P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 55
6th April 2003
I. 'The Ineffable "I"' by Chris Jones
II. 'Philosophy of Mathematics: an accountant's view' by John Sartoris
III. 'Unaccompained Yield' an interview with artist Tony Kemplen
I. 'THE INEFFABLE "I"' BY CHRIS JONES
Pathways student Chris Jones is a British teacher currently working in Japan.
I take some photons in my hand. I throw them like paint at an eye, at its
retinal cells and then I take some more and throw them at a leaf, at its
chloroplasts. The retinal cells quickly convert the photons to electrochemical
impulses. The choloroplasts convert their photons to energy. I watch both of
these marvels of nature and then I ask myself, "Is this 'vision' and where is
photosynthesis really?" And if my answer of "right there" is unacceptable then
I can give no other. Because 'vision' and 'photosynthesis' in themselves do not
exist, but I can see both of them painted on a material canvas.
I like dualism. To me it represents all that is good in literature, poetry and
romance. I'm very fond of the idea of souls and the image of a flickering
eternal flame gets me every time. It's just that it doesn't seem, hasn't seemed
for some time, to be able to answer its own questions. And with that it doesn't
seem to hold much sway in modern accounts of consciousness.
The amount of time and energy put into a multidisciplinary, scientific
explanation of mind in the last century has led to some very persuasive theory.
We don't have to accept it unquestioningly, and dualism helps us to keep in
reserve a healthy level of scepticism. However, it does seem to be the best we
have at the moment and for that must be taken as fairly robust.
Strip away the 'self'. Do away with al those memories and attendant thoughts,
feelings, years of mental habit formation and education. Peel away the layers
like an onion and what is left? The ineffable 'I'.
Sit in a silent, empty room and close your eyes. Let all thoughts pass by like
clouds. Let all sights and sounds come and go, rolling over like the sea on a
pebble beach. Let go of all feelings and look inside your mind and what is
left? The ineffable 'I', humming like an idle machine, purring like a cat. And
what is it doing? It is regarding itself, watching, treating itself like an
object like any other in its environment. With all the chattering sound and
light from outside closed out, its environment is itself, it becomes its own
It's easy to get muddled by the 'I'. Our minds tend to switch off fairly
quickly when they detect anything in a loop, anything circular or recursive.
But throw a spanner in to slow it down, and its possible to see what is going
There are two starting points to look at the mind in this state, the 'I'
cleared of the mists of 'self'. One is that reported by practitioners of zazen
meditation in Buddhism. For now, this is a difficult approach to take if reason
is to be used. It defies rational and linguistic definition since it precludes
thought if it is to be attained.
The other starting point is at our beginning, as newly borns, as little humans
with no notion of self (in the sense of one embedded in long term memory) and
possibly no notion of an 'I' as distinct from the environment. Without ego
boundaries formed in the first year, its all just a big blur for a newly born,
its mind is, at least in part, a tabla rasa.
The newborn quickly learns to recognise objects, to distinguish one thing from
another in its environment (this might be done simply in terms of it
recognising 'things' which provide for its physical needs at first). However
this is done, be it through some form of pattern recognition (neuroscience has
gone some way to show this might be done and has led to connectionist models)
or something more complex, the newborn must at some point have some form of
representation of these objects in its brain.
Just as the eye can hardly stop itself from receiving photons when it is open,
the brain can hardly stop taking environmental input in the form of patterns.
By pattern here, I mean an object, a situation (internal or external) or
anything that can be represented in the mind. We do not need to confer a
special ability on the mind to 'seek' patterns; it just does it as a matter of
its biological function. Nor does it need to be 'open' like the eye or
conscious, since we know the mind is active even when our bodies are not, in
sleep etc. I would suggest that the mind _never_ stops seeking patterns.
It's easy to see how simple pattern recognition for a baby fits into this
paradigm (indeed so simple that it can be emulated to a degree with a video
camera and a personal computer). But how could things as sophisticated as
language or thought or a concept of 'I' come into this?
When a crow caws in the early morning what is it doing? If it spots some food
or senses danger it announces it. In evolutionary terms it helps to protect
itself by helping to protect the group to which it belongs. It has 'meaning' in
this sense. The important point is that the crows physiology or sensory
apparatus allows it to detect something _first_ and then 'announces' it. The
announcement is a side effect, an evolutionary extra.
When a baby makes its first noises and generates a subsequent lexis of gurgles
and mewling, how is it different? I would suggest that it isn't. The noises it
makes are side effects of its yet fairly simple mental processes, simple
pattern recognition. If the mind truly doesn't stop taking in information as I
suggested, if it is working around the clock, it wouldn't take long for a
newborn to build a sizeable collection.
A big question... which came first, language or thought? I'd answer language
(in whatever form) is the predecessor of thought. By this I mean that thought
can be seen as an 'announcement' made, as above, only here it is not vocalised
but made internally. The system which recognises a pattern, in its environment
for example, by some evolutionary quirk, announces it to itself. Interestingly,
this then becomes another pattern to be recognised.
This is an important step. At some point our pattern recognition system becomes
sufficiently well developed to not only 'seek' (or take in) patterns from its
environment but also within itself. It trawls through memory taking in new
patterns. It has the ability to combine two or many more patterns in memory for
the sake of establishing new patterns. In effect, it 'looks' within itself in
its relentless quest for new patterns. Further, this is a seemingly endless
source of patterns to be tapped and at its most developed could be how
imagination and reasoning work.
This pattern recognition system is not discriminatory. Anything will do; it
simply attempts to recognise a pattern and if it fails it stores it as a new
one. (Actually this is simplistic since we have sharp attentional filters and
not all patterns are new but are variations on old ones, which is where a
notion of tolerance and error threshold come in). At some point in its early
life this system (being sufficiently complex) comes to 'see' itself as a
pattern like anything else. The system itself becomes its own object. This is
the early beginnings of a concept of 'I'.
I would suggest that this pattern (or set of patterns) becomes the single most
important and best-established pattern within the system's life. And this is
simply because once recognised for the first time, it is the pattern that will
be most frequently encountered and the one most involved in having needs met.
As soon as the system does anything, it is a new pattern to be recognised. It's
easy to see how the Russian doll syndrome of self-observation comes about this
Clearly a system that took every pattern it came across as new, it would
quickly become saturated. It would also be very inefficient. To that end, I
would suggest that our minds are designed (have evolved) to 'condense'. They
avoid oversaturation and are efficient by having a certain amount of tolerance
to error, i.e. they allow for close matches.
This means the system has a notion of constancy in-built. This constancy may
not actually exist in the real world; it may be that our minds perceive it that
way. Our tendency to generalise is an easily observable mental phenomenon. We
tend to 'see' connections.
However, our minds are a good example of nature in flux. At any given tiniest
fraction of a second, our brains are in different physical states, and our
minds in different mental states. Brains, like all organic substances, are
plastic; they grow, die in places, reorganise and regenerate.
Although difficult to accept, our minds are at any given moment in a never to
be repeated state. We would never say it but we could see our brains, our
minds, our consciousness, as being entirely different entities from one moment
to the next. And the reason we would never say it is because of our mental
habit, our brain's design, of attributing similarity between and across
patterns or, simply, constancy. This is purely because our brains have evolved
to tolerate that degree of noise, of patterns not having to be exactly alike to
The 'I', our subjective experience, is simply our neural pattern recognition
system 'recognising' itself in operation, over and over again in a temporal
series of different states. 'I' is an illusion, as side effect of our brain's
In my discussion so far I have gone some way to describe how I think the 'I'
might come about but I have said little of the actual experience of being an
'I' or how it might be observed. Is it asking too much of materialism to
provide an objective account of subjective experience?
If we strip away the self as before and are left with just the ineffable 'I',
once quietened we could say that we are left with two concepts, that of 'I'
being in this particular place at this particular time, the 'here and now'.
To ask if it is possible for an objective view of subjective experience is to
ask if it is possible for something that is not here and now to perceive what
it is to be the thing that is here and now. As Sam says ('Possible World
Machine' Unit 3, 2nd dialogue) not even God could manage that (though I'm not
sure I agree because if He is omnipresent then surely He would be in our minds;
if He is in our minds, would He not be being us, since that's all we are in my
However, whilst it seems too difficult to see how anything, let alone God (or
someone else's mind, which stops us from really seeing what it's like to be
someone else), could be in two places at the same time, it's possible to see
how something, including minds, can be in no places at the same time.
What I mean to say is that it seems possible, if practitioners are to be
believed, to displace one's mind, one's 'I', to allow it to be 'not here', an
experience reputedly to be had through various forms of meditation. Whether it
also includes a sense of 'not here now', I do not know.
The report of what happens during this kind of experience, though, is that all
sense of 'I' is dissolved (this is after the 'self' is dissolved). Without a
'here' (and a 'now'?) to anchor onto, there is no 'I'. But further, some people
report that once 'I' dissolves there is a sense of connection to something much
greater than a singular 'here and now', perhaps the sum total of all possible
'here and now's.
Clearly, this is difficult to discuss rationally. Zen Buddhist teachings warn
against intellectualising the process of zazen, since as soon as one attempts
to explain what is happening, the dissolved 'I' returns, and with it a
subjective point of view, and it becomes impossible to maintain.
But this does make sense. Either you are 'here and now' or you are not 'here
and now'. You can't have your soul and not perceive it.
The question remains whether this experience approximates an objective view of
the subjective experience. Well, I would say yes, but there is a catch. Because
as soon as we try to formalise it, we lose sight of it. The closest we can get
is to catch a glimpse of an objective reality, but since we must let go of
subjective experience to do so, we cannot think or talk about it. As soon as we
try to grasp it, it vanishes. It exists then less in the realm of the mind,
thought and language and more in the realm of feeling. This will always be
unacceptable to an empirical approach to the problem such as that made by
Whenever I adopt a materialist stance to the mind/ body problem, I always feel
like the child who spoiled the party. I can hear the groans of discontent of
science robbing us of something most precious. But I would say that knowing how
the cells in the epidermal layer can never take away the pleasure of the warm
sun on my skin. Nor can the knowledge of how the nose, ears and mouth work to
send impulses to my cerebral cortex spoil the pleasure of sitting in a snowy
bamboo grove next to a trickling waterfall sipping hot green tea. Nor can an
explanation of how our consciousness might derive from neuronal activity take
away the joy of the imagination or the attendant feelings to be had from a
beautiful concept like the soul or God. If anything it adds to it. I fail to
see how I could ever lose that overwhelming feeling of awe when beholding the
most complex organic mechanism in our known universe.
Materialism, then, only goes so far. It may help us to ultimately explain how
our experience comes about. But it can say nothing about what it is like to
have such a rich experience. I think that this is where dualism can take off
where materialism falls short.
(c) Chris Jones 2003
II. 'ACCOUNTANCY AND PHILOSOPHY' BY JOHN SARTORIS
Dear Steven Ravett Brown, Rachel Browne and Ken Stern,
It is along time ago now and I really should have written before to thank you
all for taking the trouble to reply to my question to 'Ask a Philosopher' last
November about certainty in arithmetic. I found your answers very
interesting. Indeed, I have found all your answers to all those hundreds of
questions on the database to be stimulating reading. Since I found the website
I have gradually been working my way back through them all.
You may remember that my question was about accountancy and adding things up. I
cited the example of accounts clerks who are required to add up column after
column of large numbers. The problem for auditors like me is to check whether
they have got their additions right. Thirty years ago, when I first entered the
accountancy profession as what we then still used to call an articled clerk, we
were ordered to check the accounts clerks' arithmetic by re-doing it ourselves.
This was an absurd exercise. As innocent young graduates fresh out of university
(philosophy departments even!) we could not hope to match what I believe was the
accuracy of the accounts clerks - row upon row of them with years of experience
of doing nothing but adding up column after column of Pounds, Shillings and
Pence all day, every day, day after day, week after week, year after year. They
had large mechanical adding machines to help them in those days and were known
as 'comptometer operators' or 'comps' but is a profession that has largely died
out today with the advancement of computerised accounting.
The point I wanted to make - which I think is a philosophical one - is that
there was no useful way of checking the comptometers' addition other than by
getting other equally experienced comptometers to re-do it. I was reminded of
this when I read a book by the American mathematician Professor Reuben Hersch
called 'What is Mathematics Really?' (Jonathan Cape 1997). Hersch says that, in
the practice of advanced mathematics, the only way to tell whether you have a
proof is to ask other expert mathematicians to check it. If they say it proves
the result then it does. If there is dispute - as there often is - you do not
have a proof. There is just no other way of checking mathematical theorems -
in a sense no objective proof in mathematics. Hersch says the same applies in
higher physics. The only way to tell whether your theory is right is through
the consensus of other experts. It's no good just saying experiments prove your
theory because part of the point is whether you have done the right experiment
and interpreted the data correctly.
Odd to think that all those professors of physics and mathematics are in the
same boat as the accounts clerks and comptometer operators, at least
epistemologically speaking. But the conclusion does seem to be that, although
in arithmetic we know with certainty that every addition has a definite answer,
we cannot always be certain what that answer is. More controversially, we might
say that, although the answer to every addition is a necessary truth, we cannot
always know what that necessary truth is. Thus we might find ourselves with a
correct addition but doubting whether it was true - i.e. doubting a necessary
truth; or conversely, justifiably believing that an actually incorrect addition
was necessarily true. Both of which possibilities may sound fairly outrageous.
I can see that these points bear more heavily on epistemological status in that
they concern similarities between how we come to know and our justification for
saying that we know both the necessary truths of mathematics and the contingent
truths of science. But it does makes me wonder whether the logical status of
mathematics can really be so different from that of science.
I don't know if the work of Imre Lakatos is approved of at all nowadays but, in
the late 1960's and early 1970's, his 'Conjectures and Proofs' was seen as an
inspired attempt at a quasi-empiricist, fallibilist philosophy of mathematics
along the lines of Karl Popper's philosophy of science (again perhaps not too
widely approved of today). But there is an undoubted attraction in Lakatos's
view that mathematics progresses in the same way Popper says science does; that
is through a process of criticism of problems, conjectures and proofs.
Especially attractive is the way it eliminates that troubling and troublesome
distinction that is supposed to exist between our certain knowledge of the
necessary truths of mathematics and our uncertain knowledge of the contingent
truths of science. Mathematics and scientific knowledge become the same in kind
and confidence in both (albeit provisional) becomes a matter of degree along the
same sort of spectral lines. Conjectures, hypotheses and proposed proofs in
mathematics can be doubted, criticised, evaluated and established through peer
review in the same way as those of science and we can be more confident of some
scientific theories than we can be of some mathematical ones. There are
interesting comparisons to be made here with Quine - especially his holism and
denial of the analytic/synthetic distinction.
As I said in my original question, these points never get made in introductory
philosophy books. They always give trivial examples like 3+4=7 to support the
view that we have certain knowledge of mathematical truths because they are
necessary and we cannot envisage circumstances in which they might be false.
But this is hardly true of mathematical propositions in general. Take, for
example, Fermat's Last Theorem. Andrew Wiles proved this in 1995 but it was
doubted for 350 years before that and it still seems possible to doubt it in
the same way that for many years some mathematicians doubted Euler's
Conjectures, based on Fermat, but applied to 4 and 5 dimensions. The doubters
were eventually proved right when actual numerical counterexamples were
discovered in the second half of the 20th century - i.e. the conjectures were
actually falsified by concrete examples (very Popperian!) [see footnote].
Conversely, Goldbach's Conjecture might actually be false but we may well feel
justified in regarding it as a necessary truth, given that no one has ever
found an even number that is not the sum of two primes. These examples exhibit
mathematical theorems in a different light and, I think, show that they have
both epistemological and logical similarities to scientific propositions. On
this sort of view we do not have to grant superior status to any kind of
knowledge on the grounds that either its objects or our apprehension of them
are privileged. Thus is knowledge democratised.
The actual counter-examples to Euler's Conjectures were:
2682440 + 15365639 + 18796760 = 20615673
where  = 'to the power of 4'
27 + 84 + 110 + 13 = 144
where  = 'to the power of 5'
FERMAT'S LAST THEOREM states that there are no numbers x, y, z such that:
x + y = z
where  = 'to the power of 3'
GOLDBACH'S CONJECTURE states that for every even number n, there exist prime
numbers x, y such that x + y = n
PYTHAGORAS' THEOREM states that if x, y, z are the lengths of the sides of
any right angled triangle, and z is the length of the hypotenuse, then:
x = y = z
where  = 'squared' or 'to the power of 2'
III. UNACCOMPANIED YIELD 
Tony Kemplen in conversation with Rebecca Shatwell
"The vision I have for the Web is about anything being potentially connected
with anything. It is a vision that provides us with new freedom, and allows us
to grow faster than we ever could when we were fettered by the hierarchical
classification systems into which we bound ourselves." 
"Today... A Library, a museum - in fact, any large collection of cultural data
- is replaced by a computer database. At the same time, a computer database
becomes a new metaphor that we use to conceptualize individual and collective
cultural memory, a collection of documents or objects, and other phenomena and
RS: Encyclopaedia Mundi is a new form of database. A constantly evolving
collection of hundreds of images from the internet generated from an absurd
series of software programmes, that process information from a collection of
eighteen souvenir objects. Could you describe this series of processes and
TK: The sort of software I am using includes programmes for translating data
from one form to another. The first process that you'll see is a sonification
programme that takes an image and makes sound out of it. That particular
programme (vOICe - seeingwithsound.com) was developed as an experimental aid
for blind people, where a head mounted camera would give a sound picture of
what is in front of them. The sound from that is used as the input to the next
software process which is a speech recognition programme. This is something
that I've been interested in since they first became widely available about
five or six years ago, and what really intrigued me was the sort of texts that
are thrown up when they are given sounds to work with that are different to the
slowly enunciated speech that they are meant for. After a minute or two the
recognition process stops and the computer chooses the last word that it has
recognised for the final stage, which is to search the internet for images
using that word as a key word. It will potentially download up to several
RS: So these images are then collected to make up the Encyclopaedia Mundi
TK: Yes, through this process the computer is building up a database of text
and image (text that it has recognised and images associated with it). If it's
already used the same word in one day it will skip it and choose another word,
so you don't end up with lots of duplicate files. There are no restrictions
placed on the search, which uses the Google Image Search Programme.
RS: One of the key themes of the work is the parallel you have created between
the internet as a search engine and medieval Cabinets of Curiosity as another
system of classification. What do you see as the relationship between the
internet and the Wunderkammer?
TK: Cabinets of Curiosity have been of interest to me for quite a few years.
I'm interested in what happens when things are classified in ways that you
wouldn't normally do in everyday life. Cabinets of Curiosity were exclusively
assembled by rich Princes as a way of trying to understand the world by
labeling, classifying and establishing control over the object and the
civilisation it represented. This notion of an obscure collection just seems in
a way to be similar to how we use the internet, where we can gather text and
information from all over the world. Encyclopaedia Mundi plays on that parallel
of historical and contemporary information gathering, classifying and cataloging
of data and objects.
RS: Your approach to the collection of objects draws parallels with the
acquisition of objects for the Wunderkammer. The eighteen objects which provide
the starting point for Encyclopaedia Mundi were collected from charity shops in
Leeds, Lancaster and Derby.
TK: Yes that's right. There were various categories which were used by the
Cabinets of Curiosity owners - such as naturalia, artificialia and orientalia.
I've focused on a particular subclass of objects which I've called
charitabilia, that are items donated to charity shops which look to me as if
they may well have been souvenirs from foreign holidays that people have
disposed of. The idea of using eighteen coloured cabinets is loosely based on
the collection of Ferdinand II at Ambras near Innsbruck where there are said to
have been eighteen cupboards, colour coded to show their contents, such as green
for silver, red for clocks, yellow for coins, that sort of thing.
RS: I'm interested in the association between the original charitabilia objects
and the images and texts that result from the software processes. As the work is
so processed based, any concluding connection between them seems to be rendered
TK: Yes, it is very much a process based work, rather than being outcome
driven. The database at the end consists of short texts that have been
recognized from the images of the objects, it also has folders full of images
that relate to those texts, but there's no real, direct connection between any
of those things.
RS: So how much control do you have (or want to have) over the ordering of the
TK: The thing at the centre of this collection isn't me, it's the computer.
Although obviously I organised the structure of the software and set it up to
do it, I don't feel that I'm the controlling force in it. I've set up this
process and I'm basically just leaving it alone during the exhibition. Once the
Encyclopaedia Mundi starts you can't stop it. It's constantly trying to wring
meaning out of these objects, which they don't inherently have. But it's so
desperate to try and make sense of its surroundings that it's throwing up
images and texts which don't visually seem to have anything to do with the
objects. The Encyclopaedia Mundi is highlighting this human need to find
meaning in everything, and constantly refers back to the internet as a vast
library to be grazed or browsed.
RS: In addition to the installation there is the Encyclopaedia Mundi website,
which adds another layer of classification, how does that work?
TK: If you log onto www.encyclopaediamundi.org, you'll see the most recent
collection of images that the software has found, with the most recent texts
scrolling the screen. So there will be some kind of notion of the database
being available to search online.
RS: As a new media installation, Encyclopaedia Mundi draws on pre-existing,
commercially available software packages. So in a way you are using the
technology as a kind of found object or readymade?
TK: I don't write software, all the software I use already exists, I'm not a
programmer. I am interested in software doing things unexpectedly, that it's
not been designed to do. The first software I used was speech recognition and
speech synthesizer software in earlier works such as the audio CD
Avocado/Avvocato (1999). This was a site specific work made in response to a
domestic environment; I worked with some significant objects in the house
(which happened to be a large number of avocado stones and the European Working
Times Directive). I reset the entire text of the legal document using only the
letters a, v, o, c, a, d and o, and the results were read out by an Italian
speech synthesizer (Avvocato is Italian for lawyer).
RS: You've also worked in the past with redundant technology and exploited the
restrictions and parameters of the technology itself, like in The End, for
TK: I'm quite happy for work to develop depending on what technology is
available and what I can do with it. I was in the Redundant Technology
Initiative first show and the redundant technology that I worked with was old
record players networked together (No Overall Control, 1997). The record
players were wired together in such a way that each one was controlled by two
other decks, leading to a chaotic system in which cascades of switching
combinations worked their way through the system. The End (Site Gallery, 2002)
was constructed from plug-in electrical timers, of the sort widely available in
DIY shops and supermarkets. Nine plugs with nine leads plugged into nine timers
in nine sockets were connected to a neon sign reading 'The End'. The neon light
is due to light up in 1000000000000 years. These low tech works were certainly
about setting up things which are destined to fail.
RS: Failure is something that comes across in other works, like Polyglot for
TK: Polyglot (Ikon Gallery, 1999) used thirty six animatronic parrots to
illustrate the failure of the artificial language movement. I made a classroom
of the parrots, arranged on perches, and literally tested them to destruction.
Tannoy speakers shouted out the names of several invented languages, Esperanto,
Interlingua, Ido, Volapuk, and the parrots repeat them back amongst themselves,
the speech becoming ever more distorted until it ends in a meaningless babble.
The whole cycle is then repeated with another language, in much the same way as
humans have continued to come up with fresh ways to aid communication, which
despite the high intentions seem doomed to failure.
RS: In addition to failure as a theme, your work is often explored through
imperfections and glitches in technology.
TK: Although Encyclopaedia Mundi is designed to operate online, I have also
looked at offline possibilities, so that if a glitch occurs Encyclopaedia Mundi
will search its own database of perhaps ten thousand images instead of the
internet. It is this idea of imperfections in systems that interest me, and the
thought that the work is not necessarily always doing what we think it is.
1. Unaccompanied Yield is the only two word anagram of Encyclopaedia Mundi
2. Tim Berners-Lee, 'Weaving the Web', Texere Publishing, 2000, p.1
3. Lev Manovich, 'The Language of New Media', MIT Press, 2001, p.21
Tony Kemplen's installation Encyclopaedia Mundi opened at Folly, Lancaster, UK
and is touring to Q Arts, Derby and Pavilion, Leeds. Exhibition dates 22 March
- 26 April. The exhibition is funded through the Arts Council of England
National Touring Programme.
Rebecca Shatwell is New Media Curator at Pavilion
Web site: http://www.encyclopaediamundi.org
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