Hello! My name is Lucidian (sometimes known as Darcey Riley). Before we get on with the content, allow me to subject you to some boring introductory material. Currently, I’m a first-year PhD student in artificial intelligence, particularly in machine learning and natural language processing. Beyond my academic endeavors, I’m fascinated by comparative mythology, cognitive science, and embodied cognition.
I’m starting this blog so that I will have a place to explore ideas as they arise, in an effort to deepen my understanding. I like to explore different worldviews and perspectives, engaging fully with each one as I encounter it. In fact, I have been accused of “taking ideas seriously”. Note that since I’m cavorting wildly through ideaspace, all thoughts written here are subject to change.
I’m indebted to all of my intellectual influences. Sometimes I think the body of Western thought is like a coral reef, where each thinker is an individual coral polyp. Writers die, but they leave skeletons of books behind them, allowing the next generation to build on top of the foundations they’ve laid. In this manner, the coral reef grows into beautiful and intricate idea-structures over time, branching into fields and subfields and warring factions of academics.
Thus it’s impossible for me to properly acknowledge all of my myriad influences, but I can at least list a few of the most important: David Zindell, Robert Anton Wilson, George Lakoff, Joseph Campbell, and the whole field of natural language processing and machine learning. I’m also indebted to my many close friends, and to various blogs and other corners of the internet. (Though coral feels like the wrong metaphor for online sources, since its rigid structure conflicts with the fluid flexibility of the internet. Maybe seaweed works here. I dunno.) Anyway, check out the blogroll on the right.
Now for the content! Since this whole blog is rooted in my desire to understand, I’ll begin by describing that desire in more detail.
A Journey towards Understanding
Some people say they’re on a quest for truth – as if truth were an object you could hold in your mind – some mystical formula, some key unlocking the secrets of reality, some objective representation, free from the vagaries (and vagueries) of human thought. As if a human being could ever grasp the nature of the universe, unfettered by the limits of our perception!
Since I consider the “quest for truth” misleading, I prefer to say that I’m on a journey towards understanding: both logical, rational understanding, and deep, resonant intuition. My journey has taken me through innumerable worldviews, and I think that the best way to increase my understanding is to explore as many worldviews, perspectives, and ideas as I possibly can.
You see, we can’t observe the universe directly. We can only see it through the filters imposed by our systems of categorization. In particular, our abstract categories are artifacts of our cultures and worldviews. We seem to understand abstract concepts by grounding them metaphorically in concrete ones, and our understanding changes dramatically depending on which concrete concepts we choose for these groundings.
But abstract concepts are the building blocks of ideas; they are the very substance of intellectual understanding. If abstract concepts are non-absolute, then how can we approach any true understanding of the universe? How can we see past the limits of our perceptions, into the nature of reality as it truly is?
Each worldview forms a filter through which we can see the world. So in order to get a more complete picture of the universe, I constantly add to my inventory of filters. The more perspectives I have, the better a view I will get of the world, even if each perspective is fundamentally constrained. To use a different analogy, it’s like taking multiple 2D snapshots of a 3D object. A single 2D photo can’t capture all of 3D reality, but if you take enough photos from enough different angles, you can eventually get a reasonable approximation of what the 3D object looks like.
Thus my goal is to explore as many worldviews as I can. This includes existing worldviews, as well as ones that I create on the fly. I want to develop new systems of categorization, new ways to divide up experience into discrete clusters. Venkatesh Rao of Ribbonfarm has a great term for this – he calls it “refactoring perception”.
So we’ve been talking about worldviews. But wait – what is a worldview, anyway? The mind is not a logical, symbol-processing engine, and a worldview is not a collection of facts one can store in a knowledge base. On the contrary – as the word suggests, worldviews are about perception. A worldview is a way of experiencing life. One can experience life as profound or meaningless, as dark or radiant, as brimming with sorrow or overflowing with joy.
To be sure, a worldview does contain beliefs, and those beliefs interact with perception in fascinating ways. Obviously, perception influences belief. But belief also influences perception. If you believe that God exists, you will be more likely to experience his presence, and to see his steady hand guiding the trajectory of your life. On the other hand, if you believe the universe is meaningless and arbitrary, you might experience the events of your life as pointless and chaotic, lacking any reason or structure.
This leads us to the first topic I would like to discuss on this blog, which is the aesthetics of ideas, and the relation between beliefs and emotions. I used to think some beliefs were fundamentally beautiful, while others were fundamentally ugly. For instance, materialist reductionism always seemed fundamentally barren and ugly to me, devoid of any reverence for life. But in January 2012, I had an epiphany that any abstract fact could be made beautiful, by grounding it in the appropriate concrete concepts. Since then, I’ve been exploring this idea in greater detail, as well as investigating its implications regarding which things humans find inherently meaningful.
If this interests you, then stay tuned for the upcoming series of posts! There, I will discuss the thoughts I’ve been accumulating on this topic. Expect approximately weekly updates.