So here it comes… We’re about to look at why the idea/concept of a ‘self’ could be one of the greatest human delusions of all time. I know… It’s a pretty tall order. But still, it’s one that has been slowly changing the way I view things here on this wondrous home of a planet over the last few months. But before I share with you my journey – one that demonstrated to me how the seemingly obvious certitude of an ‘I’, or my ‘self’, might really be only a flawed assumption, which in turn became an illusion bourn from grammatical syntax – I would like to introduce another story… One that lays out the ground work between the two extremes of certainty and uncertainty, making evident that any definite human knowledge is, at its core, not a definite as we’d sometimes like to think… And, thus, all certitudes that we might presume or cling to become subject to uncertainty.
The story here is about an Austrian logician, who, despite his untimely death, still remains to this very day a great hero and inspiration to me. His name is Kurt Friedrich Gödel (b. 1906, d. 1978)… His ideas were revolutionary in the field of logic and shook the foundations of mathematics, providing insights into the limitations of what can be known. In fact, I believe some of his insights might also demonstrate – in a parallel sort of way – how what we think we know about our ‘selves’ might actually not be what is the actually case… In fact, it might go one step further and demonstrate something rather unexpected. But I digress…
For the moment, I would simply like to leave you with this great BBC radio documentary, narrated by Melvyn Bragg, that clearly and elegantly describes the life and work of Kurt Gödel, a great friend and college to the late Nobel prize physicist, Albert Einstein.
Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an iconic piece of 20th century maths – Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. In 1900, in Paris, the International Congress of Mathematicians gathered in a mood of hope and fear. The edifice of maths was grand and ornate but its foundations, called axioms, had been shaken. They were deemed to be inconsistent and possibly paradoxical. At the conference, a young man called David Hilbert set out a plan to rebuild the foundations of maths – to make them consistent, all encompassing and without any hint of a paradox.
Hilbert was one of the greatest mathematicians that ever lived, but his plan failed spectacularly because of Kurt Gödel. Gödel proved that there were some problems in maths that were impossible to solve, that the bright clear plain of mathematics was in fact a labyrinth filled with potential paradox. In doing so Gödel changed the way we understand what mathematics is and the implications of his work in physics and philosophy take us to the very edge of what we can know.
With Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at Wadham College, University of Oxford; John Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge and Gresham Professor of Geometry and Philip Welch, Professor of Mathematical Logic at the University of Bristol.
To find out where I sourced this documentary from, please click here.
Or to find out more about Melvin Bragg, then please click here.
To read more about Gödel’s proof, then please follow this link to a brilliant article from Science magazine, entitled “Separating Truth from Proof in Mathematics”.
June 24, 2010
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by Carl G. Jung (1952)
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The great events of world history are, at bottom, profoundly unimportant. In the last analysis, the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations first take place, and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately spring as a gigantic summation from there hidden sources in individuals. In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.
by Carl G. Jung (1934)
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Another classic book from Dr Carl Gustav Jung. This is must read for anyone searching for a better understanding about who and what they really are… And how to better relate to others in the social sea of diverse personality types that are found here, and abound here, on Earth.
Most people confuse “self-knowledge” with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has any ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents. People measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social environment knows of himself, but not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them. In this respect the psyche behaves like the body with psychological and anatomical structure, of which the average person knows very little too. Although he lives in it and with it, most of it is totally unknown to the layman, and specific knowledge is needed to acquaint consciousness with what is known of the body, not to speak of all that is not known, which also exists.
What is commonly called “self-knowledge” is therefore a very limited knowledge, most of it dependent on social factors, of what goes on in the human psyche. Hence one is always coming up against the prejudice that such and such a thing does happen “with us” or “in our family” or among friends and acquaintances, and on the other hand. one meets with equally illusory assumptions about the alleged presence of qualities which merely serve to cover up the true facts of the case.
In this broad belt of unconsciousness, which is immune to conscious criticism and control, we stand defenceless, one to all kinds of influences and psychic infections. As with all dangers, we can guard against the risk of psychic infection only when we know what is attacking us, and how, where and when the attack will come. Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts. And theory based on experience is necessarily statistical; that is to say, it formulates an ideal average which abolishes all exceptions at either end of the scale and replaces them by an abstract mean. This mean is quite valid, though it need not necessarily occur in reality. Despite this it figures in the theory as an unassailable fundamental fact. The exceptions at either extreme, though equally factual, do not appear in the final result at all, since they cancel each other out. If, for instance, I determine the weight of each stone in a bed of pebbles and get an average weight of 145 grams, this tells me very little about the real nature of the pebbles. Anyone who thought, on the basis of these findings, that he could pick up a pebble of 145 grams at the first try would be in for a serious disappointment. Indeed, it might well happen that however long he searched he would not find a single pebble weighing exactly 145 grams.
The statistical method shows the facts in the light of the ideal average but does not give us a picture of their empirical reality. While reflecting an indisputable aspect of reality, it can falsify the actual truth in a most misleading way. This is particularly true of theories which are based on statistics. The distinctive thing about real facts, however, is their individuality. Not to put too fine a point on it, one could say that the real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule, and that, in consequence, absolute reality has predominantly the character of irregularity.
taken from “The Undiscovered Self” by Carl G. Jung
To learn more about Carl Gustav Jung, please click here for a BBC radio documentary about his life and work.
OR to view a most informative video concerning his life’s work, with rare interview footage of Jung himself, please click here.
AND… The first three people to send me an E-mail will receive a free copy of this book. All you have to do is click here and enter the address you’d like the book to be delivered to… And it should be with you in about two weeks time!