How to erase an object from a mind

The universe in which we live consists only of life and postulates. The old word ‘postulate’ has recently come into use as an English-language equivalent of saṃskāra, in the sense of an act of will, decision, purpose, or causative consideration. Entities, identities, objects and masses are the product of postulates interacting in games, and can be resolved back into these postulates.

Stephens (1992) developed a process that demonstrates that anything we perceive as an object consists only of postulates. Resolve these postulates and it is found to disappear. Represented as an algorithm, the process is as follows:

1. Name the object, or living organism.

2. What is the function of a ­­­­­_____?

(or for an organism, What is the purpose of a ­­­­­_____?)

3. Timebreak anything that appears.

4. Return to 2.

If no more answers to 2,

5. What purposes have you had towards a _____?

6. Timebreak anything that appears.

7. Return to 5.

If no more answers to 5,

8. Return to 2

If no more answers to 2,

9. End

In steps 3 and 6, timebreaking is the basic process of handling memories by viewing them in present time as described by Stephens (1979). Essentially the person looks at the area of each purpose, perhaps asking themself “How do you feel about that?”, to find material to timebreak.

Although primarily a demonstration, this process may have some application in therapy. A person bothered by an irrational fear of spiders could erase “spiders” from their mind, and from their experience of the world. Or someone with a paraphilia for stiletto heels can erase “stiletto heels” – always supposing that they want to.

Stephens noted that it is quicker to erase an object by running it as the subject of the basic goals package (Know, Not Know, Be Known, Not Be Known), for example “Must know spiders” and so on. However, if the object is involved in gameplay with a junior goal such as ‘Eradicate’, it becomes imbued with a purpose from that goals package. It will not erase by making it the subject of the basic package as long as the person considers the junior goal to be separate from the basic package.

Finding all the purposes eliminates any junior goals packages that may involve this object. In the end you may be left with one of the four legs of the basic goals package as its “actual” purpose.

For example: Once I was bothered by recurring thoughts of a certain book that I had lost. I set out to erase this book from my mind using the algorithm above. The purposes that came off first were to do with the book as a collectible, as an ornament to admire, as a possession to be proud of, as property that might be sold at a profit. But the basic purpose of this book, or any book, is Be Known – it exists to make something known.

And whenever an object is erased, a complementary subject is necessarily erased as well. From the pratītyasamutpāda, we know that subjects and objects are mutually dependent. The observer and the observed form a unity (Spencer-Brown, 1969). So if a person runs the algorithm given above, the question “What purposes have you had…” will run out the postulates that they made in the class of self, just as “What is the purpose of …” runs out the complementary postulates that they consider the object to have. Erasing those scary spiders also erases the personality who was scared of spiders.

But don’t worry; everyone has a vast stack of personalities or selves that they have created by living out one game after another. Resolving the mind is like peeling pages one by one from a very thick notepad. If a person really did erase all their selves they would be in the condition that Buddhists call nirvāṇa; and I’ve never met anyone who has got that far.



Spencer-Brown, G. (1969) Laws of Form. (Allen & Unwin: London).

Stephens, D.H. (1979) The Resolution of Mind.

Stephens, D.H. (1992) The Unstacking Procedure. Audio recording of 3 November 1992, available here.


Watsonia tabularis

Watsonia tabularis J.Mathews & L.Bolus has been in cultivation in Australia since the 19th century but does not appear to have contributed to the pedigrees of any hybrid cultivars bred in this country. It is endemic to the Cape Peninsula of South Africa and may be closest to the more widespread and variable Watsonia fourcadei J.Mathews & L.Bolus.

Plants grown from seed recently imported from South Africa have flowers of pale pink with a darker tube as shown in the photo. These represent the high altitude form; plants from lower altitudes differ in having bright orange flowers.


W. tabularis is evergreen, making most growth during autumn and spring then flowering in November to January.


Goldblatt, P. (1989) The genus Watsonia. 148 pp. (National Botanic Gardens: Kirstenbosch) ISBN 062012517

Two advantages of being inedible

A tweet from Patrick Moore to the effect that most of the pesticides present in the food we eat are produced by the crops themselves set me thinking about the “arms race” between plants to avoid being eaten and at the same time encourage herbivores to eat other competing species.

Eating or being eaten can be viewed as a very simple game. In order to survive, any plant or animal, any living organism, must eat. That is, take in from outside the substances that it needs to grow its own body and to provide energy to run its internal processes. It also must not be eaten if it is going to survive for long. Winning this leg of the game consists of convincing any predator that it cannot be eaten, to use the terminology of  Stephens (1993).

Plants have developed the ‘must eat’ game virtually to its limit by now. Housing symbiotic chloroplasts that fix carbon by photosynthesis, absorbing other nutrient elements, and the metabolic pathways that produce the whole plant have been established since the Palaeozoic. Even the later innovations of CAM and C4 photosynthesis have been around for millions of years.

Dennis Stephens (1994) further suggested that the main game among plants is ‘must not be eaten’ because they have not yet evolved as  far as they can go in that department. They are still in an arms race with herbivores, with pathogens and with each other. Plants may develop spines or other physically deterring outgrowths that convince hungry herbivores that they are not edible. They may use nectar to encourage ants to wander over their surface and clean up feeding insects. But most importantly, they may produce any of a vast range of chemicals (secondary metabolites) that make them bad-tasting or toxic to the particular herbivores that threaten them. These are all physical manifestations of the strategy of being inedible.

As an aside, it’s interesting that the development of toxic secondary metabolites is a speciality of the angiosperms or flowering plants that have dominated land vegetation since the Cretaceous age. Ferns can be inedible too, but they are much less rich in this kind of chemistry. And the notably toxic members of the gymnosperms are not the really ancient ones, but those that have diversified since the Cretaceous in competition with angiosperms – the cycads, Ephedra, Taxus and some related conifers.

So there is an evolutionary pressure on plants to not be eaten by convincing herbivores that they are inedible. The most obvious benefit from this – when it succeeds –  is that they do not lose biomass or get killed outright by herbivory.

But there can be a second advantage for the uneatable. Consider a three-way game between two plants and a herbivore, such as sheep grazing on a pasture of grass containing thistles. A thistle’s spines make it unpalatable; either totally inedible, or so hard for the sheep to eat that it will not be nibbled as long as any edible, palatable grass remains around it.

So the harder the sheep graze, the less the grass will compete with the thistles for light, water and ground space. The combination of grazing pressure and their spiny defence against being eaten has given them a powerful strategy in their own competitive game with the grass.

It’s also interesting to consider the strategy of the grass. It might actually derive some benefit from being grazed along with broadleaf weeds that lack the thistle’s defence, since it is better equipped to regrow after grazing than they are. But that’s another story.



Stephens, D.H. (1993) Expanding on Level 5, Sex. Letter tape of 6 May 1993.

Stephens, D.H. (1994) Postulates, Self and the Obsessive IP. Letter tape of August 1994.

Double bondings and feedback loops

Consider the double bonding A ⇒ B and B ⇒ A, or A ⇔ B. Double bonding is also known as the biconditional or XNOR connective in formal logic.

In a double bonding, the two fields A and B are co-extensive. If these are just two different names for the same thing, this is an innocent synonymy, as in the instances of nomenclatural synonymy in plant names. But if we consider them to be different (and by using the two names A and B we seem to be making that consideration), then it’s not at all innocent.

Then the statements A ⇒ B and B ⇒ A together create a paradox where A and B are both identical and different; this can only be represented by an imaginary Boolean value as defined by Spencer-Brown (1969). The double bonding contains the seed of a feedback loop to an imaginary value.

This imaginary value can be approached more stealthily by making a series of bondings such as A ⇒ B, B ⇒ C, C ⇒ D and then adding D ⇒ A to create what Hofstadter (1979) called a strange loop. In other words, a function that re-enters itself, in this case at the fourth level.

The possibility of double bondings as paradoxes or fallacies was noted by Lewis Carroll at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Grammatically, “I see what I eat” could be equivalent to “I eat what I see.” But in English language syntax the order of antecedent and consequent expresses a convention that the first sentence means that Eat ⇒ See, but not that See ⇒ Eat.



Hofstadter, D. (1979) Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. (Basic Books: New York ).

Spencer-Brown, G. (1969) The Laws of Form. (Allen & Unwin: London).

Watsonia pillansii

Watsonia pillansii L.Bolus is widespread in the eastern (i.e. summer rainfall) part of South Africa at low and medium elevations. This wide geographic range is associated with variation in ecological requirements and plant size, but the flower colour is generally bright orange to orange-red.

Plants grown from seed recently imported from South Africa have unbranched stems to 1.2 m high bearing up to 22 flowers. They are evergreen, with new shoots appearing in late summer immediately after flowering and before the previous season’s leaves have died. Each flower has a cylindric tube 3.5 to 5 cm long and acute perianth lobes to 24 mm long that flare widely when fully open; the colour in this strain whose exact provenance is unknown is a rather weak orange-juice orange on the lobes and deeper on the outside of the tube. The anthers and pollen are cream.


Watsonia pillansii is related to W. schlechteri in the section Watsonia, subsection Grandibractea.

The species has been in cultivation in Australia since the 19th century. Cultivars that may be selections of W. pillansii include ‘Flame’ (marketed by Lawrence Ball in the 1940s) and ‘Watermelon Shades’ (Cheers, 1997). Watsonia ‘Beatrice’ or the Beatrice Hybrids is a group name for various natural hybrids of W. pillansii (Eliovson, 1968) that were exported to Britain, America and Australia in the early 20th century. The name comes from Watsonia beatricis J.Mathews & L.Bolus, which was a taxonomic synonym of W. pillansii.


Cheers, G. ed. (1997) Botanica. (Random House Australia).

Eliovson, S. (1968) Bulbs for the Gardener in the Southern Hemisphere. (Reed: Wellington).

Goldblatt, P. (1989) The Genus Watsonia. (National Botanic Gardens: Kirstenbosch)

Watsonia fourcadei

Watsonia fourcadei J.Mathews & L.Bolus has been in cultivation in Australia since the 19th century but does not appear to have contributed to the pedigrees of any hybrid cultivars bred in this country. It is widespread in the mountains of the southern Cape but absent from the Cape Peninsula where it is replaced by the related W. tabularis J.Mathews & L.Bolus.

Plants grown from seed recently imported from South Africa have flowers in a range of pink shades from pale salmon with a darker tube to the medium pink shown in the photo. They are evergreen, making most growth in mid summer to autumn but flowering in October to December.

The flowers have an arched, narrow cylindric tube about 6 cm long and perianth lobes 26 to 32 mm long incurved to form a cup-shaped limb.



Goldblatt, P. (1989) The genus Watsonia. 148 pp. (National Botanic Gardens: Kirstenbosch) ISBN 062012517

Watsonia schlechteri

Watsonia schlechteri L.Bolus grows in the montane veld of the winter-rainfall parts of the Cape, South Africa. Plants grown from seed imported via Silverhill Seeds first flowered this year and are a good match for the lectotype of W. schlechteri.


The flowers are orange-vermillion with perianth lobes to 23 mm long. The buds end in a slightly downcurved point. There are no staminodal ridges in the perianth tube, a character that distinguishes it from the closely related W. pillansii. However, the fresh leaves of these specimens lack the strongly thickened margins and midvein that are used as another distinguishing character; these are only evident in dried material.

W. schlechteri is one of the smaller watsonias, usually much less than 1 metre tall with leaves about 40 cm long. It flowers in late December to January, resuming growth from offsets soon after flowering while the previous season’s shoot may still be green. Thus it has some leaves all year, or non-flowering plants may be briefly leafless before the new growth starts in late summer. Goldblatt notes that flowering in the wild is conditional on the plants not being shaded out by surrounding vegetation.

Like other watsonias native to high altitudes, it is at risk of damage in the agonisingly hot, dry summers we get here at sea level in Adelaide. The problem is to give the plants sufficient light without excess heat, a tall order on days of 42°C with northerly winds.


Goldblatt, P. (1989) The genus Watsonia. 148 pp. (National Botanic Gardens: Kirstenbosch).