Thursday, November 30, 2017

--- Notes on the soul ---

The soul is neither apart from the body nor the same as the body; for it is not, indeed, the body; yet is something of the body.... It is not the body, for it is not matter; but it is essentially involved with the body, because it is its actuality....


It seems to me that everyone, myself included, talk as though they know what "soul" is. I'm admitting here that I don't know what soul is and I don't believe anyone else does either. I don't think Aristotle did but I suspect that our opinions are close enough that we could have had an amiable conversation on the topic.

The word "soul" is as scrambled up as the word "love". Sometimes it seems that people are using "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably. At other times, they seem to mean different things. Any discussion about soul needs to start with an attempt to agree on what "soul" refers to.

First, I'll tell you about my model of a person, then I'll tell you what I think a "soul" is.

I conceptualize a person as having four parts: a body, a soul, a spirit, and an environment.

You might debate whether you're environment is part of you. I frankly can't see any reason for differentiating sharply between self and other, but I've commented on that in other places.

The body is the material, organic part that you have most control of. Along with your environment, this is the part you can measure aspects of in a lab.

Spirit is, of course, debatable but my experience leads me to believe that there is a part of us that's outside of our material existence. Where I diverge with many people who also believe in spirit is that I believe that everything has an underlying spirit component - not necessarily conscious but composed of something that can be called "spirit".

The soul is that part of a person that makes them who they are. In my model, it is synonymous with "mind".

So what is "soul"?

In any list of unanswered questions of science, pretty close to the top, quite often number one, is the questions, "What is consciousness and how does it work?" If you don't see the problem here, you're not trying hard enough. The central aspect of our existence is our consciousness and our science, the most powerful tool we have for understanding our world, can't tell us what it is.

I've watched several lectures and documentaries on consciousness studies (a real field that combines philosophy, psychology, medicine, and just about everything else) and they all tell what we know about consciousness and they are all quite honest in saying that we don't know what consciousness is. Sartre would say (and did say) that it just is and that's all you can say about it.

So, I can tell you what I think but in the end, I don't know.

I think that, as we live and develop as persons, our brains generate information. That information holds together to give us an idea of who and what we are. Information, like fields, is primary in our universe. It's the bottom level. You can say what it does but you can't say what it is.

If you say that a field is a map of values of some quantity in space, you're describing it - you're not saying what it is. You can say what just about everything else is in respect to fields. For instance, mass is a product of the Higgs field, but you can't say what a field is.

In the same way, you can say what information does, but you can't say what it is, and information is not necessarily the same thing as "meaning". Meaning, a kind of information, is derived from information by conscious minds but information doesn't require a mind to exist. When scientists ask whether the information in a particle is lost when it spirals into a black hole, that kind of information would exist whether there is a thinking being in the universe or not.

The thing is that the kind of information called "soul" or "mind" has no independent existence. It requires some substrate to exist. That substrate, in my experience, can be a material brain (the one that generated it) or spirit. The 1s and 0s in a computer's memory and zipping along it's wires are information, but the soul of the computer is the meaning that those 1s and 0s have for the computer (if any) and for others. Destroy the body, spirit, and environment and there's no longer a substrate for a soul and the soul no longer exists.

Does this all make sense? I hope so because this blog has been an awful lot of work (Whew!)

--- Local philosophy and psychology: college tour ---

On March 31 I walked up to the Oxford station and took a couple of trains to the University of Denver. I enjoy college campuses. They're like huge, sprawling museums. Many of the schools keep exhibits in their buildings and this university is no exception. I don't understand why edutourism isn't more of a thing.

The University of Denver, just a street over from the light rail station, is a nice mix of old stone buildings and modern brick and glass. Streets surround a large campus devoid of street traffic. Like most campuses I've visited, there is a large building, in this case, a golden spired carillon tower, that can be seen from most points on campus and serves as a landmark that can prevent a visitor from getting lost. The first point on my agenda when visiting a new campus is to identify that landmark, for colleges campuses are typically labyrinths. I've never seen the big, bull-headed guy, but I always expect to.

Here are a few pictures:

The Frontier Building, home of the Psychology Dept.

A chapel on campus

The Sturm Building, home of the Philosophy Dept.

Art on campus

The carillon tower

More specifically, I wanted to visit the schools of philosophy and psychology. As usual, they were tucked away in small corners of huge buildings housing liberal art schools. Groups of new students were being shown around and all of the students were working out the classes of a new session, so I didn't learn much over what I have seen on the websites, but I did learn that I look so mush like one of the anthropology professors that several people thought I was him. On looking him up, I felt quite flattered, although, well, accident of appearance - right?

The University seems to focus on Continental and Asian philosophies, and Analytic philosophy. I am particularly interested in philosophies outside the conventional Western Philosophies. They tend to caulk up the gaps. Maybe they'll offer some lectures. They have one coming up, presented by Professor Naomi Reshotko, who believes that we take Plato too literally when he talks about forms.

I, frankly don't know if Plato was completely serious about his "heaven of forms". Certainly it would be a bit much for modern humans to swallow, but, regardless, it is certainly a productive turn. For instance, was Zeno being literal about his arrows. Take the allegorical turn. Perhaps he was not commenting on reality itself, but he might have been pointing out glaring gaps in the philosophy of his day. Why couldn't philosophers reconcile the impossibility of infinite regress with the obvious fact that an arrow can, and often did kill people?

It can be difficult for people of one culture to nail down what people of other cultures are really getting at.

My own position is that these forms do actually have a form of existence - it's an existence that can't support itself and needs a substrate. And that's why I feel that Asian philosophies fill gaps in Western philosophies. They have categories of existence beyond the Western, exist/nonexist dichotomy. Information doesn't actually exist. Show me a circle - and I don't mean a round drawing. That isn't a circle since a circle doesn't have any thickness. It is a string of points, all of which have the same distance from a  single point. But how the circle has played a part in the history of humanity. It certainly must have some kind of existence. It resides somewhere between existence and nonexistence. And now I hear (from the Teaching Company's  lecture tapes on the Higg's boson) that modern physicists hold that matter doesn't exist - that matter is only a way that we perceive fields. And what is a field?

I told you that philosophy is dangerous. Didn't I tell you?

I rejoice to see (on the website) that this university emphasizes integrative psychology. I shudder at the memory of a time when, if you had any aspirations of being a psychologist, you had to claim a particular school of thought. (Grph!)

I find myself remembering what I liked about college before graduate school burned it out of me. I could have very happily been a student for life, and, in effect, in my retirement, I've returned to that, but in a rather altered manner. But college campuses and newsletters still make me happy.

On the 27th, I took buses and trains for a two and a half hour trip to Boulder and the University of Colorado campus. It's a beautiful place with the Flatirons towering over rough stone buildings. Since tourism is a priority alongside academics, there are things to do in Boulder. The Museum of Natural History is well known for it's paleontology exhibits and there are other museums and theaters. I checked out the schools of psychology and philosophy and found....bulletin boards.

Hellems Arts and Sciences Building
home of the Philosophy Dept.


The Muenzinger Building
Home of the Psychology Dept.

The Flatirons from campus

Well, as you have probably gathered, psychology and philosophy are not terribly visual fields and exhibits in those fields do not abound. But I talked to students and almost collided with faculty - as busy there as on any other college campus. I had a short but interesting conversation with the Boulder Socialist Revolution. Too bad I'm not focusing on social sciences this year.

It looks like, from the website of the psychology department, that they have a particular emphasis in neuroscience with current work on marijuana and a researcher (Dr. Tor Wager) becoming pretty well known for his work on the placebo effect. (It's on the Internet, folks!)

Meanwhile, the philosophy department (again, not a huge draw for academic tourism) seems to have a focus on ethics with a social flavor. That shouldn't be a surprise since Boulder has been on the leading edge of human (and nonhuman) rights. Boulder was one of the first cities in America (maybe the first) to extend legal rights to pets as active members of their community. And there is, of course, an active group (PAWS) on campus for animal rights. If that excites you, you should check out this site:

They're working to obtain legal recognition for the Colorado River as a person. Some of you are laughing - I know you are, but more power to them. Trans- and Posthumanism is most definitely a thing and it isn't going away anytime soon. Maybe it will get people thinking about how they connect with the world around them.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

--- Some cool software ---

This blog is about getting off the computer, getting away from the television, and experiencing your world first-hand, but, occasionally, I will post a nod toward interesting cyber-experiences that I've found. I, too, enjoy a good documentary or lecture...or interesting software package, which is what this article is about.

Most folks read about philosophy and psychology, so, as would be expected, software about philosophy and psychology is relatively rare, but they do exist. Here are some of my favorites.

Argumentative developed by John Hartley and available here: is a well designed program to help construct and evaluate arguments. The program should be valuable for anyone interested in debate or decision making theory. It's well documented and should be easy to learn. The help files are integrated into the program (you don't have to go online to access them) and if they're not clear enough, the Teaching Company has a great lecture series on debate that I will bring up later in a blog on Links and Lectures (Wait for it....)

The National Science Digital Library's Online Psychology Laboratory ( is "way cool" (I picked that phrase up from some high school students I was tutoring) because any individual interested in psychology can join with others across the Internet to perform group experiments in psychology, then they can download the results and even use statistics to process the data just like a psychology researcher. I repeat - "way cool".

The Online Psychology Laboratory has a limited set of studies you can take part in (a bunch, but still limited). If you want to design and carry out your own experiments, there are two programs (also "way cool") that can be used. They're actual programming languages, so it helps to have some background in programming if you are going to use them. Both are well constructed and well documented. Both install with a collection of experiments ready-to-run.

Todd Haskell's FLXLab is available here: (Note that FLXLab is no longer maintained and may not work on recent operating systems.

PEBL: The Psychology Experiment Building Language, originally developed by S.T. Mueller and B.J. Piper (users have contributed heavily to it) is still maintained and very flexible and extensible. It is available here:

Notice that many of these programs are available from SourceForge. All the ones above are free downloads but, if you like them, send a donation their way. Otherwise, they might disappear.

For philosophy software, I am still very impressed with Warren Weinstein's The Play of Mind website, . I can't imagine a more enjoyable way to explore philosophy.

And, talking about "free downloads", I'm continuously developing macros for my ToolBook. Recently, I'm developing a kymograph for the Psychology page, that will be out soon. A kymograph is a tool used to study memory. It's used to flash words and/or numbers at set intervals (or randomly) to a subject. Mine is cool ("way cool", in fact) because it will flash a list that contains anything that can be placed in spreadsheet cells including colored and formatted text or cells. It should be up by the end of the year. The ToolBook can be downloaded from here:

Currently it may not be way cool, but it is cool because it has timers, counters, and randomizers in it.

It's all free, so, if you're interested in psychology or philosophy, you should download all of them and have fun.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

--- Notes on perception ---

[Unlike extension, secondary qualities, such as colors and sounds, exist only as sensations in the mind. In material bodies such qualities] are nothing but the powers those substances have to produce several ideas in us by our senses; which ideas are not in the things themselves, otherwise than as anything is in its cause.

John Locke

We have sense organs like eyes, and ears. Those instruments pick up energy fluctuations in our surroundings and sends impulses up nerves to the brain. To this point, what's going on is electrical charges traveling along cell walls and chemicals being secreted and sensed by other cells. Does that sound like what we sense about our surroundings? We know these things are happening because we can measure them.

The brain decodes these impulses into other impulses with converge on certain parts of the brain things. Things happen and we can measure them. Strange things often happen. Have you ever heard of "blindsight?" There was a movie based on it. I've experienced blindsight before.

I have a rare condition known as "acephalic migraine". An acephalic migraine is a "migraine without the headache." I have the things that lead up to a migraine headache (they're called "prodromals") and I have the hangover-like feeling afterward. What I don't have is the actual headache - I'm not complaining.

One common prodromal is neuronal blindness. It starts as pixelated sparkling lights in the periphery of my vision and it spreads until all I can see are sparkling lights. I'm blind - but I can, for instance, drive a car.

I was once stuck in rush hour traffic in downtown Montgomery when the little twinkling lights began to invade my vision. I was in the inside lane and I couldn't get out of the traffic fast enough. I was completely blind, yet I drove to the next intersection and off the interstate into a parking lot and stopped until my vision cleared.

I couldn't see but, obviously, somewhere - in my head, in the ether, somewhere, my brain was putting everything together into the same visual representation I'm used to. My body responded as it usually does. The only difference is, I couldn't see!

There is no material manifestation of the experience of sensation in our brains. There is nothing you can point at to say, "This is real." Sensation is what neurologists call and "emergent quality". It springs from what is actually happening but it's only nature is that of information - no page, no computer screen, just neurons firing, nothing you could put your finger on, not "real".

Our sensation of reality, as real as it seems, is not real - it's a hallucination. We hope it bares enough of a resemblance to reality so that we can get along, but it's not perfect. At the everyday level, there are illusions. It gets really troublesome when there are pathological process and the person affected can't distinguish between the reality and the errors.

It sounds scary but, consistency bares out that our versions of reality are, indeed, accurate enough. And,  they give us better than reality. Consider, there are different wavelengths of light, but there are no colors in reality. Color is a result of how our eyes and brains decode different kinds of light. Different people see colors differently. Color blindness is much more common than most people think.

According to Wikipedia, about 8.7% of humans have some form of color blindness. But I can tell that my right eye sees greener than the left eye, which makes things look bluer, and I test out fine in regard to color vision.

But our "hallucinatory" view of the world gives us color! Our brains color code our world for us.

I don't feel short-changed at all.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

--- A spooky adventure ---

Well, not very spooky after all....

Since my 40s, far fewer "spooky" things happen around me. For the entire twenty years in one of the most haunted cities in the United States, I experienced one haunting and saw one dragon. During that time, one of my camp outs was crashed by a vampiric entity and I didn't even have direct contact with that (I was off hiking at the time.) No possessions. No portals. Not that I'm complaining.

I'm not so convinced that all the haunting in Denver (there are even companies here that capitalize off haunted tours) have any more substance than imagination. There is certainly the potential.

The local "boot hill" was turned into a development and one of the cities most popular parks, Cheesman Park, without the developer bothering to remove the bodies. Have you ever seen the movie Poltergeist?

Molly Brown ("The Unsinkable") supposedly haunts Brown Palace in downtown Denver. Molly Brown spent her life, by all reports that I've seen, busy helping others. I can't imagine why she would want to hang around an old building. According to the Wikipedia article, she only stayed in the hotel for one week after surviving the sinking of the Titanic. The best I can tell, Henry C. Brown, the original owner of the Brown Palace, was not directly related to Margaret Brown or her husband.

I've been to the Brown Palace. Some friends gathered at the ground floor cigar bar, Churchill's, for a birthday party. It struck me as the kind of British "gentleman's club" often seen in movies. But, of course, being a modern attraction, it gets noisier at times. The "flatiron", triangular building with it's brown sandstone and cement exterior and the storefront bar with it's dark, wooden interior (the decor is quite whether the clientele is or not) is very attractive. I didn't notice anything "weird in the neighborhood", though.

I took a walking tour on October 20 to see a few of the "weird sites" in Denver.

First, I took a bus down Yale avenue to Wadsworth where the Brown's summer home, Avoca Lodge, now stands. It's a beautiful brick home that is popular for family gatherings and public functions. Use requires an appointment but anyone can look around the grounds during civilized hours.

Not having admittance to the museum didn't bother me. I'm not studying history or architecture right now - I'm looking for weird - and I had a willing caretaker who was cleaning up the yard. He said that he was not aware of any weirdness associated with the building or grounds. On the other hand, he was friendly and a good conversationalist.


If you do a Google Maps search for cemeteries in Denver, you will be able to draw a rough curve from Denver Pet Cemetery and Crematorium near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal back west to Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary and Cemetery and Mount Olivet Cemetery in Arvada. The arc sweeps down and through the center of Denver where the old "boot hill" rests (that's what the caretaker at the Brown House called it. We call it something different today). With much difficulty, I can find references to Denver's "deadline" on the Internet. One is a book "The Haunted Heart of Denver" by Kevin Pharris. But there are a lot of Denverites that will gladly talk to you about it.

As in all the westerns you ever saw, "boothill" was on a rise at the edge of town. Denver's boothill was no different. Then other cemeteries popped up (or down?) around the edge of town following an invisible boundary as the town grew. Then Denver grew over the deadline. Some of the graves were relocated but some of them.....some of them were not. They're still there.

I took a bus from Yale, up Wadsworth, to 26th street and the Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery and Mortuary. It was a gated cemetery but the elderly man in the guard shack at the entrance was friendly and informative and said that the cemetery welcomed visitors, so I started the mile long trek through the graves.

The cyclopean mausoleum at the back of Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery and Mortuary gives some the willies. The Tower of Memory is just so huge. For me, the cemetery is a big plot of land, well maintained, beautiful and peaceful. The Tower is currently being rejuvenated and is surrounded by scaffolding but it is a rather spectacular piece of architecture.

                                          Olinger Cemetery and the Tower of Memory

From Olinger, I walked down to Colfax Avenue and caught a couple of buses to Franklin Street. From there I walked south to Cheesman Park. It was populated by happy, active people enjoying one of the last moderate days in the year. People were laying on the great lawn, picnicking, jogging, walking their dogs - everyone was happy except maybe the homeless fellow sleeping in the gazebo.

As I stepped onto the lawn and made my way around a clump of trees, I almost stepped into a rectangular depression in the earth.

Did I mention Denver's original boothill? This was it, first called Mount Prospect Cemetery. If anyplace in Denver has any right to be haunted, this is the place. An undertaking company was hired in 1893 to move the crowded graves there to Riverside Cemetery so the plot could be used as a city park. Riverside Cemetery is still extant and one of the graveyards of the deadline. The coffins supplied were 1' x 3' pine boxes and, by all reports, it was a scene of gruesome carnage with body parts strewing the area. The workers looted the graves and there are still, evidently, hundreds of graves that were not moved.

                                                                Cheesman Park

There are, of course, tales of hauntings there and in the area. I personally didn't notice any weirdness (except, maybe, sunken graves to trip over) and the other folks seemed unperturbed that they were "dancing on graves". Maybe the haunts have burned out - or I have.

In short, I haven't noticed any ghosts in Denver. There is a thriving industry of paranormal tourism here and I wouldn't want to dissuade that. It's, after all, what tourism is supposed to be - fun.

What I have noticed is portals. The area around Denver seems to be spatial Swiss cheese. I've heard tales from associates of sections of town that disappear and reappear and sections they drive into that just plain shouldn't exist in a sane universe. My own experience convinced me.

I don't generally walk a mile in 15 minutes. I can, but my walking speed is usually 3 miles an hour max. After an endurance hike that speed diminishes to less than 2 miles an hour.

I had walked from my first residence in the Denver area, in Broomfield, to Flatirons Junction, over the Coalton trail and back, and was walking along Interlocken, a street I had driven along several times. I checked my watch and then noticed how far I had come along the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. I looked at my watch to see that I had been walking 15 minutes. It would have taken me 45 minutes to walk to where I was. It was aggravating.

I had walked all day. My hike would have been two hours shorter if I had not had to walk through Arvada to get home.

No ghosts. Just a hole in space.

I've heard tales of ogres, dragons, ghosts, and  headless horse women that lop off peoples' heads.

The real horrors in Denver seem to be the same ones that plague mankind everywhere. Other people. In 1999, the decapitated bodies of two homeless men were found. Since the targets seemed to be homeless people, there might have been others that just were not found. One person that was not found was the murderer.

--- Notes on intuition ---

All our knowledge begins with sense, proceeds thence to understanding, and ends with reason beyond which nothing higher can be discovered in the human mind for elaborating the matter of intuition and subjecting it to the highest unity of thought.

Immanuel Kant

I'm all for intuition. It seems better to me than common sense because intuition, at least, has the basis of experience and common sense only has the basis of "that's what I heard" and common sense is notoriously unreliable.

Have you ever played Telegraph. In a group, one person tells another a "secret" in private. That person tells another, and so on. In the end, the secret is completely transformed. Imagine what happens to an item of common sense over many, many years. It was common sense to Aristotle that men had more teeth than women.

But intuition isn't perfect. I have had some ninjitsu training. One reason people in martial fields go over and over patterns of movement or strategy until they are internalized is that, in a fight, you don't have time to think out every move. Repetition turns patterns into intuitions.

But, when possible, intuitions should be tested by reason and that is where I agree with Kant.

As a vocational evaluator,I subjected many clients to "demeaning" work which greatly undervalued their actual skills and they, of course, took offense, until I explained that the purpose was diagnosis. I could observe them in "real work" situations. The more "advanced", sophisticated, in brief - complicated the activity was, the harder it was to separate the characteristics of the job from the characteristics of the client, which is what I was trying to discover.

And that is why I enjoy dishwashing (see The Zen of Washing Dishes). I can explore my own behaviors.

I currently have a sore thumb caused by the very dry conditions of a job I have taken. My skin is drying out faster than I can moisturize it and my thumb just split open like an over-ripe plum. So, while washing dishes today, I noticed that, without conscious thought, I slide pieces of silverware to the drain so I can get under them without using my thumb. I have worked enough with typical people to know that this is not normal behavior. They will usually continue to use their sore thumb as they always do, grumping and groaning all the way.

I attribute my adaptability to things like endurance hikes and dishwashing in which I can try out different ways to do things and attend to them. In other words, I have tested various problem solving behaviors and internalized the ones I found particularly useful.