Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Symmetry and a surprising asymmetry

This is more on the subject of systems of thought. Please refer to the two previous posts for the definitions of S, C, R, and M.

Many thanks to my readers for their comments. They are encouraging. And a special thanks to Kelline for the very funny joke. Myrna, you are right that I'm going at this quite soberly, but a bit of humor never hurts. Thank you, Nancy, for your passionate expression of belief. Finally, thank you, Thom, for your kind sensitivity, and for raising the important issue of Truth (with a capital T), which I really want to write more about someday.

The table that follows is a personal analysis of the four systems of thought.

does mind pre-exist body?
does behavior affect after-life?
is mind separate from body?
allows for a supreme being?
considered a religion?
world population estimate
my friends and family

The first two lines are me being a computer scientist and finding a way to map four things onto two bits. The next three lines are of some interest in showing that one of the systems is somewhat apart from the others. The world population estimate is my personal estimate of what proportion of the world's population believes each of the systems. Finally, the last line shows the proportions for people I know quite well.

Interestingly, I defined the four systems in order of familiarity in the original posts. Here they are listed in an order that works well for my bit mapping exercise.

At the world population level, M is quite peculiar (which is internally consistent, as "peculiar" is a word used by M to characterize its adherents). However, it is very familiar to me. In this post, I want mainly to point out some strong similarities and symmetries between M and S. Finally, there is a very strange asymmetry, which explains some of the anxiety when adherents of the two systems sit down to talk.

Both systems include the belief that the system is true. Both systems value truth and seek to find truth wherever it can be found. Each system considers that it includes everything that is true. So much for similarities. Quite a few.

Now for the symmetry. While each system acknowledges that the other system exists and has believers, each includes the belief that the other system is false. At best the other system is just plain wrong. At worst, it is dangerous. Dangerous in the sense that, "we wouldn't want to see anyone we care about go there." Each system includes the idea that it would probably be a good thing if more people believed and supported it, and fewer supported the other.

The surprising asymmetry has to do with how one might go about resolving the difference of opinion. Part of the difference involves a future event. Normally, when there is a difference of opinion about a future event, we make a wager. Then when the event occurs, everyone sees what happened and the loser pays up. Simple and effective.

In the case of the life-after-life wager, however, if the believer in S turns out to win, he or she won't be around to collect. So it's always a safe bet for the believer in M.

This explains why believers in S often seem belligerent in such discussions. There is just no way that they can win the wager. For them, the question has to be settled in this life or not at all.

1 comment:

Myrna said...

This reminds me of playing in the gamelan. We play the music of Bali. Bali is a place that is 97% hindu in a sea teeming with followers of islam--literally--the surrounding islands are about 97% muslim. The kind of hinduism practised in Bali has sort of gone off on its own path, turning into a one god religion, so it "fits in" better with the predominant religion. The Balinese believe in animism, or that everything has a spirit--and I actually think that belief is not so far off from some of the beliefs of M. Anyways, because of animism, we need to be very respectful of our instruments. We don't step over them ever, that would be like stepping over a person. Actually, I stepped over a kendang accidentally once, and I felt bad for days. Not because I think the kendang felt bad, but because I accidentally did not respect the Balinese beliefs.

And big brother, I hope you will plan to come to our concert which is March 28. It might be at the Hari Krishna temple, or at BYU somewhere, depends on what can be arranged.