May I let my voice be a clarion call. I will use these words for justice. I will use these words for truth. And humour.

Friday, November 16, 2007


An "LOL" Revelation, regarding predicates, syntax, and programming

The other day, I got a recall notice from the library where I work for this M.A. thesis I checked out regarding a connection between Alfred North Whitehead's notion of "concrescence" and Virginia Woolf's novels. It got recalled, which means now I'm reading it. In the first chapter, the author, Grete Stenersen, quotes Whitehead "All modern philosophy hinges round the difficulty of describing the world in terms of subject and predicate,..."

Heck, I didn't remember what a predicate was, so I looked it up on Google -- "define predicate".

At the Google link, I came to realize that the term "predicate" is also used in programming language, and that the use of written language is syntactical in nature. Yes, that may be obvious, but for somebody who used to growl at command prompts in junior high when all the computer knew to say was "syntax error," I had deep associations of syntax being something that computers use, not people.

But NO... Syntax is also for language, and the idea of predicate has crossed over from written language into computer language.

My laugh out loud was (and this involves coming all the way over into my world if you want to get it the way I did).... What if our written language has been too underdetermined, and the "code" that we've been writing, vis a vis sacred text (whichever you ascribe to, whether its the Bible, the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, the Upanishads, or the script for the Flintstones)... What if that code we've (writers of sacred text) been writing is actually extremely buggy, and the syntax used there does "compile" for cultures, but just because something COMPILES doesn't mean that it runs as it was designed. In other words, we're inside the debugger, still hammering this program out.

Complicating matters is the fact that every single person who reads any given text has their own internalized instruction set. Just as running a program written for an Intel Pentium II chip, just as running that program on an Intel Pentium 3, or a motorola, or any of hundreds of different chips out there,... Just as running a decent program on a certain chip might produce desired results, running that same program on a different chip could either not work at all and crash/stall/freeze, or appear to work, but come up with something spectacularly unexpected.... Just as that is the case, trying to apply a sacred text (that truth be told, other than allowing for Author's conceit that God wrote it and made no mistakes, is likely fraught with errors that only a person with a mote in their eye could ignore them)... Trying to directly apply a sacred text across cultures is often a Bad Thing(tm).

But I've digressed. I didn't mean to deal with the cross-culture/cross-platform issues. The simple issue of getting a pattern of logic together that can be compiled and work on one specific processor is tough enough. [note upon reread: the words that follow are dense, inchoate, and confusing. sorry i'm not cleaning them up just now. i'm just going to get them down for myself to ponder for later] So... If the subject (the reader/agent) is the processor, the sacred text is the logic path, the code to be followed, what is the data? Is the data the object in the sentence? What happens when we start spooling in complex data? And every word must be carefully defined, so that the results of the program are predictable. And the code has to be tight, really TIGHT, so that it's not open to exploits, anywhere along the chain, whether in the chip design, when running the compiled code as intended, or in a way not intended.

side-note 1: the processor is the subject (each of us), the code is our system of assumptions and beliefs about how to act in the world, and the world is the data, or the object which we spool into our assumptions/code, and then act on based off of those assumptions

side-note 2 (not necessarily consistent with side-note1): in the real world, the data set, the compiled code, and the compiler are all one. the one's and zero's on the hard drive, the subatomic particles/waves in the universe (including all aspects, not just material), are all capable of being elements to be acted upon, of being that which acts upon, and of being elements which determine how other elements will act upon each other (within bounds -- for example, we still can't change the gravitational constant, etc.). Any element can at any given time act more like an object, or as a subject, or as a programming subject, and often will be a combination of the three.

But we're not starting out with tabula rasa in any way, shape, or form. Everybody's already got embedded instruction sets. How about creating a dual-boot? By creating a small metal-level compiler within the original system, and creating a simple instruction set to boot to, is it possible to boot up a boot-strapping system that can unpack and recompile itself into a flowering system of logic that holds together, and form a truly common base of religion?

I think using the English language -- or any other written language --might prove to be too fraught with exploitability. It will need to be in the universal language of mathematical logic, based on postulates and axioms (assumptions, beliefs, deep cognitive structures), leading to theorems (actions, habits, norms, laws, commandments, suggestions, resulting from the axioms) . (and if we're not working from the same axioms, we're not able to have a legitimate conversation about appropriate theorems/corollaries at all. sometimes i think the larger argument really is all about the axioms.)

E.g., Axiom 0: There exists a subject. (IOW, I am. I think therefore I am. I doubt therefore I am, etc.)
Axiom 1: There exists an object. (IOW, there is a world different than, or beyond, the subject. From a non-duality/unity viewpoint, this one would be thrown out. But as a multitheticalist, I'll be keeping both dualistic and monistic views around for comparison.)
Axiom 2: There exists a predicate. (which describes the subject, explicating its features, its spirit, and its character)
Axiom 3:...

Start with
Null : 0
Space : 1
Space^2 : 10
Space^3 : 11

Anyway, people don't like to think of themselves as being programmed (even though we are, from birth) and the above is so inchoate as to be embryonic meanderings. And the above, if readable at all (certainly fraught with syntax errors and doesn't compile at the present moment) is painfully dry, so there's a long way to go before its ready for prime time. In addition, there's the ever-present -- and IMHO opinion, ever-important -- proposition of free will, allowing our spirit to flower naturally rather than being too tightly bound by some spiritual fascism. Ah, the middle way....

lyrics: "Why shouldn't I?" by the Bob Manor band.

colors: black(1), white(2), blue(3), orange(4),....

mood: at the beginning of this post, chuckling. at the end of the post, baffled and overwhelmed. i think i should just go back to reading about whitehead's concrescence for a while and leave it at that.

chant/prayer/mantra: xboot.exe, blah blah blah.

And as a reminder, the thing that got me started on this blog post was the notion that our written/spoken common languages are so slackly put together compared to the deterministic programming done within computer languages.

pax hominibus,
agape to all,

PS (added 1.13.08)- I just came across this post from the Logos Institute that speaks to this, regarding critiques of Orwell's thoughts on the necessity of precision of language.

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Hey! What's that traitor bob programming lyrics into your head?
That's quite a thickly packed post, by the way. I'm still trying to wade through it all.
ooo, i Love this post. My little brain is just spinning with the concepts, J. This one needs to be hammered out, bandied about, over beers and a fire and late into the night, I think. As a recovering sociologist, I of course embrace the concept of ppl being programmed, and just to muddy the waters further, given that the computers (ppl) are sentient, the opportunities for reprogramming the Self abound...
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