Tag Archives: Literature

Favorite Audio Logs From The Witness, Part 4

Happy Wednesday everyone!  It’s hump day, meaning just a few more days until we get into Friday.  I figured I would take this day to introduce more of my favorite audio logs from The Witness.

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Stemming from the first audio log series (see here), this series of posts is dedicated to some of the best audio logs from the game.  Each audio log revolves around the theme of religion, philosophy, science, and other complex ideas.  So let’s not waste any more time and get right to it.  Here are some more of my favorite audio logs:

Audio Log #1: Activation

Image result for Douglas Hofstadter

Our hangnails are incredibly real to us; whereas to most of us, the English village of Nether Wallop and the high Himalayan country of Bhutan, not to mention the slowly swirling spiral galaxy in Andromeda, are considerably less real, even though our intellectual selves might wish to insist that since the latter are much bigger and longer-lasting than our hangnails, they ought therefore to be far realer to us than our hangnails are.  We can say this to ourselves till we’re blue in the face, but few of us act as if we really believed it.  A slight slippage of subterranean stone that obliterates 20,000 people in some far-off land, the ceaseless plundering of virgin jungles in the Amazon basin, a swarm of helpless stars being swallowed up one after another by a ravenous black hole, even an ongoing collision between two huge galaxies each of which contains a hundred billion stars —such colossal events are so abstract to someone like me that they can’t even touch the sense of urgency and importance, and thus the reality, of some measly little hangnail on my left hand’s pinky.  We are all egocentric, and what is realest to each of us, in the end, is ourself.  The realest things of all are my knee, my nose, my anger, my hunger, my toothache, my sideache, my sadness, my joy, my love for math, my abstraction ceiling, and so forth.  What all these things have in common, what binds them together, is the concept of “my”, which comes out of the concept of “I” or “me”, and therefore, although it is less concrete than a nose or even a toothache, this “I” thing is what ultimately seems to each of us to constitute the most solid rock of undeniability of all.  Could it possibly be an illusion?  Or if not a total illusion, could it possibly be less real and less solid than we think it is?  Could an “I” be more like an elusive, receding, shimmering rainbow than like a tangible, heftable, transportable pot of gold?

~ Douglas Hofstadter, 2007

Audio Log #2: Uncertainty of Science

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If we were not able or did not desire to look in any new direction, if we did not have a doubt or recognize ignorance, we would not get any new ideas.  There would be nothing worth checking, because we would know what is true.  So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty.  Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain.  Scientists are used to this.  We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know.  Some people say, “How can you live without knowing?” I do not know what they mean.  I always live without knowing.  That is easy.  How you get to know is what I want to know.  This freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields.  It was born of a struggle.  It was a struggle to be permitted to doubt, to be unsure.  And I do not want us to forget the importance of the struggle and, by default, to let the thing fall away.  I feel a responsibility as a scientist who knows the great value of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, and the progress made possible by such a philosophy, progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought.  I feel a responsibility to proclaim the value of this freedom and to teach that doubt is not to be feared, but that it is to be welcomed as the possibility of a new potential for human beings.  If you know that you are not sure, you have a chance to improve the situation.  I want to demand this freedom for future generations.

~ Richard Feynman, 1963

Favorite Audio Logs From The Witness, Part 3

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Hello, fellow sandcastle makers!  Hope you’ve been enjoying the week so far.  It’s time to reveal another one of my favorite audio logs from The Witness.  There are a few more audio logs that I enjoyed from the game that I wanted to share today.  Many of them are very long quotes, hence why I’ve been breaking this topic up for a few posts (A few quotes are over SEVEN minutes long!).

So let’s get right down to it…ANOTHER audio log from Jonathan Blow’s The Witness!
Audio Log #1: Generation of Waves

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One day I happened to be occupied with the subject of “Generation of Waves by Wind.”  I took down the standard treatise on hydrodynamics, and under that heading I read —If the external forces p’ yy, p’ xy be given multiples of e ** (ikx + at), where k and a are prescribed, the equations in question determine A and C, and thence, by (9) the value of eta….And so on for two pages. At the end, it is made clear that a wind of less than half a mile an hour will leave the surface unruffled.  At a mile an hour the surface is covered with minute corrugations due to capillary waves which decay immediately if the disturbing cause ceases.  At two miles an hour the gravity waves appear.  As the author modestly concludes, “Our theoretical investigations give considerable insight into the incipient stages of wave-formation.”  On another occasion the same subject of “Generation of Waves by Wind” was in my mind; but this time another book was more appropriate, and I read —There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter and lit by the rich skies, all day. And after, Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance and wandering loveliness. He leaves a white unbroken glory, a gathered radiance, a width, a shining peace, under the night.  The magic words bring back the scene.  Again we feel Nature drawing close to us, uniting with us, til we are filled with the gladness of the waves dancing in the sunshine, with the awe of the moonlight on the frozen lake.  These were not moments when we fell below ourselves.  We do not look back on them and say, “It was disgraceful for a man with six sober senses and a scientific understanding to let himself be deluded in that way.  “I will take Lamb’s Hydrodynamics with me next time.”  It is good that there should be such moments for us.  Life would be stunted and narrow if we could feel no significance in the world around us beyond that which can be weighed and measured with the tools of the physicist or described by the metrical symbols of the mathematician.  Of course, it was an illusion.  We can easily expose the rather clumsy trick that was played on us.  Aethereal vibrations of various wavelengths, reflected at different angles from the disturbed interface between air and water, reached our eyes, and by photoelectric action caused appropriate stimuli to travel along the optic nerves to a brain-centre.  Here the mind set to work to weave an impression out of the stimuli.  The incoming material was somewhat meagre, but the mind is a great storehouse of associations that could be used to clothe the skeleton.  Having woven an impression, the mind surveyed all that it had made and decided that it was very good.  The critical faculty was lulled.  We ceased to analyze and were conscious only of the impression as a whole.  The warmth of the air, the scent of the grass, the gentle stir of the breeze, combined with the visual scene in one transcendent impression, around us and within us.  Associations emerging from their storehouse grew bolder.  Perhaps we recalled the phrase “rippling laughter.”  Waves—ripples—laughter—gladness—the ideas jostled one another.  Quite illogically, we were glad, though what there can possibly be to be glad about in a set of aethereal vibrations no sensible person can explain.  A mood of quiet joy suffused the whole impression.  The gladness in ourselves was in Nature, in the waves, everywhere.  That’s how it was.  It was an illusion. Then why toy with it longer?  These airy fancies which the mind, when we do not keep it severely in order, projects into the external world should be of no concern to the earnest seeker after truth.  Get back to the solid substance of things, to the material of the water moving under the pressure of the wind and the force of gravitation in obedience to the laws of hydrodynamics.  But the solid substance of things is another illusion.  It too is a fancy projected by the mind into the external world.  We have chased the solid substance from the continuous liquid to the atom, from the atom to the electron, and there we have lost it.  But at least, it will be said, we have reached something real at the end of the chase — the protons and electrons.  Or, if the new quantum theory condemns these images as too concrete and leaves us with no coherent images at all, at least we have symbolic coordinates and momenta and Hamiltonian functions devoting themselves with single-minded purpose to ensuring that qp-pq shall be equal to ih/2π.  I have tried to show that by following this course we reach a cyclic scheme which, from its very nature, can only be a partial expression of our environment.  It is not reality but the skeleton of reality.  “Actuality” has been lost in the exigencies of the chase.  Having first rejected the mind as a worker of illusion we have in the end to return to the mind and say, “Here are worlds well and truly built on a basis more secure than your fanciful illusions.  But there is nothing to make any one of them an actual world.  “Please choose one and weave your fanciful images into it.  That alone can make it actual.”  We have torn away the mental fancies to get at the reality beneath, only to find that the reality of that which is beneath is bound up with its potentiality of awakening these fancies.  It is because the mind, the weaver of illusion, is also the only guarantor of reality that reality is always to be sought at the base of illusion.  Illusion is to reality as the smoke to the fire.  I will not urge that hoary untruth “There is no smoke without fire”.  But it is reasonable to inquire whether, in the mystical illusions of man, there is not a reflection of an underlying reality.

Arthur Eddington, 1927

Favorite Audio Logs From The Witness, Part 2

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How’s it going, fellow sandcastles makers?  Last week I introduced a post featuring some of my favorite audio logs from The Witness.  This is a continuation of a weekly series featuring some of the best audio log quotes (the first part can be found here).

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To quickly recap, The Witness featured various audio logs scattered around the island.  These audio logs went deep into ideas of science, religion, philosophy, and other complex topics.  From the idea of time to life in general, each audio log went deeper into these concepts.  With that, lets dive back into some more memorable audio logs:

Audio Log #1: Humor

Image result for Arthur Eddington 1927

We have two kinds of knowledge which I call symbolic and intimate.  I do not know whether it would be correct to say that reasoning is only applicable to symbolic knowledge, but the more customary forms of reasoning have been developed for symbolic knowledge only.  The intimate knowledge will not submit to codification and analysis, or, rather, when we attempt to analyse it the intimacy is lost and replaced by symbolism.  For an illustration let us consider Humour.  I suppose that humour can be analysed to some extent and the essential ingredients of the different kinds of wit classified.  Suppose that we are offered an alleged joke.  We subject it to scientific analysis as we would a chemical salt of doubtful nature, and perhaps after careful consideration we are able to confirm that it really and truly is a joke.  Logically, I suppose, our next procedure would be to laugh.  But it may certainly be predicted that as the result of this scrutiny we shall have lost all inclination we ever had to laugh at it.  It simply does not do to expose the workings of a joke.  The classification concerns a symbolic knowledge of humour which preserves all the characteristics of a joke except its laughableness.  The real appreciation must come spontaneously, not introspectively.  I think this is a not unfair analogy for our mystical feeling for Nature, and I would venture even to apply it to our mystical experience of God.  There are some to whom the sense of a divine presence irradiating the soul is one of the most obvious things of experience.  In their view, a man without this sense is to be regarded as we regard a man without a sense of humour.  The absence is a kind of mental deficiency.  We may try to analyse the experience as we analyse humour, and construct a theology, or it may be an atheistic philosophy…But let us not forget that the theology is symbolic knowledge, whereas the experience is intimate knowledge.  And as laughter cannot be compelled by the scientific exposition of the structure of a joke, so a philosophic discussion of the attributes of God (or an impersonal substitute) is likely to miss the intimate response of the spirit which is the central point of the religious experience.

~ Arthur Eddington, 1927

Audio Log #2: Silence

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When we choose silence, we choose to give up the reasons not to love, which are the reasons for going to war, or continuing war, or separating, or being a victim, or being right.  In a moment of silence, in a moment of no thought, no mind, we choose to give those up.  This is what my teacher invited me to.  Just choose silence. Don’t even choose love.  Choose silence, and love is apparent.  If we choose love we already have an idea of what love is.  But if you choose silence, that is the end of ideas.  You are willing to have no idea, to see what is present when there is no idea, past, present, future.  No idea of love, no idea of truth, no idea of you, no idea of me. Love is apparent.

~ Gangaji, 2009

Audio Log #3: Autonomy

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In the traditional view a person is free.  He is autonomous in the sense that his behavior is uncaused…That view, together with its associated practices, must be re-examined when a scientific analysis reveals unexpected controlling relations between behaviour and environment….By questioning the control exercised by autonomous man and demonstrating the control exercised by the environment, a science of behavior also seems to question dignity or worth.  A person is responsible for his behavior, not only in the sense that he may be justly blamed or punished when he behaves badly, but also in the sense that he is to be given credit and admired for his achievements.  A scientific analysis shifts the credit as well as the blame to the environment, and traditional practices can then no longer be justified.  These are sweeping changes, and those who are committed to traditional theories and practices naturally resist them….As the emphasis shifts to the environment, the individual seems to be exposed to a new kind of danger.  Who is to construct the controlling environment and to what end?  Autonomous man presumably controls himself in accordance with a built-in set of values; he works for what he finds good.  But what will the putative controller find good, and will it be good for those he controls?  Answers to questions of this sort are said, of course, to call for value judgements.

~ B.F. Skinner, 1971