Thinking and Thought

Cogito Ergo Sum, the famous observation of Descartes is today in modern circles thought nonsense. Centers of consciousness and awareness are increasingly found to be fuzzy. And even beyond that modern Physics has fuzzy notions of reality as well. What is real is not particles, waves, or quanta/wavicles but wave functions, complex probability amplitudes whose collapse is some magical, ahem, not-well-understood “measurement” process. So that which I perceive as “I” may be in fact something quite different. As Descartes considered, everything I perceive about my exterior world might be fiction and not trusted. But, consider for a moment that those modern researchers on mind and conscsiousness are right. That consciousness which I perceive as “I” is a fiction. That is, that the reality of that which I perceive is not to be trusted and even the focus point of consciousness that I think of as “I” is a likely fiction.

Yet what remains, as the ancient Greeks considered more solid, is the thought about which I, err, thunk. For example, that which William Hamilton famously carved with a non-real knife on a non-real Brougham Bridge, namely

i2 = j = k2 = ijk = -1

That! That is real. Those ideas, those notions can be transmitted, transmuted, and touched (by mind). The quaternionic algebra is a “thing.” It is real and unlike consciousness, electrons, or my perceptions is by its ontological nature … not subject to the same sorts of questions as one puts to notions of self or the world of my perceptions.

The Christian faith is based on ideas, ideas like Trinity (the relational nature of God), Sacraments, and Theosis. These ideas are in some sense, likely, more real than we are (and as well as real as the quaternion algebra above) and as Jesus demonstrated on the third day … those ideas are real in the sense that my lunch is as well.

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10 comments

  1. The Christian faith is based on ideas, ideas like Trinity (the relational nature of God), Sacraments, and Theosis. These ideas are in some sense, likely, more real than we are (and as well as real as the quaternion algebra above) and as Jesus demonstrated on the third day … those ideas are real in the sense that my lunch is as well.

    The Christian ideas are exactly as real as the Hindu ideas which are exactly as real as the Marvel Comics superheroes ideas. All of these ontological arguments are ridiculous.

  2. Mark says:

    JA,
    I’m assuming you think Hamilton’s idea

    i2=j2=k2=ijk=-1

    is a non-silly ontological idea. So … locate the essential difference for me.

  3. Put it this way. Intelligent space aliens would discover i2=j2=k2=ijk=-1 but would likely have a completely different theology. Math equations are universal. Theological angel-pin-dancing calculations? Not so much.

  4. Dr Mike says:

    I tried to post earlier but may have forgotten to submit after previewing.

    In essence, I was wondering if you have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’ve read it a couple of times in the past two months and think you might find it interesting, too.

    Your post brought it to mind. BTW, what picture?

    Thanks.

  5. Mark says:

    Mike,
    I read it in the early 80s. I should re-read it.

  6. Mark says:

    JA,
    Your thought on intelligent aliens is that alien mathematics is not alien and that alien theology necessarily is.

    What is it about math that makes it “universal” and other ideas not?

  7. People from different cultures on Earth come to the same conclusions about math. They differ on theology. This is because math is a formal system learned by humans and theology is just made up.

    Are you really denying that given an intelligent civilization elsewhere that they would almost certainly discover i2=j2=k2=ijk=-1? And that they would almost certainly have created thousands of their own theologies that bear only superficial resemblances to Earth’s theologies? If they had theologies at all?

  8. Mark says:

    JA,
    I’m hoping to elaborate on this tonight as a response.