It is time to consider exactly what it was you were trying to answer, and IN CONTEXT. In “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” series, the penultimate tome was entitled Life, The Universe and Everything... which is pretty close to where these studies have gone. At the beginning, it was just ‘how does the brain function and what does that mean for the mind?' It was this dual ambition that rode the teeter-totter between the "easy problem/hard science" and "hard problem/soft science, philosophical speculation", which sort of slid off into the aforementioned Douglas Adams title question, and, as well as the greater implications.
But before going any further, we’ve got to establish some ground rules, some basic premises.
1. The scientific method is employed at all times. (And if you got to have that defined, you really need to go back to page one...or enroll at courses in at Bob Jones University or something.)
2. Equations usually mean balancing substances/properties until some understanding of what measures up against what, the simplest being something like algebra and the most complex along the lines of, say, John Nash's Bargaining problem or such. (You know, "A Beautiful Mind"?) This little bit was copped off a philosophy website and I offer it here unattributed simply to get the juices flowing. "The rules of replacement that we employ here include: De Morgan's Theorems,
Commutation, Association, Distribution, Double Negation, Transposition, Implication, Equivalence, Exportation, and Tautology. These, taken together with the nine rules of inference, adequately secure the completeness of the propositional calculus." See? It ain't all about the numbers.
3. Sort of a take on Premise #2, the thesis here covers the concepts of Parallelism as well as Symmetry. We see how it works in math (fractals and the Mandelbrot series most prominent among many), but this premise is herewith given to establish its constant presence in Nature as a scientific fact (despite some history of fraud; see the notorious case of Ernest Haeckl and his "Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny" scam) in both organic and inorganic matter. We will assume this premise on the basis that it has enough evidence to raise it to the level of a Law for living organisms (such as the Symmetry of DNA and Parallel states of embryonic development), and then, with that support, to note enough observations of the microcosm/macrocosm effect (such as the spherical Symmetry of atoms and planets, star systems and galactic clusters, etc. and the same Parallelism) that we can say a certain degree of similar manifestations will occur at different ends of the scales...with one specific proviso: IN CLASSICAL PHYSICS.
4. NOW, when premise #3 does NOT apply – CLASSICAL VS. QUANTUM – it is not only possible but necessary to describe the Universe (and all subsequent principles and subjects) in terms of both.
It is STRONGLY advised you make note of these because they are going to be constantly referred to by the shorthand of “#(with numeral)”. And often. And in combinations. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.)
Proceeding from premise #3, we begin with The Universe and the Big Bang. To put it semi-biblically, in the beginning, there was a “plasma,” infinitely dense and infinitely hot, but totally without form in the void, as we understand it: neither matter nor energy. So, so far, the King James version, for want of a better word (“logos” actually, but why go there now?), ain’t too far off the mark.
“And God said: 'Let there be Light!'”
Or, as we said: “B-bang!”
So now what?
Energy is what is the first out of the box, E=MC2. It is recorded as also the beginning of TIME & SPACE. (Aside posit: of course, Time & Space – the former is our measurement to the expanding edge of the Universe, the latter is what came in behind the edge… So then, in a 10-D universe, the other 9 or 8 were “unfolding” (or not) in a parallel manner, even, maybe, because Time & Space developed faster, they didn’t. No particular reason to think why not. Michio Kaku (see prev.) has noted that a few of the models of the “other” dimensions – on “branes,” short for membranes – could actually be “nested” within ours on undeveloped-yet-parallels, sort of like the buds on a tree that didn’t bloom. This is, however, all just conjecture...and simile . But more on THAT later as well.)
So, energy reached some “point” of expansion to where it slowed down from the speed of light and became matter. (Remember: E=MC2 also means, if it ain’t going at 186,000 miles per second, it ain’t light, and when you cycle down from ultraviolet to infra-red, eventually you are going to get matter.) You see, matter is what takes up, SPACE, naturally… Perhaps Gravity came into being as the first energy that wasn’t light. Without the intervention of a physicist to say otherwise, it stands to reason that this is the one core property of energy manifest in Matter that we a) know the least about, b) have no identified particle as the carrier of its force, and c) can manipulate the least. And the best reason to believe “gravity as a force” came first is that it is the sole force connected to Mass (E=MC2).
Then, regardless of the other dimensions, this one established the observable phenomena that makes up our understanding of Classical Physics, a/k/a “the Standard Model”. We call it that because it is the one that has stood the premise #1 test since premise #1 has been in use, right up through and including Newton. Then came Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Godel, Hawking, et al. At this juncture Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Incompleteness, Uncertainty, all began to enter into the search for elementary particles. And seeing as how this is premise #4, we should stop here and recap.
There’s only been two theories of the cosmos with any premise #1 basis: The Steady State Theory and the Big Bang Theory. The SS claims that all matter and energy that ever was is still here today. However, while that MAY have some support from The First Law of Thermodynamics (a/k/a the Law of Conservation of Mass & Energy, saying, basically, E can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed), The Second Law of Thermodynamics (a/k/a Entropy) says that any closed system will inevitably decay into its lowest energy state. So, if all the Matter & Energy that ever was is still here, when it gets transformed into radiant energy in a star, say, there has to be an accumulation of inert material, exhausted matter, which, occasionally will collapse into white dwarfs or black holes or neutron stars, WHICH ARE ALL VERIFIABLE ENTITIES -- they have been proven to exist. Then, at the very least, the SS is highly improbable just from observable data employed in premise #1.
Now, unless we are going to dispense with the Laws of Intertia – that describe energy as much as bodies at rest or in motion will remain in those states until acted upon by an outside force -- we are compelled to accept that dead matter ain’t going to spontaneously generate MORE energy unless hammered by MORE energy than it contains…which exhausts yet another bit of matter… Unless you believe that a Pertpetual Motion Machine is going to solve our dependency on foreign oil (in which case, I have a patent I would like to show you…), then you’d better reject the Steady State Theory. Everything comes to an end. Period.
So, then the Classical/Standard Model with the Big Bang is the way our “reality” works. Nothing falls up. No one “youngens” like Merlin in “Camelot.” AND THE HEAT-DEATH OF THE UNIVERSE IS INEVITABLE.
But there’s no need to get depressed about it. The fun part is that, in Quanta, you can have particles without mass, faster than the speed of light, can be two places at the same time, etc. If they were brick, we could build some crazy houses…but they aren’t. And that they are all mixed up in a soup of forces BEYOND gravity pretty much means they can do whatever they want in a subatomicverse of superstrings and dark matter and dark energy and Higgs Bosons…
Our existence is governed by a classical model of matter, but only touching upon the classical model of energy when we encounter a doorknob after shuffling across a fiber carpet in the middle of a dry Winter day, try to go into the paint for a layup, or get caught in an A-bomb blast or Chernyobl. These are all cute ways of saying, we don’t really know anything about them at all until it physically affects us. At the Quantum level, we know of the Weak Force, Electromagnetic Force, and Nuclear Force – at least, those are the ones we have identified. That’s why Particle Physicists are betting the farm on the Higgs Boson as the theoretical carrier of Mass – a/k/a, Gravity. Put those two ideas together and consider: what we know about what the impact of Classical/Standard Model physics is on our lives and existences, it stands to reason (again!) that what we DON’T know is what could be doing stuff we couldn’t even conceive of.
Bad sentence, but it should sound clumsy: it is attempting to describe the indescribable, a convoluted way of saying what we don’t know could hurt/help us…but we don’t know…ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO CONSCIOUSNESS!
Why I go to Philosophers like Henri Bergson, for instance, is that he is strict about keeping all philosophy in touch (literally) with the physical world, especially in the construction of concepts in simile and metaphor. Philosophers can do one thing better than scientists: they can parse words/concepts down to the elements of meaning, and that's the only way we are going to be able to talk about anything so greasy and amorphous as the present subject. You see, the brain/mind manipulates/creates thoughts/concepts. What are we doing when we do things in our heads, really? Even the choice of the underlined verbs must be questioned (let alone the use of an italicized concrete noun in a place where only thoughts are supposed to be) for, if talk is cheap, then thoughts are worthless, right?
Hold that Question Mark.
In the “real” world, everyone agrees on Ghandi and MLK, Jr., Democracy and Freedom -- these are expressions of thoughts, beliefs, which are of value and power, but only if enough people get behind them. However, these are examples of a social phenomenon and the psychology of mass movements; an idea shared, an “ideal” idea, and not to be confused with Thought. To capitalize the noun as Thought, then is what we'll do to give it an identity, ok? So then, Thought...does what? Thorny, ain't it? This is why we must to return to philosophers and feed them the toughest nuts, like WHAT DOES “DOES WHAT” mean?
Beyond the obvious fact that there are wide variances, gulfs even, between what I mean when I say something and what you mean using the exact same sentence (phrasing, stress, accent, plus personal associations or colorations of and with the words themselves), Philosophers treat the expression of Thought with the precision of a diamond cutter. So, come down on the “hard problem” and the “soft science” again, of "What is Consciousness?" or “What is Consciousness For?” but describe it as an algebraic statement: VALUE OF "THOUGHT" +/- FUNCTION OF PRODUCT OF "THOUGHT" TO SUM/PRODUCTION – RESOLVE. Pretty clunky, admittedly, but this is something Bergson would take a little time with as he started out as a mathematician, and simply because the end of it asks for variables to be calculated and the middle inquires of the use of some addition/multiplication/division /subtraction – a “function” – operator. In phrasing it this way, as a formula, you can then plug in alternative definitions -- using “value” as “spirituality” or “worth” or “moral” and “function” as “facility” or “usage” or “purpose” and “product” as “thing manifest in reality” or “affect upon reality”– to test the validity of each solution. Yet words do more than numbers, so, when asking, one needs CONTEXT. On these pages, the obvious one is of essential terms of logic, completely dissociated from the societal framework, but insofar as we maintain the right to have the use the definitions of the English Language at our disposal. So let’s just to hold onto one term from the common definition of “value”, and that is “worth”. We can immediately reference stock exchangespeak of “net worth” and “dollars & cents” and “trading”, etc., which is, by & large, the most important “worth” of today: “Wealth.”
Then, when you ask, “are thoughts worthless”, you are putting it in the context of “dreamer”, “wastrel”, “idler”, and other epithets for those who are “lost in thought”, which, in-&-of-itself, is also a prejorative phrase. (And now that I think about it, this could be an apt description of myself. And even, perhaps, the whole reason for this essay as just an attempt to justify my seemingly pointless existence. Valid criticism? Nope. It doesn’t lessen the lesson.)
Now, substitute the term “valueless” for “worthless,” give "valueless" the definition found in premise #1, and apply premise #1 in the context of #2, #3, and #4, and you start to get the uneasy feeling that, maybe, the answer is another question: Electrical, Weak, Nuclear? WHAT FUNCTION? WHICH VALUE? If they can be measured (and they can – as activity in various parts of the cortex responding to stimuli or activity requests by the anatomy, recorded by EEG’s and MRI’s and the like, make meters flicker, you know – that sort of thing), then the answer is: No, not valueless.
Before you dismiss the latter as an exercise in rhetoric, please consider all the previous. Context & Syntax: the former is the placement of ANY THING/noun IN SOME SEQUENCE OF OCCURRENCE. The latter applies solely to LANGUAGE and its transmission. “That remark was taken out of context,” is the wounded cry of the politico caught with his pants down in a men’s room in Wisconsin or somesuch. But you never hear “You got the wrong syntax!" unless you are:
1. a philosopher
2. a professional grammarian or linguist
3. Wm. F. Buckley or that guy in the Times magazine
4. Strunk & White
5. Robert M. Pirsig
…who wrote “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and spent several years following down an essential remark of Plato’s only to find that, in an expert seminar on the subject itself, even the professor dismissed a minor interpretation of syntax, leaving him wondering why it was so important in the first place, and that is what most people call “a worthless thought,” as the rest of the book became a chronicle of his descent into madness after this apocalypse.
When I was in college, one semester I took a course in Transformational Grammar. Big mistake, but, while much of it was beyond me, the bit about "deep structure" stayed. It was examining exactly how we formed sentences, trying to fix the sequence in which information was assembled to understand at what point, before speech/transmission, the grammar was employed/deployed to determine such things as "subject/object," choice of pronoun over noun, passive or active construction -- all things which the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to deal with in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
“In rough order, the first half of the book sets forth the following theses:
• The world consists of independent atomic facts — existing states of affairs — out of which larger facts are built.
• Language consists of atomic, and then larger-scale propositions that correspond to these facts by sharing the same "logical form".
• Thought, expressed in language, "pictures" these facts.
• We can analyse our thoughts and sentences to express ("express" as in show, not say) their true logical form.
• Those we cannot so analyze, cannot be meaningfully discussed.
• Philosophy consists of no more than this form of analysis: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" ("Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent").”
(The above copied from Wikipedia article, verbaitum.)
But what truly stuck with me were his incredibly beautiful and telling summations of his "picture theory" of propositions: "The world is all that the case is," and "If you can't talk about it, point to it" among others. In the class entitled Transformational Grammar, these were the most valuable lessons, seeing into the very heart of his philosophy in aphoristic and axiomatic messages. As for exactly what Syntax is, I'm not sure we ever got that established to my satisfaction. I remember Noam Chomsky coming to lecture one time. All he wanted to talk about was the Vietnam War; I never got a straight answer about that is all I recall about the Q&A.
Nonetheless, Syntax, then, is not so impenetrable a subject as long as you continue to challenge your preconceived notions that you know what you are saying when all you really know is what you mean. Then, for the purpose of this exposition, we shall, in light of Herr Wittgenstein's previous assignment of "facts" to the "atomic" level, as well assign "syntax" to the Quantum level under this proviso: It is a "force" about which we know very little, but have every reason to believe exists in some as-yet-unidentifiable form.
So, when you are going to use words in unfamiliar settings, you are going to have situations where they might have two meanings. This is why we note that metaphor and simile must be employed only with absolute precision: if you don’t see a “like” or an “as” in there, don’t read something else. This is why you must never confuse the subject/object placement and always accept the fact that if you have any confidence in the Other’s, the author’s, voice, you are going to have to follow it until it leads you astray.
Ok, remember “worthless”? Carry this on one step further. There are processes going on “up there” from recipes for salsa to differential calculus to pick-up lines to carpentry to ____________. “Before I open a file, I want a retainer,” is some attorney’s first reaction to a client’s request. You have billable hours, you don’t waste time on something that doesn’t pay. It is, as Herr W. might typify it, a "case", which is also a framework, which also means that is worthless, in that context. Still, you do need a design before you build anything; even a writer needs an outline sometimes. That is ORGANIZING YOUR THOUGHTS.
However, there is another context, another kind of "organization", one that is not as easily penetrated; it is spontaneous, personal, eccentric and even whimsical When you hear music, the well-tempered scale, harmonic series, drums in rhythms, the pleasure in it comes from your ability to organize noise into major chord resolves, extensions and durations, tonal colors, codas. When you look at a painting, or any architecture of a specific character, you appreciate it in much the same manner. This is a language without syntax; it is emotional, phatic, yet nonetheless COMMUNICATES. In pentecostal churches, there is yet another version of this called glossolia, or "speaking in tongues". What this all refers to, specifically, is "non-sense", but it IS SENSUAL. We might call it "anti-syntax” and get away with it, so how about "anti-context"? No, because WE appreciate, assign values in relationships, when we "place" them alongside each other in Time, in sequence; the habit we cannot kick. What is it that makes Mozart the most art? Structure, organization. So what is it that this has in common with fundamentalist religious praise service, from mantra, chant, witchcraft spells, voodoo & “magical thinking”, prayer & meditation right up to Dr. Creflo S. Dollar's “Gospel of Prosperity”? All the former appeal to the higher functions of the Conscious Mind; all the latter are brain activities best associated with superstition. A prima facie case for contradiction? -- nope, because BOTH offer the same definition of Inspiration!
However, there is yet another context for the latter: Parapsychology, metaphysics, ESP… And, at the same time, because we brought in premise #4, let's also bring in the other variables we don’t have definitions for, a party without more crazy name tags: dark matter, dark energy, Superstrings, Higgs Bosons, 10-dimensional structures, branes…&?
Don’t freak out yet.
Back in the 1960’s, there was the sort of interest in this field which came along with all the other “free thinking” of the time, the zeitgeist, if you will. To investigate the phenomena of ESP, clairvoyance, telekinesis, as well as ghosts, UFO’s, instances of super-normal powers or that ill-defined category of “luck,” there was enough serious consideration given to studies trying to discover patterns of frequency and the most favorable conditions (both physical and behavioral) and personality types – anything to create a STATISTICAL MODEL. The reason for this was that the scientific establishment (based solely in premise #1) would not even consider a study/essay/paper/speculation (whatever) which did not come with some kind of proof. Given that Zener cards and frequency, for instance, could be put into a graph, you could say that a given number of persons exhibited tendencies outside of the control group much the same as – say – the evidence that the more intelligent you are makes you more susceptible to hypnosis, and hence persuasion of a certain kind, in the same manner, and you wouldn’t be wrong…just not very conclusive. In most cases, the best anyone could get was random choice with perhaps a run or two wherein something else happened, a sudden connection or stunning guesswork – but nobody EVER KNEW. However, drop in premise #4 and you may get a different answer.
It was Einstein himself who, in a pure philosophic moment, described his work – the entire body of it – as “a small boy wandering into God’s library, barely tall enough to pull one of the lighter tomes off the lowest shelves, and just smart enough to understand the first few lines of the first page.” Humble, yes. But also precise as anything The Man ever said.
He was talking about LANGUAGE and COMPREHENSION -- Context and Syntax.
Go back to the source of language, the mythic times whereinafter the Tower of Babel, in Western/Christian civilization at least, served an iconic function, a symbolic representation. Scripture has it that this was the biggest punishment after the banishment from Eden; the second fall of Man from grace for daring to challenge the heights of God with our own creations was to jam his communications. (Seems like we should bring in Marshall McLuhan here, but let's wait for that introduction.) Now, substitute “Thought” for “brick & mortar”. Is this starting to take on a new context yet? It doesn’t necessarily mean that the multiplicity of languages is a curse. However, what is startling is that is shows some kind of gut-level knowledge, an inherent or even instinctual feeling, that organized human consciousness is a formidable tool and yeah, like the Irish are fond of saying about whiskey as an invention to keep them from conquering the Earth, maybe…