Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Philosophy, Logic and Imperfection

Someone I respected a great deal once told me that I am not a 'philosopher.' And they were right. I am not, at least not in the western sense of the word. Maybe also not in that sense of the word that says that I must speak to your mind only according to a certain logic, without which I cannot make 'philosophical' sense. If it means 'the love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means by moral self-discipline and observation of lived reality,' then that is the kind of philosopher I would be happy to be. As for logic, some of the people I admire most have also told me 'you have your own logic.' They meant it in the best sense, because when you use tools you have learned as just building blocks, and then integrate them into yourself, you create something different from what exists. If it is a regurgitation, you may be good... but you have not made it a part of yourself, and no mastery exists.

I grew up in a very smart home (no, not the kind with all the monitoring technology), brilliant brothers and mother, all more logical than I, but wonderful teachers. My father was/is a mathematician. And a certain rigor was commanded by the learning of that subject in our home. Along with this went much philosophizing about almost everything, a cultural necessity in a Kashmiri Brahmin home -- the relation of what we would read in the 'Gita' to daily life lived in a setting so far from all that was familiar and known: family, environment, our 'habitat' I want to call it.

Math was formative as was its logic. My father is very fond of the history of numbers and we grew up with these stories. The stories of discovery and pursuit of mathematical truths were as important as the discovery itself. Much like the admiration a disciple may have for his martial arts master, we were taught to revere the pursuit of learning, and in the case of math, the discovery. And so I remember the fibonacci sequence and other answers discovered that could not be contained. I think this aspect of mathematics fascinated me the most; that math was able to admit its own limitations in a sense, when it was overcome by nature, and nature's patterns. The most amazing numbers are those with no end!

This is what is amazing about life too. The decisions we take, the choices we make when they are made according to nature's plan... that is, from our own natural strength, albeit aware, still innocent and full of hope. It is in these moments that fascinating discovery can and does take place. It is in this place that limitations cease and infinity begins. It is where the heart, mind and muscles sense each other quickening with the pursuit of something necessary to the spirit, to the simple but full living of one's own life.

Infinity also is a place of so called 'imperfection.' The pattern of petals on a flower, or leaf arrangements on a branch, or even the ratio of parts of a human body known as the 'golden ratio.' It is infinity we really strive for, and yet in our drive for patterns we also conform. For humanity as a group must have a certain order also. Someone else must study these patterns to find the golden ratios in conformist behavior and human groupings. Why can we, human communities and patterns of conformity, not be like the petals on a flower or a leaf arrangement, after all?

Therein lies the tension: we strive for patterned order while seeking to breach the limitations of the stability and structure created. It is this story that we both repeat and love to tell in what we term the 'progress narrative.' What would be the point in telling the story if we did not feel that we had 'evolved' or gone beyond where we had previously been. Some say that after a war or invasion, it is the victors who write 'history.' And so whoever tells the story, also must make themselves look good, as having created something better than those who lost the battle. It is a bit of 'rubbing it in' to be sure, but that is not how our children will necessarily read it, we think. The ones who come immediately after us, for whom we have created the world we bring them into, and who benefit from our counsel as they grow up, will only embellish our story. If we are smart, we worry about 10 generations later for the real judgment when the 'revisionist' version is written.

Much of the law and legal structure come out of these stories of push and pull. The law is written and then rewritten, sometimes because there is a real need for order, sometimes because there is a real need to show that those who govern really can and do command the order we seek, or represent a 'new' order. An important part of law then is publicizing it, telling the story of it, even writing it out and plastering it in the village square so everyone can read it and know what the order of the day or year is, and who the governors may be.

Currently, it is a change in regime also, from republican to democrat. An ideological difference but one that is difficult to demarcate by simply changing laws and increased regulation. Where the content and substance changes, it is easy to see that a change has occurred. In the case of a simple increase in regulation over the same terrain it is more difficult to tell that change will mean a difference in the order or patterns of behavior created. For the latter, we really require implementation and enforcement. With enforcement of laws, the governing order incentivizes and penalizes a certain conformity in behavior, creating beautiful or ugly patterns. Where disorder reigns, we tend to be aesthetically offended: as in the financial crisis, and the rampant criminal behavior unlimited by regulation or by its enforcement.

It is these patterns I study and rely on in my paper on a new International Financial Tribunal because even as I and others seek to respond, it is important to be aware that we are pieces of a puzzle, hopefully ones that fit into the sweet albeit far from neat pattern of infinity breeding ideas of goodness and 'gold' (in the best sense of that word).

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