What Links Here? (1 articles…)


The finger that points to the moon is not the moon

— Old Mate Thich Nhat Hanh

Istigkeit! I shout, with all my breath, ISTIGKEIT! But for all the world, all that is heard is a whisper.

That notorious German word:


...translates, most literally, as "Isness"

What "is" isness?

I'll get to that in a moment.

Let's talk first about Relational Frame Theory, and the nature of a human brain.

Humans, us, we know how to build links. If we're taught that A links to B, and that B links to C, hang on let's use a symbology for this, let's say that we are told:

A → B
B → C

Then we will build all of the other relations. Automatically, without conscious thought we will do this.

Firstly we can build the converse relations.

B → A
C → B

And we can build the transitive relations.

A → C

We can also build the converse transitive relations....

C → A

And I have neglected to mention that we, natural link builders, immediately perceive the possibility of each thing's relation to itself:

Thus starting from 2 relations...

A → B
B → C

We can, without a moment's thought, derive these 9 relations...

A → A
A → B
A → C
B → B
B → A
B → C
C → C
C → B
C → A

But it gets quickly worse!

We can relate the relations - just as "A" is a thing or "B" is a thing, so "A → B" is a thing and it too can relate to other things:

If we label each of these relations....

(A → A) = D
(A → B) = E
(A → C) = F
(B → B) = G
(B → A) = H
(B → C) = I
(C → C) = J
(C → B) = K
(C → A) = L

And we can compare and reason about the relations between the relations....

D → D
D → E
E → E
E → D
E → F
F → F
F → D
D → F
F → E

And so on.

You see the infinite varieties that arise?

Aside from the infinite unbounded varieties... we can also get unbounded cycles. (i.e. recursion, stack overflow...)

If for example we fail to notice that

(D → E) → (A → B)

is the same as:

(D → E) → (E)

We can then begin to compare the two things... let's label them as:

((D → E) → (A → B)) = J
((D → E) → (E)) = K

And we can create a relation J → K without noticing that J == K and thus J → K is the same as the self-relation J → J.

Hence there can be an infinite number of ways of relating A → A — with no new information being generated or considered, but infinite energy expended.

Here's the essential lesson from the relational frame theory: The relation is as real as the thing itself. From the point of view of a human mind, our response (our degree of stimulation) to an internal representation of a "thing" is similar to, and can be larger than, the response we have to the thing itself.

This is what Plato was riffing on.

Plato's belief system went further than relational frame theory — he thought that the ideal of the thing was more real than the thing itself.

The thing is just a figment. The ideal is the real thing.

That's our fundamental intelligence, being able to believe in a symbol more than we can believe in a thing itself.

It's also the greatest cause of all our suffering.

The German word


translates as "Isness"

Which is it? The thing, or the representation of the thing? Which has the most istigkeit? If you believe Plato, then the thing itself has less istigkeit than the pure Platonic idea of the thing. The results of RFT show that the idea of the thing can have more influence over a life than any real thing itself.

there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

We can get lost in a mental ant-mill

We can build fantasy cities, paracosms, castles made of sand, with no value.

Nothing external nothing real.

Nothing that ties them back to putting food in the belly.

They can outlive any given thing. Our ideas can easily outlive our bodies.

Once humanity itself is gone, our ideas will still exist, in dormant form, awaiting the arrival of a fresh set of neural networks to represent them and bring them back into being.

In that dormant form, does the idea cease to exist?

Consider Tolkien's paracosm, Middle Earth: did it cease to "be" when Tolkien's mind stop inhabiting it?

Or, much simpler: does Pythagoras' theorem still exist, even when there is no-one to think it, no books to store it?

See Also