September 16, 2020

Recently I heard someone who said the admonition to "be a human being, not a human doing" was a great reminder for them.

As it is it doesn't land for me. I guess I find worth and value doesn't reside in individuals, it's either an emergent property that arises in group contexts, or maybe it's an objective property of the universe that can only be confidently realized by getting enough viewpoints on it.

Looking back, I think that was the concept I expressed without full understanding in this poem I wrote in highschool:
A rock sat in the woods, thinking,
for many years, of many things.
Realized God and His plan
How to perfect life for plant and man
but it was a rock, and rocks can't speak
so it had to keep it to itself
My feeling is, any self-contained pure knowledge without action or expression is kind of worthless. The noun of things don't matter except as a container for the verbs that are possible, so being a "human doing" is critical, and the "human being" aspect is just a path to that.

But I think other people take something useful and important from "be a human being not a human doing"... can anyone in that group try and express how it works for them?
Thinking further - and I'm going out on more of a limb here - my current theory of what consciousness might be relies on a concept of interaction: that you have a model of the world, and an awareness of your ability to make changes in that world. (Maybe cognition enough to make predictions is relevant as well?) But this is true even for cases like "locked-in syndrome", or when you're asleep: for a sophisticated enough brain, the world that's external to the self may be virtual, like another part of the brain.

There's a thought experiment of the Boltzmann brain - that quantum theory suggests it could be possible - though very unlikely - for a structure of a brain to spontaneously appear, complete with (fake-y) memories and all that jazz. But in my model where consciousness is not a static thing but a state of interacting, the problems presented by the "Boltzmann brain" evaporate. In the model where it's like a real brain, well, I guess it has a few moments of panic as it dies in a environment foreign to all its fake memories up to now. Or if it's just like molecules that drifted together, formed this brain, then drift apart, it's even more meaningless - that fleeting second of awareness was just a mirage.
"Hey, what's the matter?"
"I'm sad because you're going to die."
"Yeah, that bugs me sometimes too. But not so much as you think... ...When you get as old as I am, you start to realize that you've told most of the good stuff you know to other people anyway."
Richard Feynman and Danny Hillis
I think that captures some of my feeling, that an important thing is to find out good stuff and then share it.
Some pretty decentinspirational-ish quotes. Some are thought provoking.