Curiosity Over Pride (FYI: To comment, send an e-mail to

Thursday, July 16, 2009

`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs, they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

`Would you tell me, please,' said Alice `what that means?`

`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

- Lewis Carol, Through the Looking Glass


Dink said...

Very, very, very cool :)

The impenetrable = inaccessible mind?

SS said...

'free will'

I've finally convinced myself that there is something to free will. This by looking at its opposite enslavement whereby people are forced to do something which they would have not otherwise biologically decided to do. Now if free will can be negated it must exist. But if it exists does it go beyond biological determinism? I don't know but at least now I believe we have at least direction to our actions.

Any thoughts, I've wrestled with this one for awhile.


Thai said...


I think first of all, going back to my floors of a building analogy, it is important to decide what floor of the building you are talking about.

Thai said...

... Though I think Cotton's term "manifolds" is probably superior to building floors as we are really slicing an infinite dimensional information structure and our only requirement is the conservation of energy (and therefore risk) must be maintained in every slice.

SS said...

I don't understand what the perspective analogy of the building floors has to do with free will. At some level it can exist or not independent of perspective, no?


Thai said...

SS, how about we take a stroll together into my very favorite rabbit hole and as we do, please think about your statement:

"... independent of perspective"

Are you sure you have explored this rabbit hole completely?

Anyway, if you haven't, please listen to this marvelous Robert Krulwich science audiocast from NPR. It is only 7 minutes long and I just clicked on it so I too am listening to it right now as I type this (and you read it).

... See you in the rabbit hole ;-)

SS said...

@ Thai

Thanks, interesting article.


Thai said...

I hope you listened to it as opposed to reading it; I thought the audio broadcast was really well done.

Dink said...

Thai- That Krulwich link was perfect; I'm in awe of the library of knowledge that you've already accessed on these mysteries. Its very comforting knowing that Neo is somewhere ahead of me in this $#&&^# rabbit warren ;)

SS- In the free will building, things look a little bleak from the top floor. We can't fly, breath underwater, become invisible etc whenever we choose to. From the middle floors things are difficult, but possible (we could move to Chile and become helicopter pilots). We're rugged individualists as seen at the bottom floors (apple fritter or rainbow sprinkle donut? Or both! I'm the John Galt of breakfast).

I think the most frightening inhibitor of free will is the ignorance of options to choose from. If someone has only limited exposure to the world, their "drop-down box" of options may only contain 5 or 6 donut options. Without curiosity and access to education they may never add Chilean Helicopter Pilot to their drop-down box.

Thai said...

It is funny you should mention the middle...

You might enjoy this article (notice that it talks about "the middle")


Dink said...

"Gell-Mann says he formulated this hierarchy partly in response to the reductionism he found among his colleagues at Caltech. Many specialists argued that the human mind had no unique qualities that could not be described by the workings of electrical impulses and organic chemistry. "Some refused to talk about the mind at all," he recalls. "One friend of mine called it 'the M-word.'"

This was amusing ;)

Debra said...

Free will to me is about making choices while gracefully acknowledging certain limitations.
It is also, especially about endossing responsibility for the choices made as the consequences of these choices (which may be immediately imperceptible...) deploy themselves.
We have no choice about dying. BUT... how we prepare for death, that is a different story.
The same could be said, to a certain extent, about poverty.
There are some of us who have no choice about being poor.
But... our REACTION to the fact of not having money, our attitudes, we certainly have CHOICES about those.

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits