Friday, April 29, 2011

At the beginning

It is commonly believed that the universe began with the big bang.  And prior to the big bang, the multiplicity of the "and" and the "or" did not exist.   Rather, the universe grew out of one infinitely small, infinitely energetic super atom.  The various components of modern atoms, such as electrons, had not come into being.  Thus, the big bang grew out of the repression of the "and" and the "or".   But the "and" and the "or" would not be supressed.  Rather, multiplicity exploded, and expressed itself at an exponential rate over the first billion or so years of the universe. Hydrogen and helium were supposedly the first elements to be formed, but more soon followed.  Gases coalesced into clusters of stars, and in these stellar furnaces, heavier elements were formed, and after the first stars grew old, they exploded into supernovas, which formed even heavier elements.
  There is a desire to reduce the universe to one element, to one fundamental thing that underlies all things.  But this desire to completely repress the "or" fails.  We find more and and more types of subatomic particles. (I've read that the number is now around 200.)  Some physicists and mathematicians have attempted to overcome the "or" through the development of string theory, which holds that everything is reducible to pulsating strings.  But these attempts are bound to fail, for the "or" is real, and it pervades all matter and all thought.
   While the number of elements is said to be relatively small, the diversity of matter is not.  How does the "or" prevail?  The finite number of elements find a way to combine into a seemingly infinite number of molecules, both organic and inorganic.  Genes, similarly, seem reducible at first to to sugary strings of four bases, C (cytosine), G (guanine), A (adenine) and T (thymine). On each strand of DNA, these bases are repeated in various sequences millions of times .  in the case of genes, the "or" uses the repetition of the "and", to form thousands, hundreds of thousands, or more genes out of these four bases.  And from "reading" these sequences of C, G, A and T, the cell creates 20 or so amino acids, still a seemingly small number.  But once again, the "or" takes advantage of the repetition of the "and", to find a seemingly infinite number of ways to combine these 20 amino acids to form an even greater number of proteins and enzymes which in turn break up and put together an even greater number of organic molecules.
    While all organic matter appears to be reducible to six elements (hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfer, carbon, oxygen and phospherous), the "or" once again use the repetition of the "and" to create thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of types of organic molecules.
      The lesson?  The "or" is not to be repressed.  It uses the repetition of the "and" to create millions of different things.
      To see how this works on a logical level, assume there are four elements: a, b, c and d.  And assume there are one million "a"s, one million "b"s and so on.  The "or" can use the repetition of the "and" to form millions of distinct (different) sets of various sizes.  One set may be "aaab".  Another may be "abbbbdc" etc.
    Thus, we can say that the "or" uses the repetition of the "and" to propagate its own existence.   More than that...the "or" thrives on the repetition of the "and".  The two love each other.  A wonderful marriage.   We begin to see, through set theory, how diversity can spring from the lack thereof.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The inverse law of matter/Survival of the smallest

When dealing with units of matter, it seems, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the size of the unit and its abundance.  For example, there are more electrons than atoms, more atoms than molecules, more molecules than solar systems, more stars than galaxies, more galaxies than universes.  Now, we are only dealing with categories, not specific named entities.  For example, there is only one Peter Margolies, a specific named entity.   There may also be exceptions to this rule.  For example, there may be some subatomic particles that are very rare.  However, for the most part, the rule appears to hold...It is easy to see, mathematically, why this law would hold, at least where larger units of matter are composed of smaller units of matter.  Molecules, for example are composed for several atoms.  Thus, if M stands for molecules, and A stands for atoms, M + XA where X is greater than one.  Thus, there must be X times as many atoms as molecules.  The planet earth is composed of trillions and trillions of molecules, and thus X trillions and trillions of atoms.  As for survival of the smallest, it is clearly easier to break a clump of molecules, say a glass jar, than the molecules themselves, and even more difficult to destroy the atom.  Which is not to say it is impossible, take nuclear fission or fusion.
As for living things, the inverse relationship between size and number usually holds?  Why you might ask? Because big things generally eat smaller things.  And thus smaller things have to reproduce at a greater rate to avoid extinction.  Thus, if a cow needs to eat one billion blades of grass per month to stay alive, each blade must reproduce at a rate greater than a billion per month if the grass is to avoid extinction.  Granted, individual blades don't reproduce on their own, and factory farmed cows are generally fed a diet of corn for most of their lives, but you know what I mean. If a cats must eat 20 mice per year to survive, mice must reproduce at a greater rate than cats to remain on this earth.  Once again, we feed most cats factory farmed chicken, corn and other animal byproducts, but you know what I mean.   Of course, there are countless exceptions to this general rule, many caused by the hubris of the human race. We have pushed many animals smaller than us to the brink of extinction.  However, it is usually harder to kill a germ, which we can't see, than a chicken.  There is lysol, which kills germs, but it took thousands of years for humans to evolve to the point that they could produce lysol.  It is generally agreed that life evolved from tiny single celled or multicelled creatures, and such creatures have been found surviving in high pressure or extraordinarily hot conditions that would melt the hardiest among us. It appears reasonable to conclude that bacteria would be the last to perish due to a cataclysmic event, such as a meteor impact.  As for atoms, it is generally agreed that most survive in tact for billions of years.  The heavier atoms are "cooked" stars.  It is indeed quite fascinating that all that we touch and see comes from stars, and if we could trace the life of a given atom through the eons, it would be quite an adventure.  Too bad they don't realize what wonderful existences they lead.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Societal extremes

It would seem that on a societal level, some kind of balance between the "and" and the "or" is most conducive to the public good.   An extreme manifestation of the "and", to the exclusion of the "or", was evident in Soviet society.  There, the selfish individualism of capitalism was decried as all supposedly labored for the common good.  Of course, it is part of the human condition that every man (and woman) wishes to excel, to stand out, whether materially or otherwise.  The wish to excel, whether it is through gaining material wishes, being a good wife, winning the approval of one's peers, is part of the human condition.  Thus, the "or" cannot be suppressed, even in a collective society.  In Soviet society, one of its few outlets was through rising within the communist party.   However, as we have all seen, the suppression of the "or" resulted in a listless impoverished society, not only in the Soviet Union, but throughout much of Eastern Europe. And the attempted suppression of individual motivation instead resulted in individual anger, in the form of anger towards the state.  For in the end, the "or" could not be suppressed, and there were few if any individuals ready to defend the state.  Thus, suprisingly, "communism" died a peaceful death.
The other extreme appears to be the Ayn Rand selfish individualism described by Maureen Dowd in her column today.  There, the "or" is predominant, or at least appears to be, as every man is out for himself, feeling no responsibility for the welfare of his fellow human beings. But the "and" cannot be suppressed.   For in order to rise above others, one must observe what others are doing.  And when one observes a peer making a killing in the stock market, for example, the selfish one decides he wants a piece of the action.  This kind of herd mentality, as Keynes observed, is part of the human condition, and leads to the creation of bubbles and the eventual impoverishment, at least on a material level, of society.  The bubbles burst, investors and the millions captivated by their magic lose their wealth, and a new ethos, a crying out for social responsibility, for a curbing of man's hedonistic impulses, briefly captures the day.  Thus, the predominance of the "or", like that of the "and", collapses under its own weight.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Some more thoughts on numbers

We have already seen how quantity, the "&" and the "or", is a precondition for the existence of mathematical operations.  But quantity, multiplicity, is a vague concept.  Many things exist, but how many? And how do you define a thing? Is it a molecule, an atom, a subatomic particle etc.?  No doubt the act of defining "a thing" determines the quantity, and how we define a thing is up to us.  And according to logical atomism, we define things by assigning names to objects.  It is thus clear that language, the ability to map names to objects, is a precondition for the counting of objects, and mathematical operations in general. And mathematics, the manipulation of numbers, involves one additional marvelous operation.  That of abstraction.   No longer is it necessary to think of an object or a group of objects linked to a name.  The number nine, for instance, may have been born by the act of counting of nine cats.  However, when performing the operation "9 + 3" it is no longer necessary to attach cats to the number nine.  And the result of that operation, "9 + 3" is the same whether we are talking about cats, hedge hogs or asterisks. Thus, the number 9 can be mapped to trillions of different things, so long as we are talking about nine of them.  And the results of these operations appear to be the same throughout the universe.  Thus, numbers themselves appear to have been born by the mapping of names to objects, and the subsequent abstraction of these objects.  And the mapping of names to objects requires reasonably sophisticated linguistic abilities, abilities that only humans seem to possess (though there are probably life forms in other parts of the universe that have such abilities.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Healthy thought

Thinking, of course, depends on language.  For human thought, to a large extent, consists of speaking to oneself.   Man is a social animal, and when others are not available (and sometimes when they are available) he creates an externalized other, to whom he speaks (or thinks). In that limited sense, thinking requires multiplicity, or the creation of one other.
But, returning to the relationship between thought and language, healthy thought, and to a large extent mental health.  As is the case with clear expository writing, healthy thinking requires a diversity of thought (the or), but a certain connectivity between thoughts (the and). Disjointed thinking can take the form of mania.  However, a lack of sufficient diversity of thought, or thinking one thing over and over again, takes the form of obsessive thinking, something I know quite well.  Thus, mania is a predominance of the "or" while obsession is the predominance of the "and".  Or at least that's a start.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


And it would seem that human language itself presupposes multiplicity, or at least multiple words.  And by multiple words, I mean words that are different from each other.  You can't form a sentence by stringing together multiple copies of the same word. "Hat hat hat hat hat" is not a sentence.  It would seem that at a minimum we need a noun and a verb, as in "I run."  Maybe not.  Is that a sentence?  Is the command, "Run!" a sentence? Or are we dealing with semantics here?
In any event, I believe we can say that effective language requires multiple words.  And that may be what distinguishes human language from that of animals.  Generally, when I hear one of my pets vocalizing, he or she seems to be stringing together multiple copies of the same word.  When we speak, we string together different words, and when we do so, we do so according to grammatical rules that vary from language to language.  
However, the stringing together of different words appears to be a prerequisite.  Thus, we see the "and" and "or" at work here once again.  The "or" is at work in the differentiation between different words, the fact that they must be different in order to form a sentence.  The "and" is at work in the sense that these words must work together or cooperate in order to form a sentence.
And effective writing requires a high degree of connectivity between different sentences.  Sentences that do not relate to each other are disjointed, and disjointed writing is difficult to absorb.  This cooperation must be at work on a macro level as well.  Paragraphs should be connected by transitions.  If you are writing an essay or a legal brief, you will generally establish a road map exhibiting your plan, your ideas and the connection between them, and you will then seek to expand upon upon them.  A book may have a table of contents, and a preface or introduction telling a reader what to expect.  It will have a high degree of cohesiveness.
Thus, effective expository writing, like everything else, requires a balance between the "and", this cohesiveness and connectivity, and the "or", the use of different words.  If the "and" is overdone, the writing becomes repetitive, and the reader loses patience.
In creative writing or poetry, the writer may test these linguistic boundaries.  A novelist may play with the temporal order we are accustomed to.  He may attempt to surprise the reader with sentences, words or paragraphs that come out of the blue, or a novel and wonderful use of words.
A poet, on the other hand, may not even follow the rules of grammar.  Different lines, stanzas and images may appear disconnected.  It is left to the reader to connect these disparate elements, or just to experience them, and this effort will hopefully prove enriching.
Thus, expository writing requires a greater use of the "and".  Creative writing relies more heavily on the "or" and leaves it to the reader to supply the "and.
Thus, effective expository writing

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And we also see that the health of various social units requires a similar balance between the "and" and the "or".  A dysfunctional family lacks cohesiveness (the and).  However, this cohesiveness to a large extent depends upon a certain degree of leadership, of standing out (the or), on the part of the parents.  The child must value their worth, seeing them as standing out, something to aspire to.  They must act as role models, setting appropriate goals and limits.   The child himself must learn these limits.  He must learn to cooperate with others  (the and) while also being encouraged to excel  (the or). The goal, in the end, is to see a repetition of the and/or balance in the child that we saw in the parents.  Very often, antisocial behavior on the part of a child is the result of an inadeqyuate sense of self worth.  Thus, the poverty of the "or" results in an impoverished "and".
Of course, a tyrannical parent, or a family in which the "or" is predominant, is one with an illusory sense of cohesiveness.   The "and" in such a family may appear to be powerful.  However, everyone knows it is skin deep at best.  Those being dominated often lack the sense of self worth needed to foster strong family units.  They will secretly harbor resentment towards the dominant individual, severely undercutting the "and".  If the situation becomes intolerable, the child may run away or act out in other ways, resorting to drugs or other aberrant behavior.  In the end, in the words of William Butler Yeats, "the center cannot hold" and the family implodes.
Similarly, a family with weak parental figures, or an insufficient degree of "orness" also lack cohesion.  The children, ironically, also lack a sense of direction (the or), a sense of self worth (another manifestation of the or) and lack the discipline needed to hold the family together.  The resulting situation may be anarchy ( dissolution of the and).  Speak to a psychologist for further details.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Similarly, successful evolution requires a harmonic balance between the "and" and the "or." It is through random genetic mutations, a type of individuation encompassed within the "or", that a species adapts to adverse conditions.  A sufficient rate of genetic mutation is necessary to ensure the survival of a species. A successful mutation, however, is genetically worthless if the carriers of this mutation do not reproduce.  And of course, reproduction is the prototypical manifestation of the "and", as it usually requires the coming together of two individuals during sex, and the resulting production of new individuals.   However, Darwin teaches that over time, a species will evolve to the point that it is no longer recognizable and a new species is created.  This individuation, once again, is a manifestation of the "or".  The propagation of the species (the and) thus results in further individuation (the or).    Thus, as is the case with the mental health of the individual, the health of a species requires a balancing of the "and" and "or".  We also see how the "and" and "or" are so dependent upon one another.   Without sufficient reproduction ("and"), there cannot be a sufficient number of mutations (individuation or the "or") to guarantee the species' ability to overcome adverse conditions.  Without this individuation, future reproduction cannot take place.  In addition to seeing this balance and this interdependence of the "and" and "or", we also see an "and"-"or" cycle taking shape before our eyes.  As is the case with the chicken and the egg, we can't be sure what, if anything, comes first during evolution, the "and" or the "or".  However we see the "and" in the form of reproduction, followed by the or, in the form of genetic mutations or variation, followed by the and of reproduction, resulting in the propagation of the species, and the creation of a new species (the or) , and and so on.  This "and"-"or" cycle will manifest itself for as long as life exists.
This balance repeats itself on a macro level.  Evolution teaches that the preservation of life requires a certain degree of diversity.  The greater the number of species, the greater the chance that one (or some) will be able to withstand adverse conditions.  Thus, a healthy degree of the "or" is needed to preserve life.   Generally, until recently, the "or" has successfully prevented a predominance of the "and", in terms of one species reproducing in excess and depleting earth's limited resources.   The exponentially expanding population of the human species and the increased rate of extinction of others risks destroying the balance between the "and" and the "or", which, in the end, will not work to the "and"'s benefit.  As all animals are dependent on other life forms to survive (by eating them), the diminishment of other life forms will result in a decrease in the food supply, starvation and disease, and ironically, a diminishment of the "and".  Thus, the existence of life gravitates towards a balance, at least on a macro level, between the "and" and the "or".

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The "and" the "or" and self

The nazi philosopher, Heidegger, wrote that being to a certain extent is being with.  It can be said that the self is largely composed to two tendencies, the "and" - the urge towards union with others, and the "or" the urge for differentiation, for self expression.  To an extent, these forces are always at tension with each other.   When one of these tendencies predominates, one feels the force of the other urging for its expression.  A mother who spends every waking moment with her small children craves a moment for her self.  A miser who spends all his time alone, becomes lonely.  A relatively healthy person can be defined as one for whom these forces are in relative balance.

Of course, the "and" and "or" define not only each individual's relationship with other people, but his or her relationship with the physical environment.  A person who is excessively self absorbed is often not in a relationship, or has an attenuated relationship with the physical environment around him, his "or" is predominating.   A person so continually absorbed by the environment that he or she never thinks of self, never pauses to examine or evaluate his or her actions, has a predominant "and".   Those who believe in the superiority of Eastern philosophy, which condemns any subject object duality, and argue that it is the scourge of Western thought,  would probably argue that there is no "and" or "or".   We are perfectly one with the world around us.  In my view, this is an idealistic illusion.  What makes humans human is a self awareness, a sense that the self has some independence from others, that the self has certain needs, both physical and emotional, that have to be actualized.  This is, according to psychologists, an important stage of a child's cognitive development.   The sense of having one's own awareness of needs of course involves the "or".  However, these needs generally relate to other people (such as the need for love) and the environment.  Thus, the actualization of these needs necessarily requires the "and".  Thus, the "or" is largely dependent upon the "and".  But it is the "or" which often initiates action.  Thus, the "and" is just as dependent upon the "or" as the "or" is dependent upon the "and".  The "and", such as the need for love, is often what gives impetus to the "or", the feeling that I can be myself, that my needs are satisfied, when the "and" is actualized.
Thus, there is a constant interplay between the "or" and the "and" that defines all human action.