Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Happy New Year Essay on Agency

I have only very recently read Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. It’s hard to read. I’d pretty much been avoiding it because I haven’t believed that anyone seeming to champion our brave new digital future could be worth reading. Boy, was I wrong.

There is plenty of information up here on this blog about why I might avoid writing that announces itself that way. I have long since decided - on the basis of youthful epiphany really - where I stand on (what feel to me to be) the absurdities of AI/digital intelligence. In brief, it’s the either/or nature of digital, and the gap that hides between digital machinery and our lived existence. What’s hidden is that we aren’t really separable from all else in the cosmos, while digital is. And our connections go well beyond what can be measured and quantified. So any digital simulacrum can’t be real. Digital reality is logic fully abstracted from any substrate. There is only yes and no.

I’ve long since given up on any definitive determination about whether my youthful epiphany was genuine or the random synapse firing of psychotic detachment from reality. I mean the epiphany has continued to make sense to me, but I have yet successfully to communicate it to a single other soul. And so I must remain agnostic as to its truth value; that epiphany of mine.

But I must agree with Haraway. She pushes the man/machine connection way back before digital machinery, but also manages to envision a ton of hope for all good things post-digital! Like doing away with gender bias for starters. That excites me. Too!

So now I’m fixated more on agency. For instance, Natalie Jermijenko, whose work I admire, uses agency as shorthand for what she’s about. I feel no dissent in her audiences, and so I keep my mouth shut, but am I alone in my misgivings?

What we call agency starts with random in my cosmology. An irrational impulse precedes the rational choice, and choice becomes rationalization. Full Stop. There’s lots of neurological research to support this conclusion.

Some are bothered by the apparent lack of conscious agency entailed by this insight. I’m not. I have found in it connectedness to the cosmic other. I distinguish random from meaningless, along with my Chinese cousins. Consciously unknowable is not the same as meaningless.

There are limits to mind’s reach, and so I am happy to leave many of my own decisions to random processes. NOT my driving and healthcare decisions, for God’s sake! But my reading decisions, say. Why prefigure what you’re going to read by what you already know? How can you learn that way? Of course, I do quickly discard anything that’s not well-written or sensible. I’m (mostly) not stupid.

Well, in my life and family now I am trapped by lack of agency. After receiving a modest inheritance upon my father’s death - by modest, I mean it’s equal to about two years of my earning power, and I’m at least three years from a decidedly modest retirement possibility - I’d felt that I’ve been working away for others and never for myself. Ultimately, I was working for The Man, of course, but my daughters are grown and way more competent about managing their lives than I am mine, and I felt responsible to do something with and about my considerable endowments. I decided to retire from an economy premised on little choice for those who aren't rich. Even then, they seem to have bypassed choice altogether, trapped in the joys money brings and blind to what it does to those who lack choice.

Of course I find myself on the far end of competency of a sudden, due to age; which lent a sudden urgency to the exercise of agency, not so much because the end is near as because my grasp on what I spent so long attaining is growing ever weaker.

So, my local dilemma is that I have friends and family who are considerably better off than I am. They often surprise me with their generosity. But just as often, I am lured, as it were, into socializing above my (non) pay-grade, and then stuck with the bill and resentment. Invitations never seem couched in any understanding of my limitations. Or at least I don’t find it. That’s likely because they see me exercising choice they don’t feel thy have. I often hear wistful sighs about how nice it would be to inherit money. That is despite my decidedly modest life-style (a term I detest, life-style, but there you go!)

If you're not seeing irony in all this, then you're not reading well. I know how packed I am with social capital. I know that I'm well within the one percenters of agency on the planet. And yet I feel robbed of it by my financial betters, who place the onus on me to affirm our friendship by my ready acceptance of something I nearly always would very much love to do.

I wish I had the choice to decline without any implication of declining offers of friendship. In other words, I think the onus on them is to clarify (make an offer to host or not) and not on me to ask. I think it's awkward to ask if I will have to pay, since that's the same as asking them to pay for me, really.

This is all fine until things get a little tricky. Like what if someone offers me something that is so far beyond my life-style and so attractive that I would loathe to refuse it. Especially when to do so would be to disappoint the one making the offer. A matter of not wanting to be in "debt" for me, but maybe something more for those who lack agency in general.

Without going into a long disquisition into the social harm of the outsized income distribution we are reintroducing to our once more democratic polity, I would like to suggest that to retain the agency of delighting someone can sometimes rob that person of agency they require. I mean everyone knows the feeling of not wanting to destroy someone else's delight at a gift you'd really prefer not to have gotten. Especially Christmas lately, where all those I know and love have everything that they could possibly want or need. Sheesh!

And that includes me! No matter how much I may appreciate offers of things I cannot buy myself, I am happy with my choice to opt out from a consumerist culture that is wrecking the planet. And when I say "the planet," I mean that web of connections which conditions my pre-agency whimsy. I need the substrate of natural contingency to feel any agency at all. Otherwise, might as well let the AI make ALL the decisions.

That's my point. Human agency requires letting go of intelligence, since that isn't how we exercise agency anyhow (just NOT for driving, OK?) but it also requires that there be more than an artificial decision tree.

Intelligence conditions decisions by exclusion most likely. But it doesn't hardly ever make the decisions.

In other words, agency means letting go of some prerogatives while it requires the agency of some inhuman other. That thing which the religionists destroy by naming the patriarchal other their men require.

Sorry, just had to get that final dig in.

So anyhow, like any tools, of course there is no inherent evil to digital tools. But they do seem to seduce us away from agency, rendering invisible all sorts of choices that are made for us. At the current moment, those choices mostly guide our purchasing decisions.

And speaking of purchasing, that's where we've always relinquished agency in our measuring of want against need. Our seeking now for lowest price against all sorts of externalities not billed may constitute a kind of abdication of moral choice. Especially when one of the externalities not billed is our own purchasing decisions, which are owned elsewhere to enormous profit for the vectorialist owners, not of the means of production now, but rather of the decision trees for consumption.

They read my mind before I do. Damn!

Am I looking for a cosmic universal moral code? Indeed I am, and I make so bold as to suggest that such a thing is far more likely than the discovery of some universal code for natural law. I posit merely a direction for life's evolution, no different, essentially, from time's direction.

Time-keeping is apparently tough to locate in the brain, or so I learned by watching an interesting documentary cued up on Delta airlines. In the physical world, time is more accurately measurable than any other constant, they say. And so where is the connection between mind and matter. It would seem to be a matter for some social accord.

Time's direction seems as arbitrary - a conspiracy of everything - as does existence generally. Our social keeping of time may be as dependent on machines as anything else about us. It certainly does seem to have been a hallmark - in lock-step really - of our recent technological advances. And that fact gets so easily overlooked when folks claim whiz-bang amazement at how fast we've exploded in our advance and "understanding."

A simple moral code expresses direction toward or away from love. By abdication, we are and have been moving in a deadly direction, toward destruction of our living substrate. What could be more immoral than that?

Celebrants of progress express what amounts to faith that we will continue our ameliorative breakthroughs to include even remedy for our own predations on the planet. That reduces our current responsibility to just keep on keeping on, and damn the harm we cause along our way. Because our descendants will resolve our shortcomings (just as they will inherit our debts).

I find that hard to distinguish from just not caring at all. Or in other words, we've lost our moral code. That's not to blame the scientists. It's to blame the sellouts. Well, that and the religionists, who mostly say abdicate your responsibility to my formulation for God. Morally, I don't see any distinction from abdication to the truth we think we'll find someday by means of the scientific method.

But, as I said hereinabove, a moral code is discernible in the cosmos. We're just not looking for it. We're looking to absolve ourselves of responsibility, not to find it!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Reading Harvey Weinstein Deleuze Between the Lines of Other Narratives

Reading Deleuze is hard. It's hard to make the words cohere, as he tries to de-interiorize his self, which predates the selfie, which maybe he foreshadows. We've all gone mad to save ourselves from de-interiorization, staring at identical devices, making identical faces. It's hard to make the writing a body without organs without somehow personalizing the author, just in the way that so many post-modernist post-feminist post-patriarchal scholars do by believing that they can reference him by name and title. I would have a hard time short-handing him like that. My memory is not good enough.

I still want to know what a written word is. It's not a tool. A pencil is a tool, useless without the ground of paper or something like it. A keyboard is a tool, now useless without computing power and some medium for storage and then transmission. Nevermind that the written word is not a tool, it's become almost entirely disembodied since there is no longer any physical implication with the writer. Who could have just spoken it, and never formed the words.

I can't read Deleuze. Not that it doesn't make sense, but that it does. It would be easier if I could ascertain that it doesn't make any sense. It would be really easy if he just created a freaking narrative, already.

So I had to divert myself. I'd come off of reading The Jasmine Wars which just left me cranky. So it was either go watch Blade Runner, or indulge the new Dan Brown novel. I chose the latter.

Apart from the evident fact that authors are now enterprises, maybe even approaching cinema in scope of hired guns, I think I made the right choice. It was a fun and absorbing read. I feel relieved of the obligation to do anything useful when there are so many who are so much better than I could ever be.

Yes, well, I do wish that I could write an absorbing narrative. I wish that I could have been a scholar - that I had that kind of precise memory and cataloging ability. I wish that I had been an engineer. But here I am, leaving behind finally a tattered career and still lost in an endless quest for the energy to compose something useful on my way out. I don't know what form it should take.

In the end, Brown's new novel, Origin, was pretty solidly middle-brow. He caught the focus of most of us who are barely holding on to the state of knowledge as conveyed by whatever media we can endure. We have our own "theories," and Brown responsibly and reliably brings focus to them. He doesn't let us down - he gives us a plausible scenario without resorting to any authorial tricks. He's inventive with his characters and with the institutions he describes, but most amazingly the final reveal is plausible not only in the narrative, but in real life. I suspect he may find himself with an embarrassment of adherents of a sort. He gives focus to the media narratives which we only barely grasp. Thanks!

The novel is meta in other words, hinting that the scale and scope of his readership (among others, he thanks a virtual army of translators, perhaps pulling off the same globalism of release that Apple now does) maybe enabling him to do what his protagonist does; get the world thinking in some semblance of the same direction. He must have gotten a lot of people talking.

But a lot more will watch Blade Runner, and the new Star Wars, descended though it has into the Wonderful World of Walt, an entity to which Brown tips his hat more than a few times. A constructed world so much better than the one nature would leave us to without our technologies.

I have to come off myself. I mean I still read critically as though I have something more penetrating to say, maybe more penetrating even than what Deleuze is writing. But that's just ego, right? That's what I tell myself. The world doesn't need yet another one of us telling it like it is. Hat's off to those who do it so much better!

Just now as I write, fellow Buffalonian Harvey Weinstein is being piled on by all the right-thinking people of the world. Far be it from me to defend him, but it's hard not to think he's taking the hit as a kind of Voodoo proxy for our president. It's hard not to think that his basic crime is being wealthy and ugly, his behavior being no worse than many people of closer acquaintance who would do disgusting and illegal things if they could get away with it. I mean few of us are as handsome as the Donald.

He lives in the world Hugh Hefner created, and now indulged in by all the Ivy Leaguers if you are to believe the media. Beautiful people of privilege indulge the lowest urges simply because they can, and too bad really for the women not hot enough and the men now powerful enough by proxy of wealth. Women who compete on the basis of body heat, and who might not complain if my other fellow Buffalonian George Clooney were to let them come on to him.

George nor silent Brad wouldn't have had to beg and deploy power (Weinstein's taped coercions were more pathetic sounding than scary - you would have to be in a position to lose something to be scared) to get himself laid. Forgive me if I empathize with the sleazeball who promoted bands as the Harvey and Corky of my youth. The mudpit in which he wrestled was always known as such.

There's just a bit of disingenuousness in the pile-on. Don't we all construct personal narratives of absolution, even if at the expense of some convenient other who presents himself? I suppose that Donald Trump should watch out, since his will come faster and more furious when it does, though I do note that he has more restraint in this case than do so many of the liberal-types with whom Harvey Weinstein was always more closely identified. I only hope that I will never be so quick to cast stones, even at the Donald.

Well, the trouble for me with reading Deleuze is that he affords the same insight and clarity which a glancing lifelong intersection with Chinese culture has. Deconstructing power, but for some purpose other from empowering the selfie-self. Deconstructing power has to include re-embedding the interiorized and mystical self within the continuum of ever-evolving nature. And that means to discover an ontology of accident, which Darwin did for sure. But which our constructed world would shelter us from.

The transhumanist future of Dan Brown's fictional cosmos negates the ground - the ecological niche - within which mankind might continue to evolve. The ugly and not just the poor. Who will we all want to look like when we have the choice? Will we become as indistinguishable as iPhones without their bling? Will our narratives all fuse?

It is nice to be able to stand outside the fray and watch it roll together toward conclusion. I do believe my juices flow more by reading than they do by immersion in 3D surround sound, but they both tend in the same direction.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The End of the F***ing World

So, I'm wandering around the country with a living space the size of an outhouse, in which I do everything *except* what I would do in an outhouse.  I have almost no time, since I face a daily high quota of slave-wage Chinese translation which almost, but not quite, keeps me going. Beats working for Amazon (other than the pay) and being stuck in one place with all the other losers. 

I like the whole arrangement, apart from being isolated and alone at a time when the world is coming apart at the seams. I mean, I like being isolated and alone in general, since the alternative takes a lot out of me and hasn't had such good results overall. And I like doing the Chinese translation because I get this glimmer every once in a while that I might actually climb inside the language. I mean like when I watched a Netflix recently called Bright staring the profound oral poet Will Smith, whose language no way no how could be deciphered by any Chinese person. I'm not black, so I guess he wasn't talking black, since I understood his every utterance, but it was sheer poetry, damn the grammar!

Anyhow, point being that I've been at a State Park in South Carolina which miraculously has WiFi, which depending on the weather and humidity I can sometimes use, like now. And the real miracle is that I can sometimes hook up with Netflix late at night, perhaps after others are off the net and onto their portable satellite dishes.

I caught this youth-focused series called the End of the F***cking world (which is also how I'm required to translate such words from Chinese, so no sweat with that), which would no way be my particular cup of tea, but I'm on a pretty big tear of random, so what the hell?

A psychopath kid - by which I mean he likes to kill cats and dogs for fun - decides its time to kill a person, and hooks up (not that way yet - since the anticipation is what drives the series) with a fuck-it-all girl who is stunningly open about all those sexual things that are strangely utterly absent from what makes the story work.

And it hits me that as with Scheherazade of the thousand and one nights, she's fascinating this psychopath kid away from doing the dirty deed whose thought bubble is constantly flashed in front of you.  And by means of the same free association which makes it easy to understand Will Smith while a the same time making it hard to translate into English what I get perfectly well in Chinese, I'm reminded that psychopaths are standard issue as princes, so what's the big deal about Trump?  Same old same old really.

It clearly helps that this Netflix was derived from a graphic novel.

Then I catch this brilliant post on Quora by this self styled World Traveller Robin Daverman (see what the Internet does to a person? But I've sworn off Facebook, as all good citizenry must!), which I will quote from.  She was responding to the question, "Are Chinese communists the best capitalists? Is Communist China the most capitalist country in the world?"

Robin Daverman, World traveler

Are Chinese communists the best capitalists? Is Communist China the most capitalist country in the world? 
Yes and no. 
They are not capitalist in the sense that they explicitly reject the idea that Money should have the final say. Just because you have money doesn’t mean that math and physics doesn’t apply to you anymore, LOL! Ditto for the laws of economics and social science. So money is strictly kept out of politics, and the policy decisions are not made by those who can afford the most expensive lobbyists or the most expensive lawyers. Instead, almost all policies decisions have to be tested through a 20-year experiment cycle like the FDA.
They are also the best capitalists in the sense that they have a really good understanding of the laws of finance, economy and free market. So good, that they managed to build the best mouse-trap for the global capital. 
. . . They view capitalism not as a religion, but as a dispassionate tool for social engineering.
There you have it! Except somehow I'd still rather live here, and if China uses capitalism as a tool for dispassionate social engineering, then why is their social science so utterly devoid of science, or did I just answer my own question?

Anyhow, despite putting the lie to my claim to have no time, I also read this great New Yorker piece on how Estonia has solved all those things that make a guy like me crazy (like renewing life-saving drug prescriptions while on the move), by the simple expedient of an unhackable national identity token, and a block-chain constructed of all your personal data that you actually still own yourself (instead of ceding ownership to Facebook and the credit agencies) such that you can vote, and revise your vote, and get your prescriptions anywhere, and not necessarily let every doctor know about your pyschic breakdown. Even the courts are caught up there, according to this article.

But our religion prevents us from being pinned to an identity that the dread government might use against us.

Now I'm no big fan of blockchain money, since on the one hand it uses up so many freaking computing cycles to "mine" it, and on the other because it innately privileges the jet-set which is already privileged, but along with being less afraid of universal ids than you might be, I'm also less afraid of so-called "fiat currency," especially if the government denominator is prohibited from arbitrary coinage by the nature of the block-chain.

I had a point to all this when I started.

I guess my point is that we have the chance to take ownership back now of that thing that it's taken me so long to detach from; our country.  I don't mean the place about which you might build a wall, which the tech of Estonia has rendered obsolete. I mean that thing worth believing in that might be able to knit diverse peoples together rather than to force them into hoarding their own.

Not only is Trump a boorish wannabe prince, but he inhabits and stands for the same retro world that Scheherazade lived in.  Why in the world do we elect people who have so little imagination, never mind so little actual understanding??

At this time when it's never been more secure and effortless to be alive, out deep set sense that something is very wrong keeps getting coopted into fear of terrorists or global warming and other things we can't do anything about by those same people who live lavish lifestyles at our basic expense.

Something is very wrong, of course, and we know we can't go on this way for much longer.

Ford and Kavanaugh

I started writing on this blog eons ago, and named it according to my premonition that our shared narrative would have to change. A shared narrative is the designed result of the scientific method, and it has been my conviction for the whole of my adult life that this brave new shared narrative infused by science came a cropper at about the time that quantum physics went mainstream.

I remember the terror of being out in public, naked. I've since learned, of course, that no-one is paying any attention. I write with some abandon, and then, well, it just doesn't seem worth it anymore.

My problem remains simple; that I don't have anything complete to say. I'm still in process, and unfortunately I'm getting a little old for that posture. But I'm not finished yet.

Like many of us, I did struggle a bit to find some truth in the stated positions and memories of Ford and Kavanaugh these last few days. Does the world really remain so naive about the fallibility of memory? I know that each time I pronounce some amazing happenstance in my life past and present, I am called out for a fraud. Some of the time I'm embarrassed to find they're right. I did exaggerate, or substitute or conflate for the sake of interest mostly. Perhaps sometimes to make myself look better, and sometimes to prevent looking so bad.

As any newspaper person would tell you, the story matters more than the truth. Anyone who's ever been interviewed for a story knows that very well.

But we also know very well that traumatic or otherwise emotionally stimulating memories are the ones that remain the most accurate over time.

However easy it might be for me to imagine that Ford swapped in Kavanaugh for someone else, it is that hard for me to imagine that she did not suffer what she said she did. A famous person, and a person who represents detested values, would make the trauma more real. And I think reality is important for anyone who suffers something that won't be believed, or will be belittled, or which causes more pain in the revelation than the pain caused by keeping silent. The relativity of pain doesn't make it disappear.

It's just as easy for me to imagine that Kavanaugh has cleansed his mind of those things which might make him too distasteful to those who admire him, which apparently includes himself. For me, it is sufficient to know that he has never repudiated the Church, and that he still apparently identifies with it.

I grew up in what was once the most Catholic city on the planet (according to the Buffalo News, once upon a time), and nearly all my Catholic friends have repudiated their faith in favor of something more in process. At the church I grew up in, we called that "More Light," as in mankind cannot yet know God's mind, and that we should, in the interim, behave in ways most compassionate and least certain. The particular issue at the time was homosexuality in the pulpit, but it could apply in endless different ways.

My lapsed Catholic friends are angry with the institution of the Church for having failed to protect those most innocent among us - children - from the most culpable possible perpetrators; exponents of God's word.

So, in the end, my problem with Kavanaugh is that he seems to believe that he is called upon to be and to have been perfect. My problem is that he seems to want us to see him as better than he is.

He doesn't seem like a particularly bad person, but he does seem to have jettisoned any desire to be better. By repudiating his own past as though not only didn't it happen, but that had it happened he could not be as good a man as he claims to be. In doing that, he pretty much validates the notion that he should be accountable now for what he did then, as though he were finished at 17, with no more room to grow.

At best, he wants his sins to remain secret and private. At worst, he doesn't believe in any kind of aspirational identity. There is but one model, and there is but one chance to fit it. Character for him, seems to be determined at or by birth. Somehow, no-one encouraged him to own up to his shortcomings and to try to make them better.

How could he not apply the same standards in a court of law? He must believe that there is one set mode for being good, and that people are either bad or good. Evidently, he would consider being female and being gay lapses from the good. I think that's why he's being put forward.

So, I may be disagreeing with his opposition in a way. They seem bent on uncovering the truth in exactly the same way that he is. He's already told plenty of what Catholics call 'white lies,' to keep his image from straying in the direction of boorish. Those are documented.

The truth which wants exposure is not whether he was or wasn't the guilty party for Ford's abuse. The truth which wants exposure, and the one against which he has already been proven guilty, is whether or not he feels that he was finished before he even started. If, in other words, he feels that there is nothing more for him to learn, and no improvements to be made in his own behavior, then he should be disqualified, no matter his convictions, political or otherwise.

That may make me an unreconstructed progressive liberal, who would nix the validity of any and all conservatives. Neither woman not black, I can hear the sexism and racism in every statement he makes. Attacks against character are not the moral equivalent of rape. Especially when they are proven, as they already have been in this case.

We are informed by our tools, starting, perhaps, with language. The informed mind cannot be as it was. When we stop being informed, we are, rightly, called tools. It has been a mistake to suppose that we could remain separate from the tools we create, and a bigger one to suppose that our tools beyond language don't inform us in the same way.

As approximately half the world understands, Kavanaugh is a tool. He is some kind of victim only against his apparently fiercely defended right to hold whatever lofty position he aspires to. Even as he fails to own up to character flaws, he would like the rest of us to accept his choir boy definition of decency. That brand of decency is incapable of any perspective on the patriarchy of religion and any notion that women aren't the playthings of men.

Quantum Quora

I'm going to try this again. It's important, but I have to say at the outset that I've been trying for over 40 years. I doubt I'll succeed this time. There are so many distractions. I'll start with those.

I have so many devices, all obsolete, but some running the latest OS, albeit slowly. I don't understand why Microsoft doesn't move beyond the utterly wrong assumption about the interchangeability of mouse and touch. I get what Apple meant by their touchbar, an apparently unpopular move in the right direction, and I find tablets needlessly clumsy.

Long ago there was this youtube about an intuitive interface, all touch, and I wondered then why it hadn't been adapted universally. And I really really don't understand why all the news apps give you interesting glimpses at yesterday's news that you can't nohow get back to, before loading the news of today. It messes with my mind.

I guess I figure we're stuck on metaphors of vision which fit themselves to a screen, along with metaphors of alphabet and numbers which fit themselves to keyboards. Or in other words, the devices won't change until we finally grow out of cars and packaged food and ultimately capitalism itself. OK, I'm not even going to try for the logic in that one. But I just know it's there!

But speaking of universal, that's what I aim to rant on and about. Every once in a while, I take glimpses at news about quantum physics, never very hopefully and now very desultorily. But today again I have a hook for hanging my point on right here. It ends in a paradox, which I just don't find very paradoxical. It's my common sense.

And anyhow, paradox is just the end of sense and you always get there sooner or later, so why do we ever think we have to get beyond it. But for the fun of it.

The one I started with was the Twin Paradox, but this new thought experiment works just as well. You end up finding otherwise connected individuals at the macro-level inhabiting non-commensurate universes because of quantum fallout. Some crazy things like the so-called "many universes" theory get way more play than mine does, and mine's not even crazy.

Apart from quantum physics, my inputs come from classical Chinese poetry (lets call it differences in metaphorical usage for short-hand), evolution and epigenetics in particular, literary theory about metaphor, philosophy of language, philosophical theory about metaphor, and probably quite a few more.

I'm no expert at any of the list, but at their intersection I may or must have some cutting edge advancement. Maybe.

So, let's start with evolution, where a non-academic debate keeps lingering about any direction away or toward complexity, entropy, and the position of humans in the whole mess. Mostly, I think, well-informed evolutionary scientists eschew any (Abrahamic religion descended) notion that we are at the pinnacle of some sort of chain. That we are much differentiated from the general soup of life, nor especially that we are moving away from the competition in any way or shape or form. That we might become or even imagine.

But there do linger these atavistic senses that we somehow should and must take over the planet and evolution to save us from ourselves, as it were, and to give life a living chance. That, to me, is just simply nuts!

On the face of it, I find the notion that our intelligence can be somehow superior to the millions of years of complexity implied by the evolution (is it billions?) which got us here to be nuts as well. And my personal nightmare is that humans end up in charge. Can't end well. Those genetically CRISPR'd babes in China are just the tip of that iceberg. I'm glad we're still somewhat appalled.

We imagine a self as the unintended consequence of overreach. The horror!  But I may not be as scared of that as you are. I haven't found real choice in all that much about my life, no matter what choices were made before I took over.

But CRISPR or not, we are not even close to making that collective decision, and I rather suspect we won't have the chance. An edge keeps tipping closer, and we seem on the wrong side of the evolutionary pressures which got us life. We seem to be going over the edge as a species, and seem intent on taking the planet with us.

I don't mean that dogmatically. It's just a sense.

But the thing that blew my mind so many years ago might yet provide some clue. I keep hoping to blow some other mind with it, that thing, but seem to veer off the traceable path no matter where I start from and so people just stop listening. Too many mental taboos broken is how I see it. But that must just be my own mental taboo against accepting any conventional wisdom.

My resolution - that thing that blew my mind - has been to find emotion as part of the universal structure of the cosmos. This differentiates it from common usage, where - let's say in the Abrahamic religionist traditions again - emotions only emerge after a certain level of complexity, and in some interpretations only in humans. So we get emotion and intelligence to set us off from all else.

Along with Aristotle, I don't identify my intelligence as much with my brain as I do with language, that social extension of my being. My brain the instrument which requires language to play.

Needless to say, artificial intelligence is devoid of emotion, just simply because emotion hasn't generally been included in definitions for intelligence. I suppose I must say here toward the outset that I am very attracted to Julian Jaynes' notion that consciousness descends from the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, to form the most diminutive instance of dialogic intelligence which is to say intelligence mediated by language.

So, in the particular or particulate or wave-function cosmos of the standard model of physics, there are these forces, all supposed to be mediated by bosons (???) which are the force carrying "particles" and then there is the temptation to suppose that there can be some complete description of the physical cosmos somewhere down the road. Or rather a complete description of what is physically possible. In any case, someday soon we will be able to describe all the forces and all the physical interactions, which is to say reality apart from the mind or apart from consciousness, in case those are the same thing.

But of course in my cosmic meanderings, along with emotion, mind itself is eternally present, cosmically constant, and necessary for completeness. Which is to say that mind is not separable from physical reality.

Emotion is then the prognostication of physical implication between and among bodies in motion, in the absence of any force. Absent force, the thingy things of reality have no implication with one another at all. They must exist in separate cosmoses, which might (I have no way to comment on that) conform to one or many of the many universes hypotheses.

Prognostication of that sort must, of course, inhere in mind, since it can't be a part of the physical world.

OK, so the path is broken, since I've already descended into language indistinguishable from punning, which is to say that I find all of this very funny somehow, but still serious for that.

So mind is severable from what we (seem to) mean by intelligence and emotion, which are more caught up in the post-bicameral-breakdown selfie-self, which has personality, nationality, ethnicity, familial and genetic relations and so-forth. The mind I speak of is disembodied, but not prior to embodiment any more than there can be some first particle or wave or what-you-will. But mind is not severable from the cosmic emotion that I'm speaking of.

Mind and cosmic emotion interrelate in ways similar to particles and wave functions. I don't think I'm writing either metaphorically or precisely. It's more of a resonance. Emotions move the mind in the way that forces move things around in the cosmos.

To get it out of the way, yes, that might mean that there is a kind of direction to evolution in the sense that sexual couplings may involve or engage emotive attraction, otherwise indistinguishable from chance encounter, and that these may condition survival in ways obvious (mother's love) and not so much so (random processes just don't seem any more emotive than AI).

Please note that I see no need to posit God (as some analog to the selfie-self), nor have the Chinese for the most part down through their history. But I am compelled to suppose that however intelligent or soulfully emotional we may find ourselves, it amounts to the equivalent of nothing up against the complexity implied by the many interactions across billions of years (I think that time-scale is more correct here than millions) of evolution and life in the cosmos.

I guess that's why I think we aren't and never will be ready to be in charge. We can't wreck evolution. We can't even interfere with it. We are in it, just as we are in Gaia, because that's the meaning of the term. Apart from nature is as oxymoronic as it gets.

So, I'm not trying to describe mind, and I'm not trying to describe emotion. These are definitions, which seem to work all up and down the stack as far as I can tell. It doesn't change much, but it does conveniently relieve any anxiety about finding the rock bottom to real, or explanations (descriptions?) for life and everything. The quest to go beyond the standard theory to something like completeness becomes subsumed in definitions for infinite regression, and loses lots of impetus - if not interest - right away.

And the big bonus is that we can become creative (again?) and not just slaves to our current definitions for what's human, what's intelligent, and what's art and so on and so forth ad infinitum. We can make choices again as actual choices and not suppose some imperative somewhere somehow.

I mean it works for me, but I can't make inroads apparently up against what seems to be working for everyone else. That would include such things as immortality, reincarnation, literal heaven and hell and all sorts of techno-utopia/dystopia take-your-pick. I guess you can tell by now that I'm not hankering for thingie-things any more than I'm concerned with my selfie-self, though I AM at least as concerned as you are with creature comforts and a nice bit of security. I just happen to find the conventional arrangements as we find them now a bit on the terroristic side, and playing too many favorites for the lucky and powerful side for my comfort, creature or otherwise.

I mean, let's call this queer science. It's just as rigorous as the straight kind, but not so, well, um, patriarchal. You don't have to play by the terms of the powerful to have the right to know. Ho Ho!

Merry Christmas in advance of it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Short Circuit

I've circuited the country now. Twice. I've had nothing to say. Well, not here. I talk to lots of people, most of them Trumpsters. I like my tiny space, and I like to be on the move. I check in with the news, suspending my anxiety for the moment, letting my curiosity fly a bit. Verizon has followed my travels with a sufficient kind of "unlimited," so called, so I watch an occasional movie. I look forward to voting soon.

I get zero commentary on anything here, and don't really care to understand how to cultivate readership. (the bot commentary piles on itself, amplifying other robotic links just like the media does) I get paid a bit for a little translating I do, but just in case you think literacy in Chinese is worth anything, the pay amounts to $6/hour in an economy of full employment. They force a copy editor on me who makes $18 at least. It's a strange world, and I'm not saying that the copy editor isn't worth it and doesn't help. I think my pay has more to do with the evident fact that I'm the only translator who is not a youthful person residing in an Asian economy (even though that may be inside these United States). Copyeditors trend more American English, I'd say.

Maybe it's those Asian economies which rile up the Trumpsters about birthright citizenship. I see their point. I try not to pay attention to the media paying attention 24/7 to the antics of the Donald. I think they are more at fault than he is. I think the Clintons are more at fault than the media is, belonging as they do to that cabal of the wealthy and powerful that let him enter their circles, well, just because he's wealthy and apparently powerful. No matter the ill-begotten nature of his wealth.

Isn't there some constitutional protection against gaining entry by ill-begotten wealth, even if it was just because of a failure to prosecute in a timely fashion? Trump was plainly born to money, and has a sufficiently narcissistic personality to have used his entry to study the wealthy and powerful to his own advantage. He got no real respect, but he sure is having his revenge.

Why do we still look for truthiness?? That's not what he's about. Railing against Obama's birth was clearly a nearly instinctual play to get himself on our minds, and it worked brilliantly. His realm is the Kardashians, and of course social media friends him. That's why I've signed off, lonely though it might make me.

I don't know why the feelings of the something less than 50% of the electorate who voted him in aren't paid attention to. They feel left out of a game whose convolutions the press makes a hash of. It feels like they are being played for fools, and as a friend of mine says, they just want to poke a stick in the eye of the establishment whose players seem in on a rigged game. Educated people are scary from the point of view of a simple life.

Most of the people I meet are not scary haters. I'm sure I disagree with most of their religious and gender and gon-toting views, but by golly I seem to like them one-on-one. Well, alright when some rich person at the next table in a restaurant celebrating where I'm celebrating Mom's 90th with my daughter and ex goes on about how people getting public assistance just turn in their chits for drugs, I really do want to throttle the guy. There are those kinds of Trumpsters too. Only out for their own self-interest; he's their Man for sure.

If Trump can call most of how we live to question, then he will have been a force for good (nevermind that as a human being he's as near to zero as a man can get without conviction). We called him upon ourselves, and as the rest of the world sees clearly enough, he resembles us as we are. That's the ineluctable logic of the selection process. As a people, we are rather more like him than not.

I have at least as much hope for this dream of a nation of ours as I do for the future of our planet, Gaia. I learned the proper usage for that term over the weekend; as a replacement for "nature," because nature sets us apart. We are not equal to Gaia because we remain as subsumed as  the lowliest bacteria which started it all and will finish it too. Gaia makes her own ground, and we have made ourselves outsiders, and meaningless therefore.

Well, I have to try to read some Bruno laTour now, along with my Donna Haraway whose cyborg manifesto so lately discovered is among the harder reading I've ever done. Almost as hard as Deleuze. It's hard work getting to the bottom of things. I'm almost there.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Clearing Out

I sit now in a rather large and mostly evacuated space. I wonder how I will make the move to my new mobile tiny house. I can pace here. I suppose I'll get used to pacing in the great out-of-doors:
How will I evacuate my bowels? It takes so many tries now. I like having a door to close, with a fan. I guess I'll adapt. There's a fan. There's a door. The trouble is that inside is all one!

Yesterday, I decided to clean out my Microsofted email account, at least to get my icon count of unopened messages down to zero. I'd closed my Juno account a couple of days earlier after years of trying to let it go fallow, and it mostly has. Although when I peeked and found old notes that I'd forgotten, there were pangs of loss. Tossing old items of clothing now, recycling things I might have liked. I hope that someone else will like them better. Goodwill.

Who really knows how perpetual 'free and unlimited' will be? Scanning down my inbox, I came across a New York Review of Books link to a review of a new Daniel Dennett book on consciousness. I read it - the review not the book - just because his big book, Consciousness Explained maybe, had felt so powerful to me. Yes, of course consciousness is an illusion of sorts, and we are less certain of our own "I" really than I am even of yours.

Oddly, I later found myself at the very bottom of my inbox (oddly really because my gmail account must be fathomless - unfathomable? - and the really good Juno stuff was jettisoned anyhow when they went all cloud. Though I archived it somewhere, even while the application which could open the archive must be long gone.

I do vaguely remember an original act upon discovering that I could have an email handle that was my actual name, since I'd gotten in to Outlook web access that early. My rickster variation is embarrassing. I was original on AOL, but now we proliferate and I have to add numbers and letters after that, my name.

I guess I got to the bottom of things with Outlook because I still favor the embarrassing account for friends. Since they know me there. I only recently started using my real-name account more, as I meet more genuine "I's" I'd like to continue to know, keeping the serious me, and dumping the trickster.

Anyhow, I'd written straight to Dennett way back in the beginning of this account. I wrote another one to Darryl Bem, who at the time had gained a little notoriety (probably brought to my attention by random acts of first-person news sorting on my behalf via some device or other). He'd been cited for his claim to have demonstrated pre-cognition. He used emotion and enthusiasm-charged pictures of porn to demonstrate an ever-so-slight favoring before the possibility of perceptual knowledge, of what the test subjects wanted to see. His statistical argument was impeccable.

Both had responded, Bem personally since I'd hooked him with the knowledge that we both like wooden sailboats, and Dennet by means of an automated assistant - likely a grad student - who passes along the good stuff, not including mine. He needs his space to do his work, of course.

Prof Dennett regrets that he is unable to respond, thoughtfully, to all the email messages he receives in the course of a week. He does try to read at least portions of them, but answering them would take all his work time. He is grateful for the thoughtful letters he is sent, and apologizes for not responding with the thoughtfulness that went into composing them.
With best wishes,
(from) Daniel Dennett

I'd tried to be really brief, which is hard for me, but I do stand by the conjecture I'd written. Of course I'd have to be a known personage in a field he respects to get a read from Dennett, but I had no idea how else to try:

Professor Dennett;

I've just finished reading Consciousness Explained and then familiarizing myself with your work more generally. In brief, I find the writing brilliant and the overall case cogent and convincing. Since it's far too late for me to take up the study of consciousness to the level of your accomplishment,  I feel entirely comfortable saying that for my purposes you have indeed explained consciousness. (I'll still read on through what you've written since!)

Here's why I write: As it happens, I read your book in light of the soon to be published work of Professor Bem regarding Psi and possibly pre-cognition of which I'm sure you are aware. I also read a cogent critique from the Bayesian side of statistics which relieves me, at least, of the need to worry too much about pre-cognition as Bem's work purports to discover it. Were there pre-cognition it would, of course, fall within the margin of error which Bayesian statistics provides as corrective to non-Bayesian methods. That's almost definitional. Accounting for the priors is hard to distinguish from accounting for frame of mind.

But since your approach to consciousness defies attempts to "locate" it, say in a brain, and since therefore there can be no meaning to simultaneity among drafted cognitions in a single mind - as you demonstrate convincingly in your book - therefore time's arrow has no place "in" the mind. A properly time-sequenced narrative must emerge for sense to prevail, but that is a separate matter from the order of events perceived, conceived, cognized or re-cognized.

You also challenge, at least implicitly, the bordering of the mind by the limits of its physical substrate (the brain, for instance) among other places by your suggestion that a single mind may be thought to be distributed, as in certain twins who inhabit a coherent biography. 

So first of all, if there is no singular locus for any thought inside the brain, any cognition there must in effect allow for pre-cognition. Indeed it's not a problem worth bothering about, since even in principle there's no way to measure it, again as I believe you amply demonstrate in this book. At the very least any thought remains subject to subsequent cognition for so long as it might be held in abeyance by some sense that there will be more to assimilate before a completed thought is uttered. 

Consciousness, in other words, may have more to do with sense of potential completion, rather more like the ballistic act of throwing a ball than like hitting a target. You initiate and correct along the way until release.

But more interestingly to me, if the mind cannot be located entirely "inside" the brain, then all those peripheral happenings which impinge on thought, of course including chance or random events, could be thought to condition moment of release according to their various potentials and probabilities (as variously perceived or conceived) regardless of their literal time-sequencing.

In Bem's experiment, the button-clickers have some anticipation of porn - they have a motive to click, not unlike someone playing Jeopardy. 

Pre-cognition, however, is the wrong thing to test for. Rather, there should be some test along the lines of how Bell's Theorem is tested in physics, to demonstrate the impossibility to disprove spatial separation of cognitive inputs (technically indistinguishable from pre-cognition) to within the margin of error between Bayesian and non-Bayesian statistical models.

My suggestion would be to redo the Bem experiment but using the pseudo-random number generated by the bounded system of the computer, rather than the "true" random number generated in the same "cosmos" within which the subject's mind is choosing.

After all, it is damned impossible to determine that the coin is a fair coin after a long run of heads, other than by invoking "prior" knowledge. But as with voting machines which preserve a physical record, as least with a pseudo random number, you have a trace to compare against.

Of course it is my sense that, as with physical reality, there is some dimension beyond which certainty is not only impossible for practical reasons, but impossible in principle. I suspect that this prospect unsettles you no more than it does me. I'd love to learn of a better conceived experiment than the one I propose, but I can't think one up right now - I know it's out there!

Of course I have plenty more to say on the subject, but I have used enough of your time (pure wishful thinking on my part).

Now you may have noticed that there was no malice aforethought in my scanning my email like that yesterday, apart from, perhaps, the occasion of moving. And boxing and sorting things, including books of course, does stimulate dormant memories. It is my sense, clearly, that most of my mind exists outside it, in the geography as it were, and among my possessions.

I had no conscious memory of the Dennet email when the one random email would caught my attention by its failing to the first time in came in. How strange then that I'd find another one. Connected. It took me way more than a beat to realize the coincidence. I am dense that way.

Now you will think that these outerings are only catalogs for what is contained somehow inside my brain. In that case, I am one with Dennett, that such a mistaking of manifest image for the real "scientific image" is, well, understandable, if entirely wrong. But that so-called "scientific image" still reeks of Platonism to me, who stopped believing long since in eternal and universal natural law.

Today I learned that I may travel to Mandalay instead of staying "here" within my national boundaries. I can't tell yet if I am distressed or disappointed. I'll try to keep you posted. Mandalay has such romantic associations in my mind. As it were. At least I can use Mandarin there, which is still in need of a bit of brushing up for me.

Well here's the thing: Bem calls his article "Feeling the Future," and my entire being, as it were, is caught up in a "scientific" description of emotion as a concept at least as cosmically eternal as bosons are. The explanatory power of this trivial reconfiguration of the parts of physics is tremendous, fantastic, fabulous, let me tell you!

The Good News is that it really doesn't change a whole lot about the physical world and its rules that we hold so precious(ly). I can't ask you to plow back into what I've written up here, and sheesh I really do promise to try to extract the readable stuff some day, but the long and the short of it is that I define emotion as the prediction, held in mind, that two perceptual objects are bound to meet, though they have yet to exchange particles (bosons?) to define a force-field between them.

This reconfiguration resolves the information-at-an-instant paradox of quantum physics, even as it leaves the rest of physicality quite alone. You can have your God and eat it, as it were. Well, some of you already do that. Ewww!!

So mind and emotion are as primordial as everything else we already know about our cosmos. You can't make sense without these there, even though physics has been constipated since round about the turn of the twentieth century, which in scientific terms shouldn't be near long enough to grow constipated. It's not even much longer than my so-called life.

Well, I do wonder how long my identity might endure, catalogued among loves and losses. I wonder how long it might take to make my point? I've been at it for some 35 years, almost precisely. What a lazy shit I am, and yet I've been working like a dog! Honest! Scant reserves though I have to show for it.

So as it happens, yesterday in the car running yet another endless pile of shit to the storage shed (which had looked way too large when I started, and I've jettisoned all the big stuff!) I was listening on NPR to some TED talks about empathy. Explorations of the continuum between psychopathy and self-less acts of random heroism. Like giving a kidney to a stranger, or seriously risking one's life to save a stranger, or even a stranger's pet, or even a wild animal as my Trump-loving cousin just did up on Facebook.

I walk past lots of homeless people here in Burlington. Some of them live in tents in the woods behind my (for about two seconds longer) apartment. The police are trained to be friendly and benign here. I cannot stop for all the pleas for assistance, but I do tend to acknowledge the request, knowing what it feels like to be invisible.

Someday soon, I may learn to hug them, these homeless people, because I'll likely start smelling as they do in my imagination (Somehow I can't call up to memory what I did living on sailboat or motorcycle to keep my clothes clean. I just have no memory of using laundromats. Ever. I know I didn't use deodorant back in those days. I'm so much more civilized now as to be terrorized by these things; that I might smell bad, that I might look silly enough for someone to fall over laughing as they did when I was walking in Yosemite in the pouring rain, keeping my helmet and my leathers on. My cheeks puff out. I don't look good in hats)

I am terrorized about how to keep up my civilized and medicated existence if I were to move to Mandalay, which my friend tells me is like Taiwan was back in the seventies when we both were there. I had no fear in those days, and cut my own hair. Did I have a scruffy beard? I have no memory of razors.

So these TED talkers indicated that empathy can be learned. The example was of prisoners given the task to be minders for older prisoners suffering dementia. I ended my mini road trip before I could hear whether the Amygdala did grow apace, more or less like the Grinch's heart. Measuring the size and output of that organ, internal (external?) to the brain, is apparently part and parcel of distinguishing psychopaths from the rest of us.

Still, it did occur to me that ideology is the real empathy killer. This is what unites the evangelicals with the psychopathic Trumpistas. I mean that in the most benign and mild way, but these are people who might be able to kill an abortion provider on some certainty, or ditto hate a homosexual. Make a billion dollars a year and feel no connection to those billions who live in dread and pain in that making. The uniquely American ideology of rampant capitalism which must be liberated to rape the earth. I mean I did befriend my brother-in-law before he exposed himself as a child rapist, and he did occupy a pulpit for a while. He even tried to rationalize his despicable acts in reference to the Bible. Yes yes, I'm trying to find the time to watch The Keepers up on Netflix before my Internet goes metric.

Now I'm not saying that Dennett lacks good Samaritan instincts by ignoring my earnest request. Far from it. And I'm almost certain that his Amygdala Mandala Mandalay Mandarin is way bigger than mine is, in proportion to the size of his brain (metaphorically speaking, of course). I'm just saying that I wish someone were listening.

Oh brother, can you spare a dime? (I've had to dust off my guitar as well)

Godspeed! (Oy! Talking to myself all over again.)