Monday, October 19, 2020

Jill Lepore, Again

Did I write up here about These Truths? I guess there are some who complain about Lepore's writing. I'm not one of them. She connects various dots in such enlghtening ways, never failing to include the typically unincluded - the oppressed, the wives, the children, all to provide the proper societal context for the big pictures that she paints. 

This new book, If, Then, feels like it spun off from an important whorl in her previous book. I have yet to read the epilogue, wanting to capture some impressions here first. I may have to write an epilogue here as well. 

The overarching theme that I read regards masculine reality which transcends the only apparently shifting political winds. She sets out to answer, in other words, why, regardless of which brand of politics is ascending, the results are equally disastrous for the planet. In part, she pulls this off by revealing how recent our political polarization into "liberal" and "conservative" really is, and in particular how those labels descend from business-focused versus society focused tendencies. 

In the end a kind of stealth cybernetic surveillance regime has prevailed, and it doesn't really seem to matter if or that it came about by means of naive libertarian utopian freedom lovers - think Stuart Brand - or by corporate military-loving reactionaries - think Newt Gingrich. In between are such fascinating chameleons as Ithiel da Sola Pool, whose predictions survive even as Lepore reduces him to the same scale as most (male) historians have reduced women. 

Lepore belittles academics who presume to be at the forefront of some megatrend, but who are more likely riding their egos, or worse, some sort of megalomania. To me, she does this diffidently, not claiming for her histories any more authority than you, the reader, can find in them yourself.

There is an oppressive weightiness by the time of her conclusion. That no matter what we do, these impersonal forces will prevail. There may be a hidden solution in that observation, though, if we take the weight of  'impersonal' and move it jiu-jitsu like in the direction of depersonal, which is the opposite of what is still supposed about what is wrong with surveillance capitalism; that it reduces each of us to an isolated bubble in a manipulated landscape of wealth pumping off our innocence.

Depersonal might be what happens when the performative emotions of Facebook turn your stomach. When you realize the imperatives that are being shoved down your throat by the norms of Stuart Brand's Brave New Global Commune. You then might remove yourself from the fray. You might realize that your personality cannot be an Instagram Branding. You might realize that there is nothing dehumanizing about sacrificing your Platonic Christianity descended soul for a wilder sort of animalistic humanism, which foregrounds love in place of Goddist anger at those who disagree with you.

I don't doubt that there is nothing original about me. I do doubt that I should ever deserve credit for invention or creation. I am far too much a apart of the world around me, and especially of linguistic conventions for thinking for being for self-actualization, whatever that is. 

Technology, as are all tools, is endlessly amusing and interesting and can certainly enrich whatever world it is that we occupy. Agency on the micro-level of driving a car, riding a bike, avoiding danger, walking, is certainly very real. Agency on the level of subjecting others to one's world can only be transgression. 

Capitalism of the sort we practice and worship will end because the alternative is that we will. End. Those affiliated terms, like merit and worth will seem quaint. Immortality will be gauged by reach of love across the cosmos in whatever moment you may choose to measure. 

It is strange that there is nothing beyond Marxism to mark the transformation that we are undergoing because we must undergo it. I suppose that's because Marxism and Capitalism describe the same world. That world is not my world. Neither point toward any end that I want. I want no end at all. Love eternal, and no-one credentialed is allowed to mention that.

All those things now delivered so frantically by various Amazonian Drones interest me only if they can repair something I depend on. There is nothing attractive in consumption, in fashion, in style. The value of what I purchase - what I grasp - is wholly practical and not founded upon my self-image. My words also are not wrought to boost my image or my stature.

These are my aspirations. I try to remove myself from the enforced paranoid terror of privacy's loss, because I am hardly special. I will join the wash of the human flood when any Agent Orange might be elected. That much corruption of the body politic can never stand. Will never stand. And the agencies will be defunded in favor of universal education and healthcare and shared agency of a more local sort. 

Local agency embedded in a new philosophical vision for what it means to be human on the planet, in service to our selfish genes (because there is no choice) and subject to our Whole Mother Earth, just as I am subject to the house my offspring feel that they own. You cannot own what you don't comprehend. Purchase is nothing without the proper will; the proper handle.

Out of My Head, Again

I like novels. I would like to read one of Tim Parks' novels. I'm having a hard time committing. I haven't watched even a movie in a long time, despite the shut-in of COVID. I guess that's mostly because I'm spending my time working on a house. It exhausts me. 

There are many dimensions to working on this house. The most prominent aspect of my work is that virtually everything I touch seems to be tragically flawed. The overarching theme is that projects were initiated with what seems like great fanfare, and then abandoned before completion. And so, many things are broken. 

Some examples: There are apparently many cross connections to the electrical wiring. That's my term for two protected circuits serving the same device. None of the breakers "know" this, but I know when I open the breaker and the line is still hot. One time both hot and neutral wires to a particular subcircuit were energized at the same time. There were various reasons that this didn't seem possible, including the supposition that neutral was as continuous as power, and in this case only half the circuit was affected.

I have a theory, involving an occult three way switch and someone using the white wire as a messenger circuit. But my theory would involve a ghost flicking the lost and buried switch. I'm pretty sure I just cut the damned thing out. Pretty sure.

I've hacked down these issues without knowing exactly how or even if I've resolved them. But I have to move on. At least there are no more cross connects or hot neutrals again, so far.

The plumbing was updated long ago with copper, except that the complex cast iron set of connections to the sewer was left inexplicably intact and now leaking. Plumbing fixtures had been leaking for seeming decades without attention. The HVAC ductwork has been changed and changed again, along with decorative remodeling, losing its plan just as the electric had, though not quite as bad.

I've added door hardware, completed framing so that you can't see directly into a room as you pass it, though the door is closed... Thresholds crossing wood to tile flooring. An unseated toilet. Each day something new requires my full attention. Neither mind nor body are what they were. 

I do this work in mind of Riccardo Manzotti's remarkable theory of the mind, and of consciousness. That theory - or set of theories - just strikes me as obvious. There is no subject/object distinction in reality. There is no mind/body distinction. These are illusions introduced by certain linguistic and cultural traditions. What he writes about and is apparently finding some success with goes astonishingly against the current grain. It feels very familiar to me, as though it's been the way I've thought for my entire life. 

Eddie Van Halen recently died. I can't say that I mourn him, since I never could follow musicians any more than I could follow wine, or philosophers, or movie names, or attributions for thinking in any given field. I know what I like, and don't really like to close off what I might like by sticking too strongly to what I already know I like. I'm cross-cultural that way.

So I was pleased to learn that Van Halen couldn't read music. His was a wild and free sound, seemingly gotten by becoming one with his guitar. There was no room to be trapped by the artistic short-circuit of supposing that music was the expression of something first conceived in the mind of the artist.

Part of the evident trouble with this house is that it crosses so many construction conventions. I suppose a European handyman might know better how to deal with it. It's young by those years; a mere hundred and seventy odd years old. But at the outset, the heat was from fireplaces, the storm windows were operable shutters and the sewer was apparently ten inch clay pipe, of a size reserved for small municipalities. Not such an easy repair here where the storm and sanitary sewers remain blended. At least there's no more water flowing into the basement (I had to outsource that fix).

Over the years from fire through coal and then oil now natural gas and two high-efficiency furnaces, nothing is quite right. It's all cobbled together. I guess a makeover was never quite essential. The house keeps keeping on, and would be as recognizable to any of its inhabitants still as an old friend is, though you may not have seen them for many many years. Like the USS Constitution, which may have one original plank.

The house is also the scene and the occasion and the vocabulary for clashing with my son-in-law. The clashes are now in abeyance, which only highlights their absence. My son-in-law is savant with attributions and quite picky about those things he knows he likes, and I suspect somehow it's easier and safer to contest about the house than it is to contest about philosophy. We must be contesting about my daughter, our mutual love. The psychologists would have it so, I'm sure. I love him still.

I think our clashes are more about ownership and control. I thought it would be fun to help them with the house that they knew would be too much for them. It hasn't been so much fun. They are both too busy, but also not quite willing to allow me to be as fully subject to the house as I must be if I am to put it right. 

By putting it right, I simply mean putting it in such shape that only money is in the way of what needs fixing. I mean money in proportion to home worth and income, of course, since in some peoples' universe money can indeed resolve all issues, if there is enough desire. In this case, even managing who to hire and when and in what order would be beyond them, assuming money were not the limiting factor.

I'm certain that I'm overstating my worth.

I am afraid that there are some people, apparently including my son-in-law, who have never been subject to anything. I am now fully subject to this house, and in some sense that I understand, that might mean that I own the house more than they do for precisely the reason that the house owns me. In some sense, I am enacting the dissolution of subject and object, since the house must accept those changes I impose. If it is to survive.

I pause to understand things, idling my mind, letting the house reveal to me what I need to do. Sometimes my daughter and my son-in-law provide better suggestions than either I or the house can provide ourselves.

Beyond the house, I am also afraid that I'm not so interested in consciousness in the way that researchers into consciousness approach understanding what it is, and where and how it could occur. I proposed to Riccardo that reptiles are "already" conscious and he readily agreed. The most primitive structures of the brain, common to all animals, regard spatial orientation and recognition. Recognition goes along with classification, and consciousness is just that sense of self apart from apparently dangerous or safe or comforting aspects of one's environment, including other subjects.

Since at the speed of survival "decisions" must be made much more quickly than [what we call] conscious deliberation can be accomplished, they must be made by feel[ing]. I mean they must be made emotively, emotionally, or whatever term you please to describe the fear and excitement and comfort of survival. That's all in the brain stem. Nothing bicameral about it. Some call it the reptile brain.

The overlay of what we mean by consciousness really has more to do with language games than with survival games. Language ironically threatens to dissolve subjectivity by enabling a shared reality. The irony is that it would seem that we have never been quite so atomistic in our subjectivity. There is certainly tension there.

It is my conviction that our current lockstep - planet wide - in measures for time and depicted reality and what counts as proper (readable) language is a planetary response - tongue in cheek, if you will - to our oh-so-very-mistaken sense that we own a sort of consciousness which makes us unique in the cosmos. Individually, and as a species.

The joke is on us when we behave, on the whole, as though we were petrified. We are subject now to every other subject and finally to the machines which keep us all in line. Nearly each of us holds often in their hands some sort of smartphone; universal time keeper, picture taker and displayer, voice recorder and transmitter, and movie maker and displayer, not to mention our access to the world wide web (a Hopi prognostication) which destroys all knowledge by pretending to present it.

As a good and educated liberal, I resent the time I have to spend to fill in all the blank spots in my knowledge just to true my sense of what is real. Sure, the smartphone makes it all easier and more efficient. Sure I crave the iPhone which just came out after I'd already made my temporary-forever decision on the cheap one. There is so much to know. So little is settled.

Behind it all is an economic system which is premised on a kind of survival competition thought to be rooted in nature when all it is is practice for the survival which reptiles do. Sport for what must now be done in earnest by the WHOLE.

Riccardo Manzotti is apparently a roboticist IRL, and not a consciousness investigator. Just like I'm a handyman and not a philosopher. You can't be titled if you haven't read even the seminal materials. So it seems sensible to wonder first, why he doesn't think robots can be conscious, and second, what is it that distinguishes us from machines.

To me, the matter is as trivial as to wonder when a robot might have to survive on its wits alone. Hasn't that been accomplished over and over by way of various robotic gladiatorial contests? 

Ah, but no, there was no birth. There was, instead, construction. But why can't the moment of turning on be likened to birthing? Surrounded by other robots and a sometimes hostile environment, mightn't the robot develop a sense of subjectivity? As object of the predations of others?

I myself must revert to more cosmic matters when I make my claim that robots can never become conscious. In writing about his conversations with Manzotti, Tim Parks is also writing about being paid a handsome stipend to participate in and contribute his dialogic research into scientific consciousness exploration in order to answer some questions about whether science is replacing religion.

Religion is certainly in retreat in some circles, likely because it has stubbornly remained so primitive. The shame is that this had meant that we continue to act as though we believe that we can actually force 'nature' to be subject to our human 'agency.' 

Now I'm no fan of God in the place of religion. God is all about agency and creation and moral law and things that humans lusting for power or recognition are all about. 

Our being born as creatures (loaded term that) comes, by nature, at the end of a long chain of evolutionary processes which are mostly driven by what we might call chance. Chance here just means beyond the reach of agency. Chance is not what creates a robot.

That's more than enough for me. In my cosmos, inarticulate though it must remain, time - or at least time's direction - is defined by evolution, and not by the lock-step of one second in a trillion accuracy. Evolution moves in the direction of (not by the direction of) cosmic love, which is what engenders us. Time is subjective. Different for an amoeba than for a person. Making time objective is necessary for various sorts of navigation and cooperation. The trick is in the machinery to create agreement.

In that sense, we are becoming robotic in our thinking. We lose our humanity, as we lose our common cause, even as we all start to think alike, in packs, turning against our fellow mankind.

In our emotive decidering state we can do nothing at all about diseases that we can't see or feel or predict, or random cataclysms, until it's too late. A rock out of left field. We make what adjustments we can for next time, or to recover. We incorporate the DNA of viruses too, though, and so the species advances or retreats or accommodates. We were never the reason for anything.

What persists, by definition, is love. That's definitive down at least to the level of the selfish gene. Love is time's arrow, as without it there is only a multi-dimensional static whole.

So no, science can certainly not take the place of religion. Science cannot lead to omniscience or universal agency, nor can it eradicate accident. It can only create new fields for accident, Benjamin, and at best new arenas for love to have its further day. 

But it is hard to put down those tools which have done so much to banish the bogies. We've gotten centrally heated houses where we may be comfortable despite the weather. We've gotten clothing and food to be excited about and not just to be terrified of not having. We have music, we have transportation, we have hope for cures of all sorts and we come close to worshipping or at least worshipping at the same altar with those who promise these things.

And all of it depends on a false "I." An "I" that is subject to nothing, while remaining the subject for all objective reality. I call bullshit on that!

I am subject to the most basic of our human inventions. The house. There is nearly no comfort in it to me. That is for other people who are operators of our economy. I am far more comfortable in my little trailer. Even a tent, if I can but comprehend it.

I might only hope that there were some appreciation of what I continue to do for my children. Provide them shelter. Daub the clay. Rescue them from their stubborn mistakes. They might have bought a house in better repair. We all thought it might be fun, but so far it hasn't been. Did I say that already?

Fun is not really something I'm allowed to crave just now. Fun is in the past, or perhaps in the future, beyond the COVID. Fun might be to watch a movie. I am too uptight. And there's no longer any pressure to join the conversation, now that movie watching has become as atomized as everything else. Who knows what someone else has watched among the massive archives of streaming digital storm runoff? Or is it sewerage? They're blended here. Did I say that already?

Ah well, son-in-law now travels to Florida, a hotspot, to be with Mom from Prague. Another hotspot. I will move out into my trailer, though it be late in the season, rather than to deal with the quarantine juggling. One must feel the consequences for one's actions, or inactions, as in the case of this house. The earth. Our lives. I am Atom. Da Bomb.


Monday, October 5, 2020

More to Mr. Parks

I am lingering, if not malingering; aligning myself to your approach to The Spread Mind. Mostly, I find you valuable and fascinating for the sort of anthropology you do of science. It puts me in mind of Bruno Latour, or rather it puts him in my mind.

You are deft at exposing the presumptions scientists must make to do any work at all, while you render some of those presumptions absurd, in the sense that sometimes, of course, one will only discover what seems to be some further way along the path that you had long since pre-conceived as heading in the right direction.

In personal correspondence with Riccardo Manzotti, we agreed that consciousness must have been coincident with the structures of what we now refer to as the brain stem. Or in other words, reptiles were/are already conscious. 

What is lacking there is a kind of self-consciousness, which is or rather must be what happens when we become the "I" in any linguistic construction. The first person is, of course, defined in conjunction with the loss of self which is implied by becoming part of a linguistic group-mind: The 'hive mind' of dystopian fiction. Language connects us and threatens to dissolve our individuality in the soup of collective sense-making.

But each individual creature must make conscious emotive choices to survive. These depend on recognition and pattern matching, which must happen early on in animal evolution.

I got some vague assent from Manzotti that it was writing which Julian Jaynes should have highlighted in his thesis about The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, and not consciousness. Or in other words, it is more thinking than consciousness which transformed us. Thinking, it strikes me, is mostly a word game which can sometimes be played out as solitaire. Writing allows a spatial and temporal enlargement of the thinking process. Writing leads to something beyond consciousness, which we still can't name.

We can't name what's beyond consciousness because it departs from individual consciousness. We seem to refuse to accept that we cannot have a personality without belonging to something beyond our individuality. No more is there a subject/object distinction, according to the Spread Mind thesis, than there is a me apart from you and you and you and you. 

We are so afraid to share on that level. We are so afraid of contamination. 

And of course Manzotti had to agree (with me?) that many if not most of our 'decisions' are pre-conscious, and therefore do not directly engage 'agency' in the way we normally use that term; we use it in conjunction with the strange term 'free will.' As though we are free to decide to face a tiger unarmed. We make most decisions emotively, in other words, as does a reptile. Conscious decision-making is simply too slow to allow for individual survival. Thought is hardly ever a way out from emergency. We must first do the calculus of time, if we have that luxury.

Do I really exercise agency when I drive? Would I love it so much if I did? The car, the road, the signals are all elaborate props in support of capitalism in service to someone else. Is it any wonder that the kids are as addicted to computer games?

Consciousness must be that feeling that I must act if I am to survive. The strangeness of  'free will' as a construct has become especially weird during this time of the Breakdown off the American Experiment with Democracy. We thought that it was all about individual freedom, and we still do even as we work to destroy the written language. Irony be not so proud. 

In sum, the self-aware "I" simply falls out from language games, and has nearly nothing to do with consciousness. Looking for neural correlates as a pathway toward understanding consciousness is about as idiotic as to look at the eyeball and the parts of the brain energized by it to confirm that we see what we see when we can affirm that reality any number of different ways using different senses and language partnerships to do so.

And so while you told me, also in personal correspondence, that you are re-focusing your attention away from Manzotti's work, I am finding that work still more urgent. I say that because in the same way that you expose the scientists of consciousness chasing their own tails - ike a caduceus turned ouroboros yin/yang, snakes eating their tails - I feel that the same has happened to humanity on the planet.

We can no longer conceive of any way out but to keep trying what has worked so well before. We must retain the fiction of complete understanding at the end of some pathway. There seems to be a rainbow there.

This also is what is happening in our body politic, and I suppose it will turn fertile over the long haul. But our language usage is so deadly aligned against us, as a whole. We actually do still believe that conscious human agency (of the sort aligned with the selfie self) will rescue us from the killing fields of cosmic evolution. 

We confuse the self with the whole, even as our commander in chief reverts to feudal form. I am the state. The state is me. Each of us also believes that implicitly by our personal ambition toward wealth as proof of merit. We would like to become the system, along the lines of Gates and Zuck and Bezos and Jobs and Musk. Don't these names all sound vaguely Biblical? 

We would like to be designated by something so sounding immortal. So short. How many four letter names can there be? In that, at least, we must fail and lose every single degree of freedom. No harm, no foul. There is no escaping death, though there be good death and the sort which affirms that life had never taken hold there.

Whither our planet? Home to our dreaming.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Dear Tim Parks; A Working Missive While Reading (out of my mind) Out of My Head

Funny, I thought the title of this book was 'out of my mind.' How could I forget that 'head' is the right term here. I have a vague intention to write you, Dear Tim. As always, I fear that along the way to writing, which means along the way to completing your book, I will lose whatever threads have been energized along my read.

Sometimes it feels helpful to take notes, even though I may not ever read them. I rarely read what I write here, and so of course, there are still more rare responses. So I hardly expect one. But I am virtually certain that you would never read a missive (from a stranger) as long as this one promises to be. 

I am most grateful for your meditation on meditation, something I have never really set myself toward, though now I might. I also have trouble sleeping through the night, and have only tried tea or reading or sometimes completing a movie. That now feels almost entirely counterproductive, because of course - if we wish ever to sleep - we must detach from those wakeful conscious activities. But still those things work, sometimes.

I have never learned to write so well as you do. In any field, my language is sloppy, which must mean imprecise. I would like to say that this is simply because I have attempted too much breadth. My depth has suffered therefore. 

I honor the extremes to which you have gone, in the realm of younger partner, kayaks, and of course your writing. I do read the NYRB, but alas your name has never stood out. Until, under Covid, I chance upon a Zoom-ish meeting to hear yourself and Riccardo Manzotti speak about consciousness.

Now as, in my generalist way, consciousness interests me very much, I was excited enough to participate that I put the event in my iPhone calendar. Never has so much sense been made, to my mind. I wrote you soon after, and you were kind enough to provide Manzotti's email. You distanced yourself somewhat from this fascination, and deferred all questions to Riccardo.

But in many ways, I find your take the more interesting. We are about the same age. I had a young partner once, when I was much younger myself. But my social recessiveness was rather more like your take on the embarrassing tea urn in Germany than your bold squiring of someone likely younger than your daughter, if you have one. In my case, my inamorata was taken as the oldest of three young daughters. It was vaguely mortifying. Your daughters would be grown.

And the kayaking and meditating take a kind of guts - or is it simply determination? that I don't have. I am scared away from too much depth in any subject, since it can only promise to take away too much of my attention, which I would like to keep focused on the bigger picture.

Still, yesterday, I gave away my old SCUBA tank to a dive shop after my ex who bought a new house, dug it out of her garage and needed me to deal with it. Then there was my wooden sailboat, older than I am/was aboard which I had more business dying than to live. And of course Chinese, classical and modern, which is a deeper dive than anyone can know ahead of time.

Anyhow I pound away rather noisily on a very quiet laptop now, very concerned that cursive writing (and reading) has dropped from among the expected competencies of youth. And one retains only so much with age. I am still more concerned about the death of motor-memory which comprises true literacy in Chinese. This I feel a a very personal loss. 

The computer transcribes the sounds, even as the netspeak in China goes so wild that I may as well be trying to ride a dragon as to follow it. I'm just not sure what I think of all the tradeoffs. How can so much code be required to say something so yellow. Or is it purple?

To me, the pursuit of understanding - or is it comprehension? - of the mind is perfectly of a piece with the expectation that the capitalist system for organizing our economy will inevitably lead to the triumph of human agency on the planet. Meaning, of course, that to me the triumph of human agency is equivalent to the death of the planet. We are advancing in our metastasis (a funny word for such a dynamic process, don't you think?). 

The dissolution of the subject/object dichotomy is of a piece, in other words, with the dissolution of the various senses for terms such as 'merit' or 'work-ethic' or 'competency' or especially 'agency.' My life is mostly a roll of dice, and I think I like it that way just fine. Right now, I am subject to a house that my callow daughter and her still more callow husband bought in all innocence (redundant all over again, eh?). He may think that I impose my will, when it is the house which instructs me what must be done next.

I have experienced too much what happens when I attempt to impose my will on recalcitrant reality. And yet I remain a survivor and ace troubleshooter, enjoying the responsive life, though it has never been very remunerative. My life.

The overlays to our more primitive and emotive brain stem still do not remove us from the soup of evolution's processes. These are motivated, I would say, by that same love that eaters of magic mushrooms - or meditators - might experience beneath the overlays of language and Cartesian solidity of the sort now cemented into place by time dictatorship and the computer-mediated word and especially the relativity corrected GPS coordinates.

One has to travel - this is not time travel - to the ancient beginnings of Chinese, perhaps, to see the flaw in neo neo neo Platonism with quite enough contrast to help one out of it. 

Well anyhow, I suppose that's enough for now. I am something like halfway through your book, which I find to be rather more complete than Manzotti's (I can't afford his more technical tome, so I remain at the Dummy's level). I like your inclusion of language. I like your honesty and your modesty. 

I think that Manzotti is nearly entirely right. But he won't pay attention (either?) to my insistence that emotion is also real and not lodged inside our head, nor as epiphenomena of the perceptually spread mind.

I shall continue to persist, which is a very funny locution, but there you go! Feelings are the stuff of which the fiction of agency is made.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Potential is Nothing Without Conception

I very vaguely remember trying to start a discussion with the very fine physics teacher at the little school for "gifted children" that I headed way back when. I was on a very local kick about the difference between potential and kinetic energy, trying to make the point that potential energy wasn't energy at all. I think he was annoyed by the line of questioning, and didn't feel the need to grant me too much cred. 

I wonder if I was really thinking about measures for intelligence. I'd like to think so. I was not very settled about what "gifted" could really mean, and was in fact concerned that the school wasn't doing kids any real favors. It struck me then, and strikes me  more strongly now, that measures for intelligence are really like measures for potential energy. Those "measures" describe a conceptual relation, and not some actual perceptual relation where energy measurements might be taken. 

Of course lots has to have happened before any testing can take place. I'm pretty certain that some version of linguistic/cultural intelligence can account for statistically significant differences among imputed groupings for type.

Scientific measures deal with perceptions only. Conceptions can't be measured and theories can only be tested by related measurements. This is all not to dispute that measures for energy potential might be just as accurate as measures of actual energy. There are plenty of proxies out there. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and without an accurate conceptual theory there could be no accuracy at all.

Any measure of potential energy is really a prediction about what would happen "if" certain restraints could be removed. And who really cares about the difference between weight and mass? Both are measurable.

A classic example is the potential energy "contained" by a ball suspended above the ground. Were the suspension to be cut, energy would be realized. Were there no gravity, some other form of motive power - energy - would need to be applied. 

So like everything else, energy is relative, in this case non-relativistically in the technical sense of relativity theory. The ball has no energy, but there is gravitational force acting on the ball, and so the ball's weight is a kind of potential.

Intelligence, it seems to me, has to relate to things actually accomplished, while the measure of intelligence - apart from actual deeds - finds only what might be accomplished. Absent real challenges to it, intelligence is nothing at all. This is nearly cliche in the case of smart nerds who can't accomplish anything practical. There are also plenty of cases of genius-level accomplishment which is no accompanied by genius-level metrics.

The one thing that I was certain of about "my" little school was that if there really were some measure for potential intelligence, that would be a good thing because it would cut through such constructs as race and gender, which have both been on my mind a lot lately. Probably on yours as well.

The trouble was with IQ testing. The trouble was with the Bell Curve. The trouble was to get beyond the actual restraints that darker skinned people have always been subject to. Measurable intelligence, as I have written about many times, is nothing but a statistical artifact constructed arbitrarily on the basis of suppositions that there is such a thing as "general intelligence." 

The whole concept was birthed in the time when eugenics was thought to be a good thing, and when Hitler ultimately rose to power on some sort of misplaced fear that we would reverse the evolution that granted humans supremacy on the planet. As if!

That's all not to mention gender. Anyhow Richard Dawkins has, for my purposes, adequately given the lie to any notion that we might be dumbing ourselves down by not culling the herd. Evolution implies way more surprise than that. I doubt that intelligence, as we mean the term, defines all that there is about why humans have - seemingly - prevailed on the planet.

I suppose that there must be some sort of linguistic challenge to be passed before judgements of potential intelligence can be granted. But language is mostly benign until you engage with someone else, which is hardly what intelligence tests attempt. Language in "contact" with someone to whom you are subject is nearly always fraught. 

So what happens when someone is deemed academically brilliant, but has never been subject to anyone or to anything? This is not an academic question for me. It's a very live one. I have encountered plenty of chauventists of one category or another, some of whom have never had an actual job, well apart from teaching. Such types have never been subject to a soul. They have never fixed a thing, and yet might still feel qualified to question, say, my thinking about how I will bring this house I'm working on back into the realm of livability. 

This is precisely what I wanted to avoid with my school. Those kids needed to move beyond the notion that they had been granted some sort of "gift" by the fates who run the cosmos, and moved into actual contact with hard problems which need resolution. I am proud now of the actual proof of the pudding which has shown up among the grown alumnae. 

By and large, we seem to have given these students some actual challenge, and we did it by levelling the divide, morally, between student and teacher. Both were subject to reality and not one to the other. Teachers had to expose their ignorance by participating in difficult discussions beyond the areas of their purported expertise. Students often prevailed, and teachers were often effectively educated. It was a blast!

I was subject to my father, as were my siblings, in a way that probably is quite passé. One fellow that I'm abusing didn't have a father. I am subject to things when I troubleshoot and fix them. I am amazed myself at how many different types of things I've had to fix in my life. Houses, computers and networks, boats, cars, motorcycles. It's something I like to do, though I have nothing even approaching specialized professional knowledge in any particular realm.

I guess there's something wrong with me. I'm evidently bright enough. I face a kind of nausea when I face a problem that exceeds my knowledge and experience. I can't say that I "enjoy" the process of troubleshooting. It certainly isn't entertainment. It tends more toward compulsion, but I do enjoy the feeling of 'problem-solved' whether in home repair or boat restoration, or certainly writing (I experience that far less often).

Why, just yesterday I was invited to go house viewing with my ex and her new husband. I wanted to check out some work in her current house that I did when my kids were infants. I have to do similar work now in my daughter and son-in-law's house, and I wanted to see how I resolved the work back in the day.

I was blown away by my own work. I'd matched the existing molding precisely, and measured exquisitely and painted beautifully. Plumbing, electric, insulation and the works. Of course I had to doubt my current capacities, not at all certain that I could replicate the quality of work I'd achieved during my relative youth. When I was proud and full of myself the way youngsters often are.

My ex and I were already on the ropes. My school had closed, and I had come off a godawful stint in a school where "dyslexic" students were very much subject to imperious and proud teachers. It was a year long drunk for me, during which I was called out angrily by one among many brilliant students. They were actually rising up against the system, and he had been elected student president. I was on their side. On his side, while the rest of the administration was discussing how to neuter him. The fellow called me out for my stinking breath the morning after.

I often get paid to do the kinds of repairs I now do for love alone, and frankly I hold my head up because I can do a better job overall than most specialists. I enjoy fixing complex computer issues that are part physical, part electrical, part network, and utterly opaque to a specialist. The same is true when I can do the carpentry which makes the paint job last, or that makes the plumbing or electrical work possible. 

Oddly, I'm "worth" far less than specialists, including academic specialists, where I dabble as well. I see no justice in this, but then I'm not so concerned with money as I am with doing a good job to make someone happy. There are many routes to money, just as there are to hell, all paved with good rationalizations.

I suppose that I am proud to be worth so little. Twisted, right? But there you go! I just happen to know that what's wrong with humans on the planet is the equation between self-worth and monetary worth. Nearly all of us have internalized something like a 'work-ethic' which is nothing other than the internalization of the order which now destroys the planet.

We really do seem to believe that we are liberating and demonstrating our 'intelligence' by all the whiz-bang that we impose on the planet. We are surely clever. But it strikes me that we move away from what 'human' might and should mean.

I don't want to bore you, but I've written about what's wrong with this picture for most of my life. And yet there are ways that I could open my house, have a salon, invite poor souls to share my space, build a new family of oldsters who couldn't offend each other by baseless challenges. Such stuff as dreams are made on. Too bad I can't afford a house. 

So as Joe Biden always says, 'here's the deal!' In my long career as a computer and mostly network generalist, I believe that I encountered precisely two issues that I could not resolve. It was hard to let those two go. Now with this house, I've had to let go of quite a few issues. It's hard for me.

Many of those have to do with wiring. The trouble is that I can't trust what was covered up when the house was semi-gutted and a new internal skin applied. It seems that there are more than a few hidden junction boxes. I've tried and mostly succeeded to rationalize the wiring, balance it out, confirm circuits definitively and cut off live wires which connect to nothing.

But the other day - I should have known better - just as my son-in-law was about to begin his Zoom lecture, I wanted to get the attic light to work so that I could work on the leaking furnace room and create some storage space. It was simple enough. There was a dead red wire from a three conductor cable of the sort often used for three-way switches. I swapped it over to the live black wire, putting things back where they were, except to include the pull-chain switched light socket.

The plugs on which the Zoom computer depended all went dead. What?!? This is a circuit which had powered all the basement lights, all of my son-in-law's office plugs, outside flood lights, all of the attic plugs and lights and really most of the house. It was hairy, and I've been trimming it every time I find a definitive circuit and a pathway to pull new wire.

I've had to let this one issue go. The only explanation which makes sense is that there was indeed once a three way switch so that this attic light, which was about where the stairway used to be, could be turned on and off from top or bottom. The white, which tested properly neutral, must have carried power when the three way switch was flicked from one position. The red must also have carried power to this socket.

The only explanation I can come up with is that there is a ghost in the house who flicks some hidden switch just at the very moment that I cut off the breaker and swap some wires. One of those old button switches, maybe.

I'm OK with that. I have to be. I'm not about to tear open this beautiful skin unless I absolutely have to. I've taken peeks when I've been able to. It's not pretty inside. No smells though, which is a good thing.

It's interesting that plugs with neutral and hot wires both energized behave exactly as dead plugs. No harm no foul, unless you happen to touch one and are connected to ground. The house was built in 1850 or so. The sewer line is large enough to support a boarding house or a bordello. Many people must have died here. I'll have to check with my friend who does the 'ghost walks' to see if he has any intel on the place.

Meanwhile, I'm moving on to problems I can solve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Social Network Has Already Died

Of course, I'm not talking about Facebook or its ilk. I'm talking about the real thing. Social networks are built on social commerce, and not on mediated interactions. There has to be more than language to bind people, and of course I don't mean the various virtual interactions of sight and sound and sublimated fury.

Social networks incorporate body knowledge, let's call it. Shared ways to cook to walk to drive to think. It has been a bigger problem in China, I think, when the language embodied in the written word lost touch with the physical exercise of writing. Only lately have we begun to recognize that the loss of cursive writing in the West is actually a loss.

The words move away. Spelling is lost. How much worse in China?

I lost my cursive ages ago, mostly due to too much note-taking too rapidly, and so only my secretary could know what I had written, by the time I was a responsible adult. I had to ask her. I'd buried my thoughts in typescript by then, and hadn't realized what had been lost. I thought at least I could be legible. Inheriting one of Dad's Selectrics, I could type really fast.

Now I'm sad that I've lost so much of my Chinese vocabulary. This is quite simply because I no longer write it with a pen. I no longer draw air-strokes when I look up Chinese characters in the dictionary. My language can only be abstracted. And in the abstract, thought is aligned against nature. We aim to supercede nature by the power of rationality.

Those hopeful about the future of the planet - our little outpost of life in the cosmos - seem now to the ones who remain excited about how much we can and shall understand by the means of scientific investigations. These all seem directed toward triumphs over nature, as though we were apart from nature, whatever that word might mean anymore. Whatever it could mean.

I suppose that if we do triumph we will have completed our abstraction each from other and it will be very hard to distinguish annihilation by virtue of hatred from annihilation by virtue of hubris from annihilation by virtue of what we might call some mistake from annihilation by virtue of nature. Nature is that which prevails despite our theatrics. Nature is the real.

I know that these are sophomoric meditations, and I know that the adult practice of scientific investigation will never end. Well, it will never end before the end. The problem being not science or the scientific method, but the economic arrangements which organize it., and everything else. 

How else to characterize our choices of the one among various ways forward. Truth means this. It means a consensus choice, when the consensus includes all of life, and now we - the capitalistic we - are arrayed against the rest of life, thinking that somehow we will create an artificial life. A virtual life. Some combine of personality where the most common attributes are celebrated as the most unique. And I had thought that it was my joining with others which made me. My personality is not an entity by itself. 

So no wonder science as an enterprise is so loathe to release itself from subject/object distinctions. There is no end to what you might accomplish as Lord. There is only end to All.

Were we to allow the conspiracy of all into our contemplations, we might realize that there is nothing more fundamental to discover but that there is also relativity to subject/object distinctions. There has never been any cosmos void of life. Life is the retrospective organization of accident according to the direction of love which is not a perceptual motivated direction, but, rather, a conceptual one. Time is but the direction of life lived. There is no time without life. There is only void. Without love, there is no time. Some of you have learned this from magic mushrooms. I learned it the hard way.

We seek artificiality with our instruments in case there is life elsewhere in our cosmos. Elsewhere means out of time, since we can't go there without bending dimensions beyond those which matter to us, and by doing that we will have become Goddish which will then have to mean that the godhead will have been destroyed and life will not have been.

We refuse, ironically, to be subject to anything or especially to the godhead which is not some detectable force driving anything. We refuse to be subject to love, or as the bumper sticker or was it a larger window decal on the White Supremacist Trump Truck with Rebel and American flags sandwiching Trump flags said, "FUCK YOUR FEELINGS." This is pretty aggressive. Very naughty.

The only thing wrong is that we think we know what other people are thinking and feeling by the colors they wear, the team they belong to, no longer imagining that there might be things in common. Discovering those would require climbing out of our wombs with views, McMansions on polished lawns where life has already been sterilized and news of continued life is highly exaggerated. The detonations have long since taken place. The network is down. 

And yet I still do feel a ping from across the router. Rogue network alert. There was already life elsewhere in the cosmos, and it has always spoken in the body language of life lived.

I still wonder why it is that when you hire workmen to fix your sewer, say, they seem always to be Trumpsters. Who even gets their hands dirty anymore. Certainly not Trump. How can these associations hold. Am I the only one whose thinking and being has not been entirely wrecked by the Social Dilemma?

Ha!


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Ownership Society

So when I recently read about Jessica Krug cancelling herself, and then people piling on to double-cancel her, I was recalled to Adolf Reed demolishing false distinctions between gender and race transitions. He has less of a problem with cultural appropriation than he does with cancel culture. I have to say that I find his argumentation irrefutable. One of my daughters agrees with me, and the other calls Reed out for mansplaining, and me out for racism. 

I don't think that Reed denies structural racism in the least, any more than he would deny sexism and misogyny. His chore is to deny race and gender any distinction on the basis of 'nature.' Neither can be said to be valid natural categories; both are more a part of culture.

In the one case, sex is distinguished from gender, and in the other race is distinguished from any valid metric to determine human qualities. I believe the core of Reed's argument may be that it is as valid for someone to identify with a different culture as it is to identify with a different gender.

There are differences, of course. Everyone is embedded in a culture which includes all genders. Not everyone is embedded in every culture. So out of context, cultural norms may be called cultural appropriation as an illegitimate move. I think, perhaps, no-one would have any issue with a white person who has 'gown up' in black culture identifying black for that reason.

Perhaps the trouble comes along the way to the claims that academics argue. The author's personal history shouldn't matter to any argument, and the fact that it so evidently does and that we're all so easily misled undermines many of the claims that academia makes on our thinking. 

But is the crime committed by the one who takes advantage, or by the way the academic audience reads and judges?

Along the way it hits me pretty hard that what Dubya used to call ownership culture was his naive way to celebrate white supremacy. I don't think Dubya was by any means in the Trumpean category of nasty, but his behaviors did certainly serve the white powers behind structural racism. 

Now in my inchoate way, I'm finding it hard to distinguish between ownership of property and ownership of slaves. Robot help doesn't solve the problem. For a brief while, I thought it might. Moves in the direction of Universal Basic Income kind of thing. The problem is that some of us are always behind the renters' eight ball and some get boosted into the ownership class. 

Now in my case, I have only myself to blame, since I could clearly be an owner. It was a woman - my ex - who screwed me out of my start, but that was more me giving away the store on the basis of masculine guilt. I've never had much enthusiasm for American adversarial culture, whether in sports or politics, nor certainly in law. In law, that setup just tilts settlements in ways to help money win more often.

An identifiable underclass (dark skin does nicely) is essential for the legitimacy of an ownership society, which would otherwise look unjust. So are robots. Or in other words, I don't find much distinction between wage-slavery and the more literal kind on which this nation was founded. 

My sense is that we should rather celebrate anyone who wishes to identify as black, even when they don't have black blood. There is, apparently, much to envy and of course much to appropriate. It just shouldn't be a legit move for academics.

Those of us not in competition for the 'good life' are offered lots of freebies to make life easier. Many of these are in the form of mostly plastic now convenience containers, so that we can keep our hands clean and be assured that consumables are safe and untouched. Most of us can and do afford to "own" cars, as indentured renters. We hardly notice anymore that the costs are built in in ways insidious and destructive. 

Google search is hardly free. Plastic bags have at least started to cost something, and cheap gasoline mainly ensures that we won't have good mass transit any time soon. 

The question I want to ask is about what it would take for us to relinquish all this convenience and revert to wax paper, mass transit and wooden construction preserved by linseed oil based paints, so that the planet as a whole may thrive. Why are we so certain that our life-style would take a hit?

In my very own memory, time was that you could go to a nearby planing mill and get a window made to replace the one that rotted out because you were too lazy to paint it. Just now this is my agony as I try to assemble the tools and skills to rebuild old windows myself with a damp shop in my owner-grade offsprings' damp basement. It makes me sore every day, and mostly in the moral sense for that term.

Now they can't afford real craftspeople, who are priced to be available only to those who can essentially afford to own their property outright (meaning simply they have a positive net worth). The craftspeople might well be among the owner classes themselves, just as I was once a yacht owner (with negative net worth, of course). I did my own repairs. I'm pretty sure that wooden boat ownership is out of reach for the likes of me anymore. Especially given the cost of paint. If you can even get oil paint.

Oil paint was phased out to save the planet. Something about VOCs which made their way right back in and worse among the "water based" paints which replaced the poisonous good stuff. Plastics, Benjamin Bratton, plastics. 

Somehow, I think the overall ratios were perversely affected by well-meaning policies once those made their way through the capitalist imperatives on the way to market. All I know for sure is that my daughter has a cosmetics-sensitized debilitating allergy to whatever they put in latex paint to keep bacteria from growing in it. The chemical is banned in Europe, which is apparently somewhat less adversarial in its proclivities than we are. Slavery was never quite popular there.

Anyhow, all these are consciousness-raising matters. The recalcitrant Trumpsters will fight tooth and nail against any and all of them, while those more on the side of the angels have a really hard time connecting the dots to why these are all the same thing; racism, sexism, consumerism, landfill waste, HVAC and especially planes and automobiles.

Tesla lovers are right on a knife edge, but they are loving cars which tips them in the wrong direction. You certainly can't own a BMW and be on the right side of history. Nor a BIG HOUSE. Nor have servants.

I'm a servant to my children, and that's the way, perhaps, it should be, though I'm chafing just now by latent chauvinism from one in particular to whom there's no blood relation. No more could I identify as black, now that my sister tells me that 23 and me nixes any black blood. Yeah, like I should trust them.

A relation is a relation, whether based on blood or genes or just simple love, and it would never rankle without the love when the relation turns bad.

What I have to give to Trumpsters is that they seem to love their things; whether guns or cars or motorcycles or jet skis or speedboats. They seem to care for their things, just as those from whom they seem to be descended claimed to care for their slaves. Even as their slaves were forced to care for them.

I guess we all love different things. I love wooden things, and I once did love to maintain my wooden sailboat. Fiberglass is the same kind of cop out as plastic bags are. Plastic bags, remember, were only created as a way to create an industry which would support better profits for the very lucrative automobile industry for whom the useful stuff was otherwise just too expensive.

The lie that we've been sold is some version of maintenance-free. But no fiberglass boat - ever! - has outlasted a well-maintained wooden boat. And those disintegrated as gracefully as a body might.

That kind of industrial process - please appreciate the freebies that I offer you and please don't notice how they concentrate wealth away from you to the extent that you appreciate them - is identical to systemic racism. They are the same thing. You must deny that you are doing anything wrong to accept something that is offered to you freely, whether white privilege or plastic bags or Google search. If you can ignore the fact that these things are offered freely, then you are, by definition, an owner. You are a slaver. You suck.

So everyone sucks but me and I cancel you and then suck myself up my tuba and be gone. How cool is that?