Saturday, June 28, 2014

the legend of miraculous resolve

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. —G.K. Chesterton
When I've mused on my dismissal of my faith-beliefs, I've usually emphasized the intellectual and philosophical causes. I've avoided a narrow focus on the minutiae of my own history with religion, which is intertwined with tiresome sectarian details. But by doing so, I wonder if I'm leaving the wrong impression. I dismissed my faith-beliefs after living them. I wasn't a disembodied being of pure thought. My dissatisfaction wasn't confined to the logical consequences of an abstract set of theorems and counterexamples.

Despite appearances, the dismissal of my faith-beliefs was the end of a story. Fortunately for me, that story was admittedly dull in its lack of drama or plot or trauma (I once described my apostasy as "reluctant"). The primary antagonist was neither oppression nor hypocrisy but the creeping meaninglessness of my faith-beliefs. While I found meaninglessness embedded in the underlying ideas, around the same time I found it in the story of my sincere attempts to comply with the rules of conduct. A prime example was an empty theological promise which I'll grandly name the legend of miraculous resolve.

This story's setting was hardly original. I suspect that my experiences were extremely average among the American subculture of weekly churchgoers (including attendance at midweek and holiday events). My parents devoted their family to a traditional strain of evangelical-ish Protestant beliefs. We presumed the eternal existence of the Trinity, positive and negative destinies for souls after biological death, inborn sin, salvation via faith in atonement, authority of scripture, etc. Outside of church itself, we prayed together, consumed a lot of Christian-themed media and products, performed some charitable activities, and tied morality to God.

On the other hand, we didn't live in isolation. We attended public schools. We weren't outspokenly political. We weren't forbidden from "secular" stuff, although in practice much of it was off-limits due to content. Roughly speaking, our understanding of the Bible was neither extremely literal nor extremely metaphorical. I don't remember being taught creationism. All of us read regularly, though I chose scientific topics more often than the rest. I was generally permitted to read any educational book because facts weren't considered dangerous or objectionable like sex/violence/swearing/blasphemy. In retrospect I realize that the tenor of our Midwestern Christianity was indeed midway between the stereotypes of hard-line domineering churches in the South and flexible lenient churches in the Northeast.

Oddly, this middle road even pertained to prevailing opinions about miraculous divine intervention. Everyone believed in the miracles that happened long ago on unique occasions in the Bible, yet they never assumed astounding miracles would ever happen to them. It was common knowledge that heavenly intervention was understated and mysteriously fickle. They offered off-putting rationalizations such as the following three. First, the most saintly believers praying the most faith-filled prayers seldom got beneficial coincidences, much less stupendous miracles; why would anyone arrogantly presume God's favoritism in their situation instead? Second, salvation from depravity/sin/Hell was already a huge undeserved gift; to start further negotiations was like pestering God for cheap trifles. Third, unwavering contentment was a sign of a mature believer who valued the spiritual realm more than the temporary physical realm; endlessly begging for instant improvements of one's circumstances was both a sign of unreasonable greed and a missed opportunity for building character. Praying on behalf of cancer patients was proper; questioning why the cancer didn't always go into sudden remission was not.

However, they were less tentative about supernatural adjustments in the broad category of subjective phenomena. I covered this a bit when I criticized treating mood shifts or epiphanies as informative evidence. But in my particular past, notable episodes of "spiritual transcendence" weren't a major occurrence or pursuit. They didn't match my stuffy personality. And they weren't encouraged by the teachings and style of my family's stuffy church tradition. That tradition would've tolerated them while still tending to view them as frivolous distractions from substantial activities such as Bible study or altruism or rejecting temptations. Its preferred manifestations were more down-to-earth and methodical and productive. In place of mind-blowing mental fireworks, the recommended plea was superhuman aid for living a "more Christian" life: a miraculous level of resolve.

To reiterate, miraculous resolve was much more significant than an respectable wish. It was a prerequisite for the expectation that authentic Christians should be changing perceptibly over time. Christianity was portrayed as a thorough commitment with dynamic consequences. Just as Christ's love for humans entailed horrendous self-sacrifice, really loving Christ in return entailed dedicated effort too. Officially, mere salvation was a designated starting point: it was a follower's initial connection to the Trinity. From then on the follower's ongoing godly connection implied that they were constantly molding their souls and lives closer to church ideals (for the curious: the term was "sanctifying"). Of course, like the opening Chesterton quote said, this project was difficult when taken seriously. No wonder casual followers were glad to settle for their unambitious moderate religiosity...if they were aware of the more challenging doctrine at all.

Hence miraculous resolve was the counterpart to the intentionally fanatical standard. The method to obey God better was as predictable as a one track playlist set on repeat: "more God". It was another ramification of the Trinity. Not only had God died in order to appease God, but God was the key to remaking oneself to love God through relentless obedience. The wellspring for "victorious" living wasn't natural human willpower but supernatural deliverance. A duty of faith was to seek greater faith. In fact, the theological system stated that external reinforcement was necessary. The innately "depraved" earthy self couldn't suffice for attaining abnormal God-pleasing conformity. The sinful self, the flesh, had to symbolically die to give way to a replacement spiritual self that communed with God; that was the ritualized symbolism of adult baptism. Strict as they were, these specific ideas weren't especially exotic or far-fetched or controversial. The contrast of living by the spirit versus living by the flesh was a recurring theme in the rather dry "church correspondence" section of the Bible. It was reflected in the similarity between the words "carnal" and "carnivorous" (and carne asada, but that's not important right now).

Summing up, if I trusted the accuracy of my church tradition, then miraculous resolve was neither an unreachable dream nor an optional attachment. It was an indispensable tool. It was a defining characteristic of earnest followers. It was integral to acting on the basis that the god in my faith-beliefs was a reality. Therefore I began trying to embrace the concept. I had plenty of flaws to target. I asked God for miraculous resolve. Then, when I didn't feel any powerful help forthcoming, and so I failed again, I asked again. Later, when my mentality and motivations remained the same, and so I failed again, I asked again. Afterward, when I defied the limits of my talents and predisposition, and so I failed again, I asked again. By my estimation, reliance on miraculous resolve had yielded...nothing. There were no spectacular long-lasting transformations. I didn't sense an infusion of mana or chi to fuel my decisions. The routine pull of negative emotion wasn't neutralized or counterbalanced. Sometimes the outcomes corresponded to my notion of God's will, and sometimes not. In either case, my resistance hadn't multiplied. The sides continued a close see-sawing rivalry.

Obsessive begging for miraculous resolve was shown to be useless. I was apparently assigned full self-responsibility to be the best individual I could. As I write this now from an outsider's viewpoint, I certainly recognize that this plight isn't as devastating as I thought back then. It's, well, just ordinary human self-management, familiar to anyone who has tried to reverse bad habits like unhealthy eating. Many generalized strategies abound: 1) planning beforehand to handle contingencies and to dodge tough situations altogether, 2) tweaking the options so that the right one requires less effort than the wrong one, 3) contriving rewards and punishments for oneself, 4) diverting attention to a harmless alternative, 5) anticipating and responding to future satisfaction or disappointment with oneself, 6) rehearsing or pre-committing the decision, 7) leveraging social pressure, 8) developing self-denial in less weighty contexts, 9) visualizing goals repeatedly, 10) self-monitoring by tracking and recording progress, and more. Faith-beliefs are independent of these strategies. Christians frequently use and spread them, albeit along with hazy religious allusions and warmed-over Bible quotations. When old-fashioned Christians have a craving to ridicule popular forms of Christianity, they may suggest unfavorable comparisons to insipid inspirational self-help.

No matter how useful and sensible these practical strategies were, I couldn't stop noticing that they were substitutes nonetheless. I'd been led to believe that I was supported by an omnipotent god which longed for me to succeed at the task of not angering it. Moreover, all the tales indicated that it had invigorated numerous humans historically; it had done it so much that one of its names was "Holy Ghost". It demanded nothing more than the faith of eager recipients. It didn't have a good excuse for turning down this small-scale self-contained petition: no subtle negative side-effects were applicable. Empowering a follower would have the side-effect of definitively confirming the follower's belief in its current existence, but surely that qualified as a positive. One of its principal long-term objectives was extending its rule over humans. Facilitating the subservient decisions of a willing follower was an outright fulfillment of that objective. An opposite approach of indirectness or aloofness was pointless and potentially counterproductive. Forcing a human to build an autonomous reservoir of resolve would risk the discovery that their god wasn't essential to moral action...

I couldn't imagine plausible explanations behind God's everlasting refusal to play an active and caring role in my flailing renovation of myself. I proceeded to check and recheck whether I wasn't doing enough, such as periodic fasting, to express my goodwill and devotion. Eventually I stopped fixating. I figured that, for whatever incomprehensible reason, God was delighted to watch me strive to outwit myself...and lose repetitively when my willpower inevitably ran out or when it just temporarily fluctuated. Based on the disheartening results, I slowly quit hoping that the Christian god would assist my endeavors to follow Christianity.

The next stage was pondering if miraculous resolve was a legend all along. Maybe "God filling and supervising the soul" amounted to a presumptuous mythological description of an exceptional level of compulsive preoccupation with Christian concepts. Maybe it was an ingrained habit of envisioning God more or less continually: a conditioned response wrapped more tightly around every impulse than a "WWJD" bracelet. As long as the follower said their well-trained reactions felt like a circuit judge was in their brain keeping them in line—nudging them to do good and guarding their motives from evil—then they proclaimed a spirit thing was at work inside them. But such well-trained reactions had been introduced and nurtured by unremarkable humans through unremarkable techniques.

By itself, this somewhat cynical speculation wasn't fatal to my faith-beliefs. Yet the importance of context shouldn't be underestimated. It was an additional crack in a cracked structure. I'd allowed myself too much candor while I listened to too many unsettling signals. Knowledgeable experts had no need of supernatural hypotheses in their various domains. Unbiased research hadn't exposed a testable difference between corporeal brains and spooky souls. Cases of divine intervention were unreliable and ambiguous. Worshipers' sensations of exhilaration transparently hinged on their surroundings—they didn't feel spiritual unless the service met their opinions of True Spirituality. Given the loud endless debates among Christian groups, "absolute biblical" morality didn't deserve its supposed reputation of a fixed collection of well-defined rules and principles. In related news, their shared reverence for the Bible's "unchanging" and "unmistakable" message didn't coerce them to agree on the message's extracted contents.

Frankly, the data were pushing me toward the substantiated theory that my faith-beliefs' god turned out to be shockingly indistinguishable from a nonexistent god. This trend was corroborated by the demotion of miraculous resolve to a legend. If the legend were accurate, then the implications would be dazzling and incredible, after all. It was the endorsed direct encounter with the Holy Ghost. It was the foremost evidence that the Trinity was an irrepressible influence on the present. It achieved far more than good intentions, polite manners, and compassionate donations. It was the turbocharged engine that effected the uncanny emphatic goodness of followers in comparison to The Lost, i.e. non-Christians. It was incompatible with the proposition that a profound spiritual link to a god didn't have any effect. It was contrary to the "humble" statement "I'm a sinner saved by grace, so God doesn't mind if I stay the same forever." It was rebirth. It was an inward perpetual fountain of living water. It was the unstoppable progress of the pilgrim. It was the ultimate proof, superior to every type of apologetics and impossible to discredit. It would lead to the question, addressed only in reference to Christianity, "When the followers of this god persistently overflow with an unnatural sacrificial love for humanity, how could this god not be the one that's true?"

Yep. Uh-huh. Right.

Since this saccharine vision sounded nothing like the known behavior of the majority of Christians who existed outside of sanitized stories, the category of "legend" was quite appropriate. Clearly, the inability to obtain miraculous resolve was widespread—not a fault of mine alone. So the defectiveness of my faith-belief went beyond formidable metaphysical objections. It didn't pass its own test. It consistently undershot its own ambitions. It didn't seem to function in accordance with its advertised design when it was put to strenuous use.

An objector might reasonably accuse me of devaluing the entirety of Christianity because of awful Christian individuals, like devaluing Chopin because I heard an awful piano player. In the Gaussian distribution of Christians, some are very good, some are very bad, and the bulk are nearer to the median. That misses the relevant point: if Christianity is actually turning commonplace humans into saintly incarnations of sacred power and control, then the Gaussian distribution of Christians should be drastically skewed. The correlation of "Christian" and "good" should be systemically extreme. If not, then perhaps the Christian factor, and by extension the Christian god, is not a predictor of goodness. Good Christians must be good via their individual resolve, which to be fair was cultivated in the midst of their cultural religious context. When they strive to meet their chosen ideals, they end up relying on their own might (as I said more than a year ago, their religion is their Dumbo feather of ethics). Chesterton's quote could have another line at the end: "But when the difficult ideal had been tried, the might of God was found wanting."

Monday, June 16, 2014

gyroscope interrupt

I happily concede that my analogies for meditation and mindfulness are shockingly...artificial. Normally, the analogies are more, uh, "organic": plants, animals, bodies of water, weather. I don't attach much importance to this disparity, because it stems from an incidental gap of history. Analogies aid communication within a context. Long ago, the teachers of mindfulness meditation chose palpable references which they and their followers knew. For their era and expertise, those references happened to often be organic. In the same way, my utterly artificial analogies reflect my technological era and expertise.

For instance, recurring mindfulness begins to function like a gyroscope interrupt. Seriously.

To start with, equilibrium is already an indispensable metaphor for mental states. If someone isn't feeling a fierce emotion or obsessing over a compelling idea, then they're said to be centered, unperturbed, neutral, level, placid. In a word, they have equilibrium which is still. Mental phenomena, both positive or negative, are likened to disturbances of equilibrium. Someone may say that they feel flattened, unsteady, turned upside-down, struck off-balance, etc.

When devices measure changes in equilibrium, a gyroscope might be involved. It has a part that can tilt somewhat independently. That part has its own ongoing form of momentum such as a freely rotating wheel. Due to its momentum, it's less influenced by attempts to divert its tilt. And since it can have a somewhat independent tilt, the rest of the device can tilt to a greater degree around it, and that difference in degree is the measurement.

Without knowing the full rationale, all this ingenuity might appear to be a convoluted answer to a simpleminded question. Obviously, many times in everyday life, changes in an item's equilibrium immediately affect its varying relationships to nearby items. The surface of a ball rises and drops when it rolls. When a vehicle's back wheels slide, the driver sees the oncoming road jerk sideways. But these measurements are external and relative. If nearby items are unavailable or hidden, then the gyroscope can measure equilibrium shifts anyway. Its reference item is within. Its operation is a reversal of perspective. An apparent movement of the device's inner parts signifies outer movement of the whole device.

Neither do humans have an inborn infallible point of reference for estimating disruptions to their mental equilibria. They need to intentionally develop a stable persistent memory of complete psychological calm. It functions as their "gyroscope of stillness". They can review it regardless of whether their usual self-evaluation is itself impaired, like an airplane pilot that reviews a gyroscope regardless of whether the horizon is obscured. To recall stillness is to cause sharp awareness of anything else happening at that moment, because it contrasts with stillness.

Meditation itself contributes in two ways. First, it resets and reinforces the gyroscope of stillness to fit its particular ideal. The beginner's preexisting concept of stillness might have been mediocre or vague in comparison. They may not have fully understood and felt the stillness required for steadily observing only their breathing for twenty consecutive minutes. Of course, someone who's proficient needs regular resetting and reinforcement too; without intervention, an ambitious target fades and the corresponding scale of perception narrows again.

Second, meditation contributes opportunities to ingrain the act of reviewing the gyroscope of stillness. It's a setting and time period dedicated to repeating that specific act. Its circumstances are easier than normal in order to thoroughly prepare for tougher circumstances. It allows for transforming the act into a well-rehearsed habitual skill...or a learned instinct. As with training in general, over time, laborious conscious concentration leads to semi-automatic routine.

Once this act is ingrained, it can readily work in many situations other than meditation. In those situations, attention is mainly elsewhere, so sudden broad awareness of internal status is an intrusion on it. For devices, comparable intrusions can consist of a signal called an interrupt (noun). An interrupt forces the device to switch from its main task to processing a response. Most likely, a major part of the response is to just store a data-filled "to-do note" for the very near future—waiting for whenever the relevant task will have its turn. The last step of the response is to resume the main task from before the interrupt.

While each interrupt response should be small and temporary work for the device, it's nevertheless incredibly rapid by human standards. During Tetris, an interrupt represents every time that the player orders the falling block to rotate or shift. If they pressed a button or key, then the movement of an underlying component notifies the device's central processor(s) with an interrupt. Without it, the game would simply continue to compute the block's progress along a predictable path (actually, the predictable path relies on a timer interrupt so that the rate of the block's "fall" is appropriate for the difficulty of play).

But inside a device that can serve a wide range of purposes, numerous diverse components can send streams of interrupts as well. In fact, recent mass-market electronic devices might even include a cunning miniature gyroscope-based sensor. When the gyroscope detects motion, the device is alerted by an interrupt. Hence, the overall effect of the gyroscope interrupt is that the device can react to abrupt disturbances of its equilibrium no matter what else it's processing.

In similar fashion, the gyroscope interrupt is like a subject experiencing mindfulness while they're not in the altered state of meditation. For example, when they're irritated by a problem, they not only perceive the problem and invent solutions; they notice their irritation. When they're angered by another's selfishness, they notice bodily tenseness and an urgent impulse to retaliate. When they're envious or greedy, they notice inaccurate beliefs about the causes of lasting contentment. When they're striving to cling to wishful notions about their pure motivations, they notice the existence of opposite sentiments. When they're churned by undercurrents of anxiety, they notice the resultant nervous motions of their limbs.

Furthermore, like the gyroscope interrupt, at minimum the effect of recurring mindfulness is passive information. A versatile device could be programmed with many varied "interpretations" of raw tilting motions...complete disinterest included. Likewise, someone who has recurring mindfulness chooses how to treat each subjective phenomenon which arises. Maybe they could analyze it and theorize its source, or approve it and put it into action, or deny it and watch it evaporate, or estimate it and deliberately compensate for it.

All these options have an implicit common prerequisite: forthright acknowledgment. If they want to choose an option well, then their initial duty is confronting the phenomenon honestly and directly. To do that, they must ignore their distracting protective rationalizations. They're obligated to risky candor about their whole momentary selves. For someone clinging to the belief that they're perpetually upright and unruffled, the readings communicated by their gyroscope interrupt are worthless.  

Monday, June 02, 2014


And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good—Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?  —Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 
(I'm well aware that ZMM merely quoted/paraphrased the statement.) I noticed a possible oversight of my last entry's analysis. It was targeted toward the meaningfulness of intangible and intricate goals. But many goals reside at the opposite end of the spectrum. A goal can be plain and straightforward. It can be a transparent object or outcome which needs no elaboration. It could be called an embodiment of a human concern, value, or desire. An embodiment's meaning is presumed to be beyond question. Nobody would typically expend much effort to dissect its allure, except for the purpose of making philosophical points...or to make a blog entry that reiterates the philosophical points of many many past blog entries. The justified meaningfulness of a tin roof sundae is not normally controversial.

Nevertheless, embodiment in its unsophisticated form is too poorly-defined to serve as a sturdy counterexample to the last entry. A contributing factor to its vagueness is its absence of a compelling physical rationale. Specifically, any embodiment is composed of matter. And the matter behaves in the same regular patterns as the matter in anything that isn't an embodiment. It doesn't contain specialized particles. Nor does it interact with its surroundings in non-physical ways. Although its independent existence is physical, its supposed property of "embodiment" doesn't originate in those commonplace physical properties. A convincing literal interpretation of embodiment would require testable notions on precisely where and how it happens physically. A tin roof sundae doesn't exhibit a field of gluttony carried by the glut-boson.

So the usual ghostly concept of embodiment probably isn't seriously intended as a reductive attribute of the object. Instead, it has to be contingent on hazy mysteries in the subjects who sense the embodiment: a non-physical product of adding somewhat non-physical subjects to physical objects. But that concrete definition isn't workable either. According to the best available findings, the tenable hypothesis is that all known subjects are also composed of matter behaving in the same regular patterns. Thoughts appear to be internal events in brains, and persistent memories appear to be internal structures in brains.

Moving along, the combined premises are that the embodying object is a first assemblage of matter in one location, and the subject perceiving the embodying object is a second assemblage of different matter in a second location. Then the cause of the experience of embodiment must derive from the second assemblage mirroring the first and proceeding to trigger further reactions. Clearly, the mirroring is exceedingly subtle. But its subtlety doesn't imply obscurity or triviality. It's encoding the convoluted sometimes-intelligent symbolism that's central to the prosperity of the human species as a whole. Encoding is the more nuanced form of "embodiment". It's less mystical albeit no less cryptic. It hints that the frequently useful distinction between outer form and inner content might fade at the innermost levels of comprehension. As Douglas Hofstadter has suggested, "Content is fancy form." Ultimately, decoding isn't just the preliminary stage of unwrapping a chunk of information; the decoding itself, and whatever the decoding triggers, is what the information means. A blog entry is an embodiment of the ideas which the blogger wanted the reader to reconstruct in their own brain at the time they decode it.

Hence, in these terms an embodiment isn't an exception to the ordinary nature of meaningfulness. It's an instance that's particularly vivid and reflexive to the subject. It likely includes a specific mix of strong emotions, as opposed to abstract evaluations of hypothetical paybacks. But as Antonio Damasio might say, emotions could represent evolution's rapid nonverbal information processing.

For some humans at some times, the tin roof sundae from earlier may be an undeniable (irresistible?) embodiment of desire. Yet the importance of context shouldn't be underestimated. For a subject who recently finished eating one, is the offer of a second an embodiment? What if the subject is allergic to peanuts? What if the subject is tormented by guilt over their dessert choices? What if the subject has never consumed ice cream, perhaps because their native culture is isolated in a hot climate?

In general, each subject's well-established set of emotional associations constitutes their personalized set of provocative embodiments. To them, their set can feel imposing and difficult to modify. However, not even the most close-minded simpleton could claim that their set couldn't have turned out differently in different personal circumstances. They couldn't claim that their set is uniquely "right": optimal, unchanging, and unbiased. The matter of a subject has been influenced by countless interactions that are genetic, familial, cultural, environmental, etc. The superficiality of an emotive state can mask its tangled root causes. Throughout their lifespan, the subject was consciously and unconsciously primed by a varied array.

Similar clarifications hold for alleged intellectual embodiment too. An alleged intellectual embodiment is an idea that the subject immediately trusts without deep consideration. The first type is "common sense" embodiment, in which a society collectively pushes a belief's validity. It might be integrated tightly into habitual customs, or self-sustaining traditions, or revered authorities, or prevailing public opinions, or group identities. Grand scale inertia is an apt metaphor for beliefs that are said to embody common sense. Someone may start by doubting a common sense belief. After facing unrelenting shame and ridicule for their lack of common sense, they eventually abandon their doubts and accept it. Later they grow accustomed to assuming its accuracy. The next time the cycle repeats, they fill the defensive role of scoffing at doubts about the conventional embodiments of common sense.

The second type of alleged intellectual embodiment is based in logic. Beliefs of this type are portrayed as widely affirmed axioms that lead to inescapable logical consequences. In effect, the axioms are treated like embodiments of conclusions that certainly follow. If X is acknowledged, then Y must absolutely be acknowledged as well. The embodiment supposedly forces X and Y to be an inseparable pair.

Two problems can arise, though. The first is when the logic is simply flawed or incomplete, but the subjects either don't know or don't care to know. They may be relying on their crucial implicit assumptions to fill the logical gap that they don't notice. They may be unaware that they're thinking within a restrictive context, such as egocentrism or ethnocentrism, and overgeneralizing beyond it. They're misled by an illusion of reasonableness and thoughtfulness. After all, according to their own viewpoint, they indeed seem to be following an irrefutable argument. And they're more susceptible if the intellectual embodiment is teamed with an emotional embodiment. In that case they start with the deduction they wish and then eagerly embrace all the minimally credible axioms or data that they can stretch. If they're honest they may label the final result as an iffy inference, not a chain of careful reasoning.

The second pitfall with logic-based embodiment pertains to proofs. A proof shows how a final statement is embodied in many prior statements. Despite its correctness, it can be complex and/or excessively condensed. If so, then potential learners may fail to recognize the sequential embodiment. In essence, they discern the start and the end of the proof, but they don't discern the start embodying the end.

Again, this situation isn't rare. A topic's "obvious" implications aren't always grasped equally well by every subject, especially when the subject is 1) unmotivated in confronting the topic (prompting teachers to lecture "Apply yourself!"), 2) previously committed to ideas that contradict the implications, 3) unaccustomed to the topic or its style of analysis, 4) saturated with mistaken information about the topic. A proof's logical embodiment amounts to the assertion, "Anyone would reach the same series of realizations as I." With candor, the assertion is, "Each subject should reach the same series of realizations as I, if they're sufficiently vigorous and open-minded and knowledgeable and not off track."

Someone who insists on a logical embodiment could respond that its sole verification requirement is the mechanical operation of "pure reason". They could demonstrate by filling in omissions and dividing large steps into numerous interlinked tiny steps. They could communicate every bit of every painstaking progression. In fact, they might need to present the exhaustive form to their demanding peers to obtain affirmation.

Unfortunately, this response flatly disregards the potential learner's obstacles. The trouble is more fundamental. On the previously mentioned premise that subjects are matter, then their mental deliberation is active work. It consumes energy and synthesizes patterns. If a lengthy proof is a walking path to reach the finish, then the work to reenact the proof is the effort to walk the path. Since reenacting the proof is a physical act occurring in a physical context, reasoning isn't an out-of-body trip through a fanciful realm. There aren't beings of "pure reason" to confirm the validity and relevance of proofs...though humans have invented devices that can similarly consume energy to synthesize pattern, thereby mirroring thought on smaller scales.

Humans have differing finite quantities of willingness, time, attention, preconceptions, stubbornness, training, and talent. In the material universe, chaos happens, so to speak, and complete comprehension of a proof might not succeed. That won't stop an objector from offering "critiques" which don't address the innards of the proof. Rather, they could fabricate an excuse to dismiss it categorically. Or they could quit partway due to disinterest or discomfort with the proof's statements. Or they could willfully leap to the pleasing assumption that the proof has simplistic nonthreatening weaknesses—weaknesses that they prefer to attack in place of the proof.

Thus the underlying nature of intellectual embodiment is like emotional embodiment. And the practical countermeasures are alike. Disputing the actual embodiments is not necessarily the best strategy. To do so is to insist that every subject ends up with comparable reactions to comparable objects or outcomes. The better strategy might be manipulating the sources of embodiments: reactionary processes within subjects. A subject should be molded to "naturally" sense that something embodies a feeling or idea.

Of course, that strategy isn't unusual or exclusively sinister. Leading someone to expand their emotions and thinking could be seen as empowering them to see new options. For centuries, well-rounded education has encompassed both information and transformation. Pupils are taught more than the facts. They're taught the mindsets, or mental tool sets, which have acquired and refined those facts. They're taught contexts and unifying principles. Feeding them high-quality answers is mixed with enabling them to find high-quality answers for themselves. Ideally, when they know an answer, they can appreciate how and why the answer is known; perhaps they should have a full understanding of the answer's question before they ever receive the answer.      

The approach is applicable to a range of topics, but ethics is the most notable. As a supplement to just declaring the goals and actions that embody superior ethics, an advocate could strive to enrich others' moral imagination and criteria for judgment. Directly overwriting others' verdicts is less promising than the indirect strategy of inducing them to contemplate wider impacts, unfamiliar cases, and individuals unlike them.

It's reminiscent of the ancient practice of perpetuating ethics via plentiful thought-provoking narratives. Narratives illustrate the contrast between right and wrong, furnish opportunities to rehearse ethical scrutiny, and encourage the in-born impulse to conscientiously simulate another's standpoint. Some narratives, chiefly for children, include blatant cues of the ethics lesson, to the extent that follow-up discussion questions are redundant. To actually ask the questions is analogous to asking where a line of dominoes will end...right after watching the tedious setup of the entire line.

As with the preceding examples, subjects' ethics are reinforced intentionally and unintentionally. When they happen to agree independently about the ethical meaningfulness of a thing, they may erroneously credit the thing as an impersonal embodiment of ethics. The more plausible explanation is the reverse, in which their agreement stems from duplicated processes of feeling and thinking that were independently embodied inside the material of each of them.

It's easier to observe when the subjects are sharply divergent: namely, a contemporary subject and the figure in the opening quote, Phaedrus. These two are extremely unlikely to be in agreement on all their acceptable embodiments of human virtue. Faced with the discrepancies, each of them would more than likely insist that, yes, their counterpart evidently does need to ask for guidance about what is good and what is not good.