[Paleopsych] Dan Brown, Hegel and Hinduism

Werbos, Dr. Paul J. paul.werbos at verizon.net
Sun Jul 18 13:49:22 UTC 2004

Good morning!

Sometimes on a Sunday morning, it is so pleasant to look out to the complex 
multithreaded fabric around
us, and try to make out (or imagine?) patterns not seen before...

If only we had more of such mornings....


Regarding Dan Brown, someone on this list recently said he would rather 
read titillating stories about
the sex lives of the British royals than read HIS books. (The voice of a 
former teenager in my mind
immediately thought: "Once again we are too much a nation of couch 
potatoes...", but I will not follow
that first thread here.)

Whatever his problems, Dan Brown does deserve a bit more than that.

Certainly, Brown makes assertions in his books which raised immediate 
hackles in my mind -- though I still
enjoyed reading them anyway. He talks a lot about groups, people and 
history that I know
better, first-hand, and he constantly overreached and enshrined 
speculations that could become dangerous
if taken too seriously. But after a certain point, I began to think... I 
have to agree with some of his taste in subjects,
because I have found almost all of the groups he discusses worth of intense 
attention. With one perhaps
central exception: the Priory of Sion. The last trace I saw of them 
crossing paths with the real world..
was probably about 80 years ago... He also made a few technical points 
about codes which I had not heard of - but
which I have not checked (at least, not checked out completely). (Oops: I 
have also had no contact whatsoever
with any French royal lines, unless you count De Broglie or De Beauregard, 
from a distance.)

And yet, in retrospect... Brown does have an important role to play.

Crudely -- if the world is obsessed with a "thesis," there really are times 
when an antithesis must
be well-articulated and pushed before it is possible to move on to a 
synthesis. This has been
something of a hard lesson for me to learn over the past few years. As an 
individual, I often want to move
straight to the synthesis to a point closer to the truth. In my own 
thinking, I can get away with
doing that, and can move ahead many steps... but there comes a time when 
one must either
communicate or face up to the fact that one has contributed very little 
real to the world as whole.
And in that process... as people move one step at a time... one needs to value
the Great Antithesis.

Of course, this is straight Hegel. Hegel is not satisfying at all as a 
theory of how human brains really
learn and progress. Freud makes a lot more sense, in my view, as a guide to 
the wiring of a system
that really works. Hegel is as unsatisfying to the intellect as the 
"yin-yang" ideas from Daoism.
(And Hegel, like Daoist folk healers, also has his barnacles and cheap 
shots that I don't mean to comment on here.)
And yet... we do need phenomenological guides to everyday life, and Hegel's 
triangle of thesis-antithesis-synthesis
does seem to recur in many, many parts of life experience. It can be seen 
as a kind of crude but
very useful approximation to a kind of emergent dynamic property of 
intelligent systems and social systems.

The Financial Times yesterday morning had a big article (page W4) on the 
new... worldview... emerging
in Russia. They say that the rediscovery of Hegel is a large part of it. 
That also is interesting.

And when I think of it... in complex ways... I realize how the Orthodox 
Hindu trinity of Brahman-Siva-Krishna
mirrors very nicely the trinity of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. In some 
ways, one might even argue
that Hegel gives a kind of purified version of that trinity, stripped of 
confusing and deceptive barnacles..
(but also stripped of poetry and side stories, yes).

Why would one care? Why would a more cosmic intellect waste time with such 

The whole Hegelian process can help us become conscious of a pervasive 
challenge we all face as
intelligent systems ourselves" a tendency to be caught in local minima. And 
it highlights how diversities
in HUMAN personalities can be helpful in society as a whole making progress.

Many of us, in the rationalist part of the world, have tended to gravitate 
towards incremental progress
and incremental learning. For example, the neural network learning 
algorithm I developed
more than thirty years ago, now called "backpropagation," is an incremental 
learning system,
and it accounts for perhaps 80 percent of the useful real-world 
applications of artificial neural networks.
(I have free time right now because I am basically waiting to fly to a 
couple of conferences, including IJCNN04 --
a term you can google -- to give a tutorial on this. Would be happy to 
email the powerpoint with text notes
to anyone who doesn't mind getting 4 megs.) But it has been widely 
criticized because of how it can sometimes
get stuck in "local minima."

The local minimum problem actually is radically different from what quickie 
users of backpropagation in the MatLab
program imagine. (Again, the tutorial explains more.) Some key 
aspects:  simple pattern classification systems
usually do not get stuck in local minima; incremental learning always 
IMPROVES what you have, and that's
useful, even if it is not the global optimum; as learning challenges grow 
more and more complex,
local minima become more and more unavoidable -- so that we can never 
"solve" them with a magic bullet but
we do need to have a whole multi-layer arsenal of methods to try to improve 
creativity, to find ways to get out of local minima.

So this Hegelian stuff is basically about fighting our way out of local minima.

Years ago, I discussed this with Michael Conrad, one of the people I used 
to fund, and we put together one interesting story --
where the "thesis" is the local minimum we are now stuck in, an 
"antithesis" may be another valley
we can reach only by jumping "irrationally" in opposition to the local 
gradient we experience -- and
synthesis or transcendence is when the learning system ADDS A NEW VARIABLE 
to its representation of the problem such that
there is again an incremental path to the ultimate point.

The strategy of seeking transcendence is my favorite strategy in trying to 
improve social systems. But the
energy to MOTIVATE synthesis is often lacking... and it can be hard at 
times to sell the objective truth...
and often one must wait until an extreme idiot is willing to formulate the 
antithesis in
he starkest  most extreme form before the world is ready for the synthesis.
That is hard for an incremental, rational Quaker to learn... but there it is.
(Comment: Quaker lobby groups these days tend to have a different 
personality from Quakers in
general on this particular point.... perhaps for reasons related to what I 
am saying here.)

And so.. Dan Smith. The Goddess stuff tends to be an extreme antithesis, 
and some of what he
say about specific people would drive them into orbit -- not just the woman 
he wrongs from the space movement
but also many men whom he praises in ways they would not like...

And yet, it is certainly true that the world as a whole is entrenched in a 
thesis in its treatment of women
which is extreme in the opposite direction, and dangerously destabilizing. 
I am not thinking
of the US especially... where we have many, many technical problems but not 
such a crisis...
but rather of parts of the world where the instability of the old thesis 
really is an urgent crisis.

All for now.

Best of luck,


More information about the paleopsych mailing list