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There is an interesting discussion between Vox and MBM, about a certain class of statements that people sometimes make, which I thought deserved it's own thread, rather than cluttering up threads about other topics where those kinds of statements just happen to come up.

https://www.africanamerica.org/groupee/forums?a=tpc&s=60260642&f=79160213&m=56670986

(If people prefer to discuss it there, that's fine, but I don't want to be responsible for hijacking the thread from its intended subject.)

Often people will say something like, "If such and such had happened differently in the distant past (before I was concieved), what would my life be like now?"

How should we interpret such statements? My assumption is that such statements (questions) are not meant to be interpreted literally, since any change in the past, however small, would have almost certainly resulted in my never having been concieved in the first place. Had a butterfly flapped its wings a little differently in the Amazon Rain Forest a couple of weeks before my being conceived, major weather patterns on the other side of the globe would be affected, due to the instability of the equations that govern such things (Navier Stokes Equations?), affecting traffic patterns, causing my parents to arive home at different times, etc, etc, etc,...eventually resulting in my not even being concieved.

In short, we are all the result of the entire history of the universe, down to the smallest detail, and would not exist but for all that history.

The way that I tend to interpret such a statements is as a metaphorical statement about a class of people who would exist now (and who I would identify with) as a result of some alternate history, due to the change in the past.

So, for example, if MBM says something about where he would be had the slavery of Africans never occured, under my interpretation, he is talking not really about himself (who would not exist) in this alternate history, but rather a metaphorical way of talking about some unspecified group of people that actually would exist at this point in time in the alternate history. That group of people would likely be a group of people with whome he would identify, as a first approximation, the descendants of his anscestors in the alternate history, the descendants of all those who were kidnapped and enslaved in our history but not in the alternate history, or with the subset of those African descendants who would have immigrated here (voluntarily) in the alternate history.

Any of these possibilities (and many others) seem to me to be a reasonable interpretation. What does not seem to me to be a reasonable interpretation would be to take it literally, as a statement about where he (MBM) would be personally under the alternate history.

I'm wondering what other people (including MBM! Smile ) think about this interpretation of such statements. Or do people think that such statements are literal, rather than metaphorical?


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


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I would prefer for all practical purposes to speak of this in spiritual terms. Whether the physical probability of me existing as I am and under the circumstances that caused me to be born in the place and time that I am had some event in the past been different to me seems irrelevant.

I feel like I am the spiritual descendant of those ancestors of mine that were enslaved. To me it matters not whether my parents met and if I would exist in the exact flesh wrapped cloth I am in today.

Spiritually... I would exist. Perhaps as another person but with no less of a lot, I would assume, but to carry the same or similar burden and privilege of being born into the lineage/heritage I am.

I agree, Ricardo. It goes beyond any literal translation, at least to me, because I don't think we can adequately stipulate to how different our spiritual/mental consciousness/being or souls that our bodies hold would be if they would be any different at all.
Not being particularly religious myself, I neglected to even consider a spiritual interpretation.

If one believes that there is a spirit that outlives the material body, and which can provide for continuity across generations, then one could give the statement an almost literal interpretation, that is, the same spirit, just occupying a different body.


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch


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quote:
Originally posted by ricardomath:

Had a butterfly flapped its wings a little differently in the Amazon Rain Forest a couple of weeks before my being conceived, major weather patterns on the other side of the globe would be affected, due to the instability of the equations that govern such things (Navier Stokes Equations?), affecting traffic patterns, causing my parents to arrive home at different times, etc, etc, etc,...eventually resulting in my not even being conceived.



Interesting. I haven't thought about this a whole lot, and I'm not sure that my thoughts will be completely coherent (so what else is new right? brosmile ), but I'll give it a shot.

It seems to me that the above statement suggests a randomness about the universe that belies the extraordinary complexity and organization that, in fact, actually exists. With the example of the butterfly impacting Ricardomath's birth as context, think about the realm of coincident events that would have had to occur to create the universe, our solar system, life on Earth, or human beings. Can that really be a result of a collection of random events that happen to come together and create things? I read a book once that was considering evolution vs. creationism. It was looking at the extraordinary complexity and precision of the human eye - with its billions of nerves etc. Because of that scale of complexity, the book suggested that it was almost impossible for the eye to have been the result of "natural selection"/evolution - to have evolved from a random sequence of events over the generations. Interesting . . . It raises the question of whether anything is, in fact, random.

In any event, I don't doubt the "connectedness" of our universe - in fact I agree with it. I agree that a butterfly in Brazil could have been the cause of Hurricane Isabel, for example. The presence of something as complex as human life, IMO, suggests that there must be some pretty profound forces counteracting both the seemingly infinite connectivity of things that would seem to keep matter as a sort of random organic "stew", and the force of entropy that permeates the universe and pushes things toward disorganization as well.

All that said, I don't think it's an accident or purely coincidental happenstance that we are here. In fact, there is some broader "reason" why all of us are even having this particular discussion. Who knows what it is (that's our challenge to discover and to apply the learnings to our lives). But I don't generally believe in coincidences. Again, too many things have to conspire in the universe to bring (in this example) all of us here, at this time in history, to interact - right now. There have been billions of people born on Earth. There have been people alive for (I don't know) a million years? A little butterfly thousands of miles away can effect any little detail of life. Think of the almost infinite events occurring then that could cause me not to be at this keyboard right now!! Why, then, am I?

Specific to the point about our personal existence, I think we are "meant" to be. I think I was meant to be born when I was and to the parents I was. This is less of a scientific than metaphysical rationale, but I generally agree with this line of explanation. I think life and history exist as tracks of a CD. We get placed down in the appropriate track at the appropriate time - for each of us. We may have been present in previous tracks. We may be present in future ones.

So to Vox's assertion - I disagree that he is a random coincidence with no connectivity to any past or future people or events. I believe he is but one in a long line of people that are connected by lineage and history and experience, much less DNA (both physically and spiritually). Whether Vox would be named "Vox" or live in New Jersey or be a lawyer or be a deep philosophical thinker or love Eryka Badhu or whatever - is completely trivial and incidental to the deeper reality of his existence and history and path. Looking at life as a collection of perhaps overlapping, but sequential, discrete units in the way (I think) Vox did is to consider just one track (life) while ignoring the existence of the whole CD.

I hope this thread evolves. I find this fascinating stuff.


There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life
that is less than the one you are capable of living. - Mandela


[This message was edited by MBM on September 20, 2003 at 02:57 PM.]
quote:
Originally posted by MBM:

So to Vox's assertion - I disagree that he is a random coincidence with no connectivity to any past or future people or events. I believe he is but one in a long line of people that are connected by lineage and history and experience, much less DNA (both physically and spiritually). Whether Vox would be named "Vox" or live in New Jersey or be a lawyer or be a deep philosophical thinker or love Eryka Badhu or whatever - is completely trivial and incidental to the deeper reality of his existence and history and path. Looking at life as a collection of perhaps overlapping, but sequential, discrete units in the way (I think) Vox did is to consider just one track (life) while ignoring the existence of the whole CD.




I guess I'm a little bit confused. My explanation of things in the other thread, i think, does the very thing you're saying it doesn't. And, the way I read your post in the other thread, your idea seems to do the very thing that you're saying I'm actually doing. Now this is really cosmic!! In fact, this calls for a new (and hopefully smaller) Avatar! Olodumare is taking up too much space!

Anyway, here's what I mean -- and I guess it's the nature of this topic that's causing the confusion: You say:
quote:
...Vox's assertion [is] that he is a random coincidence with no connectivity to any past or future people or events. [Under the MBM doctrine, Vox is] but one in a long line of people that are connected by lineage and history and experience...


Now compare our earlier statements. I said...
quote:
I would never have come close to being born, in this or any form, had enslavement not happened as it did... If you and your significant other never had met, your children would not have been born. Likewise, if your great-great-great-grandfather had not met your great-great-great-grandmother, your great-great-grandmother wouldn't have been born. The circumstances that brought them together is NOT merely the contextual backdrop to your ancestry. It is part and parcel of it. You would not exist without it. If you have one ancestor who was of European or Native American extraction, one ancestor who was Yoruba, and one who was Fon, then how on earth could you possibly have been born if not for the circumstances that brought them together?


This does not sound like a "random coincidence, with no connectivity to any past or future people or events." On the contrary, it sounds very much like the effect of past events, something that connects completely with past people and events. The past events include (but are not limited to) enslavement, and the people include the people who were stolen, and all of their descendents, including me, neither of whom would have existed without the events that spawned them.

On the other hand, MBM's argument in the other thread was:

quote:
slavery is only incidental to our existence... slavery is but a contextual detail. Vox, you and I would exist without regard to slavery, or the fact that we are in America...


This makes it sound like there's no connectivity to past events or people. It sounds like we would exist regardless of the events in the past that led to our current existence, and regardless of who our parents were. While it's true, as you said previously, that we can trace our existence back thousands of years, if it hadn't been for enslavement, it wouldn't be us doing the tracing. It would be a totally different group of people living today. My great X 4 grandfather, a slave named Andrew, wouldn't have been born unless his father had not been stolen from Africa. We don't know anything about Andrew's mother, but unless she lived near Andrew's father in Africa, they probably never would've met. Even still, the circumstances would've been so different that there's virtually no way that Andrew would have come about. His father and mother would've been somebody else's mother and father.

Everything is connected. While I don't know about a butterfly's wings causing a storm on Jupiter, certainly the course of human history determines the human present, in every facet. And if we were indeed "meant to be," then necessarily everything that has ever happened was also "meant to be." This may indeed be true, but if it is, I don't understand how is agrees with your quote from the other thread more than it does mine.
I told you I might not be coherent! brosmile

quote:
Originally posted by Vox:

quote:
slavery is only incidental to our existence... slavery is but a contextual detail. Vox, you and I would exist without regard to slavery, or the fact that we are in America...


This makes it sound like there's no connectivity to past events or people.


Slavery is an event that influenced people, but that is naturally separate from the people themselves. I contend that people that meet - are meant to meet. In my thinking, it could not be a coincidence as there are so many billions of events that could occur in the universe to prevent specific people from meeting. The fact that they do is 'proof positive' of the fact that that meeting was meant to occur. Even if you think of the fact that there are billions of sperm competing to make it to that one egg. If you multiply the probabilities of X years after conception - that two people would come together to produce a specific child, IMO the probabilities of that occurring are so incredibly micro-minute as to actually infer some divine (or otherwise omnipotent) influence contriving to make that interaction occur. Let me clarify that this thinking applies to people - irrespective of the events that occur around them. So, there is one kind of connectivity exists around people. There is another connectivity that binds events to each other that exists on a parallel line right next to the path of humanity. Often those lines intersect (perhaps every moment), but they are parallel (not the same) and separate.

Slavery was, IMO, but a sidebar to the fact that your (multi-generational) parents were supposed to come together to produce you. You are the culmination of a string of relationships that can be traced back to "Adam and Eve". Slavery influenced the context/circumstances that influenced you, but not the fact that you would occur. For example, had things happened differently, you might have been born in Sierra Leone, or Jamaica, or Brazil, or wherever. If that had occurred your current reality would be different, but it would still be you.

Question: If you had gone to another college, would you still be Vox? I presume your answer is yes. If so, just extrapolate that answer out by a gazillion to illustrate what I'm talking about.

quote:
And if we were indeed "meant to be," then necessarily everything that has ever happened was also "meant to be." This may indeed be true, but if it is, I don't understand how is agrees with your quote from the other thread more than it does mine.


I understood you to say that had slavery not occurred (or all of history, in fact) you would not be here. I read some inclination to identify causality between slavery and your existence. You contrasted the horror of slavery with the blessing of your life. You suggested that if not slavery, then no Vox. I contend that your presence is irrespective of slavery, or the fact that Mt. St. Helen's exploded back in the 80s, or the fact that we dropped an A-bomb on Hiroshima, or anything else that happened throughout history. This thinking allows me to see an influence that slavery had on your current existence that I thought you did not see.


There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life
that is less than the one you are capable of living. - Mandela


[This message was edited by MBM on September 20, 2003 at 05:15 PM.]
I think we're just looking at the issue a bit differently. I don't see the events and the people of our past as qualitatively different enough phenomena to say that the people were meant to be without the events also being meant to be. Take your example about the billions of sperm. Yes, the chance of the one particular child that was conceived was one in how many billion, but the fact is, that child actually IS one in how many billion. The bottom line is that ONE sperm did fertilize the egg. If not that one, it would've been another one. If there are one billion random possibilities, and one of them -- but ONLY one -- must happen, then one random event WILL happen. Just because the one that occurred was the one that occurred doesn't mean that it was written somewhere that it would occur. If your parents hadn't done... uh, what they did exactly when they did it, you wouldn't have been, well, you.

See, I don't really believe that people (or events) were "meant" to be who and what they are. But even if I did, my feeling on this would be the same. Looking at the above example, if you were "meant" to be, then your parent's activities that led to your conception were meant to be, exactly as they happened. This means that events were meant to be, as well as people.

For example: if all 6 million Jewish concentratin camp victims had lived, under your view, the children they never lived to conceive still wouldn't have been conceived. So these 6 million people, had they lived, would never have had children anyway, had they not lived. Or, all of the Native Americans who were wiped out by European diseases before they had a chance to procreate, would have failed to procreate anyway, had the Europeans never arrived. So right now, had the Europeans never come here, there would be no more that the exact same 4.1 million native Americans living in the land that the US occupies. And, since most Native Americans are not 100% racially Native, the same racially mixed, part caucasian native Americans would be exactly who and what they are, had the Europeans never come here.

I just can't separate our experiences, and the events that made them, from the people. To me, a birth is an event. Like I mentioned before, had the events that led to you and your woman getting together not happened, your children would not have been born. Are you saying that your children would exist regardless?

If so, then how would they have been born?

quote:
Question: If you had gone to another college, would you still be Vox? I presume your answer is yes. If so, just extrapolate that answer out by a gazillion to illustrate what I'm talking about.



I don't understand this point here, at all. I was already born, and already "me," before I went to college. How could my going to college affect whether I was ever born?
quote:
Originally posted by MBM:
Ricardomath - did our musings take this thread to a place you had not expected? brosmile




MBM,

I have been following this thread with great interest, but haven't had a chance yet to post a thought out response.


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch


Cauca, Colombia


MBM,

For the sake of this argument, I'm going to leave some things out of this post. It'll make it more pointed and thus be merciful to those who read it. It'll be a lot shorter, too.

I think that I agree largely with Vox on this issue. That's not really important, but it does let you know why I would ask the next question:

When you say that you think that we were "meant" to be, what do you mean? To be "meant" needs a "mean-er," someone who "means" to have an action occur. A tree, not being sentient, cannot "mean" to be nor mean to produce offspring. Rocks are not alive, and therefore cannot mean to do or to be, either. The universe is just bigger than everything else, but it acts in accordance with the known physical laws as well as do all its parts.

We cannot know if individual dogs are meant to be--there's not much chance of a control group--but to all our senses and reason it certainly seems as though they are not.

Can we say that something is when it sure looks as though it is not?

Now, your reason for saying that surely we are meant to be is based on numbers and on your intuition about them. Since there are so many alternatives, you seem to say, then we must be meant to be this way.

Isn't that a conclusion based on a feeling? I mean, let's say that there are all those billions of alternatives that you say exist at any one moment in time. The fact that one of them becomes reality means what, exactly? That things are "meant" to be so? I'm not convinced of that. Most of what happens in the world is based just as much on tropisms and physical properties as on chance. That is, two hydrogen atoms will always combine with one oxygen atom to make water, and that happens everywhere in the universe that we know of. There's no alternative there. Copper will always have one valence electron, so it will always be a good electrical conductor. There's no alternative there, either. Lenticular clouds will form on mountainsides, and adult mayflies will live one day. This is the way that things are. They have to be some way, and some way means not all the others by definition.

So are there really all those billions of possibilities?

People are much the same way. Given the similar structure of each brain, there will be ways in which all minds will be similar. And human minds simply cannot be random. They all fall into some kind of pattern, even the ones we call abnormal. Often they are the most rigid.

So I wonder if your intuition about numbers and possibilities is right, which means that I'm not sure that we can say that we are "meant" to be a certain way at a certain time just because we can imagine all manner of other possibilities. An argument that takes an intuition (there sure are a lot of possibilities) and then inserts into that observation a cause (then we are "meant" to be as we are) without giving an agent for that meaning or any proof for it, is an incomplete argument.

What was it Ambrose Bierce said, if someone only saw a dog when it was chasing a cat, he'd say that the cat was the cause of the dog. the argument from numbers seems to me to be quite like that.

Under these circumstances, if there is meaning to our existence, how would we know?
quote:
Originally posted by MBM:
quote:
Originally posted by ricardomath:

Had a butterfly flapped its wings a little differently in the Amazon Rain Forest a couple of weeks before my being conceived, major weather patterns on the other side of the globe would be affected, due to the instability of the equations that govern such things (Navier Stokes Equations?), affecting traffic patterns, causing my parents to arrive home at different times, etc, etc, etc,...eventually resulting in my not even being conceived.



Interesting. I haven't thought about this a whole lot, and I'm not sure that my thoughts will be completely coherent (so what else is new right? brosmile ), but I'll give it a shot.

It seems to me that the above statement suggests a randomness about the universe that belies the extraordinary complexity and organization that, in fact, actually exists. With the example of the butterfly impacting Ricardomath's birth as context, think about the realm of coincident events that would have had to occur to create the universe, our solar system, life on Earth, or human beings. Can that really be a result of a collection of random events that happen to come together and create things? I read a book once that was considering evolution vs. creationism. It was looking at the extraordinary complexity and precision of the human eye - with its billions of nerves etc. Because of that scale of complexity, the book suggested that it was almost impossible for the eye to have been the result of "natural selection"/evolution - to have evolved from a random sequence of events over the generations. Interesting . . . It raises the question of whether anything is, in fact, random.

In any event, I don't doubt the "connectedness" of our universe - in fact I agree with it. I agree that a butterfly in Brazil could have been the cause of Hurricane Isabel, for example. The presence of something as complex as human life, IMO, suggests that there must be some pretty profound forces counteracting both the seemingly infinite connectivity of things that would seem to keep matter as a sort of random organic "stew", and the force of entropy that permeates the universe and pushes things toward disorganization as well.



I suspect that there is no true randomness in the universe, only aparent randomness, and that the universe simply evolves deterministicaly. The complex interactions of the constituent parts appears random to us because of a lack of knowledge of exactly how things are, and a lack of computational ability to follow the consequences, even if we had the knowledge.

It is not so much that the butterfly "causes" the hurricane by flapping its wings, but rather that the flapping of its wings is simply one input in an unstable system that has enough sensitivity to be affected in major ways by the wing flapping.

Thus, if you were to pick any butterfly several weeks ago, and change the way it flapped its wings at that time, leaving everything else the same, Hurricane Isabel would not have happened. Now, perhaps another hurricane or two would have occured, or perhaps none at all.

On the other hand, if I actually had an intimate and complete knowledge of the physical state of the universe, and the capacity to calculate the effects of my actions, then I would be able to exercise a great deal of control on the future history of mankind, simply by waving my hands in the air in front of me. I would simply wave my hands in the air, and disturb the air flow in such a way as to select the possible futures that I desire. Of course, in reality I am part of this system myself, and have neither the detailed knowledge nor the powers of mental calculation to carry this out.

Note that I do not claim that I could stop all hurricanes, for example, since I presume that their developement is inherient in the system, but by affecting their timing and details of their occurance (and other things), I affect peoples' lives in such a way as to chose who gets conceived, etc, far into the future. If the war in Iraq was inevitable, then I would not have been able to stop it. However, it probably could have gone either way, and I probably could have prevented it. Certainly, I could have thrown the past election to Gore. It seems doubtful that I could have given it to Nader, but who knows?

I am ignoring here that I really believe that I would be selecting weights, or measures of existance for sets of future worlds, not an individual future, for simplicity (see Afroman's Parallel Universes thread). In reality, what I might be able to do is to convert a future where 90% of the worlds have the war and 10% do not to a future where 10% have the war and 90% do not.

On the other hand, I may be completely wrong here. It may be that no matter how I waved my hands, the zillions of future worlds that I selected by doing so would have ended up with Bush winning in half of them and Gore winning in the other half.

(By the way, I do really believe that Gore is the president in half of the presently existing worlds, relative to some time after the primary election.)


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch


Cauca, Colombia


quote:
Originally posted by ricardomath:


(By the way, I do really believe that Gore is the president in half of the presently existing worlds, relative to some time after the primary election.)




I don't know what I believe about parallel universes, but if I have your idea correct, I should correct this statement. Gore is the president only in half of the worlds whose history had no divergence prior to the primaries. After all, there would have to be worlds, probably, where there is no United States.
quote:
Originally posted by Vox:
quote:
Originally posted by ricardomath:


(By the way, I do really believe that Gore is the president in half of the presently existing worlds, relative to some time after the primary election.)




I don't know what I believe about parallel universes, but if I have your idea correct, I should correct this statement. Gore is the president only in half of the worlds whose history had no divergence prior to the primaries. After all, there would have to be worlds, probably, where there is no United States.



Yes, I stand corrected. That's exactly what I meant. As there are probobly worlds that got blown up in a nuclear war during the cold war. Eek And other worlds that branched off much earlier in which our galaxy never formed.


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch


Cauca, Colombia


Very interesting. I come donw diffeently on this. And not to "throw cold water." I share the intrigue of everyone in this subject.

Several words are becoming dominant:

Random

Entropy

Deterministically

There are others, but these enough variants to help demonstrate how far we have to go here.

Entropy is a measure of disorder. Surely, "random" is a part of "disorder," or "disorder" is a part of "random."

Predestination is implied in "deterministically." But maybe that is about sequential reaction of a set of operating parameters that are the struvture of the system we are talking about.

I believe we are rational beings with the ability to individual decisions. We are consequent in a system that produced slavery as a result of individual decisions by a multitude of persons. Someone like me would exist whether I exist or not. Someone like does exist even while I exist.

"What if" is not about reality. "What if" is to negate what is real, and replace it with what isn't.

But it does make great mental exercise.

PEACE

Jim Chester

You are who you say you are. Your children are who you say you are.

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