Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Just What is Real anyhow? Learning to Make Sense

As I learn to write, I have an awfully hard time finding the balance between working out thoughts for myself, and distilling something into readable prose. You might think that I'm incredibly clumsy about it - I certainly do - but it's really hard to let go of the things that haven't quite been worked out yet, in order to stick to a narrative that has completion.

Or is it the other way around? It's easier to "complete" things which have a shape apart from reality. Sometimes so-called "ideas" take off and dictate a narrative which becomes more compelling than what it's supposed to be about. It can be hard to hold onto some point, some direction for the writing.

Now I have New Yorker magazines - the paper version - strewn about to distract me, and I forget how interminable their analyses can be. You can't read on a laptop for too long, and I was happy to read about Scientology in the recent issue. It demonstrates yet again that narratives don't really have to be so much true - as in capable to sustain evidence gathering and refutation - as they have to be complete.

Scientology as a system is clearly nuts, but hey if it works for you, why dig that deep? Some of their surface "technologies" undoubtedly "work" for reasons most likely unrelated to the bizarre explanations behind them. But who, really, wants to know at that level where you can just trust that some expert has worked it out.

The system is complete, but you don't really have to complete your reading of it to make sense of it. In the case of Scientology, you just have to keep paying more money and getting closer to the inner inner sanctum of the Great Man's writings.

People should really read more Tibetan literature, you know, where peeling back the layers of the onion leaves you with no onion, but a great adventure on the way to that great awakening.

Last night I watched this cool movie, Catfish, which explores the creations we can make in our head from some scanty evidence gathered across the Internet. It's fun. It's in the vein of Exit Through the Gift Shop, or that lousy Joaquin Phoenix Hoax, where you have no way short of face-to-face actually to determine if you're being had or if something really interesting and exciting is going on. It explores the specific dangers of our human capacity to fill in blanks and fill out our own personal cartoons to something which might be real if fully understood.

The Catfish movie does the most interesting job, at least among these three films, I think, of tackling the problem in earnest. It exposes the trap of Internet technology for what it is. Following what seems to be genuine serendipity, you seem to find some solid ground right along with the film-makers about what really is real among the stuff we might concoct in our heads.

In the course of the filming, the film-makers track down the person who wants them to fall for their creation for whatever crazy or sane reason. That core reason can never be uncovered, but neither can any nefarious or self-serving motive in this case.

The subject of this documentary falls in love with an utterly fictitious female hottie made of purloined beauty shots and dialog and music. While the social networks - Facebook in particular - make this kind of fraud almost trivial to accomplish, the Internet also made it equally trivial to expose it before too much damage was wrought.

The plot started to unravel when the subject Googled a song which just sounded a little too good. as sent him by the fictitious "friend"  He found that it had been produced not by the beautiful woman with whom he'd started to fall in love (and who didn't actually exist) but by some actual and accomplished singer.

In the case of Scientology - or people in love with actually beautiful women - adherents don't seem inclined to look too deeply into something which is clearly working for them. Surely it just may be the case that the truth of the matter is never quite so important as its believability.

The processes of scientific investigation are mostly useful to true our collective believability matrix. Gradually, we all start to occupy the 'same page' about how stuff is really put together. If we took a careful look, we'd really have to agree that the premises of Scientology are plenty nutty, as is the likelihood that the character of a beauty is really true to the illusion of what it is you fall for.

But it also may be that having something to believe in, whether Jesus or the person built by virtue of internalizing a beguiling manner in refection of whatever everyone else is seeing, is less nutty than to have nothing other than the clingy belief that eventually we'll have all the answers. Skeptics among us seem to feel that in the meantime believing in anything at all is the nuttiest thing to do (read four times fast!).

I mean really, stop to think and the nuttiness of our existence at all has to hit you like a ton of bricks. Why not Thetans left over from a time when souls were incinerated to make more space on earth or whatever gibberish these Scientologists spout? It's laughable sure, but does it really make any more sense to suggest that some day some how, we'll have the real answer, documented and believable both.

Not everything about the comic historical record is likely to be retrievable by methods archaeological or instrumental.

I mean, why not Scientology in the face of the nuttiness to which Christianity seems (and the seeming is the important thing here) in thrall? It just may be that the creative fiction on which their "technology for going clear" is built provides a foundation for something actually more useful than believing in a personal savior. Just like antibiotics are more useful than witchdoctors. Even though the notion that all disease germs can be eradicated is itself a dangerous fiction.

Scientology almost certainly does work if you're an actor and need to learn how to drive your body the way you might drive a car. (Going "clear" in Scientology terms seems hard to distinguish from telling a really earnest lie wherein you, the liar, pretend to be a really really good person and where's the harm in that?) You learn to be detached from your actual emotions and you can really act with commitment, the way that Ronald Reagan did. And look how far he got, once he left the little stage and climbed up onto the Big One.

I guess for me the trouble with religions is that they expunge irony, and in this, at least according to the New Yorker report, the Scientologists are no different. But neither are many scientists. They earnestly do believe that all can ultimately be revealed by diligent and emotionally detached investigation. That consciousness - whether machine form or organic - will ultimately push everything out of the cosmos.

But you know, cosmically, it really is all a joke. It's as foolish to believe in ultimate answerability as it is to believe that humanity was plunked on earth a mere 5000 years ago.

Though hell, maybe we really were plunked here 5000 years ago, in at least the sense that that time-frame pretty much delimits the inception of our most powerful (and most masculinist) toolset, the written Word.

We now know that we cannot know apart from our emotional posture in relation to the world "outside" us. We know that reality is a mirror, at least in part, for what we bring to it. The way we act surely is a reflection of our own reflection reflected in the social norms and standards of our time. Imagine how different a Rubens subject would behave, see herself, and be poised in today's more neotonous world of slender beauty.

Such also is the world of physical reality. Even without difficult and scary notions for the really raw stuff of quantum reality, the macro reality of life on earth is clearly showing signs that we'd better get our act together, and, like, quick! What is it we really want to do with the reality - the Earth - we live on?

Among the reasons for our dangerous predations against the ground for our reality is the notion that there will be some rational realization at the end of all this progress which might compel us individually and collectively to behave in ways not quite so detrimental to our futures. As but one aspect of this stance, is the stark conflict between what we earnestly wish for our personal and very local comfort and pleasure, and what would be good for the planet and thereby for humanity as a whole.

Clearly, the planet and the rest of its species might prefer that we were not so damned effective and efficient at developing technologies to meet our needs (and not incidentally, to enhance our species' very local - in historic terms - profile for evolutionary success).  The planet would like us tribal, or maybe organized with more misery among the lower classes so that the really destructive technologies could be reserved for just a few regal prospects at the top. As it was and ever will be, world without end, Amen.

Religions and science are reasonably identical in promoting dreams for eternal repose as we struggle toward variously defined pinnacles. Yes, it's worrisome that the swamp at their base encroaches. But surely there will be something close to enlightenment as we approach those peaks.

Or, as I suggested the other day, it might just be that what has proven so successful in its natural evolution is not so much humanity, as it is a viral meme riding on humanity as host. It may be that what has really proven so successful is a kind of mechanical thinking, promoted by the written word.

The written word enables all these technologies for domination. Money renders our individual wants collectively.  Our collective pursuit of those things which money can both buy and make available is apparently limitless, until the basic resources run out.

We are already enslaved to machines, in other words, in the same way that we are enslaved to all those things which entrap our senses and divert us from the hard work of being human. Those machines got their start with language. Increasingly, we are in thrall to unchanging logic, and utter predictability. Life as in the Life Force is giving way to full descriptions and mechanical interconnections.

It seems that there is nothing that will or can come in the way of this evolutionary triumph. Well, nothing other than random chance. Something like an asteroid to destroy our ecosystem, or a bug to wipe out just our species. Or we could just keep on keeping on, and then an accident will be almost certain to wipe us out. Eventually, if you create enough complexity, failure is a virtual certainty.

It is our desire to be kings combined with our strange altruism about making the same pursuit available to as many people as possible which provides the exploding living pool on which machine consciousness has been riding now these couple of millennia.

OK, so that's disturbing. The written word as the tool of the devil, but what about Tibet? What about spiritual peoples who live to do no harm. What about the Shakers? Everything about us now seems bent on increasing the population of humans on the planet, which can serve the survival of our species only if it doesn't destroy the overall ecological niche (surely a misnomer in this usage) we evolved to fit.

And silly transhumanist notions of evolving beyond this deadly mob-species would require not enhancing our bodies and minds with machines, but rather stepping out altogether from the deadly machine-form which now already uses us as substrate for its far more successful "consciousness."

We would have to become more, not less, bio-logical. We would have to find new ways to survive apart from the machine. We would have to demonstrate superior consciousness of a sort which is ours and ours alone, where consciousness is just that thing which defines us as human and not some other animal.

It would have to be our desire and not our genetic capability to mate which would determine this Brave New Species. It would be this removal from the thrall of seeming physical perfection and earthly beauty. Individually, we would have to leave behind the attraction of mere beauty and combine our genes instead with those we might encounter by random chance, or random choice of words.

Just like we always have. Life is powered by irony. Machines are powered by entropy.

The End.

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