Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Troubleshooting Reality; A Very Preliminary Review of *Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness* by way of *A General Theory of Love*

I'm a trouble-shooter. I've proven myself quite good at troubleshooting things that I don't necessarily know as much about as others who aren't so good at it. I proved myself good at computer and network troubleshooting, even though my technical knowledge was far deficient from that of many of my colleagues. I'm good at trouble-shooting engines, even lacking very refined design and engineering skills. 

Who knows? Even though my grip on reality may not be as good as yours, I'll bet I'm better at troubleshooting it. You know, I spend my time fixing things. I try to understand things to the extent that I must, to be able to troubleshoot and fix them. I almost always come away with a better understanding by the time whatever I'm working on is fixed. But I don't really remember a time when I thought that I completely understood what I was working on. 

Most recently, I've been troubleshooting the strange electrical situation on my recently rebuilt sailboat. It's a primitive arrangement, meaning pre-digital, meaning pre-WWII tech. The Internet is now full of instruction on such things, mostly among antique motoring fanatics. It is really difficult to parse the valid part from all the instructions, each of which lacks the kind of narrative completeness I require.

At great pain to body and mind, I've gotten this 50 year old single cylinder two-stroke engine to run quite well. Just as I had the old Martin (pressure cooker company) outboard when I was a kid. This sailboat engine is also sparked by a magneto, is easily started by hand, and will even power rudimentary electrics without a battery.

So, to sail the boat I only use the battery to start the engine. For convenience sake. Without even bothering to charge the battery from the dock power, I sailed half the season with a battery read of 12.4 volts. I assumed that the battery was old and weak, and anyhow it worked fine and I talked myself into believing that the starter/generator was vaguely recharging the battery while I motored out. There is also a very small solar pad.

Eventually, I bought a voltmeter to plug into the cigarette-lighter-style 12 v receptacles I placed here and there for iPhoney passengers. That helped me to realize that there was no charging happening, either by motor or by sun, though the tiny solar panel helped to hold the voltage where left it, once I realized I should actually charge the battery now and then.

So having fixed all the little leaks, and having perfected the carb and points and mast wiring and electrics, and all the lights, I turned my attention to this little non-problem of generation. After many trips out and back along a long walk to the boat, to try another conjecture with yet another gizmo, the walk being as far as it is possible to be from the gate of this massive marina, I finally understand what is wrong and what to do about it. 

It is a pleasure to me when I finally get to a totality of how the things I work on work. That's what solving a problem feels like. It feels very different from making something new. Related for sure, but different. All the otherwise disconnected symptoms start to match up and then you know what to do to fix the overall. Ignoring all the irrelevant stuff which might be working poorly or fine but isn't germane to the problem at hand. I'm just not that good at new. I fall for things as they are more than as I wish that they were. Plus new is way expensive anymore,

I am persistent to a fault. And I am really cheap; not by choice, but by necessity. I am motivated. Having money to spend feels like cheating. Indeed, I argue that to get money you have to cheat, but that would be a different essay.

In my experience of troubleshooting, hearing someone express certainty about what's wrong or what to do invites an instant assessment of how grounded that certainty is. If it doesn't feel grounded, then I'm pretty sure that the certainty will be an obstacle and not a help to my troubleshooting. Which is to say that misplaced certainty will prevent my seeing of the actual problem. Grounded certainty is much more welcome, often accompanied by an "aha" from me, or if not, by a quick explanation from the certain party. Indeed my welcome of grounded certainty is grounded itself on the basis of many such previous explanations. That person has become my teacher.

There aren't many teachers on the Internet. Well, OK, there are plenty, but one sure does have to wade through a lot of dross to find them. There used to be more, back in the days of newsgroups. Things degenerate.

So anyhow, maybe I have a right to troubleshoot even philosophy or epistemology or consciousness study even though I might barely know how to define those disciplines. 

Like, OK, when Nicholas Humphrey is going down a track that humans are conscious in ways that other creatures aren't, I find that initially problematical. That's because we're (me and Humphrey) just not using "conscious" in the same way. Consciousness to me is more-or-less what Buddhists mean when they say sentient (in translation). Humphrey's usage for sensation and perception is almost the opposite of my usage. And he never even mentions Julian Jaynes, haha!

Of course I can't know if he uses sentience as he does because he enjoys slamming the benighted Buddhists, or if that's the received and accepted term of art in his field. He announces that he diverges from many who might be assumed to be his colleagues. I'll have to try to find out.

But it does seem as though his usage for consciousness is quite different from mine. I consider lizards to be conscious. And sentient. I'll have to think of a word to describe what humans are. Why can't sapient do? Well, I guess it's not so provocative. To say that humans have invented sapience feels like a trite redundancy. And anyhow, why use the word invent unless you wish to be provocative.

You will never prove to me that there was a Sir Bowline who invented a knot by that name. Knots are in a category of unnatural things which never were invented. They come as close to an embodiment of a Platonic "form" as I can imagine, except that embodiments are precisely not forms in that sense.

Now I wrote recently of discovering books that have stood unread upon my ever-shifting bookshelves. I've had Gregory Bateson there since forever ago. Even or especially knowing that I felt affinity for his thinking, I've left his Steps to an Ecology of Mind untouched for decades. It has sat there as a kind of burden. Like I was never ready for it.

I was reminded of Bateson by way of this Sentience book, who mentions Bateson's slightly more recent book Mind and Nature, which I've now retrieved hard-copy from the library. Cheap, see?

Soulmate. Bateson reminds me that the real is the Platonic ideal. All the rest is perceptual conjecture. Now, I'm no Platonist and certainly no idealist (though Plato's Republic was indeed my first real read. First loves . . .) but there is an essential quality there, now long lost. 

So, what's the difference between a circle and a knot, I wonder. Well, circle refers to an abstraction - a stationary abstraction - and a knot to an actual instance of a procedural form or norm that also happens to work; in just the way that a wheel works, but is not a circle. Procedures are narrative, while forms are eternal, just because forms are abstract. A wheel and a knot both have a temporal and earthly history, Ideas are eternal.

In Humphrey's language, I wonder if perceptions are abstractions from sensation, or if they are procedural and narrative. If they are, then to call them perceptions is inevitably misleading. A photon impinging upon a retina is a perception, precisely analogous to an instrument reading used by a scientist. The reading then becomes part of some narrative understanding or other, which we hope will become useful. 

I rather doubt that much of anything is ever invented so much as discovered. Invention being the proper province of capitalist economics. You find it first; you take credit and get a temporary monopoly on usage, and you brag that you invented it. The actual invention is made by collective resolution, available nearly simultaneously to anyone equipped to interpret newly possible narrative realities.

Nothing springs from the mind, while the mind itself is sprung from all society in which one is invested. So, OK, yes, mind is a manifestation of the collective (if not quite an invention), but not ex-nihilo. And I suppose mindlessness is a function of dividing the social from actual social interaction, which is what communications technology does, which inevitably gives us the mindlessness of the cult of MAGA. For instance.

The mind may apprehend a circle, which is not the same as feeling one.

Though the artist themself might believe they do, art doesn't start with an idea. It starts with an interaction. And then appears something which sounds or looks or feels right for that particular person at that particular time. Artists are makers, but not inventors. I declare! Tools and a medium and experience. Talent, sure. And something new that was never there before. There is no progress to it. 

The "I" in us is an artifact. Art not invention. 

One of the most important, if not the biggest, puzzles that I face now involves wondering why I am so newly clueless about sailing. I felt as one with the wooden boat that I rebuilt in my extreme youth. It was stunningly simple, and though ever the loner, I was much more social then. 

I learned itinerantly how to accomplish the repairs I made, and the sailing of that boat was utterly transparent. No winches, no complex improvements, just basics that I could see and feel. No money, so I restitched the sails and replaced much wood, re-bedded the engine, and sailed for twenty five years in any and all conditions.

Now I'm chicken and dumb. What I can't figure out is whether this is a function of age-related frailty in body and mind, or if it is the actual wisdom of knowing versus thinking that I know. As in I have much more experience of fucking up and nearly eating shit (as my daughter calls it) than I once did. 

The old boat had the same electrical system as the newer old boat, but I never plumbed it because I didn't have to. In those days you could get your starter/generator locally rewound, which I did, though for the life of me I can't remember why I had that done. Whatever the problem was, rewinding fixed it.

This time, with a lot more theoretical understanding than I had then, in part of because of the Internet, I know that it's not the motor. It's the voltage regulator. I'm pretty sure I didn't know what that was way back then. Knowledge can make a person wary. Seem old.

Progress is a function of problem solving. Not art. An artist might troubleshoot the medium and the tools, though not to make something better. Art is more transformative than that. You end up with something more like a knot than a platonic realization of some idea. The knot was always there, in some sense, as you discovered it.

To me "sensations" are the directly felt responses to what Humphrey and possibly all philosophers call qualia, which are, to me, precisely what cannot be perceived. Apparently to him, perceptions are the indirect or redirected signals from our perceptual apparatus, such that "sweetness" is a perception where to me it's a sensation. 

And in this other book that I'm reading in tandem, A General Theory of Love Thomas Lewis (very properly confused with Lewis Thomas) starts out with what he considers to be the obvious fact that whatever love is, it's in the brain. Thereby cementing the, to me, poor assumption that the mind is all "in" the brain. His certainty immediately precludes other avenues for troubleshooting. 

Tant pis! I can't trust him, though I find extremely useful nearly all that he says about love and about emotion.

In any case, I find the Love book incredibly useful, and ultimately, mostly right. Now Humphrey lands on what I would call a description of the conscious self as derived from narrative social interactions. We are each teachers to each other. It is immensely pleasurable to watch my granddaughter ever so slowly discovering herself. I know that she is not yet, but almost certainly will be, fully conscious as a human being. 

And the narrative construction of the self gives me great hope that despite my existence in the midst of what I might call humanity's most critical existential crisis of all time, we shall effectuate a kind of collective reconfiguration once we identify what is wrong with our collective narrative about reality.

I present here a concise-ish list of misconceptions, so as not to be coy about it:

  • The mind is not, in almost any way, coterminous with the brain.
  • Just because erasing the brain erases the "I" doesn't mean that the narratively constructed artistic self is instantly gone.
  • What is gone is sensation. The responsive "I"
  • To be conscious, consciousness - right down to lizard consciousness - participates in all other life on the planet (and perhaps beyond). Certainly no "I", but also no living thing can exist without the totality of life which came before along with an expectation that the next moment will be similar to the last, meaning that life will persist.
  • The totality of life is not only our genetic heritage, but also our companion living creatures which create the environment which creates us.
  • Intelligence is not severable from emotion.
  • Emotion is directly felt by the mind, no intelligence required.
  • Sensation is also directly felt (what Humphrey misleadingly calls "perception"), but at the remove of preconscious narration. 
  • Humphrey's phenomenal consciousness - the feeling of qualia - is put together by mind's narrative skill.
  • Narration is an ordering in time of what I call "perception" but which Humphrey misleadingly calls sensation.
  • Perceptions are not ordered in time by themselves. Indeed, they could not be. The mind is what does that. Many different perceptions from multiple different senses form a felt "thing" in the mind. Those perceptions don't come to mind in ordered fashion.
  • Artificial so-called intelligence overlaps human intelligence only in the way an encyclopedia might. (The map is not the geography)
  • Emotion is not an epiphenomenon of the brain's function any more than sensation is.
  • Emotion is relational, as is all physical reality, where emotion is both prior to and subsequent to all physical interactions.
  • Physical interactions are perceptual, which also means that forces are exchanged.
  • Emotions may initiate physical interactions, or perhaps they always do.
  • Free will is an emotional and not a physiological fact.
  • Precognition is a recognition of what could be, never what will be.
  • What will be requires an act of will
  • Ownership of actions and decisions always follows after the action or decision was made.,
  • The "I" is a very high order abstraction, always late to the game.
  • Congruence between self-centered prediction and the actual is the basis for the (narrative!) construction of an "I"
  • Feeling ones own "I" happens as an analog to feeling sensations (as a perceptual analog to what Humphrey calls "perception" of qualia, or phenomenal consciousness).
  • This "I" has always been there (think about it)
  • Similarly, emotions are directly felt by the mind in ways that sensations are felt - subsequent to what I call perception. (Who hasn't mistaken hot for cold, for example, based on the mind's narrative errors? Just like I might mistake what I did with the engine on my sailboat just the other day, which I corrected by a modification to my narrative.)
  • Indeed, the mind is mostly composed of felt emotions toward the world all around.
  • This is relational without the forces involved in perception
  • Memory is "housed" in our environment, and prompts our narrative recall. 
  • There are no internal representations residing in our brains. We recall the real.
  • Our brain is a mediator, not an originator, among perceptual and conceptual reality.
  • An artificial brain is quite simply a contradiction in terms.
  • Or else there be no nature
  • Time is a construct of all life. A conspiracy of will, if you will, but not of things as such.
  • God wills forward in time 
  • There is God and always has been
  • There is no lazier word than God
  • We shall soon discover that to participate in the future is far more entertaining than to watch narratives on some screen, no matter how exciting those are. Our entertainments are analogous to blindsight (sight without the "I" of seeing)
  • Capitalism self-destructs upon the realization that the individualism which drives it is the prime fiction. Hurrah!
  • Driving cars, fascinating and wonderful at the outset, shall suddenly become as boring as entertainments projected onto two-dimensional screens.
  • Let us all sail into our future. The winds of reality shall always overwhelm us if and as we challenge them.
So the good news is that since our thoughts are not our own, the collective reconfiguration of those thoughts can happen in a relative instant. Which might be the moral equivalent to God coming down to earth (as distinguished from the childish fantasy that some wise teacher will appear, to tell us what to do).

The big trouble which needs to be shot is trust. Most of the astounding bounty we've collectively gotten from oil now defines the trust (im)balance which desperately needs to be improved upon. It is certainly not clear to me in which direction that balance might plummet or soar. What is clear is that we are at a tipping point.

Well, aren't we always?

Our politics and our economic reality now reward not only narcissistic me-ism, but practically demand it. Instead of debating political lines, we might be better off focusing on some basics: Getting the money and ad-copy out. Hiring for trust as much as for competence. But not forgetting the competence.

It's not that hard for me to see why those who have supported Trump mistrust the politics of those whose rhetoric they either don't understand, or feel is a front for some sort of elaborate and self-serving scam. In whose pockets does this politician live?

I am inundated on a daily or hourly or often minute-by-minute basis by China-originated email and text scams, based on their patriotic deconstruction of our surveillance capitalism. That cannot be the basis for war. It is a call for education and a prod for unity. But it sure feels like they - the artificially intelligent "they" - know exactly what I'm doing on the Internet, and so can prey on me as though they read my mind. There is no better definition for asshole, innocent though the human bit-players are.

Trump represents, of course, a cult. But cult is almost built-in to our global society now. There are no other convincing arguments on offer. We demand a personality that's bigger than life. What we need are more quiet amateurs, who know a lot about everything, but not terribly much about anything in particular. We need leaders who know which experts to trust, not which wannabe personalities will support the one in the middle. 

We need people who will paint and repair our houses rather than people on Tik Tok pandering their personalities.

Well, so I'm alone here. But I have practiced that all my life, and so it not only doesn't bother me, I would be terrified to be recognized. I lack the skill. I am persistent but slow in my trouble-shooting. I am proud, yes, of my accomplishments. A full life, well lived.

But know this: Perceptual and conceptual reality both lead to feeling (which the vehicle and which the tenor of that metaphor? Which is the real feel?), and all feeling is direct, mediated though it may be among nerves and words and cultural imperatives. The brain may be our personal mediator of feelings, but all of what we know exists outside the brain. Ideas, our memories, our love interests, our narrative reality. None of those things belong to any particular "I". 

I am what I am, says Popeye the sailor man. I am so glad that Chinese literature isn't built on metaphor as the main figure. I would otherwise have to prioritize emotion over sensation. Or is it the other way around? A rose by any other name. An asshole is always an asshole. A prick by a rose not so sweet. Time moves forward but metaphorically and not for real, says Plato. 

Basta! Till next time.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

My Poor Bookshelves - an ode to Annie Dillard - an Apology

Oppenheimer's quote - I am become death - is become really well-known now. And I suppose we all know how he was crowded out by the burgeoning military industrial complex, which desperately needed its mitts on the formula. We are become wealth. And what's a little red-baiting up against our power now, eh? We have been mindlessly strategic with our oil. We keep the nuclear energy in check.

When she was very young, my daughter claims to have counted the books on my shelves, and they were legion. Over ten thousand, she told me. They lined the walls of the hyper-economical apartment they grew up in, the girls and the books, on my side of the family. It was a large and super airy flat - meaning that it cost more to heat in Buffalo's winters than mansions did. Like heating a tent. Maybe it helped, maybe it hurt, that every wall was lined with books.

They were mostly stackable legal bookshelves, salvaged from the fire which drowned Dad's leather-bound legal volumes, up near the top of the Prudential building. JFK-like, conspiracy theories suggest the burning was meant for the top floor, where Attica papers were housed. Where did I read that? Whatever. I was horrified by the news, riding a subway in New York.

There were also bookshelves that I'd made, up from New Haven probably, or maybe custom made for the apartment. Can't remember, I don't remember them in my marriage house. Not sure. I know they were post-boat because I remember using left-over silicon bronze ring nails for the Philipine mahogany back panel. Back when wood and books both were cheap, and I could fill and build and fill my shelves.

The great culling happened when I drove my little over-driven VW Passat wagon out to California, leaving my ghost behind in that apartment. A shell of nearly all the books I'd read to date, which included the cliched and the insipid from high-school through itinerant department hopping in college. But also various computers and electronics paraphernalia, three electric hair clippers, including the one my Dad had used on all of us, I think. No need for those ever since. Pots and pans and silverware. All the furniture I had up to then. Some of it very nice. Books carted out and back to the middle of nowhere, which was my home-base for driving a couple thousand miles a week to do a one-man minstrel show with computers for 80+ Catholic Charities addresses across fifteen counties. Blah blah.

I culled my shelves just twice. Once for carload. Once over a Christmas visit, to be sent by Greyhound which was by far the cheapest way to ship so many heavy boxes, still costing more than it would to ship myself - about the same weight. Who can understand our economy? They made it, the books did, and probably busted the relationship which took me there and overstuffed her house with Ikea shelves. Which had names, the shelves did. Marketing names.

Mostly, I left behind the easily replaced pulpy school-time books. I kept those I thought that I could never replace. But lost forever were that stamp collection, the comic book collection that I'd told my daughter would pay for her college. And maybe they would have. Oh, what a person will do for love!

So many books I miss, because my memory can't know what I ever did with them. And so many books that I never did read, which followed me around. Dead weight. The detritus of those rare moments in a bookstore while actually earning money up against the mountains of love-debt I kept piling up; those moments when I talked myself into actually buying books. Randomly, really. It was like a chocoholic buying top-shelf and regretting it. 

Well just the other day, after passing through a dry spell with reading 'cause of a new/old sailboat. Hatches all around, deck balsa, crampy engine work, cranky rig, all good now she sails wonderfully and I have sudden time to read but don't know what to read and I see a clutch of books from and by Annie Dillard which I've towed around the country and have never read.

They have insect droppings or mold spots on the page's edges, and so I open A Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek which is not the sort of chocolate that I typically indulge, in borrowings from the library. Surrounded still by unread books, I'm never ready for the burden of the ones I'd bought indulgently. And true to form, this book reads so very beautifully I put it down by page 6, vaguely wondering did I have Encounters with Chinese Writers on my shelves as well?

I did!

All these years I'd thought - vaguely, because I'd never opened the book - that this book would describe Dillard's encounters with the Chinese classical poets whose study I'd abandoned. Unread volumes of classical Chinese lit I have, to, excel most American college libraries. All that indulgence weighed me down. Inhibited my reading. Dillard was weighty, somehow, maybe Pulitzer-related, in my mind, and that had inhibited me.

Somehow all the unread books that I spent real money on feel like a burden. Something I always should but never quite want to do. Still, I have experienced unnatural joy on those occasions that I get desperate. Homo Ludens. Stephen Owen's poetics. A bit of Virginia Woolf. Even Foucault v. Chomsky.

No, anyhow, the Encounters book was a breezy journalistic read about her travels in China and in the US as a cross-cultural delegate meeting with Chinese counterparts, along with OMG Allen Ginsburg, who, thanks to Joe Gould's Teeth I finally think I might know. Go figure! I saw him with squeeze box in Boulder once, hamming as a Buddhist.

But Dillard's journalism is peer with Jill Lepore. It was that brilliant, and so easily recognized from and by my own encounters with Chinese writers of whatever kind from whatever century up unto the very present where we all now are become death, destroyer of worlds.

Is the New Yorker really that good? That Ivy League? Hey, I'm Ivy League, though not the native son. Oh wait, I am! Genetic drift toward degeneracy, I suppose. No, I am rescued. Dillard has no connection to the New Yorker at all. Phew.

May it be that I shall reopen Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek. May not be. I've waited this long. But maybe.

My trouble is simple. 

I started life as an engineer. And then I lost faith. Faith in all dimensions. And then, to my surprise and astonishment, I found faith. But I never learned to write. 'Cause of laziness, I think. I've travelled the world some, and this nation a lot, but I never learned to translate any of what I've learned and what I know into writing. I lack the magic of that particular transmutation of mind to matter.

So I spout love this and love that because that's how lazy I am. And when you do that - spout love, unless you're Nicholas Sparks maybe, people just simply turn off. Like you're another religious spiritualist here's how we save mankind altogether now sort of person. They turn you off in an instant, people do. 

It turns out that I've restarted my boat life, and also that I've restarted my bookshelf building life. I don't have any photos that I know of for the original 'hang-your-shelf' in New Haven, so called by my bike-mechanic colleague there. It was plain pine planks with holes drilled through which hemp rope was strung. Hung from the hanger molding that all transient student housing has in college towns and in dormitories. 

Those shelves astonishingly held the bulk of my lightweight paperback literature. Nowadays I'd probably lose sleep expecting something to give suddenly in dark of night, but it never did. 

I have been that graced by luck. Even when my old wooden sailboat blew or cracked apart it never seemed disastrous. Now I know too much. Like, I know that love is a cosmic force. But I can't live to tell about it because it's too complicated and too simple both. Like you need to understand and then move beyond a certain grade of particle physics. You have to do a little bit of DNA and accept that maybe the religious and psychologic proponents of a kind of magic synchronicity aren't all wrong. 

And then all questions are answered. And then you're just plain all alone with the knowledge if you aren't a self-promoter and you can't write. This, the pain of living. 

So here I am building a better mousetrap and there is no beaten path to my door. Thoreau was so wrong in the first place! And way better at self-promotion. (I know this guy in China who calls himself Thoreau, so very much does he love him) You have to want people to read you, and I just don't care if people read me. I just want them to know. I want you to know. Love is all there is.

Click! Move on.

But wait. Please wait. Yes sure, this all has some commonality with religion, but still more with science. And for either as for all one needs a level of self-promotion. I'm an abnegator of myself. I want only to hide. 

And every single time I make a post I feel like I'm walking out of the house naked. It's hard. 

But you know in your very soul that life, the universe and everything is not reducible to cause and effect. You know that your entire life is a complex web of synchronicities, which is, of course, easy to say if you're as loaded with social capital as I am. Mostly fate feels lousy for most of us. 

Do I believe that you can make your own luck? Nope, no way no how. If you're a devoted capitalist though, you're pretty much required to believe that you can. You call it merit, you call it hard work, but whatever you call it boils down basically to luck.

Me, I've squandered my luck. I don't make any hay with what I've got. I think I'd feel guilty if I did, although I have pandered love into something kind of if not quite prosperity exactly, which makes a prosperity look-alike.

And I'm not really a hater of capitalism any more than I'm a hater of nature in nature's tooth and claw. But it is barbaric, capitalism is. Looking around the world these days, I don't see that civilization, especially what we call "modern" civilization has moved very far at all from basic barbarism. So very few live by love and give back their luck.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Googoo Doll Robby Takac here in Buffalo runs this massive Music is Art festival, which I always go to for just a hot minute so I can be reminded of my fundamental aloneness. All one in the world. It's just not seemly to dance alone, and so I leave as expeditiously as I arrive. Quick tour and out. Like life, right?

Nick Sparks gives out money in New Bern, which I spent some time in without knowing he lived there. You can find these things out in Wikipedia whenever you want to. But nobody gives out so much money that they won't or don't keep living the life you wished that you could live. Not really ever.

But we're in a bind. We're played out as a species, having fouled our nest big time. We're being called on to display a kind of anti-capitalistic love. Meaning give up our cars, gas or electric. Give up planes. Give up plastic packaging of almost any sort. Get rid of privatized medicine and healthcare of every sort as well, and private transport of any sort, and private utilities, and give up private yachts bigger than you can maintain yourself (I have to exempt myself from some loss of privilege, right?).

None of these things is hard, meaning none creates hardship. Maybe we worry that it would tank the economy, but as with Covid we'll be doing it when the emergency becomes obvious. Why not do it ahead of time to mitigate the inevitable emergency?

Well, because it's really really hard to believe that we have no choice in the matter. And guess what? We have no choice in the matter. Collectively, I mean. We don't. Talk about making your own fate!

Now if only people would read the important stuff, or learn the important stuff. Like wouldn't people change if they scientifically knew that love is a cosmic force? Well, have I changed? Nope. I'm still compelled to display my intelligence and tell people where they're wrong about stuff, always hoping that I'll find the one who really understands and always convincing myself that I'm the only one who understands, but not being able to convince a single other soul. 

Crank! The very definition of sick crank. 

If I'm not going to write it I should at least live it. I won't find it in any book, though I've tried and tried. It's just not there. Or it's all there in all of them, which reduces all the worth of writing to one Big Theme which would be a simple shame.

But it should make a difference to know that love is truly a cosmic "force." It makes a difference to true believers in, say, Christ, to the extent that they devote themselves to doing what some man tells them to do, which ends up as often as not in doing really hateful things. Like banning womens' ownership of themselves. Sheesh.

Most of my reading though is toward the goal of proving myself wrong. It isn't working. I'm not wrong. And so I think this reading is a kind of noble activity because, who knows, I might actually change a few minds.

So let's go down a different rabbit hole for a minute. I read today that Google and Facebook have held back on the kind of facial recognition software which China's party statle deploys willy nillly to tell you "hey Joe, you just jaywalked and we're dinging your social goodness score" for all the world to see. 

But you know, Facebook and Google know that to out you all the time and everywhere in public would utterly undermine the economic sea whose climate they control. They and all of us depend on a fabulously elaborate mythology of hyper individualism. It is practically a state religion here, that we can't have some kind of government ownership of citizen identities, even though we already have it. We already use it to catch a thief. But wouldn't it be nice if all email were properly identified.

Like I get endless emails now, originating in China for certain, where they have decoded my cookie trail such that if I even breath an interest or a shopping destination I get an email which is so good a spoof that both Google and Microsoft in their AI brilliance, think the email belongs in my priority inbox. They fake some kind of personal connection. It's getting so I waste as much time as spam filters save me just deleting the stuff before opening it.

I know it's illegal over her to use the identity of actual people in targeting them, but it's a matter of anti-Western civic pride over there. Just like it's illegal to ban firearms, because to do so, maybe, would be to compromise our hyper individualistic ability to defend ourselves, our families and our country from those whose manifests we hate.

But hey, the junk is out in the open and your nuts if you don't think some dickhead is going to profit from it. I mean the entire AI shebang. 

There is a different possibility though. We could wake up and realize that we are not so very individual. That our failings belong to a whole community, as does their remedy. No self, no matter how branded by quirky tatoos (which I think are pretty cool too, which is why I'll never have one), is all that different from every other selfie self. No matter how much I read, I still must swim in the same social waters that we all do. I was so disappointed in the Bills last night. I so regret my lost sleep!

Any more than Cherry 2000 AI will not replicate human love. We may finally realize that our mind is not described or describable by our brain. That our emotions don't distinguish us from all the other beasts. That consciousness already exists in a reptile but never in a zero/one logic machine. It's our definitions have to change, stupid!

As refined by art and literature and music, we do embody a very advanced capacity for love. The now universal quest for recognition (Sorry Bill Gaddis, I'll never be able to read your Recognitions, though I'll keep trying), fueled as it is by the way that money works in this economy, is as effective as Oppenheimer's Trinity test as a prototype for world destruction. 

Back when I was trotting around Yale, trying to find someone open-minded enough to test my theories for themselves, a kindly young physics professor pointed to where John Wheeler was then working. I hadn't known who Wheeler was, or that he was visiting Yale. I thought he was some august professor who would be unapproachable. Little did I know that he floated a theoretical approach which includes all conscious observers in the structure of physical reality. An elegant resolution of certain puzzles of quantum physics as I might imagine.

All that I have done, through no agency on my part, is to realize one very early morning in the process of writing that nothing about our knowledge of the physical world need change if we were to adapt our models to accept that emotion is as primordial as are physical forces. My analogy was the absence of substantial change by knowledge of relativity. Except that more time has passed by now since my discovery as compared to the time between Einstein's reformulation and the development of the bomb. 

I think there simply is no interest among the powers that be in talking about love. I define "concepts" on a par with "percepts." By definition, percepts are subject to forces, which means that they participate in the exchange of force-bearing "particles." Without such participation, they would not be perceptible. They could not be measured, and predictions could not be made. Proof is in the energy equations. 

Concepts define a kind of structure of mind. It's a narrative structure, which I try and try again to define on these "pages," but it's not directly measurable, since concepts don't participate in forceful interactions. 

Without narrative, mind has no inclination. Composed physically, as words are, DNA has a narrative structure. When it defines an arrangement of otherwise inert matter such that the narrative structure endures, there is a move in the direction of love, which is the direction of life away from universal entropy and decay. A dance of love and hate defines the All. 

The hope here is that this particular realization is what can and will change the world. It won't be our technological advances. It won't be our astounding and brave new understandings of how physical life and matter are constructed. It will be our collective awakening to a kind of responsibility to love that will enable a transformation at least as spectacular as what an H-Bomb can do on its own. 

There is no art in Trump or Putin or Jong-un. These are avatars of what we all become when we realize our defunct desire for recognition. Embodiments of hate, of decay of entropy of dissolution of global warming meltdown, which isn't a necessary condition of our survival.

They and all masters of the universe are become death. Be not proud.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A Thought Experiment for Indi

Let's assume for the moment that there is God. Not a god, as I like to say, but primordial Mind which must, by my read, coexist with physical reality. Indeed, I suggest that there is no physical description of time without the anti-entropy of life. And that this entails elemental mind to be coherent. Coherent here means nothing different from physical coherence, which disintegrates at the extremes.

So I then suppose that God imposes various tests on life formation. No, let's pick a better verb. Life passes through various choke points which test its overall direction toward life or decay. Call it decadence if you will. Life is more quiet than physical reality toward the start. Of course "start" is arbitrary from the aspect of any conscious "observer." Some sense of I was already here before any I was conscious of it.

In Earth's case, life has passed many hurdles with flying colors, especially with the evolutionary advent of humans. It is our capacity for love which makes us apex creatures. Our intelligence, artificial or otherwise, mostly gets us in trouble. We are in trouble now, but I'm not quite so sure that we're as f***ed as Indi would have it.

If we are it's because we do it deliberately to ourselves. Because we refuse to grow up. I watch my granddaughter grow and grow, and she does it by interaction with all and everyone around her. Her mind is not composed inside her brain. Hers is a whole-body touch and feel and taste mind. So is ours. And she is fortunate in her parents. The love glows.

Now our current impasse is all about fossil fuels. For the sake of our assumption here, let's call fossil fuels an extravagant, though perhaps earned, gift from or by or with God. So far, we've squandered it at the expense of all life on earth. Fossil fuel is, after all, but another legacy, along with DNA, of the life that preceded us.

But we've also developed a marvelous set of sciences, terrific music and literature, wonderful ways to live comfortably without disturbing our natural habitat (if we so choose) and a terrific communications network. If we eat well, we consume a symphony of love. And there is and always has been wine.

Growth dependent capitalism, based on what Indi and I both call the artificial intelligence of the corporation, has turned most of these accomplishments to shit. I might extend usage for artificial intelligence to politics as well, which responds best to the power sources of capital (especially to our military industrial complex) and seem increasingly to move away from moral behavior toward the same AI which guides large corporate decision-making. Indeed, they are in cahoots; two aspects of the same reality. Revolving doors don't begin to describe it.

All of this is easily fixable if we wish to fix it.

We are on the cusp, but I'm not sure we've lost our balance quite yet. Recovery can move as quickly as destruction has, as in most cases of discovered destruction. Large dinosaurs proved dispensable, though their successors and heirs remain. Their DNA. Their stored energy from the sun.

Now just because I can prove my scientific conclusions doesn't mean I can convince you or anybody else. We seem skeptical of the best science in any case anymore, but in my case, I draw my knowledge so eclectically that I'm pretty much an idiot in any particular field. And most experts are embedded pretty indelibly in their fields of expertise. I don't expect my narrative to change a thing.

Just as I won't win any physics argument, most world-class scientists might look ignorant politically or sometimes even morally. So I'm not all that embarrassed. These days, my hero Richard Dawkins should feel embarrassed.

But anyhow, I do declare that the world we live in is not just a mostly comprehensible physical world composed of particles and forces. Our actual world must also include a living world composed of concepts and the forceless relations among them, ordered by the narrative processes of DNA formation. Evolution, mediated by DNA, must move in the direction of love for life to develop and prosper. Love is life is God. Any other formulation is a distraction from the real.

This is my set of definitions and not a description yet as such. A description can be made coherent to the very roots of cause and effect and life and evolution. That would be a project for the next generation of scientists. Of course, physical entropy - decay - must always be a part of life. And one might suppose that the earth and all the life it composes must also decay. In the end.

But do we really want to fail right now at this particular impasse? We have squandered the gift of fossil fuel, but we don't often weigh what we've gained in the burning. And that gain may (or may not) be precisely as bloody as all evolutionary gains. The pains imposed by "climate" have been mild so far.

I'm not talking about human development into outer space beyond us. We are not nearly ready for that, viz the Elon and Jeff show. We need a lot more time on Earth to even think about life elsewhere - ours or anyone else's. We will know such life only when we are mature enough to take our full responsibility for life, the universe, and everything else. 42. Right Elon? (what a f***ing a-hole)

Odious though the term has been made, let's suppose also that there is in fact a moral majority. Not the one that the brain-dead Christian Right has referred to, but the truly invisible one which resists the false authority of those, mostly men, who would speak for God.

And furthermore, I say with wagging finger, I do not advocate conscious revolution. The changes we need to accelerate are all very little. A Gentle Rain of Compassion, as one writer put it. A gentle rain will wash the ugliness away. Without that from us humans, the raging climate will wash us away.

Clamoring for revolution feeds the beast. It is energy powered by false certainties. Or little certainties made too large. Our conglomerate media empire makes pulp of those efforts so very easily. So desperate is the AI beast. So utterly abused is our vast communications web. Q and the previous guy are the obvious result. 

Indi is right that we can't "fight" climate change. These are natural processes beyond our agency. All that you hear about what you must do is fuss and diversion from the facts of life. No wonder the Right is so obsessed with the facts of life. They are obsessed with repression of the woman in each of us. What we all must do collectively and post haste is to regather locally, Concern about immigrants dissolves in the face of one actual such person. Concern about a fetus dissolves in the face of one anguished woman or family.

The moral questions are real. The over-certain conclusions are a cop-out.

To allow our local concerns to be hijacked by the forces of manipulative monetized hate-speech such that we hate people right in front of us according to stereotype, is to allow Artificial Intelligence to kill us off. Its Avatar is Tucker Carlson and his ilk, who don't believe a thing that they spout "on air." Money is a much more powerful fuel than even oil. It hijacks the soul which believes that this right here right now is all that there is.  And that he is so individuated from the all.

If you're not confused you're not paying attention. There is no authority - certainly not I - who can turn your confusion into certainty. The certainty that you feel is surely false. Even your certainty that the end is near. The end is fear.

Let us pray.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Teeth Rot in Life, Endure in Death

Joe Gould's TeethJoe Gould's Teeth by Jill Lepore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't understand most of the reviews here. This book is hardly 'about' Joe Gould. It's about a period in America - a literary period barely detached from Lepore's Harvard, during global cultural and economic and political upheaval. It makes a kind of meta-history by way of an apparently brilliant but psychologically troubled individual. The meta part is that our subject was inventing a kind of history - oral history - which has since become important. A move away from artifacts, written records, and big players to history as it's being written on the streets.

Lepore documents the famous people around Gould and their writings regarding him, which make him seem hardly more strange than they were. Ezra Pound promoting fascism from Italy, and writing in some Greenwich Village insider patois. William Carlos Williams dispensing medicine. EE Cummings writing correspondence the same way he wrote poetry. A black artist who was Gould's love object who probably destroyed much of her own work. Gould's disgusting traits did at least have a post-hoc psychological diagnosis about them. He wasn't just a product of his times. But his literary friends were. All of their behaviors , in writing as well, were the output of the history documented here.

Lepore's writing - the way it enters the time - might make you think that she herself was being affected by the craziness, in the process of her writing; the proto-beat sensibility. Allen Ginsberg appears accurately in her almost psychedelic fugue pastiche epilogue, looking back at what she had entered and was pulling away from. She had clearly had enough. To continue on could only induce a kind of mania. Things would keep showing up as quickly as they were receding. Facts galore.

There must have been something brilliant about Gould. Despite his lousy hardscrabble appearance, other brilliant people wanted to know him and keep tabs on him. His fame was genuine, as was his actual presence for the people who walked the streets and frequented the dives that he did.

Gould's fame was thanks to stories in Lepore's own New Yorker. Those stories in that time represented a very different approach (from Lepore's) to the present truth, which also implies how history was being written. That way of writing history almost feels like the way that psychiatry was being practiced - remove teeth and all unnecessary organs including parts of the brain and call the resulting calmed and cleaned-out patient a success. We want our history the same way.

I thought I knew the people and the period, but I couldn't have known them without this excursion into Joe Gould's Teeth.

Ironically enough I'd call this art as much as history. I say ironically because it implicates much history as artifice or outright lying. History is not supposed to be art. It's supposed to be depictive, schematic, accurate. Lepore accomplishes at least the analog of a complete oral history by bringing an atmosphere back to life. There were hardly any facts about it. But what she saw and what we see in reading is accurate. Trued by details. Enhanced by sharp vision through a fog of absence. Connecting iota dots.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A Gentle Rain of Compassion

A Gentle Rain of CompassionA Gentle Rain of Compassion by David R. Shlim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm just not there yet. The book is a lovely read. There is much to learn here. But I still want to know how to locate the self which aligns with mountaintop adventure and superstar rock bands and living in the orbit of Jackson Wyoming while remaining mostly helpless among the lure of shikse blonds and drugs. But the man does grow.

Shlim is honest in his self-disclosure, and holds back subtly with his crowing about himself. I read the book because my sister learned about it from a friend whose son goes or went to school with the author's daughter. My sister worked in the Katmandu clinic with the author, and has a very difficult mountain route in Patagonia named after her. Caw Caw!

She wanted my take. The world the book describes is entirely familiar to her. But she wasn't a part of the story. Still, I wanted to learn about her as much as to learn what the author had to teach. She wanted me to check her mild skepticism.

Sis has dragged me up enough mountains to be certain that I don't want that particular kind of exposure. My own youthful passions led me under or over water, or passing through social spaces in some conveyance about the size of a sailboat cabin without having to engage too closely. I do share motorcycling with the author. And I do still aspire to some sort of Buddhist detachment, though my particular journey leaves me, still, detached from the derivative of religion. I'll take my Buddhism raw.

Sis and I wonder about the ego thing. Ego tempered by compassion, sure, but wanting more attention than either of us could endure, each modestly, ahem, accomplished in our own ways. Now he has Tibetan Tantric monks wanting attention. Can that be right? By happenstance I once visited the loosely related place near Cooperstown that Shlim had a vague hand in. I was stunned. I was a tourist passer-by.

There is irony here which might be beyond the author's awareness. But he tries convincingly hard to get beyond that.

I must celebrate this dose of Buddhism as among those medicines which our American society so desperately needs. And I must celebrate the man who administers it. The clinic he ran and where my sister worked was set up for trekkers from the first world drawn to that spectacular part of the world. And, strange though it may seem, detached monks also want good doctors. But who has contaminated whom?

I am as skeptical about perduring karmic self as I am about the Christian immortal soul which has a personal connection to a personal God. But each approach does ensure a morality which moves well beyond our deadly rational materialism. I also believe in mind over matter. I have a little trouble with the agency thing. After reading, I still don't know where the author stands. But then I don't know where I stand. Our Western read of agency makes it into amoral problem-solving. Neither I nor the author can buy that anymore. Medicine, like worldy success, is as much luck as prowess.

Shlim takes the kinds of outrageous coincidence that a denizen of Buffalo - the biggest small town in the world - takes for granted, as evidence for a kind of truth. If I sit down with ten strangers here, the connections among us explode almost exponentially. That composes some sort of godhead, as does my sister's lingering connection to someone she'd almost forgotten.

No wonder I mostly hide out. Like seeing a Yale classmate on the street in Beijing and still not wanting to say hi. Especially there. But does coincidence mean more when it's exotic?

Plenty of charlatans represent exotic truths as the salve that we require. This guy is no charlatan. But aren't we all charlatans to ourselves? I sure do harbor my own sorts of grandiosity. I tuck it away beyond what I will ever do for pay and sure don't want to be recognized for it. It is a shame that I must hide.

Or do I? Thank goodness English so easily loses referents.

The irony here between author and book exceeds my credibility threshold by just a tad. There is a certain pleasure to be derived from literary writing where the author is evidently as drawn as is the reader. That may be present here, but the book is not literature.

That is my puzzle. I want my author to lose agency. But this is an autobiography. Is my sister jealous? Absolutely not. Left out? Nope. Sour grapes? Not a bit. Me? I don't know.

In America we say 'congratulations' on a new car. Surely congratulations are in order for a new book. I have no standing. I don't want a new car, but do I want condolence for the troubles of my old one? Do I want recognition for holding back? I might.

Here is the central conceit: A drop of compassion won't put out the fire of anger. But many drops compose a gentle rain which can. Here is a gusher in this book. I congratulate the author. Nice book! Nice life!

Shall I return as a karmic worm that my suffering shall be brief? Is that just starting over? Rinpoche has so much responsibility. To meditate. Which must mean to conjoin with the all. Which just seems irresponsible to a rational materialist American success story. Meditation is harder than it looks. Which is it Martha? Truth or illusion? The Way that can be spoken is not the eternal Way.

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Moral Vacancy

I am 68 now, and it has taken my life this far before I could begin to extricate myself from the subtle propaganda that I was raised with. I could get through the easy stuff; the soap ads and the political propaganda, but it's been the meaning of life stuff which has taken so long. 

I've been fooled by our crass oligarchy disguised as democracy, and I've been fooled by the self-promotion which arrogates good fortune to a kind of self-congratulation. Sure, I've spent plenty of social capital to keep myself happy and comfortable, but at least I've held back from dedicating my life to meaningless pleasure. Not that I don't enjoy plenty of meaningless pleasure. But making money in and of itself has never been a meaningful primary pursuit for me. Which already made me weird in college.

I discover lately that I've come 'round to a kind of Buddhist worldview, but I didn't get there by any sort of belief system. Really, I arrived by way of rational thought and science. Take the impermanence and detachment, the primacy of mind with matter, but maybe leave behind the self-soul identity as that which perdures. But can one have a moral compass without that?

As with most everything else that I've pretty randomly made the object of my pursuits, I lost interest in hard science while preparing to re-enter college as a physics major. My first acquaintance with quantum principles blew my mind. For quite a while.

But I worked things out to my satisfaction, drawing on other disciplines I'd pursued, which included Chinese classical literature and an intellectual study of education along with some practice in those fields. It didn't hurt that I have enough facility with understanding how things work that I could make my living during various interstices by fixing houses and computers. Keep myself going by fixing cars and boats and motorcycles. Bicycles are the best.

There has always been some point of disciplinary elaboration where I lose interest. Like reading a bad novel where the narrative course is already obvious. But here I am with valuable things to tell and no way to tell them. I could have dedicated more time to learning to write. 

I confessed in here lately that I can't purchase plastic bags, and as I recall I felt like apologizing for that. Like there's something weird about me. But if you too calculate morals according to aggregate harm, as in what difference does it make if I use plastic bags - it's the system that has to change! - then I might suggest that you have fallen into the trap of rationalism as a kind of religion. Yet another maneuver toward religion as exculpatory exercise. Rational materialism is probably not amoral so much as it is immoral. 

If you have to understand immediately why doing the right thing is going to move the world toward being right, then you have already excused yourself from acting morally. It doesn't matter if acting morally makes no difference. It may only matter as karma. And I say that works in almost precisely the way that DNA works across the eons. What really works is well beneath or beyond our understanding.

Now I calculate (!!) the meaning of that kind of rationalism in such things as our certainty that money is a neutral medium of exchange, without political or moral valence. Or that technology moves in an inevitable and amoral arc. Or that procedural adversarial usage for the law is the only way to arrive at justice. Or that free speech is so all-encompassing in its importance that it includes both hate speech and outright lying. Or especially that youthful startup culture both has no moral valence, and that the cleverness that drives it is of a piece with the inevitable direction of the technology which is generally its pursuit.

Who knows? I might be espousing Buddhist values without realizing it. If so, then I'm a Buddhist with angst, which is likely a contradiction in terms. Living beyond illusion is hard to teach. Wanting to teach the dharma must be like being in love, which, in Buddhist terms, means to reveal a lack in yourself as measured by the pain of love lost.

Anyhow, I'm inspired somewhat by the reasonably reliable moral compass of David Brooks as rehearsed in his opinion piece about the actual guilt of we liberal elites in the arise of MAGA. Even embedded as Brooks must be in the neoliberal so-called rules-based global order (at least by virtue of being embedded in its publicity organ, the NYT), he does manage to see beyond the rigidities of any such ideological regime. 

Heck, I trust the Times to fact check and report on activities which threaten the order in which they exist. But I don't expect radical journalism, for which I go elsewhere. And I am grateful on a daily basis that that elsewhere is not yet blocked off to me. Nor do I expect to suffer any consequences for my perusals. In those ways America is already great.

But, as Brooks obliquely points out in his longer essay in the Atlantic, our American sanctions against the free speech which must be truly protected have been outsourced to angry unwashed mobs, which assemble themselves in age-invisible online hoards which can and do cause actual damage to freethinkers everywhere. He doesn't think the startup culture which created the forum is as guilty as are the rest of us for allowing our cultural institutions to go fallow; those places and practices where moral behavior is instructed and nurtured. But I think he's missing something. 

When they are effective, these dying institutions help us to internalize practices which are valid regardless of their practical efficacy. Somewhere inside each of us we still know that if there were any formality left to airline travel it would never have become so unpleasant. But we hardly know how to navigate all the differing cultural and behavioral norms for formality. And so we throw up our hands? And our laziness becomes the self-indulgence of pyjama behavior in company.

Each of us now aspires, if you are of a certain age, to bedhead casual with flip-flops where the markers of class are more subtle, perhaps, while remaining unmistakably still there. Our lowest common denominator will always rule! It's right there in our DNA.

Anyhow, I do still participate in the performance art of sorting recyclables, eschewing plastic containers as much as possible - which isn't really very much at all - and nodding and making eye-contact with the down and out, even though I have no money for them. At least I tell them so and don't pretend they don't exist.

But there I go, patting myself on the back. I haven't earned that. I drive a car and consume my share of plastic and live in a house that is far too big for my needs. 

But I do also remain busy espousing a worldview, for lack of a better term, which is not quite so brutal as the evident one we mostly endure. But there is scant company here. People have their certainties, which exclude almost everything that I'm certain about. People at least act as though they are certain that the physical world is amoral, and that humanity is mostly defined by an intelligence which means to apply our agency to that world (that's what AI means too. Just remove morals altogether, which should make the techie bedheads very rich and happy). 

People mostly believe that while evolution progresses according to random happenstance, human progress occurs because of human agency. That we are somehow the solution for random happenstance. I mean, how's that working for Hawaii right now? So, we attach morality to agency, as though our agency on the world makes it better, and that before we acted the world was somehow deficient.

Well, it was deficient in relation to our wants. And making it better creates more wants until the economy inevitably takes over and we rather disappear as living human beings (again, perhaps, in Buddhist terms). 

Anyhow, I do think that it's yet another contradiction in terms to both say that agency shall improve things while practicing a kind of rational materialism as a codpiece over rampant collective desire.And then we call our decisions about our agency the results of some kind of moral thinking. The evident amorality of our approach to decision-making tends more quickly to immorality than it does to the good. Being practical always seems to prevail over being good.

In his Atlantic essay, David Brooks is absolutely right to harken back to better definitions for humanity, as put forward by the like of Martin Luther King and many others who talk about character and empathy and compassion as the true definers of human leadership.

Our trouble is that we don't believe that these higher qualities have anything to do with human agency. I surely don't mean to boast my moral qualities when I recite my weirdness. I want simply to suggest that little things are important, even if they can't make any difference. Dressing up to go out in public is a part of civility. Working in your pajamas is not something to celebrate. Neither is automated online ordering (which I also can't avoid, since all the local places no longer exist, which means that over intelligent fucks with too much social capital take over any and all local decision making, as world-class techno-imperialists).

We are destroying the social context which is the only way that humans can live as humans. Being a local franchisee for some over automated business where the surveilled humans must act as robots is not the same as owning your own. Our form of capitalism has metastasized.

Text messaging wrecks my day, and nobody reads my letter-length emails, and it makes me mad as hell. But it's not like I'm going to do anything about it. I can't do anything about it, except to keep writing overlong emails. It makes me mad as hell that job applicants get no response. It makes me mad as hell that service outfits which I require are as internally disorganized as is our wider world. And nothing makes me madder than the American so-called health-care system except for the American so-called health-care insurance system. 

But that doesn't mean that I'm going to insist on "socialized medicine." That dialog serves the purpose of diverting attention from those things that we can do immediately. Like true pricing for healthcare which is not negotiable by powerful insurance companies and doesn't burden the uninsured and gig-bound working class with bankruptcy by way of inflated and outrageous prices and hell-spawn collection outfits. Your insurance company letting you know what you would have paid without them is a form of terrorism.

As any good Marxist/socialist-leaning thinker knows, we'll get there eventually inevitably in precisely the same way that any good scientific thinker believes in the inevitability of progress. Because we keep figuring shit out. Which means figuring out how to have agency over nature. Which is raw throwback to early Abrahamic religion. Which is purest fantasy promulgated by ruby robed and bejeweled religious nobility.

Our modern religiorationalist nobility is riding hyper-luxurious lifeboats in the cesspool where the rest of us swim. No wonder we can't be civil. So many of us are drowning.

Shall modest kindness win out in the end? I don't think that will happen any more than I think that technology will take us to a better world. I think the motives of the tech startup kidlets matter, and their motives seem universally to be a kind of greed which is whitewashed by youthful excitement and the largely symbolic Ivy-league rhetoric of do-gooderism. There is really nothing very good about callow cleverness which finds new and faster ways to make tons of money. Maybe even especially when they claim to be motivated by making things better. 

By very definition, youth is not educated. That's what school is (used to be) for. And it takes time. Nobody is brilliant enough to drop out, although I have plenty of sympathy for those who decide that they can learn better on their own. But that's also a failing about what education means. As Brooks affirms, our schools are no longer even allowed to cultivate morality. The Ivies celebrate cleverness in any form. Which makes a direct line of descent toward evil leaders. The virtue you internalize from a good education now is that you deserve your good luck. Which is to say that there is no virtue in schooling anymore. 

Because we shy from judging difference, we arrive at anything goes. 

It is hard work indeed to be the kind of woke which doesn't judge according to degrees of wokeness. We must determine to be each other's teachers, which also means to allow ourselves to be taught as well. I'm still cultivating my pronouns. It's not going so well. So, I'm sure not going to get angry at others who mangle theirs.  

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Ironies of Artificial Intelligence

As a general rule, I am in accord with most lefty thinking. The US is a mostly evil hegemonic empire which imposes our (supposed) will upon the rest of the world. The media acts as a cheerleader for this imperial program. And our so-called democracy is mostly theater as a front for all this evil. 

But the fact is I vote. I champion voting. I care about the differences between Republican and Democrat, no matter how much I might agree with Ralph Nader (R.I.P., nearly) that they are really as different as Coke and Pepsi.

I think that's because, on a local level, I find people to be earnest and honest and friendly and American. I still go misty eyed about America. Maybe all of us are nice until we become distracted by the false choices of national politics. And, sadly, national politics now seeps back down to the local level. But even at the national level it's not that hard to tell that Joe Biden is a far more decent human being than Donald Trump is. 

The trouble is that just as we want our bankers to be hardnosed, we don't think decency even matters anymore in our wonderful life.

Or is it really that easy? We have been pretty well trained by now to look past what is literally being told us. Advertising has inured us, with politics but a short step behind. If the spokesperson for a party can be captured behind the lines saying repugnant or incomprehensible things these can be spun to whatever level of evil is desired. 

At a very local level, I am an outlier for not being able to purchase plastic storage bags. They feel evil to me, and I just can't. But a more reasonable response might be that their usage is so ubiquitous that my individual actions are less significant than a drop of water in the ocean. Reserving perhaps a little anger that we, individually, are held accountable, or hold ourselves accountable, to place "recyclables" in the right bin or pile.

But hey the successful marketing of plastic bags of all sorts made it possible to economize on plastic parts for cars, surgical equipment, durable housing parts, plumbing and all the rest. The entire industry needed that jump-start, and even I can't seem to find a way around using plastic disposal bags. I accept that my feelings about plastic are not rational. I accept that I'm weird.

On some level we know that we can't muster up the right decidering firepower to make the right decisions at the macro-level where they count. We know that all the little decisions will be packaged up into a palatable platform filled with objectionable content as required to gerrymander the right number of voters. Up or down between and among a very few choices is what we call democracy. 

And many of us are concerned that China, for instance, though certainly not Russia, has formed a political system which can make the right decisions at the macro-scale. They built out a high-speed rail infrastructure at a higher relative speed than the trains go. Like a decade. We can't even get started. 

China's goals for cleaning up the environment also go at warp speed, and they bulged the curve for college attendance as fast as they built the rail system. 

But yeah, their economy can't keep pace with ours, right? Because ours runs on Artificial Intelligence. So long as every little decision is rendered up for the good of the corporate whole, we win every time. China still requires party representation among the leadership of companies larger than a certain (very small) size, and among college leadership. In theory no worse than our theories about democracy, this representation ensures that the people's interests will be attended to. While we celebrate our free speech. Which gives us some kind of absolute right now, to tell whatever lies we wish, so long as it's conceivable that we might believe them ourselves and they don't hurt anyone. Like using a plastic storage bag doesn't hurt anyone. 

What's missing in both computer and corporate artificial intelligence are the recognizable qualities of actual life; things like love, emotion more generally, fellow feeling for fellow humans. 

Can we fix this? Seems doubtful, doesn't it?

Words like liberal and progress and modern and woke have lost any common meaning. Sometimes it feels as though we have turned a corner and are hurtling back into the past. We forget that life as it is now has never been so secure. But our life-span is shrinking. Fascist autocracy is making a global comeback (at least it makes all decisions easier). World war seems right around the global warming corner. The stresses have become too great, and they're palpable now in such a global way that global really does seem suddenly local. What "natural" disaster will I suffer here and now then?

I have friendly feelings toward most people and can't even hold the oligarchs as accountable as I should. Maybe that's because I know some of them, and they're mostly really nice. Despite their objectionable political beliefs. Most oligarchic leaders actually do what they feel will optimize the outcome for most people. Sure, those decisions are embedded in a world-view which may be different than yours or mine, but that, in and of itself, doesn't make the individuals evil. No matter what Hollywood caricatures might have you believe.

Now I am weird in many many ways. I agree that the cost/benefit ratio for my plastic bag decidering is ridiculously minuscule. I'm also not all that excited about not eating meat. To me, that's a kind of misplaced and highly individualized kind of mawkish sentimentality about how nature works. But hey, we shouldn't cede so much of our individual initiative upward to the political deciders, so all the more power to you mammalian sentimentalists!

What I do get exercised about is the environmental cost of meat, and yes, the disgusting way in which we raise it. But in the aggregate, as my bestie indi.ca tells me (kidding, I'm too lowly for his awareness) we've been pretty good at decimating forests and species and peoples with the renewable and non-polluting technologies of sail and horse and buggy. Plus guns. 

But maybe the weirdest thing about me is that I believe that physics matters to politics. Yup, I sure do. 

Our physics is premised on a kind of primordial objectivity; that things at the level of fundamental physics will be as they are regardless of what we might think or feel about. Sure, we all know that this bedrock has been unsettled somewhat. We tag the unsettling with names like Einstein and Schroedinger and Heisenberg and vaguely suppose that these incursions of subjectivity on reality only matter at the remove of microscopes or telescopes are extravagant mathematical abstraction.

But, I say, what if our very notion and our experience of time is not a property of the objective physical world? Whatever else we know or don't know, time marches forward with certainty. We can measure it to increments so small that our clocks can be accurate for thousands if not millions of years. What could possibly explain this vast conspiracy of the whole if not its objective physical reality?

Well, life is also objectively real. We carry around with us narrative genetic markers which were cobbled together as many eons ago as we can reasonably claim for all of creation (time becomes extravagantly relative as you approach beginning or end times like the big bang or the apocalypse (whatever that means). Immortality anyone? My makeup partakes literally of nearly all our living forebears (using the same extravagant rounding process).

I am not the culmination of this grand summation because of my conscious intelligence. What I might say instead is that I embody the grandest potential for love since the beginning of time. That right there is time's direction, defined by the direction of evolution, no matter what Stephen Jay Gould might have said about it. Random might not be random on such a grand scale.

Actually, it can't be random. There is life. I wonder why we anglo objectivist imperialists can't accept that life isn't rando except sometimes once a week in a patriarchal church?

Now potential for love is a scary scary thing to own. I myself have been so beaten down by trying that, in a process which might be likened to PTSD, I can't even pursue another close relationship. No wonder we conjur up what God wants of us, and sometimes even claim to hear his actual commands, if not His voice. Deciding on our own is that scary.

Once upon a time, I, like many of my acquaintance, thought that it would be nice to bring religion up to date. End the irrational atavistic claims which are so transparently for an earlier, unscientific, age. But now, in these particular global-seeming end times, I want to say that we should return our beliefs to their most primitive roots.

There is god. Is all. Not a God, not The God, not a named or unnamable god, and certainly not a personal god. But there is god and we know it and god is the cosmic mind-space which is only love, which is all that there is.

You can't really go more primally primitive than that. Paleo god. The godhead. The "Force" which makes random happenstance so often meaningful, make of it what we shall and will. 

And I think this fact must be incorporated into physics at the fundamental level. There is no reason why life has evolved without it.

And bizarrely and perversely perhaps, I think digital large language model artificial intelligence will  be part of what pushes us across that boundary back to belief. It will make obvious what humans are and aren't and will highlight the responsibilities we've been abdicating.

And it will highlight what we must inject back in to our political decidering. Not the angry emotion of people afraid to decide for themselves. But the compassionate moves toward regulating all the AI.

I won't repeat myself here, but in lots of places on this blog I have gone into some detail about the physics. Perhaps I'll even find a way to prove that LLMAI (large language model - digital - artificial intelligence) is homologous to corporate and political AI. Digital means, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson or My Fair Lady, a bot is just like a human. Just remove the emotion. Digital, by definition, can't jack in to cosmic mind.

I have long believed that the mind is built on language, and that written language has ushered in our wonderful epoch of science. But we express only hubris if and when we think that all can be comprehended. And then we carry on to rationalize horrific choices. And yes, the emotive mob (especially with guns) is terrifying. But the AI of non-decision (with more guns) is more terrifying still.

We abdicate our responsibilities as often in the Name of God as we do for greed or personal gain. When we think that we are nothing and can do nothing it is we who have forsaken god and not the other way around. Groupthink Christianity is far more dangerous than any AI you can imagine. A codpiece over rampant lust for orderliness. And we become as amoral as bacteria, who are largely beneficent nonetheless. A fascist order is a one-way dead-end street.

Evil is relative to our potential. Our potential for good is far greater than whatever Oppenheimer envisioned. But we have to get it together. How about we start with more and better regulation on the limits of corporate (internally fascist) AI? How about we keep our resolve to leave religion out of government? How about we get rid of guns altogether, especially in our sci-fi epics? How about we communicate with one another without algorithms to point the way? How about we re-socialize those parts of the economy with no elasticity to demand? (Infrastructure, water, power, internet, education, healthcare - you get the idea). Econ 101. Which also means to stop creating demand in excess of carrying capacity.

And we have to go cold turkey on petro power without waiting for the ultimate meltdown of bringing solar generation down to earth so that we can carry on as we are. Our current arrangements are not a model for any future imaginable or desirable. We have to be open to growth on a better model. Growth that leads to maturity, and not the growth of infantile oligarchs who can sculpt their perfect private worlds on the backs of servile sycophants. Not an objectified projection of unnatural technologies. Meaning not cut off from the godhead, stupid!

Baby steps. My inspiration is my granddaughter.