Letters to Aurino, 1 of 4

(This series of four letters was written in response to letters from Aurino, which, I have regrettably lost. But since the purpose here is to explain some of my ideas, these letters stand pretty much on their own, and so I will post just my half of our conversation for what it's worth.)


Hi Aurino,

1. You asked me whether I can take a quantum leap from where I am to where you are now. I don't know, but I will certainly try.

2. I have begun to believe that whoever wrote the fable of the blind men and the elephant was divinely inspired.. It seems not only that people can't seem to communicate their ideas to each other so that they are understood, but that their understanding to begin with is no better than each of the blind men's. So we have a situation where each of us has an imperfect, vague understanding of something, we use an inadequate language to try to express these ideas to each other, and misunderstandings and arguments are the all-too-common result.

3. I think the only remedy to this pickle is first to understand the situation, secondly to avoid claiming that we know the truth, and thirdly keep working at the language trying to communicate without arguing or getting angry or defensive. I think this is possible if all parties to the communication agree to follow this remedy.

4. So in that spirit, let me try to understand what you are saying, and then either confirm or question what I think you are saying.

Reality as an abstraction.

5. You said that you sense that there's something wrong with the universe and you think I do too. I'm not sure what it was that I wrote that gave you that idea. I don't remember taking a position of right and wrong with respect to the universe. I have, however, said many times that the universe is imperfect, and that may be what you mean.

6. By imperfect, I mean that if there is a purpose to the universe, it is taking a painfully slow, awkward, and haphazard route to achieve it. The fossil record shows an ugly, brutish, trial-and-error progression to get to where we are today. Asteroid impacts are a pretty heavy-handed way of introducing novelty.

7. Good and bad, or right and wrong are different things. If life can only be developed via this haphazard process, then I guess periodic mass extinctions are 'good'. But without knowing the real purpose and what routes to achieving that purpose are possible, those extinctions seem on the surface to be 'bad'. So I can't say that something is 'wrong' with the universe but I sure do see it as imperfect.

8. You asked why some models of the universe are better than others and why we can't build a model consistent with all relevant data. My answer is pretty much what I wrote in paragraph 2. above. I think it is the same as your answer. You said all models are imperfect because they are built with less data than they are supposed to predict/explain. I agree with that as the reason why each individual's understanding is similar to that of a blind man in the fable. Beyond that, however, when multiple individuals compare notes and try to merge their understanding into a more complete model, the level of success of the communication is the biggest factor in determining how good the resulting model is.

9. Science has outdone all other model making attempts simply because they are very careful about their use of language in their communications. First, they observe and describe carefully. Second, they institute a lexicon of "scientific names" for things so that they at least don't argue over what to call things. Third, they have their rules for permitting inferences to be drawn from what they observe. There isn't much doubt that this has worked very well, at least for the phenomena they choose to investigate.

10. I think that for those of us who dabble in the pursuit of building models to explain things that fall outside of science's purview, we would do well to be as careful about our communication as we can be.

11. I have had this much of my response sitting in my word processor for a week or two waiting for another opportunity to add to it. Now that I have that opportunity, I think I had better send this off to you before I begin composing the next installment. Who knows when that will be ready to send. That way you will get my response in installments a little quicker. I think that will work out better for both of us and I am sorry I didn't realize that earlier and send this much sooner. We live and learn.

12. I have decided to follow the paragraph numbering scheme that Dr. Dick and I evolved to in our long correspondence in which I tried to understand his work. What we did was to number paragraphs consecutively across letters--we each maintained a separate sequence of numbers. This gives several advantages. One is that we can refer to earlier paragraphs without having to identify the particular letter the paragraph is in. Another is that if a letter somehow gets lost, the gap in the numbering will be obvious as soon as the next letter is received. This happened several times to Dick and me as one or the other of our ISPs would have a problem.

13. Anyway, I will send this out and begin working on a response to the remainder of your "Reality is an abstraction" letter. I hope to get that out to you today, but don't hold your breath.

Take care,


Next Aurino letter

Please send me an email with your comments.

Suggested prior reading
Next essay in sequence
Essays | Essay Home Page
Go To Home Page

©2003 Paul R. Martin, All rights reserved.