God Does Exist After All — Part 1.

Part 1. Another Type of Existence

What is ‘libertarianism’? Or ‘pacifism’? Or ‘Marxism’? Do these things exist?

I think these three things can be said to exist, but they do so in a very particular way.

They are things that exist based on what human beings think they are. They have no existence outside human thought. And their existence is the combination of lots of different human thoughts, some contradictory, some personal and some universal.

We all will have a slightly different view of Marxism, for example. What is Marxism? Well it is a combination of those views.

Marxism doesn’t have definite boundaries. It is fuzzy. There are some things that lots of people associate with Marxism, and other things that are peculiar to a few. People cluster. Liberation theologians might share many of the same associations with each other, but be relatively distant from Leninists, who again share the same associations with each other.

Heat-Mapping

To visualise this, let’s imagine we can write down on a big piece of paper all the different features or associations people have with Marxism. We try (as much as possible) to put associations that tend to appear together, near to one another. We then color in our piece of paper, with a lighter color for associations that more people have, and a darker color for rarer features (we could also weight this process by how strongly each person holds that association). This is called a heat-map. We might end up with something that looks like figure 1.

Fictitious heapmap of associations for Marxism

1. A fictitious heatmap of associations for Marxism - no cutoff applied.

We can see a reasonable cluster down the bottom left and a smaller cluster around some ideas in the bottom right. But any possible association is shared by some people. As I said, there is no definite boundary.

One thing that heat-maps allow you to do, however, is to fix certain boundaries. We can say that only associations that are particularly strong should be considered part of Marxism. So an association with Karl Marx, the man, might be high, and association with Joe’s grandfather might be rare. The first we might say is part of Marxism, the second is not.

We can visualise this on our heat map by adding a cut-off. Any idea that isn’t associated strongly enough, by enough people, isn’t part of Marxism. Any idea that meets this criteria is part of the concept (figure 2).

The Marxism heatmap, with a cutoff

2. The Marxism heatmap, with a cutoff, showing the boundaries of what constitutes a single, global concept of Marxism.

But, of course choosing this cut-off is problematic. What threshold do we use? If we choose a low threshold, then the concept is pretty meaningless (i.e. just about everything is part of Marxism). If we choose it too high, then it may fragment. With a suitably high threshold in the example I’ve given so far, we get four different Marxisms (figure 3).

A Heatmap with a threshold, showing four different Marxisms.

3. For a suitably high cutoff threshold, four different Marxisms arise.

A New Type of Existence

So what is Marxism? Is there one of it, or four of it?

Marxism is what people think it is. Some things are thought by more people, and more strongly. Some things are rarer. There is both one Marxism, and four (and, if you keep going, a different Marxism for every person who has a concept of it).

Marxism, pacifism, and libertarianism have a different kind of existence to a chair, or a corporation, or a car crash. It behaves in different ways to other kinds of existence, and we need to take care to understand it on its own terms. It is a crucial type of existence to understand when we look at the concept of God.

This mini-series is exploring the theological model I am using for some work I am doing at the moment. I am experimenting with different ways to express the core ideas, because I’m not sure what makes the most sense. I’d really appreciate feedback, suggestions and links to other similar work.

Oh, and I’m still an atheist 🙂

Advertisements

31 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

31 responses to “God Does Exist After All — Part 1.

  1. i love when ppl say that they only deal in evidence. that they are objective. they aren’t. our perceptions play a role in everything we touch/observe/interact with/etc. i like where you’re heading on this and feel that we are in agreement thus far. looking forward to more.

  2. Ian

    i love when ppl say that they only deal in evidence. that they are objective. they aren’t. our perceptions play a role in everything we touch/observe/interact with/etc.

    I’m not sure I followed this bit… what are you referring to specifically. Do you think I think that I only deal in evidence or am objective? Or where you referring to something in the post?

    i like where you’re heading on this and feel that we are in agreement thus far. looking forward to more.

    I suspect from previous conversations, you will probably find a lot to agree with throughout this series. Hopefully you’ll find something to take me to task over though!

  3. just riff’n on the idea that one ‘pure’ doctrine exists in a philosophical/spiritual/mental construct based on an on-going convo with Sabio. really just thinking out loud, nothing to you at all. i don’t see you dealing in those numbers, esp. after this post.

    i do think we agree on a lot (save for one minor issue of Deity ;-)), i’m looking forward to this series.

  4. Love it!

    Yes, Marxism means something entirely different to Glen Beck or Bill O’reilly than it does to me. After all they call Obama a Marxist. And here in Canada Obama would be a right winger.

  5. Uzza

    Since I trained in linguistics, I read this as nearly a summary of prototype theory in cognitive semantics. Instead of heat maps it’s neural connections of varied strengths, formed by previous exposure. Inside our minds, even real concrete objects exist only as mental images, based on a prototypical example.
    My stock example is how we all have slightly different notions of what is a “tree”. Since I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, my generic “tree” is a pointy triangle, but people down here in the South have a mental image of some circle or oval on a stick. Then your cut-off has to deal with bushes and vines and stuff.

    So I don’t think “god” is different qualitatively from chairs, it’s just that more abstract notions are less constrained by real physical examples.

  6. Boz

    I like this post – the analogy is very informative, and the heatmap is especially helpful.

    Is it fair to summarise this article as “God exists as an idea” ?

    Is it also fair to take this further and say that “everything that anyone has ever imagined -exists”

  7. Ian

    @Uzza – yes, the motivation for this explanation is a semantic network view of meaning.

    I think there is a distinction between a chair and Marxism, though.

    When I spoke about a chair I meant a specific chair. We can think of the existence of the chair independently of what it means to be a chair. The chair I’m sitting on has a different kind of existence to the concept of ‘chair’. The concept of chair can be thought of as having its meaning through the action of a semantic network.

    The thing that we have to do, which is one step further than conventional theories of semantic association, is to look at the action of that network over whole populations, rather than individuals. As you rightly point out, such theories are normally cognitive, rather than sociological. When it comes to concepts such as ‘God’, some of the key intuitions I wish to explore arise only when we think of semantic networks as phenomena that span individuals.

  8. Ian

    (apologies for the odd order of responses, your comments came out of moderation backwards)

    @Lorena – thanks!

    @Boz – yes. But the ‘existence’ of God was meant slightly facetiously. Concepts have existence, but not the same kind of existence as a chair, for example. The concept of God clearly exists. What I want to go on and explore, however, is how the dynamics of the concept of God is a little different to most other concepts. And that difference is significant. It is easy, and common, to stop right here and say ‘so God is a concept, so what?’, but the ‘so what?’ is interesting, at least to me.

    The reason I’m not leaving my self-labeling as an ‘atheist’ is that, obviously (at least to me), a ‘theist’ thinks that God has a different kind of existence again. Maybe the same kind of existence as a chair, maybe some other kind of existence again.

  9. Ian

    @Boz – my previous comment sounded like I thought you were telling me ‘so what?’. I didn’t mean it like that. Read it with an enthusiastic, rather than defensive tone of voice 🙂

    @Laura, Uzza – Thanks a lot for coming and leaving a comment! Welcome.

  10. Somehow, I think philosophers of language and linguists have wrestled with these abstract words already. And I am not up on the various solutions and their labels. It seems we agree that language is merely a manipulation tool and without some agreement of usage, the manipulations become awkward. Ironically, your effort to show if these words “exist” is a move to making them useful in your coming manipulations. An admired effort! 🙂

    I love the heatmap model.

    Suggestion:

    1) Make background white

    2) List all the ideas people associate with [x] red, grouping them according to relatedness (for aesthetic purposes)
    3) Increase tint according to percent holding the idea.

    3) Repeat steps 2 & 3 for ideas people hold as must be exclusive of [x] but make them blue.

    I wonder if this captures a bit more.

    As you superbly illustrate, your “cutoff” criteria is the error of common thought on this issue. It seems we best leave that to evolution. For you may cutoff a type of Marxist concept that by accident of history takes over your heat map years down the line and if your history of [x] is simple cut-off heatmaps, the emergence will be baffling. Follow?

    But here I am puzzled, Ian, after showing the arbitrary issues involded, you say,
    “There is both one Marxism and four …”
    But where is the “one”???
    If anything, this model illustrates that all there is “ONE” of, is a word. And we already showed that words themselves have only functional reality.

    It was ironic that you wrote about this after Luke’s and my exchange on my site where I he tries to declare the existence of a historically continuous real Christianity and I was trying to illustrate your point by saying “Christianity does not exist but instead people who call themselves Christians and call others non-Christians exist and they fight over the word.” I realize that you used the word “Marxist” to keep the conversation more neutral — but then I also use to be a Marxist. 😆

    Another aspect I think missing in your analogy is that we have empirical ways to test for concepts like chair, car crash and corporation in ways we don’t for nobility, beauty and Marxism. I agree with Uzza about all concepts being susceptible to heatmapping, and perhaps it is this idea that really makes them substantially different.

    BUT WAIT, I have a thought. Have you read “A New Kind of Science” by Wolfram. He examines cellular automaton outputs visually to analyze for distinguishing patterns to illustrate various kinds of “randomness”. Anyway, perhaps with enough heat maps of concepts one could verify some property (albeit visual) that separates the concepts you desire to distinguish.

    Finally, to be nit-picky, in your comment to Boz you said the “the concept of God clearly exists”. We should say “Concepts of God [fairies, tables, honor …] exist.” Not “The Concept” but keep it plural to show that humans make and own them. Leaving it without a definite or indefinite article in English tempts the English speaker’s mind to make the cognitive mistake which this post addresses. Sure, in common parlance it is accepted. But hopefully, in these dialogues, we are all trying to accomplish a higher level of analysis and thus coming to argue over our use of words in order to enhance the dialogue.

  11. Ian

    @Sabio – lots in there, thanks for taking the time.

    “There is both one Marxism and four …”
    But where is the “one”???

    The one is in figure 2. If you set your threshold suitably, everyone does share the same concept of Marxism. There is one, two, three, four, many…

    The point is that concepts such as Marxism don’t behave in the way mugs, or money do. They are innumerate in a particular way.

    “the concept of God clearly exists”. We should say “Concepts of God

    I’d say the same thing as before. I think, if you set the threshold at a particular point, you get one concept, at another point many, at yet another point everybody has their own concept of God.

    The point of this model is to show the arbitrariness of such a threshold. There is *both* one concept, and many, at the same time.

    Another aspect I think missing in your analogy is that we have empirical ways to test for concepts like chair, car crash and corporation in ways we don’t for nobility, beauty and Marxism.

    Yes I agree. That is why I said that those things exist in a different way to concepts.

    But I’d quibble that we have empirical ways of testing for *concepts* such as ‘chairness’. What I think you mean is that, once we have such a concept, we have empirical ways of testing whether something conforms to that concept or not.

    In other words, you are pointing out that, in the case of a chair, it is uncontroversial that the concept has some instantiation (almost by definition), whereas that isn’t the case for nobility (or God).

    New Kind of Science

    Yes, I’m aware of cellular automata. I’m not entirely sure what work they’d do here though.

    My point of the heat-map model isn’t to actually try and make such a map (for a start, as Uzza points out, the ‘space’ is actually a network, so things get very multidimensional very fast). It is a convention when dealing with feature spaces to represent them as 2D surfaces, even though mathematically this isn’t possible (without losing almost all the information you’re trying to represent, at least). My point is to try to bring out gestalts about concepts generally. In particular to make the point that concepts have a particular kind of fluidity, where they can be both unified and disparate at the same time.

    It seems we agree that language is merely a manipulation tool and without some agreement of usage, the manipulations become awkward.

    We do agree on that. But that isn’t where I’m taking this!

    I’m going to argue that the concept itself has a form of existence and dynamics, independent of its individual thinkers. But that’s for part 3… 🙂

    I think that this is really tough stuff, though. And it is probably going to take about 10 attempts for me to find the best way to explain it.

  12. Thanx for the detailed reply, Ian. We hugely agree, but here are three issues I’d love to discuss further:

    (1) One, None vs. Many (Word Choice)
    I am quibbling about wording because I am anticipating the misuse of your statements. We all know how people superficial read stuff and then co-opt phrases and misquotes or incomplete quotes to support their agenda. Well, I am trying to make that more difficult by anticipation and wording that may head such sabatoge off.
    So we totally agree that your model illustrates that depending on an ARBITRARY threshold setting, we have many possible Gods, Christianities or Marxisms.
    BUT

    (a) Zero
    You need to include ZERO as the number — for at a very low threshold nothing could qualify. So, possible models: 0,1,2,3 … [number of self-declared believers]

    (b)Phrase Choice
    By your saying, “there is one and many” , you set up that possible hijack. For your readers don’t understand (and don’t want to hear), that you could have equally said:
    “there are 73 and many”
    “there are none [see (a)] annd many”
    “there are many — no fixed number — it is all arbitrary”
    Instead the believer will say, “See, there is one”. One Marxism, One Sense of Beauty …
    I guess it may just be a political semantics suspicion.

    (2) Independent Concept Existence
    Number 2 is my major interest. You say:
    “I’m going to argue that the concept itself has a form of existence and dynamics, independent of its individual thinkers.”
    I’m curious where that will go and look forward to #3.
    But before that, let me state my thoughts on that issue:

    Once two people agree on a concept to even the slightest degree of overlap, that relationship IS the existence and by nature of being a relationship, it has dynamics.
    I think you would agree to that and am curious if you are actually planning on sayig more than that or doing it pictorally. It is a rather plain philosophical piece of commonsense, I feel, but it does run contrary to many pedestrian forms of commonsense — if you catch my drift. And in that way it can be corrective when trying to dive into deeper understanding of phenomena of language and human relationships.

    Hopefully you are not being Jungian in hoping for a collective subconscious which exists “INDEPENDENT” of individual thinkers in which a concept “exists”! One could imagine the thirsty believer grabbing that ball and running all the way to the goal line. (sorry, I don’t know a soccer equivalent). I am truly hoping you are not recreating Platos shadow theatre. I can’t imagine you are, but, again, if you are not careful, you may word it in a way to invite such hijacking and hacking. But alas, you may be a closet Platonic Mystic.

    (3) Image Models vs. Parable Models
    Finally, most people understand things most easily with visual models or by parables (stories) rather than by dry philosophic paragraphs with long sentences with a plethora of comas, allusions, and exuberant adjectives. (smile) SO, I deeply welcome your efforts at visual models (but you have seen, that such is my dispositions also, so I am being rather self-congratualatory). Further, I’d wager that for humans, parables and analogies are vulnerable to many more types of cognitive illusions, deceptive manipulation and corruption than visual models. It is easier to pinpoint and tweak visual models during dialogue than the parables and analogies — just my intuition.

    Thanks, Ian.

  13. Uzza

    looking 4wd to part II

  14. Ian

    @Sabio

    1. I would exclude zero. Because I’m not talking (at this stage) of self-declared Marxists. But the concept of Marxism in general. If nobody had any concept of Marxism, then it would not exist. I am not a Marxist, but my understanding of it contributes to its concept.

    b. Political choice – yes. I understand. Though I’m not too fussed. What I want to do with this is do theology, so I am kind of expecting to lose that battle, at least a little.

    2. Not quite Jungian, and to some extent you’ve got it, but I think your characterisation is a bit dismissive and stops too early. But let’s not go there yet.

    3. I *wish* I were better at this. I’m conscious that I do try to explain things by going right there. This series is trying to force me to do that, but I confess I struggle. I do envy your ability to explain things diagrammatically. I find it difficult to pick the things to represent and what to ignore. I find, inevitably, that I end up (as in these comments) defending the bits where the diagram didn’t quite say what I wanted it to!

  15. Ian

    Let me clarify the zero thing again, if I can.

    We have a population of 100 people. Each of whom has some concept of Marxism. How many concepts of Marxism are there?

    There can be 1 (if everybody can be thought to have the same concept – i.e. for a sufficiently lose conception), 2, 3, …, 100.

    But, given the axiom (that everybody has some idea of what Marxism is) there can’t be zero concepts in the population.

    What I’m saying is that there is 1, 2, 3, …, 100; all at the same time. But not zero. That doesn’t work.

  16. I look forward to your neo-Platonist or possible Idealist Buddhist Buddha-Mind philosophical spin to add substance to concepts as existing independent of human minds. I could see why you’d want that to exist if you are doing theology (albeit Atheist Theology) — because no one wants to think they spend time systematizing pure fiction.

    Hopefully, as you know me, I am being simulataneously playful and sincere — for I am a bit schizophrenic on these issues and am excited about your upcoming experimentations.

    But you see, “definding the bits where [your] diagram didn’t say what you want it to!” is what led us to highlighting the important concerns and our possible agreements and disagreements without out spending too much time in linguistic equivocation and fruitless banter. So keep those models coming!

    Thanx

  17. @ Ian
    Concerning your Zero Marxism clarification.
    This is where my suggestion of red(inclusive) , blue (exclusive) model clarifies (I think).
    Imagine some thinkers are A-Marxists Marxists and feel that an exclusive quality is a philosophical one as I stated — thus, their arbitrary threshold would exclude all and thus Zero would become on of the many options.
    But this is unimportant (and I may have it wrong). For my main point is the you don’t want to emphasize there possibly being *one* any more than *twenty-seven* or *500 million*. Or do you? I agree there is a word because someone held the concept in conversation with another person back somewhere in time for any given concept. But gee, do we really want that to account for “existence” in light of obscuring all the philosophical misleading concepts of not understanding the arbitrariness of the threshold settings?

  18. Ian

    because no one wants to think they spend time systematizing pure fiction.

    Yeah, exactly, that would just be a stupid waste of time…

    … ahem.

  19. (1) GAMES
    As you know, I play “Go” to which some people “Why do you spend so much of your life on just a game”. I reply: Your statement reveals two possible mistaken notions, you either:
    (a) Underestimate the value of games
    (b) Overestimate the meaning of life
    I think spending time on fictions is great fun — perhaps the most fun. I am being playful.

    (2)TIME
    For some reason we have had a few cancelations and are slow in clinic today. What is your excuse for not being financially productive today. 😆

  20. Ian

    But this is unimportant (and I may have it wrong). For my main point is the you don’t want to emphasize there possibly being *one* any more than *twenty-seven* or *500 million*. Or do you?

    No.

    But I think something interesting happens. And here Wolfram’s ideas about complexity may be a good analogy (and apologies for anyone watching this conversation, because I will explain this in another way later).

    Lets imagine the ‘threshold’ as being something like a radio dial. We can turn it and tune into the use of the concept at different levels. So we can turn it way down, and we can observe the function of the one-global concept. Or we can turn it right up, and we see hundreds of millions of little concepts.

    Now I think that, if you consider the dynamics (as I’ll go on to explain) you see an interesting pattern. At one end of the dial you get simple hums through the radio (stasis), very little dynamics. At the other end it is like white-noise (chaos), no signal. But in the middle is a band where you hear interesting things coming through (complexity, computation). You hear Music, and Talk Radio and other things that stretch the metaphor too far.

    So in that sense, not all numbers are equally important.

    None is more true than any other, or defines ‘real’ Marxism. But at some scales the interesting phenomena come to the fore.

    As for exclusivism: you’re right that introducing sectarianism and self-identification complicates this model, and that is Part 2…

  21. Ian

    What is your excuse for not being financially productive today?

    Wanton procrastination, I’m afraid.

    I’m staring at a half-finished chapter, and I can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm to write it.

  22. I just finished Melanie Mitchell’s book “Complexity: a guided tour”. She is a computer science , popular science writer and does a great job. One thing she tackles is exploring all the attempts to get a handle on exactly what is “complexity” by exploring all the definitions that have been attempted to date including Wolfram’s. She illustrates how all fall short of being successful. So I will curious to see where you take that. For everyone and their brother runs at popular and new science metaphors to support their metaphysics — think “quantum”, “entanglement or “chaos” (you have read Luke and I chat about this before).

    I love the radio analogy but let me challenge it on its own terms:
    (a) It will be a person turning the dial and either they will dig the music or change channels. Since the word is a human creation and not a form casting shadows, the people asthetically judging the radio settings will have a vested interest in the dance.
    (b) I patiently wait for you to tell me how certain Rorschack HeatMaps are somehow more intrinsically meaningful to others.
    (c) Some “white noise” on the radio may be big rebounce (bang) background information and thus, following chaos (complexity) theory may be packed with meaningful info that we are to quick to dismiss because we don’t know how to dance to it.

    Got to run over to the hospital — have another cup of coffee and start writing that book ! What is the working title of what you are working on now?

    PS – suggestion, maybe consider turning off monitoring, it may be more trouble than it is worth.

  23. Suggestion for labeling your heatmaps:

    1. Pre-Taxonomy Map
    2. One Marxism: low threshold
    3. Four Marxism: high threshold

  24. Ian

    I just finished Melanie Mitchell’s book “Complexity: a guided tour”. She is a computer science , popular science writer and does a great job.

    She’s also a nice person. She was one of my lecturers at SFI. She’s done a lot of work on Genetic Algorithms. I’ve not read her pop-sci stuff. In fact I’ve not read much pop-sci in that area at all.

    One thing she tackles is exploring all the attempts to get a handle on exactly what is “complexity” by exploring all the definitions that have been attempted to date including Wolfram’s. She illustrates how all fall short of being successful.

    Complexity metrics depend on what you use them for. Like anything. Some are fit for purpose. None are immune to being stripped of meaning by used to argue for results out of their area.

    So I will curious to see where you take that.

    I’m not going to take it anywhere. You brought up Wolfram’s book, so I was using an analogy based on his work. For what I’m talking about ‘complexity’ can have its everyday, fuzzy, non-technical meaning.

    It will be a person turning the dial and either they will dig the music or change channels.

    Some “white noise” on the radio may be big rebounce (bang) background information

    See, I told you my attempts at analogizing just misfire. That is so completely not what I was getting at.

    Suggestion for labeling your heatmaps:

    Thanks.

  25. Ian

    @Sabio

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘turn off monitoring’.

    The book doesn’t have a title yet. We’re still experimenting with options. Its working title is “book005.xml”.

  26. @ Ian: oh, sorry, I meant “moderation” (storing comments of unknowns) .
    “Book005” — sounds exciting ! I put it on my Amazon list.

  27. Ian

    Well the easy solution to the moderation issue is to not change your name all the time 🙂

    I do prefer moderation. I do get the odd comment that slips through the spam detector. If I was away, vulnerabilities like that could lead to a problem pretty quickly.

    Although that may just be delusions of importance. I’ve seen a site overwhelmed in a few hours and ending up with crap on the google cache and index for months.

  28. Pingback: God Does Exist After All — Part 2. | Irreducible Complexity

  29. @ Ian
    That was a great argument for moderation — makes me want to initiate it.

  30. Pingback: God Does Exist After All — Part 3 | Irreducible Complexity

  31. Pingback: From Whence Cometh the Mind? | Irreducible Complexity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s