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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Our minds have the goal of protecting our beliefs

      GEORGE TEMPLETON     

           COMMENTARY             




By George Templeton
Rim Country Gazette Columnist

Torn between two lovers
The 1976 song goes, “Torn between Two Lovers, feeling like a fool, loving both of you is breaking all the rules.”
You must decide.  Can you know so little that you miss the most important thing?  Can too many facts get in the way of making decisions?  Can facts ever explain the personal world of love, jealousy, hate, greed, envy, pride, and altruism?  We try to grasp subjective introspection with the objective, but they mix like oil in water.  We have “gut feel” and the “inner light”.  Are we directed by the “holy spirit”?  We can be thankful that God didn’t hire lawyers to help him write the Ten Commandments!  Believe it or not, we all come to Jesus like a little child.  The world is full of opinionated know-nothings.  
Deciding on Immigration   
It was 1889 Ellis Island, where 5000 immigrants per day came to America.  They did not know if they could stay.  They had to be vetted and checked for health before being allowed to continue on.  You can imagine Fred and Joe, the immigration inquisitors and Steinmetz.
The 23 year old Steinmetz pleaded, I want to become an American, but he could not reach the counter top or even be seen because he was a dwarf, only four feet tall.  Fred says to Joe, “Where is he?  How’s this guy going to tote that barge and lift that bale?”
“What is your profession?  How will you support yourself in America?”
Steinmetz replied, “I don’t have a profession.  I was a student studying imaginary numbers.”  Joe thought to himself.  “It’s going to take real numbers to help this guy.”
“How about your health?”  Steinmetz had a humped back, a crooked gait, and hip dysplasia.  His head, hands, and feet were too big for the rest of his body.
Joe said to Fred:  “Not another one.  Why do those countries keep sending us their worst?  Let’s ask him why he wants to come to America.”
“Your honor, I was going to be arrested in Germany because I was a notorious socialist and a political enemy of the establishment.  Please don’t send me back.”
A trouble maker!  Doesn’t he know that socialism can never work in the United States?
The inquisitors were not doing Trump’s “extreme vetting”.  They must have seen the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me … the wretched refuse of your teeming shore …” Immediate perception would have never admitted Steinmetz, but morality tore against that.
Steinmetz electrified America.  He simplified math, replacing the partial differential equations used in the days before wireless, with the algebra of complex variables and imaginary numbers.  It separated energy by making it perpendicular to losses.  He applied that to everything.  Reality spoke more clearly and that benefited all of humanity as Steinmetz knew it would.
Choosing Democracy
Imagine that society is like an amplifier.  “Happening now” inputs to it.  Without time for contemplation, we make inferences about rapid fire gossip, outputting our feelings about it.  Some of this comes back and combines with the input enhancing it and making it more extreme.  Because we believe that something is true, we see it as going beyond ourselves.
In engineering language, we say that stability depends on the feedback loop’s amplification and timing.  We want information fed back to the input to subtract from it.  Skepticism acts to correct distortion and improve accuracy.  Lacking it, society oscillates, outputting without input.
Perhaps our society is more like a differentiator.  Change commands our attention.  Sensational novelty contributes to an unstable lack of focus.  Our eyes dart from side to side, expecting to find a threat, instead of keeping a focus on the ball.  Our minds have the goal of protecting our beliefs.  We encounter the world more through faith than by rationality and logic.
The parapsychologists at the Institute of Noetic Sciences realize that our minds go beyond ourselves.  Some have claimed that we can have experiences outside our brain.  Science has failed to confirm mind over matter, yet the fact that we share language reveals that we are more than ourselves.
Democracy relies on the ability of citizens to deliberate thoroughly and reach consensus.  The founding fathers knew this.  They knew that minds could not be separated from their environment.  That is why they divided government.
Without Free-Will
The criminal explained, “The devil made me do it”.  The judge thought, “I can’t be blamed for giving you the death penalty”.  Could it be that “more freedom” is a subjective perception instead of an objective reality?
The universe is like a clock and we are part of it, yet in the cafeteria we pick an entrée.  It could be that our choice is coerced, not determined.
To be free, don’t we need alternative choices?  Suppose we have decided to murder, but we have been hypnotized so that if we change our mind we kill anyway.  We freely decide to murder, so the hypnotic spell is never actuated.  We acted freely, but had no choice.
Suppose you wish you had wanted to travel more, see and experience the world, but did not.  It is your choice.  Self-introspection is a strong indicator of free will.  But drug addicts desire to want to kick their habit and they cannot.
The faithful view predestination both in history and salvation, the latter morphing into God’s grace and pride in knowledge about not being in God’s book preordaining eternal damnation.  Morality needs deliberation, but God’s foreknowledge clashes with our free will and even his.  God is aware of his beliefs, sees the future, and already knows how he is going to choose.  He commands the future.
The philosopher G. W. F. Hegel saw God as the beginning and end of history, creating truth.  His viewpoint went on to influence Karl Marx who spun history in terms of the materialism that infects American life.  As we grow older, we realize that we cannot escape our past.  It has determined who we are and in some mysterious way who we will be.
Quantum physics suggests we take every possible path even though only one is observed.  Probability and random events replace causality.  Einstein’s universe ultimately contradicted his understanding that there was no absolute fixed point, no ether, to measure things against.  But there was space-time.  If you sliced through it, holding any two of the four dimensions constant, you would see a surface, an X-Y plot.  The past, present, and future are always equally present.
The Millionaire
The1950’s TV show concerned a fabulously wealthy man whose hobbies included confidentially giving away a million dollars to an unsuspecting recipient whom he had never met.  He devised a simple game that he knew would not be boring.  He did this because he was fascinated with human nature.  In real life, we often need to make choices between poorly defined alternatives.  Our minds have to reach beyond the given data.
The game works like this:  The millionaire gives you two boxes labeled A and B.  You are allowed to choose between taking only box B or both boxes A and B.  Box A is transparent and contains a visible $1,000.  Box B is closed.  Its contents have already been set by the millionaire.  If the millionaire has predicted that you will take both boxes A and B, then box B contains nothing.  If the millionaire has predicted that you will take only box B, then it contains $1,000,000.  How do you choose?
Hum!  You say, “I can calculate the optimum selection”.  It requires that the choices are equally likely and that the millionaire’s choice does not influence yours.  Would math replace your intuition? The game contains a blind spot!  Uncertainty cannot be avoided.  What will you do then?
You could create a table.   It should have three columns:   predicted choice, actual choice, and payout.  The table will have four rows.  There are two ways to make the prediction and two ways to make the actual choice for a total of four rows.
If the millionaire is like God, who never makes an error, there are only two possibilities.  If the predicted choice and actual choice are both boxes, than the payout is $1000.  If the predicted choice and actual choice are box B, then the payout is $1,000,000.  Either way you win something.  You could pick to maximize your winnings and that would be box B.
But suppose God commanded you to pick both boxes.  Your pick of B gets you nothing.  But God knows how you will choose because he sees the future.  The past becomes connected with your future choice.  However you choose, God has certainly predicted it, so why not choose box B and win big?
Note that this situation does not require God.  It only needs a very good predictor.  Suppose your prophet is right only half the time.  Now there are four possibilities.  In the limit, you could know that your prophet always gets it wrong.
But the millionaire isn’t God.  He is just a guy like Donald Trump with a lot of money.  You can take his word but you can’t trust his judgment.  Your choice does not alter how the money was already distributed.  It is not a poker game.  You can’t see the millionaire and don’t know him.  His reason for choosing you to play is unknown.  Is there any fact of human nature that could tip the scales in your favor?
There is a situation where the predicted choice does not match the actual choice.  Donald may have predicted that you will take both boxes, but you take only box B and the payout is zero dollars.  He may have predicted that you will take box B but you take both boxes and now the payout is $1,001,000.
You could pick the strategy that is always better, regardless of Donald’s guess.  At the time of your choosing, box B is either empty or contains $1,000,000, but box A is known to contain $1,000.  You win $1,000 or $1,001,000 if you pick both boxes.
With inflation, we have to increase all the dollar amounts by at least ten times to retain the “feel” of the game.  Suppose there was even more money in box A, say $100,000.  Would you change your decision?  How does the amount of money in box B change things?
Outside of the Box
Some people will never be pleased without winning the maximum prize.  Others are easily satisfied.  Some justify their choice by arguing that they cannot be wrong about their own private mental state.  It is their decision to make.

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