April 9, 2019

Lost and found. Constantin Virgil Negoita: IMPLICATIONS (book review)

In the category 'lost and found' - a review (that I wrote decades ago) of a book by one of the leading world experts in fuzzy logic, sets and systems, Constantin Virgil Negoita
Constantin Virgil Negoita : IMPLICATIONS
Hunter College, New York (1994)
These are a couple of notes on the book of Constantin Virgil Negoita, which appeared in 1994. The title of the book is `Implications'. It is structured, as the author says, as a `diary, a record of thoughts and events, kept when teaching computer science in a humanistic environment'.

The paradigm of computation is enriched by what the reader perceives to be a continuous transfer of meaning between science areas including computer science, neural networks or fuzzy logic on the one hand,and humanistic areas including history, philosophy or religion on the other. A nice `reciprocity law' acts, in the sense that the fruits of this interaction are equally shared by science and humanities.

The contemplative solitaires, be they the Dessert Fathers, the Hesychasts, or the `one-life short-path' monks from Laddakh emphasized the importance of the direct spiritual experience, as often opposed to a formal scholarly training. A Zen monk, after spending more than thirty years with the study of the sutras and formal training under several masters, wandering in despair in the woods, suddenly gets enlightened by realizing the circularity of the sun. The books disclose "life-giving meaning only to those who can extract from them confirmation of what they already possess". This perennial truth has avatars within the hi-tech world : how are students dealing with their textbook? The author offers them the best advice :
I warned them that to the inexperienced, they remain not only dumb, but will infallibly lead them into the most hopeless confusion. The key, I said, is in the direct contact with the computer. "Unless you enter into direct experiences by direct participation, you remain outside, turn and twist as you may"
The well known doctrine of the Hesychasm concerning the distinction between Divine energies and Divine essence, developed by Saint Gregorios Palamas  throws its light on the high-tech myth of the machine-man union, possible at the level of energies but not at that of the essence. The Man, or the `Programmer' - as a Person - cannot be known without His Initiative. Besides the author, the book has essentially three personages, namely three distinguished students of him, Sophia, Emanuel, Deborah. But there is nothing like an usual teacher-student relationship. One might say that Sophia, Emanuel and Deborah are just alter-egos, or the author's own mind, projected. In `real world' they helped the author to organize the 8th International Congress of Cybernetics and Systems, chaired by him, but their function within the imaginary structures of the book goes much deeper... The book appears as a spiritual excursion. Sometimes the path is lost, then it is found again, and the light is back... But are there four hikers or just one ? It is hard to say, maybe it doesn't matter at all.
I said that after a while, due to their effort [...] the teacher will become a pupil again, the master a  beginner, and the beginning perfection
Ancient myths are detected at various levels of our world of technological rationality : the Programmer dissolves into the `sacraments' of the query languages, the procedures, as structures of direct communication between programs appear to Sophia as angels, while the `quiz' taken by a class of students in a New York University appears as a genuine spiritual meditation, a immersion into the `deep sleep' state mentioned in the Upanishads. After all, an immersion into knowledge.

By duality, events which happened centuries ago acquire a contemporary interpretation, like, e.g., in the Emanuel's interpretation of the events of the third century (when `the civilized world suddenly finds itself disrupted by wars, famine, pestilence, floods and rebellions', while`the paleochristians are burned at the stake, crucified or beheaded'):
"Why?" asked the girl.
"Providence." answered Emanuel, "an instruction to leave the big cities. The Programmer used an if-then-else statement. If called, then out of this world, else big troubles."
Early Christianity or the Church of the Former-Days scholars, is one of the recurrent themes of meditation in the book. What happened to those who left the plains or the cities and took the way of solitude in the mountainous spots where the Romans were in retreat ?
"What followed was the millennium" answered Emanuel [...] "Did they built churches ?" was the general question. "They were the church," was the conclusion, according to the `Ecclesiastical History' of Sozomen, who testifies that they evidenced the truth of their doctrines by their virtuous lines of conduct, neglecting many branches of mathematics and the technicalities of dialectics [...]  seeing that they contribute nothing towards correct  living [...] For they do not demonstrate virtue by argument, but practice it, and count as nothing the glory current among men.
How can those which `approximated Godliness as closely as it is possible', help us out of our sickness, out of our modern neurosis in which we announce again and again our resolution of tasting the hells of the Big City ? Can we reconstruct the meaning, now, at this time and this setting? Can we make Eminescu's Glossa live within ourselves: "For the mind profoundly knowing/ All is old and all is new"... According to the conventional logic, that of the `Latter-Day scholars', nothing could be old and new in the same time: this is exactly the principle of excluded middle... Who will save us then ? An ancient ko-an runs like this (cf. Zen Buddhism, selected writings of T.D. Suzuki, William Barrett editor, 1956):
Empty-handed I go and yet the spade is in my hands
I walk on foot, and yet on the back of an ox I am riding:
When I pass over the bridge,
Lo, the water floweth not, but the bridge doth flow
In Zen one meets at every step such `graphic irrationalities': "The flower is not red, nor is the willow green" is regarded as the same as its affirmative, "The flower is red and the willow is green". That is, "A is at once A and not-A". Today's "fuzzy logic" (heavily conceptualized by using the methods of category theory, that is, going much deeper than the obvious common sense understanding) reflects, in a sense, the way of thinking of the Former-Day scholars, which `became increasingly aware of the limitations of the principle of the excluded middle [...] After all Christ was man and non-man, at the same time'... while in the Hymn of Creation [Rg Veda, X-129]
Then there was not non-existent nor existent
There was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.
What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? 
Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?
Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal
No sign was there, the day's and night's divider.
That one thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature
Apart from it was nothing whatsoever.
Even if today we are, generally speaking, outwardly oriented, can we still hear and understand the message of the Former-Day scholars ? Can we speak about a conciliation between tradition and modernity ?

According to analytical psychology of Carl G. Jung, we will not get free of any conflict unless a _third_ element comes to life, shines and reveals within ourselves a new meaning, contrasting with what we previously perceived to be suffering and meaningless chaos. At the very end of Ingmar Bergman's `Through a Glass Darkly', such kind of ressurecting meaning reveals itself in
the words of the introverted father:
God is love. Love in all its forms. I don't know if love proves God's existence, of if God himself is love. But suddenly the emptiness turns to wealth, and hopelessness to life. It's like a reprieve from the death penalty.
The simplicity of truth is hidden within us. Still we have to bring this to life, which is a matter of ... applied will. The Early Fathers did it :
They believed that a quiet life in the country, free from excitement, trouble, anxiety, leads to a quiet mind, capable of illumination. God can be known through His power of doing work. In an act of seeing, something enters the mind: another mind. "Is God a mind?" asked Sophia. [...]
The author's return from a visit to Romania, during a sabbatical leave, elicited conflicting views, due the same `absurdity of the principle of the excluded middle':
My friends were disturbed by the fact that Walachia as seen from the mountains should have the same name as Walachia as seen from the city.
In the next section the itinerary evolves around neural networks, the discussions being enhanced by the developments of the 8th International Congress of Cybernetics and Systems, itself a `neural net'. The reader can find illuminating comments on the mechanism of cognition, after the scheme `you pull back from the trees to see the forest', which is revealed as a possible low-temperature behavior of a neural network : as the temperature of the system decreases, the boundary, composed of the extremal states, becomes manifest...

After all this, the author decides to go and see the living truth.
"If God is a mind then the monastery should be a brain" [...]
I announced my intention to go to Thessalonika and visit the monks on the Holy Mountain. There, inside the Byzantine system, where `time is reckoned from the sunset' the author discovers new facts, spiritual ones this time, about neural networks, by paying attention to the training of the monks. Also, we meet there the charismatic presence of Abbot Petroniu from Prodomos monastery:
I asked him about his experiences. "Being with God" was his answer. A powerful technique because it drastically cuts down  on knowledge acquisition time, a major bottleneck in modern sciences [...]
The spiritual journey in Athos continues to Gregoriou and Dionisiou:
[...] Their computational power was immense. When I  reached the monastery of Gregoriou, a monk told me that Calinic of Cernica predicted with amazing precision how Dalmatia will be in big trouble at the end of the second millennium. [...] The Bishop Palamas of Thessalonika felt that we live in a quantum world, centuries before Plank [...] At the monastery of Dionisiou, probably because my ancestors Radu, Neagoe and Peter, were painted between life-size pictures of saints, the Fall of Lucifer, the Assembly of Angels, the Heavenly Ladder, and many representations of paradise, I was treated with peaches and  grapes, and invited to the library on the top floor of the  new wing. Manuscripts illustrated with miniatures were  speaking about the unification with God's energies, how you can be a partner of the divine nature, and how the deification is something that involves the body.
    After the trip to Athos the author is back to the class where the students, Emanuel, Sophia, Deborah Frye and others, are waiting the teacher, ready to discuss, to inquire, eager to grasp the meaning...

The last section of the book is on fuzzy logic, that which appears to be so intimately connected with the world-view of the Early Fathers. Interesting enough, the Fuzzy systems are a contemporary technological reality, especially in Japan, where one can find them almost everywhere, from fuzzy auto transmission and auto-focus cameras to fuzzy stock market investment programs for signaling shifts in market sentiments...

Borgess, who `saw millions delightful and atrocious acts' was astonished by the `fact that all of them together occupied the same point, without superimposition and without transparency', kind of an `unreadable Aleph', or, by using Joseph Goguen's Oxford Computing Labs terminology, that `terminal object in the category of concepts'.

In a few words, the book of Constantin Virgil Negoita invites us to meditate much more than we usually do, on the conflict between tradition and modernity. This conflict will last forever as the natural play of the double-faced god Janus, but the solution must be born within us, the place where we find both the root of evil and the way out of it.