The Vortex...

Boundary Conditions, Starting Points, Generative Methodologies

The vortex of macroscopic paradigms, microscopic gestalten, kaleidoscopic metaphors, Gossamer epistemologies, and ethical vectors that feed this engine... ................................................................................................................
The following are punkt-statements of my worldview--at least some of the metaphysical/epistemological basics. I will be adding links in each one (to the Foolosophy section), describing HOW I arrived at that conclusion.
Be sure to continue this bizarre stream of analysis in Looking at the Linguistic Wall..." ................................................................................................................
Wittgenstein's Net:
Wittgenstein uses an image of a group of researchers, who are studying the size of fish in a certain pond. They use a net with a 2 inch mesh to drag the lake, and then pile the fish on the bank. Whereupon, they proceed to measure each fish VERY, VERY carefully with a ruler, and come to the startling conclusion that there are no fish under 2 inches long in the pond. (I have lost the reference to this in his corpus, in the intervening 20 years, but am trying to re-locate this.)
Procrustes:
A mythical Greek giant who was a thief and a murderer. He would capture travelers and tie them to an iron bed. If they were longer than the bed, he would hack off their limbs until they fit it. If they were too short, he would stretch them to the right size. Using Procrustes' own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.
(Procrustean operation:
One that relentlessly tries to shape a person, an argument, or an idea to a predetermined pattern.)
Category Mistake:
Using a word in a 'place' it doesn't fit, from a category stance.


Example:

  • ME: "Fred, where was the man when he jumped off the bridge?"

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  • He: "In the air, of course..."

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  • Me: "No, that was AFTER he jumped."

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  • He: "Well then, he was ON the bridge when he jumped."

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  • Me: "No, that was BEFORE he jumped."

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  • He: "Hmmm...are you sure he jumped?"

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    "Where" and "when" can be difficult concepts with paired with a category like 'event'
    Reductionism:
    Using a two-inch net to search for sub-two-inch fish. (Advanced version: taking any fish that is larger or smaller than two inches, and placing them on a two-inch Procrustean bed. Reality is never the same for the fish thereafter. Further advanced version: taking a 10 foot octopus, cutting it into 2 inch pieces, and declaring all the pieces 'fish'.) I personally consider materialism to be reductionist (using material category-nets to eliminate/reduce the personal to impersonal, the conscious to un-conscious.)
    The Category of Personal:
    I consider consciousness to be ontologically prior to sub- and un-conscious realities. This means that it forms the context for the next level 'down' on a volitional chain. The personal/conscious cannot be reduced to "smaller" units, operating in patterns, to create the illusions of an integrated center of consciousness.


    Consider. If I ask Fred why he fell in love with his wife, he is likely to respond with something like 'we spent a lot of time together, have many interests in common, and just slowly grew to love her'...If I try to force him into a naturalistic, materialistic paradigm, the exchange might look like this:

  • Me: "So, Ethel CAUSED you to love her...she controlled the process as a CAUSE?"

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  • He: "No, not at all...after all I DID HAVE SOME INFLUENCE over the decision myself, you know!"

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  • Me: "So, if she didn't CAUSE it, did YOU completely CAUSE it yourself?"

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  • He: "No, on the contrary...Ethel had a great deal of influence on the decision...esp. her beautiful eyes!"

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  • Me: "So, YOU didn't cause it, and Ethel didn't cause it...did you BOTH somehow cause it happen...in other words, neither of you had a choice in the matter?"

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  • He: "No, no, no...your concept of cause is way too narrow to describe this event--try a category like 'personal influence' or something...we BOTH had a great deal to do with this event, and it was like a dance or something...not at all like deterministic like billiard balls nor indeterminate like quanta..."

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    Using a larger category like 'personal' I can cover Fred's 'influence' category, and by dealing with 'lower volitional realms', this 'influence' category will generate subsets...such as strict causality in the inanimate (non-volitional) realms and conditioning in the animate.

    "Consciousness" has attracted a great deal of attention, esp. in the last 50 years or so. There are numerous attempts daily(!) to 'reduce it' to physical processes (with or without the intermediate 'biological' half-way house). I personally am not convinced that we can even 'objectify' it adequately, since it is basically experienced 1) from 'within' (we study it from 'without') and 2) our experience of it from 'without' is so heavily conditioned by the presence of 'will' as to make our results highly questionable. Although consensus philosophy of science assumes that this reduction 'obtains' they have essentially given up on demonstrating it! (see the Books section readings).

    At this point, I consider consciousness to be 'irreducible' in content, like 'fear'...you cannot define it except ostensibly. [To be fair, I don't think we do much better with terms like 'matter' or 'nature' or 'existence' or 'essence' or 'individuation' either--so I don't think this is a major objection...but I have taken a stab at definitions of existence in the Wall section]

    As for how the consciousness interacts with the neuro-stuff...well, I have my naive, pet theory. I think the will has the ability to create patterns of minute electrical charges (ex nihilo--sorta like the virtual electrons/photons/gauge particles of quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory, eh?) in the brain, that 'route' the massive parallel flows that are characteristic of all macro-level operations...much as a train switch or rudder of ship...not many such electrons (or whatever) are truly necessary to make massive shifts in the patterns.

    But what about the observability of this suggested mechanism? What about its predictive power? I have found it to be surprisingly powerful as a predictive model. For example, almost every time my consciousness 'wills' to press the letter H on this keyboard, my arm/finger movements do just that! Watch...HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...see? Amazing!

    Now, I KNOW what some of you out there are probably thinking--something like "hey, wait a minute...how can you demonstrate that your 'willing' produced the neuro-stuff that produced the motion? If you can't demonstrate how the 'exchange' or 'interface' worked, why should we believe you?" And to this I simply ask if you have been tracking the methods and procedures of sub-atomic physics for the last 50 years. That 'hard science' area has so many more unobservables than does my full-blown theological system!...and they infer the 'existence' of those particles, by the production of macro-level consequences (such as bubble-chamber tracks) WITHOUT any 'inspection' or 'demonstration' of the intermediate processes or interfaces. The strange languages of quantum field theory, quantum electrodynamics, and quantum chromodynamics are accepted because of their PREDICTIVE power alone. So...watch me again...HHHHHHHHHHHHHH...it worked again. (There are some qualifications to this argument, but they will have to wait till I have made more progress on the other pages.)

    Relationship of Subjectivity/Objectivity:
    The above "influence vs. causality" model can also be illustrated in the relationship of subjectivity and objectivity (ontic-wise, not epistemic-wise).


    Consider the old cartoon of the 5th grader, who has just presented a school report card of all F's to his dad, who is sitting in the favorite easy chair. The father has looked sternly at the kid, and the kid has asked the important causal question: "Well, Dad, what do you think? Was it ENVIRONMENT, or HEREDITY?"

    The kid has won the day...if the dad says "ENVIRONMENT", then the parents are to blame...if the dad says "HEREDITY", then the parents are to blame likewise...UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES is the kid a 'fault-center'.

    The reason the kid is off the hook, is that the kid has 'disappeared' in this model. He has not only been 'reduced to causes' but also has been 'distributed' over ALL causes! No action theory/decision theory model can work in this setting, because the decision maker has LOST all transcendence (or 'over against-ness') vis-a-vis the causal nexus. (In fact, in this model of causal chains, there is only ONE 'sinner'--the universe in its totality!)

    Now, we KNOW that environment/heredity (or nature/nurture or whatever/whatever) can and does affect outcomes, but our basic, irreducible sense is that the kid is, in some way, a unit-player in the outcome (and therefore deserves some culpability). In my book, this position REQUIRES AS A PRESUPPOSITION some level of interaction between the child's objectivity (i.e. nature, upbringing, factuality, habitus) and his subjectivity (i.e. his decision-making event-creator self).

    At the simplest level, a dialogical model is approximated here. We KNOW that we can use our subjectivity to change our objectivity--we do it when we 'choose and execute' to go over a spelling word list 10 times. We KNOW from neuroscience that we literally 'cut traces' in the brain (i.e. increase statistical probability of specific neuron circuit configuration firings over others). And we also KNOW that our range of subjective choices are essentially (but not exhaustively, in my opinion) determined by our objective factors (e.g. education, linguistic competency). What I see here is a dialogical/dialectical model, in which I can choose (within ranges) which direction to develop ('concretize'?) my objectivity-self. Then, that objectivity makes it easier for my subjectivity to 'take that path again' (or harder to break the habit). This is recognizably habit-pattern creation stuff.

    But...I maintain that 1)in no sense is the subject reduced to the causes (or she disappears) and 2)in no sense is the range of choice absolutely fixed. (I believe, at this point, that the ability of linguistic formulation in mental states--for example to create a negation statement about some factor of my objectivity--allow the visualization of 'alternative personal realities' that CAN create action-impulse vectors outside the bounds of predicted behavior. In other words, I can call up an image of myself (aaarrrgggg....shades of self-help magicians!) that could 'pull me toward it' with forces of attraction, adrenaline, etc. powerful enough to move the objectivity a few % points beyond its range.

    I don't consider its power strong enough to make radical changes in the objectivity at a single point in time (this might be some 'spiritual realities' that could stretch it a good bit farther, but THAT weird discussion will have to wait to another time!) but strong enough to make small, incremental changes...and with, successive applications of this technique, to create a wider range of objective possibilities. (This, of course, is seemingly the core of many of the visualization self-help/improvement programs.)

    The Loci of Freedom...:
    But freedom seems to occur in pockets of time, and it seems to be built-into major structures of personal history, biology, and language. We consistently experience self-transcending and self-modifying transcendence.
    Derivation of sub-Personal Epistemologies:
    The above ontic grid generates interesting implications in terms of the various epistemologies of the sciences. The higher one goes up the volitional chain, the more ability the 'object' under study would have to EITHER choose NOT to reveal data about itself, choose to MISLEAD the studying 'subject', choose to be MORE disclosive than the subject is expecting, OR choose to 're-direct' or 'correct' the investigative method.


    For example, at the lowest volitional level, one would not normally be too concerned over whether a rock was trying to deceive a scientist (with the possible exception in Process philosophy, where they DO possess some sentience!). Farther up the chain we encounter animal behavior that will adapt itself to avoid interrogation in some contexts. And at the human level, we know that observation of a 'object under study' can RADICALLY affect their behavior, statements, etc.

    Discovery and the Semantic Model of Reality:
    If you take the biblical image of God 'speaking a universe into existence' (with all the fuzziness, imprecision, and questions that raises!), then the universe is fundamentally semantic in character. This simply means that the constituents are related to one another as semantic units in a semantic web. The classic part/whole problem, in this model, becomes the text/context problem of hermeneutics--because of the category of an ultimate reference point for predication--and in this personal context of a 'speakers meaning' (deconstructionism aside for the moment) allows for an "expert witness" perhaps..


    What this means for the discovery process, is at least two-fold. First, that each element of the universe (i.e. semantic unit) provides some information in forming the understanding of the context (like a hologram in which each point contains the picture as a whole, and like the process in which we 'correct' phonemes based upon expected sentence meaning), and that second, we (as semantic units within the sentence) have a dialogical relationship to the other units. In other words, we do not 'extract/extort' data from our objects, nor do we passively 'wait for the rocks to speak'; they rather 'answer us'--if we ask the RIGHT questions...Discovery then boils down to dialogue--a framing of questions for the universe and allowing the universe to tell us to change the questions! (if need be)...

    This notion of 'semantic field or web' has the personal element implicit in it, and as such allows the semantic units to be 'revelatory' of some Speaker (to the extent said Speak intends disclosure.)

    It is also important to note that the relationships played by words and sentences and paragraphs within a semantic unit, can be seen as a unifying model for both particle and field theories (at some gross level). Words have specific meanings only within a context (field theories); but context is only composed of discrete semantic 'atoms' (particle theories). (I am NOT suggesting that we abandon the microscope in favor of the dictionary, of course, but that we be a little less presumptive and harsh in our claims of scientific knowledge--esp. at the expense of other experienced realities like consciousness).

    Hypothesis Construction and the Individual/Social Iteration:
    We construct hypotheses about the world, other minds, science, common events 1) based on a 'goodness of fit' and 'explanatory power'; 2) value sets; and 3) the perceived social/paradigm community's estimate of its power and 'helpfulness'. As might be expected, I do NOT believe that individual epistemologies alone can account for even the simplest of perceptual beliefs, nor that we are radical 'slaves' to epistemically despotic and sovereign paradigms/paradigm communities. Again, it is a 'dance' or 'dialogue' between those centers as internalized within our mullet-faceted consciousness.
    "Unprovable but Undeniable":
    The word 'proof' has gotten the deserved broadening of its meaning over the past few decades. Narrow definitions of what constituted 'proof' have generally all fallen to the criticism of arbitrariness...one could never 'prove' that the definition of 'proof' under discussion was correct. (There was always an appeal to some notion of criteria or propriety or consensus that was BEYOND the definition, by definition!)


    These meta-critical dicta typically make general pronouncements ("all sentences are meaningless" or "There is no such thing as truth"), and assume some unjustified exemption from its own pronouncement. ("all sentences are meaningless" very quickly 'unpacks' into a mutation of the Liar's Paradox--"This sentence is meaningless"). If the exemption cannot be warranted, then the dictum cannot be stated (without contradicting itself, or at least without reducing into paradox).

    This raises the question as to whether one might be able to construct a set of meta-dicta that could NOT BE ARGUED AGAINST for this reason..."at least one sentence communicates" or "at least one truth can be known". These statements would be UNDENIABLE, but would not therefore be PROVABLE.

    Metaphysically, I would understand this to be symptomatic of the derivative character of human existence--that we are 'bound' in a context that presupposes some 'universals', none of which might be 'provable' to all paradigm communities or individual worldviews, but all of which we cannot 'escape'. (See Self-reflexivity)

    The Ubiquitous Epistemic Distance:
    I have always been fascinated by the fact that the knower is always 'over against' the known. That in every act of perception, introspection, deduction, etc.--every cognitive act--there is a theoretical or experienced 'distance' between the observer and the observed. The relationship might be much more complex than that (e.g. sub-atomic physics, in which the very act of observation changes the object!).


    This distance, left to itself, will lead to the break up of the cognitive universe into multi-verses (zillions of discrete units 'over against' the others). Something, however, in the universe holds the subject and object together, some 'glue' that provides SOME assurance that 'the known' is in epistemic relationship to us. (I tend to understand this as semantic glue, derived from a locutional creation, similar to the 'glue' that holds our paragraphs/sentences 'together'

    In brief, I have a guarantee (from my worldview) that the keyboard in front of me is 'sending out data' across the gap, efficaciously, so that the noumena/phenomena gap is not so wide. The fact that both the knower and the known are 'citizens' in a semantic web provokes me to respect for my fellow-citizen, encouragement that I can establish 'contact' with it, and that this 'epistemic' distance might not imply a radical 'ontic' distance as well.

    Metaphor and The Epistemic Bubble:
    As participants in a derivative reality, our experiences are 'finite, but unbounded'. As a metaphor of epistemology itself, as we charge out into the edges of knowledge, we 'wrap back around' on ourselves. This translates to the fact that the farther we push our knowledge, the more we have to appropriate models from OTHER disciplines. We talk about light as particles, waves, fields...we build information processing models of the brain...we 'see' DNA as a double helix...super'strings'...


    For this reason, metaphors are major 'carriers' of knowledge, but they 'resist' over-analysis. Some of these function as models, giving insight, but not necessarily reducible to significant restatement in non-metaphorical language. (In the theological terminology, the analogical content could never be stated WITHOUT a modus significandi.) This RADICALLY affects the issue of precision (below).

    A striking example of this is sub-atomic physics. The same basic 'things' of study are approached as particles, waves, and fields. Quarks have 'color' and 'flavor'. The extra 6-8 dimensions of spacetime in superstring/supersymmetric theories are 'curled up' inside spaces smaller than the proton(!). Forces are 'carried by' particles. Think for a second...what 'is' a "force" or a "particle" for that matter...

    A major implication of this is that NO specific area of knowledge (e.g. physics, sociology, etc.) can claim some kind of 'superior' knowledge...it is as dependent on the others as they are.

    Ultimate Reference Points?:
    For our acts to have significance, there must be an 'Ultimate Reference Point'(URP) that is NOT in the context of the universe, but that FORMS the context of the universe. The existentialists saw this most clearly, in my opinion. If there is nothing 'out there', then we are simply awash among a sea of 'finite' moral notions, epistemic acts, truth-views...and we arbitrarily 'deify' one by the sheer act of will (it is not clear to me how will has this much power...). On the value/significance side, this became vivid for me one night in 1972. I had been reading Francis Schaeffer's original trilogy over and over, but the notion of URP had escaped my appropriation. Then it 'hit' me...it was an issue of that which is 'farthest back'. To illustrate this to myself, I took a chalkboard, drew a rectangle and labeled it 'the universe'. The universe is characterized by 'ethical neutrality' if you will. It runs like a Newtonian machine (for the most part--miracles, 'virtual particles', and mind-body interactions being possible exceptions). It takes no 'notice' of its creatures...it simply hums on.


    Now, draw a stick-figure, inject a person, maybe even me. I have moral notions that I consider VERY important--I get outraged at vandalism, crimes against the elderly, child abuse, ethnic violence. I struggle with person moral decisions everyday...sometimes agonize over them, if they affect my kids, or my friends, or other loyalties that I have. But...the universe doesn't even notice these, and in a million years or so, my moral choices will have made NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER--the machine will have keep on grinding away. In fact, my moral notions just don't fit in such a universe at all. And NO 'value' can even find definition in such a universe...survival of the species, altruism, selfishness, religion--NOTHING makes any difference whatsoever.

    Now, let's try adding 'gods'...superhuman, but finite deities, perhaps like the gods of Greece or Egypt or Babylon...if they are INSIDE the universe (and subject to it), we have gained nothing--they are just in this meaningless stew as well!

    But if we add a real God...beyond the universe, (graphically surrounding the rectangle) dwarfing its mechanism, forming the CONTEXT for that universe...with hyper-consciousness, moral notions, personal actions, things-that-are-valued...ALL OF A SUDDEN I FIT! My choices and agony and struggles and acts of kindness and acts of justice BELONG IN THIS UNIVERSE! Everything I approach as a person has significance now!--work, play, love, social action, thinking--because the URP does the same things...

    Notice that this only works if the URP is sufficiently 'personal'. IF said URP were simply an impersonal force (e.g. gravity, evolution) I AM STILL ALONE. And, IF said URP were 'beyond personality', I would likewise be still out-of-place. For example, if the URP were a Cat, then all cats would 'fit' and have significance, but the best I could do to would be to emulate a cat (?).

    [Bizarre historical note: A week after understanding this and actually 'experiencing' the feeling of 'belonging' I was sharing this model with a Hindu graduate student at Ga. Tech who was in one of my short courses in programming. We were walking along the sidewalk to the cafeteria, and he abruptly stopped me and asked me how he could get to know this God! It was then that I began to understand the necessity and graciousness of God's revealing Himself to us, in graphical format (the Judeo-Christian Bible), in pattern-displays (i.e. facets of His character in the universe's order, immensity, beauty, etc.), and in the face-to-face encounter between history and the God-man Jesus Christ.]

    The above sketches out the significance of our actions and choosing. There are those that argue that an URP is needed for all acts of predication as well. While it is clear to me that the ethical dimensions of linguistic acts are covered thereby, I am still working on the argument that an epistemic URP is also necessary.

    The Limits of Linguistic Precision and Rigor of Method:
    I am torn between the vivacity and structuring power of metaphor, on the one hand, and the rigor and precision of technical vocab and calculi, on the other. I see boundaries to each. Metaphors can be overextended and misapplied, and there are no intrinsic checks on this, and no sure methods of disambiguation. Special languages, with special defined terms, have the reverse problem--since they typically are examples of 'natural' or 'causal' views of language, they have the problems of ostensive definitions. For example, if I point to a cat and say "Cat", how in the world could you actually know what was the intention of my pointing?...the fur, the color of the cat, the location, the left eye?...and even a very long version of "Twenty Questions" will ultimately prove fruitless-we will just end up at the Categories (where ALL specificities die!).


    I am intrigued in this area with the descriptions in particle physics. I remember books that described, for example, the characteristics of light as a wave and as a particle...Then the descriptions of it later as a wavicle and as a field. But the technical equations describing particles seems to be exclusively on their behavior in various contexts. We may have even lost the notion of 'particle' in the process.

    The linguists of the world say we talk about four things: objects, events, attributes, relationships--and these are generally distinguishable at the macro level. But at the sub-micro level of sub-atomic physics, all of these seem the same! What looked like a particle, can be seen as an event, an attribute of a field, and even as a relationship between two other entities. (We have infinite precision, but the we have wrapped back around the epistemic bubble!).

    Closely related to this is the reference scope of a language. Natural, common languages seem to trade-off between precision, vividness, and range of subject matter. For example, in common U.S. English, I can talk about 'despair' and 'justice' and 'Hannah' and 'cause' in the same sentence. This sentence will have a level of ambiguity that is connected with each of those words, as well as the ambiguity generated by the collocation of those into one semantic unit. (Some ambiguity will also be removed in this process, as some meanings will get 'selected' by the proximity of the other words.). I have a wide range of reference, but my precision may be very low (relative to technical languages.). But in a technical language of say, action theory, I may not even be able to use the vocab words 'despair' or 'justice' at all, but have better precision on the 'cause' word.

    What I am suggesting here is NOT that we abandon rigor or precision in our work(!), but that we understand the trade-offs and limitations of our language.

    God's ability to transcend cultural limits in the act of revelation:
    In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God spoke into history, using the historical tools of language and culture. I do not consider Him in anyway limited thereby. His ability to both use a 'host' culture for delivering his message (i.e. Israel) and at the same time condemn it for its aberrations and abuses of that message (Is 1!) is clearly demonstrated. The limitations of the culture (e.g. abusive views of women, materialistic worldviews) are not limitations on God, and were certainly not blessed by him! The power of language to speak up against anything render it a suitable vehicle (in ANY culture) for delivering messages of critical moment to that culture and to others. God COULD have adopted any culture/society from which to announce his intentions and activities, without condoning any immoral behavior of individuals, groups, or the entire society. He both utilized and critiqued his messengers. He still does...

    Be sure to continue this bizarre stream of analysis in Looking at the Linguistic Wall..."
    A Few Ethical Vectors for Christians:
    1. The God of Truth is NOT afraid of our questions.
    2. Our God is God of the whole person: will, emotions, body, even our intellect.
    3. God is seriously committed to truth--whatever the cost...as His children, so should we be.
    4. Taking a person's questions seriously is an act of respect and love, even when they don't really take them seriously.
    5. Distortion, misrepresentation, or deception through omission are unethical.
    6. When we don't know the answer, we must say 'I do not know'...
    7. If a sincere question (as a felt need) comes our way, we should attempt to meet that need through answers, resources, or encouragement to patience.
    8. We are not allowed to be contentious or to argue for argument's sake.
    9. We should be changing the shape of eternity, one conversation at a time.
    10. Sometimes the best answer is silence.
    11. Prov. 18:13: "He who answers before listening -- that is his folly and his shame."
    12. "Slander" includes misrepresentation.
    13. Chronic ignorance can become irresponsibility, and chronic irresponsibly can become a moral failure.
    14. It is not a sin to have unanswered questions and agonizing doubts--you can raise more questions in 5 minutes than you can answer in 50 years!
    15. It is generally dishonest to reject a belief which you have N+1 arguments for, on the basis of only N arguments against (all argument weights being equal)...it is also somewhat foolish.
    16. Unanswered questions CAN be a source of emotional pain.
    17. This is NOT A GAME we're in.


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