technology and zen of life

“A heisenbug (named after the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) is a computer bug that disappears or alters its characteristics when an attempt is made to study it.”

The Man in the Cave

Imagine a cave, deep – so deep that sunlight can’t protrude into the cave, big – so big that multiple people would be able to occupy the cave, moist – so moist that water is dripping from the rocks, and inhabited by bats – so many bats that killing a lot of them wouldn’t lead the bats into extinction.

Now imagine we place a young man is placed inside the cave. The only things the man knows, are the things that exist in the cave. The man doesn’t know of the outside world.

But consider the following: the man has everything needed for his survival at his disposal. If he needs water, he grabs a rock and licks it, if he needs food, he can eat a bat or pluck moss of the rocky walls.

If we would observe this man over time, what would we see? He would have no concept of dark and light, as everything in the cave is pitch black. His eyes would become useless, as he can only “see” darkness. Every observation of his surroundings would be made through scent, hearing and feeling. He would be able to hear the bats and by feeling, he would be able to find the rocks that surround him. He might even be able to get an impression of the size of the cave.

Secondly, we would see the man doesn’t use speech. He would be a most silent man as he has no need whatsoever to communicate. He is alone and has never even seen a fellow human. As a result of this (and his “blindness”), perhaps, the man also wouldn’t be able to write or draw, as there is no need for him to leave written messages to other people. What he would do, however, is make mental associations that we wouldn’t make. For example, the concept “rock” might be associated with “water” for him, as his only water source is the water that drips from the rocks, and the concept “bat” will be associated with “food”. Abstract concepts however, would most likely be unknown to him. The concept of “light” for instance, will be absent, as he does not know light (explaining this concept to him will also be impossible!). Just imagine what the concept “everything” must mean to him!

So now I raise the question: what form of communication would the man rely on if a new person enters the cave (in which the new person, also doesn’t know anything apart from the cave)?

To be continued… (perhaps)

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2 Responses

  1. Ranjit says:

    Apart from our dear Navin’s psychoanalysis of the situation, I think they would initially become aware of each other’s presence by smell. Communication would happen later and would be initially dependent on touch. Both the cave creatures have learned to understand their environment by a sense of touch and I think that would be the first option that they should ideally explore.

    As to the idea of exploring sound… One big difference between human and non-human primates is vocal learning, that is, the young learn to talk by imitating the sounds their elders make. The only creatures as good at this as humans — non-human primates don’t do it — are birds. Baby birds don’t sing unless they’ve heard the grownups sing, and in the early stages of learning to sing, they babble, or as non-avian scientists call it, “subsong.” And the areas in birds’ brains responsible for both singing and learning to sing are the same areas that in primates, human and non-human, are devoted to talking, vocalizing, understanding, and gesturing.

    Since the control experiment does not say anything about ancestors, vocal learning is totally out because all they would actually know is to babble without a structure or grammar. And they would probably have different babbles. Eventually they should be able to evolve a language after getting a sense of of what sounds are associated with each physical thing for both of them and a mutual consensus later on.

  2. Navin says:

    What would also be interesting here is the feeling that the first man would have towards the second person. Having not encountered anything like that before would he recognise that he is like him (rememeber he has no visual picture of himself or the other person) and then if he does or does not would he accomodate him as a part of his environment or feel threatened and try to get rid of the change or welcome the change and start getting curious of other possibilities ?

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