Locke’s LOX

“He that will not set himself proudly at the top of all things; but will consider the Immensity of this Fabrick, and the great variety, that is to be found in this little and inconsiderable part of it, which he has to do with, may be apt to think, that in other Mansions of it, there may be other, and different intelligent Beings, of whose Faculties, he has as little Knowledge or Apprehension, as a worm shut up in one drawer of a Cabinet, hath of the Senses or Understanding of a Man.” — John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), viâ David Wootton’s The Invention of Science (2015)


Performative Post-Scriptum

The title of this incendiary intervention is intended to suggest the idea of Locke’s ideas acting as a rocket-fuel for the imagination like LOX or lox, meaning “liquid oxygen explosive; later interpreted as representing liquid oxygen” (OED).

Russell in Your Head-Roe

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry. What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to be assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement. Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from which all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world. — Bertrand Russell, “The Study Of Mathematics” (1902)


The title of this incendiary intervention is of course a paronomasia on these lines from Led Zeppelin’s magisterial “Stairway to Heaven”:

“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now:
It’s just a spring-clean for the May Queen…”

And “head-roe” is a kenning for “brain”.

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #36

• “By the time I was twenty-four I had constructed a complete system of philosophy. It rested on two principles: The Relativity of Things and The Circumferentiality of Man. I have since discovered that the first was not a very original discovery. It may be that the other was profound, but though I have racked my brains I cannot for the life of me remember what it was.” — W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938), sec. 66.

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #35

• Las torres de la iglesia de hoy no han sido señalizadas por el clero progresivo con una cruz sino con una señal meteorológica. — Nicolás Gómez Dávila (1913-94)

    • The progressive clergy crowns the towers of the church of today not with a cross but with a weathervane.

He Say, He Sigh, He Sow #30

• Cognitio nostra est adeo debilis quod nullus philosophus potuit unquam perfecte investigare naturam unius muscae: unde legitur quod unus philosophus fuit triginta annis in solitudine, ut cognosceret naturam apis. — Sancti Thomae de Aquino Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum (1273).

• Our knowledge is so weak that no philosopher has ever perfectly discovered the nature of a single fly, whence we read that one philosopher was thirty years in the wilderness that he might know the nature of a bee. Thomas Aquinas, The Apostles’ Creed.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #40

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Humanist Hubris The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited, John Carroll (Scribe 2010)

Paw is Less – The Plague Dogs, Richard Adams (Penguin 1977)

I Like Bike – Fifty Bicycles That Changed the World, Alex Newson (Conran Octopus 2013)

Morc is LessThe Weird Shadow Over Morecambe, Edmund Glasby (Linford 2013)

Nekro-a-KokoaComfort Corps: Cuddles, Calmatives and Cosy Cups of Cocoa in the Music of Korpse-Hump Kannibale, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (University of Nebraska Press 2015)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #39

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

The Ogre by the Throat Extreme Eiger: The Race to Climb the Direct Route up the North Face of the Eiger, Peter and Leni Gillman (Simon & Schuster 2015)

Sing When You’re WingingButterflies and Moths in Britain and Europe, David Carter (Pan 1982)

Soul FeudThe Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom, John Gray (Penguin 2015)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #35

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Volc-LoreVolcanoes: A Beginner’s Guide, Rosaly Lopes (Oneworld 2010)

Stokes’ StrokesPhilosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers: The Ideas That Have Shaped Our World, Philip Stokes (Arcturus Publishing 2012)

Art of DarknessDoubled Slaughter: Barbarism, Brutalism and Bestial Bloodlust in the Music of Simon and Garfunkel, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers (Serpent’s Tail 2007)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Pair on a D-String

What’s special about the binary number 10011 and the ternary number 1001120221? To answer the question, you have to see double. 10011 contains all possible pairs of numbers created from 0 and 1, just as 1001120221 contains all possible pairs created from 0, 1 and 2. And each pair appears exactly once. Now try the quaternary number 10011202130322331. That contains exactly one example of all possible pairs created from 0, 1, 2 and 3.

But there’s something more: in each case, the number is the smallest possible number with that property. As the bases get higher, that gets less obvious. In quinary, or base 5, the smallest number containing all possible pairs is 10011202130314042232433441. The digits look increasingly random. And what about base 10? There are 100 possible pairs of numbers created from the digits 0 to 9, starting with 00, 01, 02… and ending with …97, 98, 99. To accommodate 100 pairs, the all-pair number in base 10 has to be 101 digits long. It’s a string of digits, so let’s call it a d-string:

1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 2, 0, 2, 1, 3, 0, 3, 1, 4, 0, 4, 1, 5, 0, 5, 1, 6, 0, 6, 1, 7, 0, 7, 1, 8, 0, 8, 1, 9, 0, 9, 2, 2, 3, 2, 4, 2, 5, 2, 6, 2, 7, 2, 8, 2, 9, 3, 3, 4, 3, 5, 3, 6, 3, 7, 3, 8, 3, 9, 4, 4, 5, 4, 6, 4, 7, 4, 8, 4, 9, 5, 5, 6, 5, 7, 5, 8, 5, 9, 6, 6, 7, 6, 8, 6, 9, 7, 7, 8, 7, 9, 8, 8, 9, 9, 1

Again, the digits look increasingly random. They aren’t: they’re strictly determined. The d-string is in harmony. As the digits are generated from the left, they impose restrictions on the digits that appear later. It might appear that you could shift larger digits to the right and make the number smaller, but if you do that you no longer meet the conditions and the d-string collapses into dischord.

Now examine d-strings containing all possible triplets created from the digits of bases 2, 3 and 4:

1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 0 in base 2 = 558 in base 10

1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0, 2, 0, 0, 2, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 0, 2, 2, 2, 1, 0 in base 3 = 23203495920756 in base 10

1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0, 2, 0, 0, 2, 1, 0, 3, 0, 0, 3, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0, 1, 2, 1, 1, 3, 0, 1, 3, 1, 2, 2, 0, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 0, 2, 3, 1, 3, 2, 0, 3, 2, 1, 3, 3, 0, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 3, 2, 3, 3, 3, 1, 0 in base 4 = 1366872334420014346556556812432766057460 in base 10

Note that there are 8 possible triplets in base 2, so the all-triplet number has to be 10 digits long. In base 10, there are 1000 possible triplets, so the all-triplet number has to be 1002 digits long. Here it is:

1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0, 2, 0, 0, 2, 1, 0, 3, 0, 0, 3, 1, 0, 4, 0, 0, 4, 1, 0, 5, 0, 0, 5, 1, 0, 6, 0, 0, 6, 1, 0, 7, 0, 0, 7, 1, 0, 8, 0, 0, 8, 1, 0, 9, 0, 0, 9, 1, 1, 1, 2, 0, 1, 2, 1, 1, 3, 0, 1, 3, 1, 1, 4, 0, 1, 4, 1, 1, 5, 0, 1, 5, 1, 1, 6, 0, 1, 6, 1, 1, 7, 0, 1, 7, 1, 1, 8, 0, 1, 8, 1, 1, 9, 0, 1, 9, 1, 2, 2, 0, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3, 0, 2, 3, 1, 2, 4, 0, 2, 4, 1, 2, 5, 0, 2, 5, 1, 2, 6, 0, 2, 6, 1, 2, 7, 0, 2, 7, 1, 2, 8, 0, 2, 8, 1, 2, 9, 0, 2, 9, 1, 3, 2, 0, 3, 2, 1, 3, 3, 0, 3, 3, 1, 3, 4, 0, 3, 4, 1, 3, 5, 0, 3, 5, 1, 3, 6, 0, 3, 6, 1, 3, 7, 0, 3, 7, 1, 3, 8, 0, 3, 8, 1, 3, 9, 0, 3, 9, 1, 4, 2, 0, 4, 2, 1, 4, 3, 0, 4, 3, 1, 4, 4, 0, 4, 4, 1, 4, 5, 0, 4, 5, 1, 4, 6, 0, 4, 6, 1, 4, 7, 0, 4, 7, 1, 4, 8, 0, 4, 8, 1, 4, 9, 0, 4, 9, 1, 5, 2, 0, 5, 2, 1, 5, 3, 0, 5, 3, 1, 5, 4, 0, 5, 4, 1, 5, 5, 0, 5, 5, 1, 5, 6, 0, 5, 6, 1, 5, 7, 0, 5, 7, 1, 5, 8, 0, 5, 8, 1, 5, 9, 0, 5, 9, 1, 6, 2, 0, 6, 2, 1, 6, 3, 0, 6, 3, 1, 6, 4, 0, 6, 4, 1, 6, 5, 0, 6, 5, 1, 6, 6, 0, 6, 6, 1, 6, 7, 0, 6, 7, 1, 6, 8, 0, 6, 8, 1, 6, 9, 0, 6, 9, 1, 7, 2, 0, 7, 2, 1, 7, 3, 0, 7, 3, 1, 7, 4, 0, 7, 4, 1, 7, 5, 0, 7, 5, 1, 7, 6, 0, 7, 6, 1, 7, 7, 0, 7, 7, 1, 7, 8, 0, 7, 8, 1, 7, 9, 0, 7, 9, 1, 8, 2, 0, 8, 2, 1, 8, 3, 0, 8, 3, 1, 8, 4, 0, 8, 4, 1, 8, 5, 0, 8, 5, 1, 8, 6, 0, 8, 6, 1, 8, 7, 0, 8, 7, 1, 8, 8, 0, 8, 8, 1, 8, 9, 0, 8, 9, 1, 9, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 9, 3, 0, 9, 3, 1, 9, 4, 0, 9, 4, 1, 9, 5, 0, 9, 5, 1, 9, 6, 0, 9, 6, 1, 9, 7, 0, 9, 7, 1, 9, 8, 0, 9, 8, 1, 9, 9, 0, 9, 9, 2, 2, 2, 3, 2, 2, 4, 2, 2, 5, 2, 2, 6, 2, 2, 7, 2, 2, 8, 2, 2, 9, 2, 3, 3, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3, 5, 2, 3, 6, 2, 3, 7, 2, 3, 8, 2, 3, 9, 2, 4, 3, 2, 4, 4, 2, 4, 5, 2, 4, 6, 2, 4, 7, 2, 4, 8, 2, 4, 9, 2, 5, 3, 2, 5, 4, 2, 5, 5, 2, 5, 6, 2, 5, 7, 2, 5, 8, 2, 5, 9, 2, 6, 3, 2, 6, 4, 2, 6, 5, 2, 6, 6, 2, 6, 7, 2, 6, 8, 2, 6, 9, 2, 7, 3, 2, 7, 4, 2, 7, 5, 2, 7, 6, 2, 7, 7, 2, 7, 8, 2, 7, 9, 2, 8, 3, 2, 8, 4, 2, 8, 5, 2, 8, 6, 2, 8, 7, 2, 8, 8, 2, 8, 9, 2, 9, 3, 2, 9, 4, 2, 9, 5, 2, 9, 6, 2, 9, 7, 2, 9, 8, 2, 9, 9, 3, 3, 3, 4, 3, 3, 5, 3, 3, 6, 3, 3, 7, 3, 3, 8, 3, 3, 9, 3, 4, 4, 3, 4, 5, 3, 4, 6, 3, 4, 7, 3, 4, 8, 3, 4, 9, 3, 5, 4, 3, 5, 5, 3, 5, 6, 3, 5, 7, 3, 5, 8, 3, 5, 9, 3, 6, 4, 3, 6, 5, 3, 6, 6, 3, 6, 7, 3, 6, 8, 3, 6, 9, 3, 7, 4, 3, 7, 5, 3, 7, 6, 3, 7, 7, 3, 7, 8, 3, 7, 9, 3, 8, 4, 3, 8, 5, 3, 8, 6, 3, 8, 7, 3, 8, 8, 3, 8, 9, 3, 9, 4, 3, 9, 5, 3, 9, 6, 3, 9, 7, 3, 9, 8, 3, 9, 9, 4, 4, 4, 5, 4, 4, 6, 4, 4, 7, 4, 4, 8, 4, 4, 9, 4, 5, 5, 4, 5, 6, 4, 5, 7, 4, 5, 8, 4, 5, 9, 4, 6, 5, 4, 6, 6, 4, 6, 7, 4, 6, 8, 4, 6, 9, 4, 7, 5, 4, 7, 6, 4, 7, 7, 4, 7, 8, 4, 7, 9, 4, 8, 5, 4, 8, 6, 4, 8, 7, 4, 8, 8, 4, 8, 9, 4, 9, 5, 4, 9, 6, 4, 9, 7, 4, 9, 8, 4, 9, 9, 5, 5, 5, 6, 5, 5, 7, 5, 5, 8, 5, 5, 9, 5, 6, 6, 5, 6, 7, 5, 6, 8, 5, 6, 9, 5, 7, 6, 5, 7, 7, 5, 7, 8, 5, 7, 9, 5, 8, 6, 5, 8, 7, 5, 8, 8, 5, 8, 9, 5, 9, 6, 5, 9, 7, 5, 9, 8, 5, 9, 9, 6, 6, 6, 7, 6, 6, 8, 6, 6, 9, 6, 7, 7, 6, 7, 8, 6, 7, 9, 6, 8, 7, 6, 8, 8, 6, 8, 9, 6, 9, 7, 6, 9, 8, 6, 9, 9, 7, 7, 7, 8, 7, 7, 9, 7, 8, 8, 7, 8, 9, 7, 9, 8, 7, 9, 9, 8, 8, 8, 9, 8, 9, 9, 9, 1, 0

Consider the quadruplet number in base 10. There are 10000 possible quadruplets, so the all-quadruplet number is 10003 digits long. And so on. In general, the “all n-tuplet” number in base b contains b^n n-tuplets and is (b^n + n-1) digits long. If b = 10 and n = 4, the d-string starts like this:

1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, 0, 0, 3, 0, 0, 0, 3, 1, 0, 0, 4, 0, 0, 0, 4, 1, 0, 0, 5, 0, 0, 0, 5, 1, 0, 0, 6, 0, 0, 0, 6, 1, 0, 0, 7, 0, 0, 0, 7, 1, 0, 0, 8, 0, 0, 0, 8, 1, 0, 0, 9, 0, 0, 0, 9, 1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 2, 0, 0, 1, 2, 1, 0, 1, 3, 0, 0, 1, 3, 1, 0, 1, 4, 0, 0, 1, 4, 1, 0, 1, 5, 0, 0, 1, 5, 1, 0, 1, 6, 0, 0, 1, 6, 1, 0, 1, 7, 0, 0, 1, 7, 1, 0, 1, 8, 0, 0, 1, 8, 1, 0, 1, 9, 0, 0, 1, 9, 1, 0, 2, 0, 1, 0, 2, 1, 1, 0, 2, 2, 0, 0, 2, 2, 1, 0, 2, 3, 0, 0, 2, 3, 1, 0, 2, 4, 0, 0, 2, 4, 1, 0, 2, 5, 0, 0, 2, 5, 1, 0, 2, 6…

What about when n = 100? Now the d-string is ungraspably huge – too big to fit in the known universe. But it starts with 1 followed by a hundred 0s and every digit after that is entirely determined. Perhaps there’s a simple way to calculate any given digit, given its position in the d-string. Either way, what is the ontological status of the d-string for n=100? Does it exist in some Platonic realm of number, independent of physical reality?

Some would say that it does, just like √2 or π or e. I disagree. I don’t believe in a Platonic realm. If the universe or multiverse ceased to exist, numbers and mathematics in general would also cease to exist. But this isn’t to say that mathematics depends on physical reality. It doesn’t. Nor does physical reality depend on mathematics. Rather, physical reality necessarily embodies mathematics, which might be defined as “entity in interrelation”. Humans have invented small-m mathematics, a symbolic way of expressing the physical embodiment of big-m mathematics.

But small-m mathematics is actually more powerful and far-ranging, because it increases the number, range and power of entities and their interaction. Where are √2 and π in physical reality? Nowhere. You could say that early mathematicians saw their shadows, cast from a Platonic realm, and deduced their existence in that realm, but that’s a metaphor. Do all events, like avalanches or thunderstorms, exist in some Platonic realm before they are realized? No, they arise as physical entities interact according to laws of physics. In a more abstract way, √2 and π arise as entities of another kind interact according to laws of logic: the concepts of a square and its diagonal, of a circle and its diameter.

The d-strings discussed above arise from the interaction of simpler concepts: the finite set of digits in a base and the ways in which they can be combined. Platonism is unnecessary: the arc and spray of a fountain are explained by the pressure of the water, the design of the pipes, the arrangement of the nozzles, not by reference to an eternal archetype of water and spray. In small-m mathematics, there are an infinite number of fountains, because small-m mathematics opens a door to a big-U universe, infinitely larger and richer than the small-u universe of physical reality.

The Mill to Power

Reading about Searle’s Chinese Room Argument at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I came across “Leibniz’s Mill” for the first time. At least, I think it was the first time:

It must be confessed, however, that perception, and that which depends upon it, are inexplicable by mechanical causes, that is to say, by figures and motions. Supposing that there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size with the same proportions until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would into a mill. Now, on going into it he would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain perception. It is accordingly in the simple substance, and not in the compound nor in a machine that the perception is to be sought. Furthermore, there is nothing besides perceptions and their changes to be found in the simple substance. And it is in these alone that all the internal activities of the simple substance can consist. (Monadology, 1714, section #17)

Andererseits muß man gestehen, daß die Vorstellungen, und Alles, was von ihnen abhängt, aus mechanischen Gründen, dergleichen körperliche Gestalten und Bewegungen sind, unmöglich erklärt werden können. Man stelle sich eine Maschine vor, deren Structur so eingerichtet sei, daß sie zu denken, zu fühlen und überhaupt vorzustellen vermöge und lasse sie unter Beibehaltung derselben Verhältnisse so anwachsen, daß man hinein, wie in das Gebäude einer Mühle eintreten kann. Dies vorausgesetzt, wird man bei Besichtigung des Innern nichts Anderes finden, als etliche Triebwerke, deren eins das andere bewegt, aber gar nichts, was hinreichen würde, den Grund irgend einer Vorstellung abzugeben. Die letztere gehört ausschließlich der einfachen Substanz an, nicht der zusammengesetzten, und dort, nicht hier, muß man sie suchen. Auch sind Vorstellungen und ihre Veränderungen zugleich das Einzige, was man in der einfachen Substanz antrifft. (Monadologie, 1714)

We can see that Leibniz’s argument applies to mechanism in general, not simply to the machines he could conceive in his own day. He’s claiming that consciousness isn’t corporeal. It can’t generated by interacting parts or particles. And intuitively, he seems to be right. How could a machine or mechanism, however complicated, be conscious? Intuition would say that it couldn’t. But is intuition correct? If we examine the brain, we see that consciousness begins with mechanism. Vision and the other senses are certainly electro-chemical processes in the beginning. Perhaps in the end too.

Some puzzles arise if we assume otherwise. If consciousness isn’t mechanistic, how does it interact with mechanism? If it’s immaterial, how does it interact with matter? But those questions go back much further, to Greek atomists like Democritus (c. 460-370 BC):

Δοκεῖ δὲ αὐτῶι τάδε· ἀρχὰς εἶναι τῶν ὅλων ἀτόμους καὶ κενόν, τὰ δ’ἀλλα πάντα νενομίσθαι.

He taught that the first principles of the universe are atoms and void; everything else is merely thought to exist.

Νόμωι (γάρ φησι) γλυκὺ καὶ νόμωι πικρόν, νόμωι θερμόν, νόμωι ψυχρόν, νόμωι χροιή, ἐτεῆι δὲ ἄτομα καὶ κενόν.

By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void. (Democritus at Wikiquote)

Patterns of unconscious matter and energy influence consciousness and are perhaps entirely responsible for it. The patterns are tasteless, soundless, colourless, scentless, neither hot nor cold – in effect, units of information pouring through the circuits of reality. But are qualia computational? I think they are. I don’t think it’s possible to escape matter or mechanism and I certainly don’t think it’s possible to escape mathematics. But someone who thinks it’s possible to escape at least the first two is the Catholic philosopher Edward Feser. I wish I had come across his work a long time ago, because he raises some very interesting questions in a lucid way and confirms the doubts I’ve had for a long time about Richard Dawkins and other new atheists. His essay “Schrödinger, Democritus, and the paradox of materialism” (2009) is a good place to start.


Elsewhere other-posted:

Double Bubble
This Mortal Doyle
The Brain in Pain
The Brain in Train