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Trolleys come to Terror

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a western koan makes it onto German TV? ]

What Hala Jaber calls a supermarket trolley in this tweet is not what this post is about — but it sure does connect trolley and terror!


Here’s the terror side of things, in a tweet from John Horgan:

The BBC halls it an “interactive courtroom drama interactive courtroom drama centred on a fictional act of terror” and notes:

The public was asked to judge whether a military pilot who downs a hijacked passenger jet due to be crashed into a football stadium is guilty of murder.

Viewers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria gave their verdict online or by phone. The programme was also aired in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

The vast majority called for the pilot, Lars Koch, to be acquitted.

Here’s the setup:

In the fictional plot, militants from an al-Qaeda offshoot hijack a Lufthansa Airbus A320 with 164 people on board and aim to crash it into a stadium packed with 70,000 people during a football match between Germany and England.

“If I don’t shoot, tens of thousands will die,” German air force Major Lars Koch says as he flouts the orders of his superiors and takes aim at an engine of the plane.

The jet crashes into a field, killing everyone on board.

So, is the pilot guilty, or not guilty?


At the very least, he has our sympathy — but how does that play out in legal proceedings?

What’s so fascinating here is the pilot’s dilemma, which resembles nothing so much as a zen koan.

Except for the Trolley Problem:

Image from Wikimedia by McGeddon under license CC-BY-SA-4.0


Substitute an Airbus for the trolley, 164 people for the lone individual on the trolley line, and 70,000 people for the cluster of five — and the pilot for the guy who can make a decision and switch the tracks.

There you have it: terror plot and trolley problem running in parallel.

To be honest, I think the full hour-plus movie is far more immersive, to use a term from game design, than the Trolley Problem stated verbally as a problem in logic — meaning that the viewer is in some sense projected, catapulted into the fighter-pilot’s hot seat — in his cockpit, facing a high speed, high risk emergency, and in court, on trial for murder.

It’s my guess that more people would vote for the deaths of 164 under this scenario than for the death of one in the case of the trolley — but that’s a guess.


The German film scenario — adapted from a play by Ferdinand von Schirach — is indeed a courtroom drama, a “case” in the sense of “case law”. And it’s suggestive that koans, too, are considered “cases” in a similar vein. Here, for instance, is a classic definition of koans :

Kung-an may be compared to the case records of the public law court. Kung, or “public”, is the single track followed by all sages and worthy men alike, the highest principle which serves as a road for the whole world. An, or “records”, are the orthodox writings which record what the sages and worthy men regard as principles [..]

This principle accords with the spiritual source, tallies with the mysterious meaning, destroys birth-and-death, and transcends the passions. It cannot be understood by logic; it cannot be transmitted in words; it cannot be explained in writing; it cannot be measured by reason. It is like a poisoned drum that kills all who hear it, or like a great fire that consumes all who come near it. [..]

The so-called venerable masters of Zen are the chief officials of the public law courts of the monastic community, as it were, and their collections of sayings are the case records of points that have been vigorously advocated.


Relevant texts:

  • John Daido Loori, Sitting with Koans
  • John Daido Loori, The True Dharma Eye
  • From medieval gold leaf to Olympic gold

    Monday, August 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a voyage into nondualism via the coincidentia oppositorum ]

    Here from Dr Emily Steiner may be the widest rigorous gap-bridging DoubleQuotes I’ve ever seen:

    Kudos to Anthony Ervin for his gold!

    I’m not entirely sure there’s gold leaf in the image Dr Steiner uses to represent medieval manuscripts, though it certainly works for the genre as a whole, and I think I detect some gold leaf in the hearts of the flowers depicted..


    It would be foolish for me to claim to follow JL Usó-Doménech et al’s Paraconsistent Multivalued Logic and Coincidentia Oppositorum: Evaluation with Complex Numbers, but the general notions of Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus), “That in God opposites coincide” and “That God is beyond the coincidence of opposites” rae pretty basic (with appropriate variations) to Carl Jung‘s psychology — and to my own thinking.

    Here, in Dr Steiner’s tweet, we have something that comes delightfully, playfully close to a coincidence of opposites. Indeed it is that possibility of evoking and annotating opposites in a manner than allows us to transcend them — as we could be said to transcend the two streams of vision in binocular vision, the two streams of hearing in stereophonic audition — that lies at the heart of my focus on DoubleQuoting.


    If the “new atheists” were a little more widely read, they might find themselves perplexed by the trans-logical implications of a God described thus by Cusanus:

    When we attempted to see Him beyond being and not-being, we were unable to understand how He could be visible. For He is beyond everything plural, beyond every limit and all unlimitedness; He is completely everywhere and not at all anywhere; He is of every form and of no form, alike; He is completely ineffable; in all things He is all things, in nothing He is nothing, and in Him all things and nothing are Himself; He is wholly and indivisibly present in any given thing (no matter how small) and, at the same time, is present in no thing at all.

    That’s a far harder concept — if it can even be called a concept — to deal with than the “seven day creator” God that is their usual mark. And yet there is no great logical space between Cusanus’ “He is completely ineffable” and the Athanasian Creed‘s ” The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible .. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal .. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal .. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.”

    Jasper Hoskins proposes [Jasper Hopkins, A concise introduction to the philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa] that in Cusanus’ view, “no finite mind can comprehend God, since finite minds cannot conceive of what it is like for God to be altogether undifferentiated.”


    There’s an exchange in Cusanus’ Trialogus de possest (“On actualized-possibility”) in Hoskins’ op. cit.., that sets forth instructions for reading propositions about God — which also make interesting reading in terms of the flexibility ofmmind andimagination necessary for reading poetry, myth, and scriptures:

    Bernard: I am uncertain whether in similar fashion we can fittingly say that God is sun or sky or man or any other such thing.

    Card. Nicholas of Cusa: We must not insist upon the words. For example, suppose we say that God is sun. If, as is correct, we construe this [statement] as [a statement] about a sun which is actually all it is able to be, then we see clearly that this sun is not at all like the sensible sun. For while the sensible sun is in the East, it is not in any other part of the sky where it is able to be. [Moreover, none of the following statements are true of the sensible sun:] “It is maximal and minimal, alike, so that it is not able to be either greater or lesser”; “It is everywhere and anywhere, so that it is not able to be elsewhere than it is”; “It is all things, so that it is not able to be anything other than it is”— and so on. With all the other created things the case is simnilar. Hence is does not matter what name you give to God, provided that in the foregoing manner you mentally remove the limits with respect to its possible being.

    We’re close here, to the zen notion of the finger pointing at the moon — except that here is is the moon pointing at what cannot even be located in either physical spacetime or conceptual space..


    and that’s the touch of gold in the heart of all flowers..

    On the topology of dreams

    Saturday, August 6th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a poem that’s far too philosophical to work as poetry, Laramée’s Apparatus, and Alyce Santoro’s philosoprops ]

    The logic of poetry is, más o menos, dream logic, and so I’ve been pondering the logic of dreams and recently wrote this not terribly poetic poem:

    The egg at the conjuror’s table

    There is a topology of dreams.
    Out beyond Riemann and names I have yet to learn,
    there are configurations of space:
    past Boole, dreams have their logics.


    Take an egg.
    With a tap of the wand, crack it open,
    let it fall apart so precisely
    the two half-shells could again fit together,
    ovoid, seamlessly,
    almost an egg.
    Catch white and yolk in a glass.
    Toss up and catch the half shell in your left hand
    holding the right steady,
    bring them together, there’s a fit,
    a logic to it, a topology, one
    to one, across many thousands of facets
    of fragile, broken shell.
    Break another egg so preciely
    the left half of ts shell would match exactly
    the right half of the first,
    bring them together,
    the fit is exact by definition,
    brown shell with speckled,
    but there is loss of logic, the thing is surreal,
    an egg not an egg at all.
    Holding the half-shell in your right hand
    face upwards, pour into it
    yolk and white of the same egg,
    the heart of the egg filling its own shell,
    the fit ovoid, but better:
    the original yolk united with its familiar shell.
    Cover shell and all with a handkerchief,
    red, green, blue,
    whisk it away, and the egg vanishes —
    or appears, whole.


    There are logics, topologies,
    affinities beyond the exact match
    of shell and shell,
    and so between times, places,
    people in dreams –
    the half hovel, half cathedral
    with its walkways among lily ponds, the koi,
    dusk in one century dawn in another,
    her youth your old age your youth again, time
    cracked open so precisely,
    its yolk, meaning,
    its moments an exact match across centuries,
    its half-shell a perch for Venus,
    its wholeness Fabergé,
    its yolk, tempera mixed by Giotto,
    meaning, tempera, Assisi,
    gesso, the chalk cliffs of Dover, the sea..
    There is a harmony of the whole,
    of the broken unbroken,
    named yet unnameable, unspeakable,
    there is a logic.
    there is a topology of the sundries of dreams,
    a mathematics to this matching
    of thou with i,
    of words, asleep, awake, of dusk to dawn, with all.

    Recognising that it belongs in a category she might call philosopoetry, I sent it to my friend, the artist Alyce Santoro, author of the remarkable Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide>


    I’m a lucky fellow.

    Today, via 3 Quarks Daily, I ran across this quote from Walter Bejamin:

    I had suffered very much from the din in my room. Last night the dream retained this. I found myself in front of a map and, at the same time, in the landscape which was depicted on it. The landscape was incredibly gloomy and bleak, and it wasn’t possible to say whether its desolation was merely a craggy wasteland or empty grey ground populated only by capital letters. These letters drifted curvily on their base, just as if they were following the mountain range; the words formed from these letters were more or less remote from each other. I knew, or came to know, that I was in the labyrinth of the ear canal. The map was at the same time a map of hell.

    There’s something darkly Borgesian about that quote, eh? But it certainly illuminates dream topology, and even moreso, the topology of the relationship of dream to waking, itself worth comparing with the relationship of map to territory, word to referent, and indeed moon to finger with which Count Korzybski, Lao Tzu, and the Zen poets are each so notably concerned.


    Tunneling on through, I find myself contemplating one of Alyce’s inspirations — Eve Andrée Laramée’s Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, shown in Mass MoCA‘s 2000-2001 exhibition Unnatural Science, from 2000 – 2001:


    A detail from that work illustrates the etching of certain phrases into the glass — in this case, the words polysemy and misconception:

    7. Eve Andree Laramee_polysemy-misconception

    The display is characterized in this piece from Art & Science Jounral:

    Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions by American artist Eve Andrée Laramée consists of an array of tall metal stands, clamps, PVC tubings, glass beakers, flasks and vials. Although much of the equipment looks standard from afar, the installation is a dysfunctional and mythological sort of laboratory that highlights the inherent but often unnoticed subjectivity in scientific inquiry. [ .. ]

    In this fantastical and visually dazzling Apparatus, many of the glassware are hand-blown with various cloudy or luminous turquoise solutions and copper wires attached to large exotic flowers contributing to the spectacle of a giant chemistry experiment gone amok.

    Upon close inspection, a second level of complexity is revealed by the seemingly unscientific words and phrases such as “HANDFULS”, “LEAP IN THE DARK” and “UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES” delicately etched into the glass, exposing a sense of insecurity and imprecision behind the process of science.


    My Egg at the conjuror’s table is really more a philosoprop, to use Alyce’s coinage, than what many expect a poem to be, and likewise Laramée’s Apparatus more a philosoprop than what many expect an artwork to be.


    The word philosoprop is a portmanteau of philosophy (love of wisdom) and either prop (theatrical property) or propaganda (influential communication), depending. A philosoprop is a device, implement, or illustration – crafted or discovered ready-made – that can be used for the purpose of demonstrating a concept or sparking a dialog.

    Let’s talk..

    About those angels hiding in the wings & winds

    Saturday, July 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — John Donne, Kepler, and the transition from natural philosophy to science — & beyond ]

    Here’s a DoubleQuote for you:

    Donne Keppler DQ

    This isn’t futuristic strategy, but it is futures thinking.

    There was an extraordinary transition that took place when natural philosophy morphed into science, and while I’ve quoted John Donne’s four amazing words “round earth’s imagin’d corners” [upper panel, above] often enough as illustrating both worldviews as though seen through a conceptual equivalent of binocular vision, it was only recently via 3QD that I came across Kepler’s illustration of the elliptical orbit of Mars with its remarkable combination of angels and geometrical precision.

    I would argue that we are at the beginning of another such trasformation, in which the “horizontal” imaginative (imaginal, image-making, magical), intuitive (irrational), creative (leaping, analogical, cross-disciplinary) mode of perception will again be integrated in some new and transformative manner with the “vertical” linear, numeric-verbal, logical (rational) mode that at present so fascinates our culture — the conscious mode of thinking through with the unconscious mode of revelatory insight.

    If it is indeed the case — as suggested by the failure of Aristotelian either-or logic to support the niceties of the world seen from a quantum mechanical perspective — that we are entering a transition to a stereoscopic worldview that finally harmonizes the sciences with the arts and humanities, then a clear understanding of the earlier transition represented above in the two panels, one from Donne’s poems, one from Kepler’s treatise, will be an invaluable guide to what lies ahead.



  • John Donne, At the round earth’s imagin’d corners
  • James Blachowicz, There Is No Scientific Method
  • **

    Edited to add:

    For an in-depth account of salient aspects of that first transformation, see Ioan Couliano‘s great book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

    Guest Post: Why the United States cannot put Boots on the Ground to Fight ISIS

    Saturday, June 18th, 2016

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Today, I’m pleased to offer a guest post by LtCol. Bob Weimann, USMC (ret.) .  Weimann is the former Commanding Officer, Kilo Co., 3/1 and Weapons Company 3/1. He also served as a Marine Security Force Company commanding officer, an infantry battalion Operations Officer and the Executive Officer of 1/6 during Desert Storm. A frequent presenter at the Boyd & Beyond Conferences, Bob is on the Board of Directors of UAP (United American Patriots) and a contributing editor to www.defendourmarines.com . UAP is a non-profit charity that aids military service members to help defray expenses for an adequate and fair legal defense. See What UAP Believes here: http://www.unitedpatriots.org/ .

    Why the United States Cannot Put Boots on the Ground to Fight ISIS

    By Bob Weimann

    The expression “boots on the ground” has an extended military-jargon history…The term is used to convey the belief that military success can only be achieved through the direct physical presence of troops in a conflict area … The term is particularly applied currently (2010) to counter-insurgency operations.[1]

    The expression “boots on the ground” basically means we need to send in ground troops, grunts, warriors, dog-faces, jarheads, combatants…those shifty eyed fowl mouth two fisted go for broke Soldiers and Marines that close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver in order to kill the enemy. These are the folks that must place the front site of their rifle on an enemy and pull the trigger. These are warriors brave enough to step through the doorway of an enemy occupied house, detect and disarmed an IED, engage a treacherous enemy that does not take prisoners and an enemy that does not hesitate to torturer and murder innocents. Our warriors are the sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, neighbors, and acquaintances from every community, town, city and state across this country and one of the greatest representative cross sections of patriotic American citizens in existence.

    Our warriors are a different generation but they possess the same spirt America’s warriors have establish and exhibited since the Revolutionary War. For over 240 years these folks have never let us down and have volunteer for the nasty, dirty, immoral, brutalizing effects of combat. You can say we lost in Viet Nam, Somali, Iraq and Afghanistan but the scary truth is we lost those wars strategically after we won them tactically. The unfortunate reality is that the strategic always trumps the tactical. Tactical is all about the troops; strategy is all about the generals.

    The other scary fact is that since 2003, we have seen an unprecedented number of courts martial that the media labels “war crimes” … more “war crime” legal cases since 2003 than in all the battle history of all the United States war’s combined. How can this be possible when we have fielded to today’s battles the best trained, best equipped, smartest warriors in this country’s history?

    The issue is not the troops, the issue here is the senior military leadership, the general officers that have forgotten they are warriors and exhibit the traits and leadership characteristics of politicians. Today’s general officers understand careerism but do not understand the Laws of War that should be their stock and trade.  They hid behind lawyers and Rule of Law equivocations that cannot co-exist on a battlefield.

    For this reason, we cannot put combat boots on the ground because the troops are being used as political cannon fodder. Over and over again we see American combatants thrown under the bus for the sake of justifying a policy objective of executing a bad military strategy.  Names like Lt Ilario Pantano, Sgt Larry Hutchins, SSgt Frank Wuterich, Sgt Michael Williams, Sgt Jose Nazario, 1Sgt John Hatley, Sgt Derrick Miller, Capt Roger Hill, Lt Michael Behenna, Major Fred Galvin, Major Matt Goldsteyn, PFC Corey Clayett, GySgt Timothy Hogan, SPC Franklin Dunn, SSgt Osee Fagan, SPC Michael Wagnon, and Lt Clint Lorance are the more notable cases. You can be certain that the list will continue to grow not only with the recent Afghanistan Kunduz Hospital Airstrike[2] but also any combat actions against the terrorist in Iraq and Syria.

    Military campaigns are always based on a “kill or capture” strategy, however, our leadership does not believe in a kill strategy nor do they believe in a capture strategy. Our military leadership believes that our Soldiers and Marines are in combat to die for the “greater good”.[3] Instead of capture, we have a “catch and release” program that continually frees known enemy combatants and terrorist to again kill, not only our service members, but also civilians. “Catch and release” is nothing more than a treachery award program for the enemy. Our generals believe that our combatants have no right to self-defense on the battlefield.[4] The idea that our warriors are there to make the enemy die for their cause is a lost priority in our general officer’s politically correct minds.

    We cannot put boots on the ground because our generals do not trust our Soldiers and Marines to show the initiative necessary for successful combat operations. The generals have forgotten how to fight and win. They have forgotten how to support our warriors by setting the correct strategic policies to allow them to fight. We no longer have combat commanders. The Washington DC political cronies continue to dedicate failed policies that undermine and kill our warriors in order to acquire political curry and favoritism.

    War is not a moral exercise. There is no morality that can justify the slaughter of war. War is the ultimate competition that is won by killing the bad guys and bringing our warriors home alive. Collateral damage is an unescapable reality. Yes, collateral damage considerations are important but collateral damage must be weighed against military necessity. The Laws of War principle of military necessity allows for a rigorous war; a rigorous war is a short war; and a short war minimizes civilian casualties. Mixed into military necessity is the idea that field commanders have a responsibility to bring home alive as many of our warriors as possible. Sending them to Leavenworth is not part of the “bringing them home” equation.


    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boots_on_the_Ground


    [3] http://www.wnd.com/2012/03/sacrifice-marines-for-the-greater-good/

    [4] http://newsok.com/article/3690397

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