief, underlying all sciences, that observable qualities of past-events will dependably reappear in future-events; the debate references Hume through the so-called problem-of-induction), but because of the arguments presented in this essay, permanence is shown to really only encompass perceived uniformity in the universe internal to a conscious mind.

†1913 was the first time Einstein used the term “Practically Rigid” to describe bodies in theoretical physics, as far as the content available at “The Collected Papers of Einstein” makes apparent: https://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/vol4-trans/274

While External-Event-Hypotheses Eventually Achieve Maximum Entropy, Internal-Event-Hypotheses Eventually Achieve Zero Entropy

To answer the evolutionary question, I’ll first outline what might disprove the hypothesis that “this event always happens”, or “that thing has a continuous existence”, or “this repetition is the cause of that continuity”. 

Whether an event or a thing, the conscious mind gathers its later-remembered-evidence through discrete, intermittent observations, because the mind is not capable of continuous conscious awareness of a continuous sense experience of any one thing for any significant duration. Even its own memories are only ever observed through discrete, intermittent observations. So the evidence for a hypothesis about permanence is inevitably made up of a series of remembered-internal-events, or remembered-external-events, that are remembered with boundaries (a beginning and an end), a duration, and a disposition for connecting with other events, either causally, contextually, or as one iteration in a repeating or continuous event. 

The mind recognizes repeated events in the external universe, but it also understands that events aren’t repeated perfectly, that repeatability in the external universe is only sort-of there. The mind makes deductions and inferences about the connections between remembered-events in the universe, but it knows that its deductions and inferences are vulnerable to criticism from other people, and future evidence that may disprove them. Remembered-external-events have so many unobserved connections to other events, so many unobserved qualities that may contaminate perfection, that the unknowable aspect of external events forever sits on the mind’s judgements as it reflects on the boundaries, durations and connections it hypothesizes. External events have boundaries that are fuzzy and too complexly connected to ever know completely through connections between remembered-observations.

Remembered-thoughts also have boundaries. These boundaries may wrap around a perceived duration for the thought, such as the amount of time it took to visualize an athletic maneuver, or they may wrap around one in a series of memories-of-awareness of a continuous feeling, such as a moment-of-awareness of a sadness that lasts all day, or they may wrap around the logical beginning and end to a conceptual understanding, like the memory of a conceptual recollection of a story’s plot line. What the following argument will show is that while memories of external events have fuzzy boundaries, imperfect repetitions, and are connected through inferred relationships that are vulnerable to disproof by other event-participants and future-evidence, remembered-thinking-events have, potentially, perfectly-formed boundaries, perfectly-repeated durations, perfectly-uniform dispositions for connecting with other events, and are, potentially, invulnerable to disproof. 

As discrete, intermittent observations of a hypothesized continuity, repetition, or causal or contextual relationship accumulate over time, the mind is conscious of two general sources of potential disproof for its hypothesis: 1) that another conscious mind will disprove the hypothesis based on their own evidence from one of the ever accumulating observations, or 2) that the mind’s own future observations will disprove the hypothesis.

Following the observation of an initial external-event, such as the first morning of a mind’s commitment to exercise every morning, the mind likely has perfect certainty that it has remained committed. It may retain certainty until the 50th iteration, when it suddenly finds itself considering whether it missed one day a few weeks back. Unlikely as the possibility may seem, doubt has now been introduced, and perfect certainty has descended into likely probability. Perhaps later another mind claims to remember meeting for breakfast during the committed-mind’s exercise time. Although the doubting-mind may not be a perfect source on the claim, new doubt has been introduced, and the probability becomes less likely. Even if a break in the chain of days is never proven, the probability that the mind remained committed eventually becomes as likely as not-likely.

For external events, both the possibility of disproof from another conscious mind, and from the mind’s own future observations, increase in their likeliness to disprove hypothesized uniformity as time goes on, and as the number of observations accumulates. Each observation is one that may come back from the past in the form of another conscious mind ready to debate the hypothesis, and every step forward into the future is another step towards a future that is filled with new, potentially observable, evidence regarding everything that preceded that step. Every piece of knowledge regarding an external event eventually descends into probability until the mind’s perspective contains no knowledge at all regarding the event (Hume, 1739b). In the context of Shannon’s Entropy (Shannon, 1948), this means all hypotheses regarding external events eventually achieve maximum entropy and zero information.

Internal-events, however, do not experience these same diminishing probabilities, or at least they don’t need to. Hypotheses regarding internal events that are kept private, that are understood only on an individual’s own terms, are only ever debated by the individual when the individual realizes they were wrong about their memory of their own thoughts. This sometimes happens, but less and less for thinking events that are further-and-further back in the past. For the vast majority of thinking events, the evidence regarding what happened during a series of events is experienced fully and with most certainty during the first recollection. Some new evidence may appear in the future, like a detail of the previous nights dream surfacing in the afternoon, but less so as time goes on. 

The result of these differences is an inversion of rates of disproof for perceived uniformity in the external world, and perceived uniformity in the internal world. With each step forward into the future, memories of external events seem messier and less certain, but, in stark contrast, with each step forward into the future, memories of internal events, in particular continuous or repeating events, seem more and more perfectly defined. With time, all hypotheses regarding internal events eventually achieve zero entropy, and maximum information.

Perceived Uniformity-in-Nature Originates in Remembered-Thinking

To answer the evolutionary question, I must first answer a sub-question: what came first, perceived-permanence in the external world (in other words, uniformity-in-nature), or perceived-permanence in the internal world? Remembered-thinking-theory, through the following argument, asserts that they were both proceeded by the conscious mind’s capacity to remember its own thinking, which, through perfect unitization, enabled the mind to perceive repetition, continuity, causation and contextual relationships between thoughts. In other words, perceived-permanence in the internal world preceded perceived-uniformity-in-nature; and furthermore, the theory, because of its arguments, in combination with the arguments made by Einstein in Geometry and Experience, asserts that perceived-permanence in the internal world is the source and sole-home of permanence, or uniformity-in-nature, not the external-universe itself.

Causation, which is the basis of all beliefs and matters-of-fact, necessitates space-time-continuity in objects-of-cause and objects-of-effect, because their relationship must be observed repetitively in order to be perceived (Hume, 1739a). Remembered-thinking creates a perfect conceptual environment to build perceived-causation, because unresolvable-uncertainty about remembered-thinking is what allows for perfect boundaries, or unitization, and thus distinct repeatability (or custom, in Hume-ian terms). Furthermore, because uncertainty increases for two-thoughts-ago, three-thoughts-ago, and so on, causal-relationships between thoughts can seem more distinct simply by repeating the thought sequence, or even just perceiving it to have existed for a long time. In fact, with enough observations and passing of time, the mind can easily perceive the infinite life of causal relationships, as well as the infinite life of objects-of-cause, such as the awareness of a particular part of a remembered-external-event, and objects-of-effect, such as the self. A mind can remember a feeling and casually conceive of its infinite existence simply by saying to itself, “I always feel this way in moments like this”. The biological basis for comments like this, and any conceived-of-absolute, would evolve quite easily in a system that finds its greatest and most comforting certainty in permanence perceived to continue or repeat infinitely backward and forward through time. 

And so I’ve reached an answer to the evolutionary question: I believe the human mind is able to conceive of rigidity, repetition and continuity, with perfect certainty, despite living in a universe where no such things exist, where only approximate-uniformity exists, because the mind evolved a capacity to perceive permanence in the internal world first, so that permanence in the external-universe, or, in other words, uniformity-in-nature, was not required. All that was required was enough approximate-uniformity to make perceived-perfect-uniformity advantageous to the mind’s genetic-survival.

Section 2: The Principle of Infinite-Heterogeneity-in-Time

One of my assertions about thought is that there is no present moment when it comes to thinking, feeling, or experiences of awareness. My assertion that all internal events are remembered, and never experienced in a present moment, does not necessarily follow remembered-thinking-theory. So why do I make this assertion? I make it because I believe the qualities of thought that must descend from the nature of remembered-thinking account for all qualities of thought ever reported by conscious minds. Thoughts are experienced in units, where one follows another in such a way that one can cause the other, or relate to the other, and where both, or some aspect of both, can be seen as iterations in a series of repeating internal experiences. These relationships depend on the unitization of thought, on perfect separation, and the experience of exact-sameness between at least some aspects of thoughts. Unitization and permanence, and all their knowledge-descendants, are concepts that must be born from the only place where they could possibly exist in perfection, remembered-thinking, and it’s there that they must continue to live. 

The Mind Oscillates Between a State that Interacts with Normal-Time, and a Reflective State that Exists in a Consciously Created Past

Mental processing of course can happen in the present moment. Playing the piano, filling-in an address form, or speaking in a conversation that has a person thoroughly engaged in the conversational memoment, are all activities that involve information processing, but don’t necessarily involve a person being aware of that processing, of remembering their thinking. In this case the mind is fully in the present, but the mind is also without the experience of all important qualities provided by internal events. There’s no separation between aspects, or units, of experience, no notice of a feeling specifically, or how things look or sound, or an awareness of where the body is located, or what a particular body part is doing. There’s no unit of time, one following the other, either accounted for by one thought following another, or one mentally recognized aspect of the external experience following the other. Experience in the present moment is whole, without separation between experience, and without unitization of any aspect of time or space.

I think everybody oscillates in and out of this state all day everyday, but our conscious, reflective, introspective minds can never really know what the other side of the oscillation is like, because that mind only understands the external-universe through memories-of-events-external that it has pulled apart and analyzed as unitized parts of the whole. 

Without Determinism, Without the Past, there Still Remains an Intuitive Sense of Time

In whatever state a mind exists, it understands that it’s moving forward through time. While there are good arguments for the idea that humans live in a simulation, and thus that the mind’s conception of time is established through artificial means, I debate this possibility. I believe, on an intuitive level, that the mind’s sense of forward movement through time, for that non-reflective-mind that is fully engaged with the external, is derived from a real interaction with the nature of the universe. My arguments so far, however, have disregarded what fundamentally defines time for the mind as a distortion created by the reflective-mind: the fact that we exist in a present-moment-event, that differentiates itself from other event-units by either being ahead or behind; and the fact that future events resemble past events in such a way that time can be understood as an evolution along a chain of predictable cause and effect relationships, in other words, that time is deterministic. 

According to remembered-thinking-theory and the outcomes I’ve spotlighted here, neither of these claims are valid except when explaining the past of a distorted version of time created inside each individual conscious mind; so, for the universe-external, what is left on an intuitive level? I believe the most powerful sense of forward movement through time is the fact that something unpredictable always happens eventually, the fact that week to week, day to day, and even moment to moment there are small indications that this iteration is not the same as the last iteration, or any before it, and the fact that the mind never really enters into a cyclic experience of time that is so precise in its repetition that the mind loses the sense of time it derives from a life of dependably heterogeneous events. 

The idea is intuitive when applied to the physical reality of the universe as well, if considered in comparison with infinite-heterogeneity-in-space. Infinite-heterogeneity-in-space applies to every event (or thing) in this universe in the sense that every event experiences a different relative position to every other event in the universe every time it changes position. This reasoning still applies to an event that moves back to it’s original position, because of the ever-changing fabric of relative positions in the universe; and because of the same ever-changing fabric, in particular because of the expansion of the universe, even staying still from one state of existence to the next means entering a new, completely different position relative to all other events. Every event in this universe experiences infinitely-heterogeneous-relative-positions with every change in spacial-state, and I believe that it’s just as intuitive to presume that with every change in time-state, every event experiences infinitely-heterogeneous-relative-experiences.

My principal of infinite-heterogeneity-in-time states that anything that exists in this universe must experience heterogeneity-in-time, so that it may experience direction-in-time over it’s worldline, a direction that flows forward towards infinite-heterogeneity.

This concept of time is more intuitive than any other because it establishes a means for defining forward movement that excludes a possibility for backwards movement. Forward movement is simply the constant occurrence of states that do not mirror any previous state for any localized phenomenon in the universe. It eliminates the concept of the past, because backward movement through the same state changes would continue to create heterogeneity in experience (forward movement). For instances when travel to the past replicates previous experience exactly, and to the effect of distorting perceived forward movement based on homogeneous experiences, the principle redefines the past as a no-direction-in-time phenomenon. While the principle doesn’t suggest that heterogeneity is the only, or the defining, quality of time, it asserts that something about the arch of time in the universe maintains infinitely-heterogeneous-experiences for everything in it, to a degree that forward movement is always experienced, and repetition never exists to a degree that the principle would break for any event in the universe.

The traditional, deterministic concept of time does in fact exist in this universe, but as a distortion that only exists in individual conscious minds. Once this allowance for determinism and permanence is made, it becomes intuitive to see not only how time actually exists in the universe, but how conscious minds interact with normal time, and how their capacity to maintain permanence guides each mind along their own special path, their worldline, through the infinite-heterogeneity. 

Section 3: Permanence Reviewed

A conscious mind is a strategy for navigating time. Since nothing in this universe is permanent and nothing happens the same way twice, all relationships observed by conscious minds are fictitious: contextual relationships, cause-and-effect relationships, or the idea that one event is an iteration of a repeating event. In this universe, learning is living, because in a universe of infinitely-heterogeneous events continuous learning is necessary for continuous comprehension of the universe. The concepts of context, causation, and repetition all create, for the conscious mind, artificial permanence. Rather than seeing the universe evolve as a whole into infinitely new states, a conscious mind perceives causal relationships and predicts similar causal relationships. A perceived cause and effect event will never happen exactly the same way twice, but in the near-future state of the universe it’s likely something will happen that a conscious mind can perceive, if it chooses, as an identical cause-and-effect event. The conscious mind evolved a capacity to perceive permanence in order to predict how things will happen in a future that is by nature unpredictable. I’ve come to see this as a precious power that deserves respect, and deliberate accommodation.

I don’t suggest this because of the utility permanence provides for future predictions in a universe of approximate-uniformity, a utility that has come about as part of the brain’s evolutionary story, or even because the externalization and communilization of that utility has generated a scientific understanding of the universe. The truth about the universe, about its infinitely-heterogeneous nature, shows just how powerful it is that the mind can conceive of repetition, such as an athletic maneuvre or spiritual ritual, with a sense that it is repeating it perfectly; or that the mind can develop knowledge about itself and its environment, such as the necessity to achieve a complex goal, without a fraction of a doubt; or that the mind can set a protocol for itself, such as a set of behavioral strategies to enact before a common and stressful event, and have that protocol exist like a mountain through the storms of life; or that the mind can conceive of a continuity, such as a feeling about the specialness of a place, and have that feeling last with perfection for a lifetime, or even for perceived-infinity.

The reason I suggest the power to conceive of permanence deserves respect is because it’s easy for the human mind to be coopted into, and irrevocably altered by, prescriptive technologies simply by living in a planned environment where everyone must play their part (Franklin, 1989). What makes the capacity to actually manifest perfect uniformity in nature more powerful than anything, is the fact that all the perfections of permanence can only exist inside an individual’s conscious mind, and can never truly be understood or perceived by anyone or anything external to that individual. The acquisition of a human mind’s capacity to maintain permanence seems mundane when the ask-of-you is to be aware of a simple rule, or to remember to do this every time you’re in that place, or to know particular, permanent facts about your identity for if you’re ever asked. But any part played in the framework of externalized, and therefore imperfect, permanence, no matter how simple, is a blind occupation of an individual’s conscious mind’s most profound and unknowable power.

The reason I suggest the power to conceive of permanence deserves deliberate accommodation is because by recognizing that every conceptual act of perception distorts time in this infinitely-heterogeneous universe, a conscious mind learns what power it really has; it learns that the mind’s interaction with normal-time, with the infinitely-heterogeneous-universe, with that part of existence not directly knowable to our introspective, verbal selves, is nevertheless guided wholly by what rules, abstracts and observations the mind deems permanent, or even infinite; and it therefore learns how much effect every permanence it creates, and every permanence created for it, bears for that mind’s path through space and time, through their unknowable, uncrossable worldline.

References

Einstein, Albert. (1911). ‘Discussion’ Following the Lecture Version of ‘The Theory of Relativity’. Naturforschende Gesellschaft in Zürich. Sitzungsberichte (1911): II-IX. Published in vol. 4 of Vierteljahrschrift der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Zürich 56 (1911). Minutes of the meeting of 16 January 1911: https://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/vol3-trans/365 

Einstein, Albert. (1916). On The Special and General Theory of Relativity (A Popular Account). (translation by Robert W. Lawson is reprinted from Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, Crown, 1961; © The Estate of Albert Einstein). Book: https://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/vol6-trans/259

Einstein, Albert. (1921). Geometry and Experience. (Translation from Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, trans. Sonja Bargmann, New York: Crown, 1982). Lecture before the Prussian Academy of Sciences: https://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/vol7-trans/224

Franklin, Ursula. (1989). The Real World of Technology. CBC Massey Lectures. 1989. Radio: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-1989-cbc-massey-lectures-the-real-world-of-technology-1.2946845

[Note: The Real World of Technology is published as a book by House of Anansi Press, Toronto.]

Hume, David. (1739a). A Treatise of Human Nature. Book 1: On the Understanding. Part III: Of Knowledge and Probability. Book: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4705/4705-h/4705-h.htm

Hume, David. (1739b). A Treatise of Human Nature. Book 1: On the Understanding. Part IV: Of the Skeptical and Other Systems of Philosophy. Book: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4705/4705-h/4705-h.htm

Shannon, Claude E. (1948) A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Bell System Technical Journal, 27, 379-423: https://people.math.harvard.edu/~ctm/home/text/others/shannon/entropy/entropy.pdf

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