Wednesday, May 20, 2020

An Ontology of Covid-19

We know it's real, and we know that it probably jumped the bat-human divide, and we know that it's our own immunological response which kills us. We must construct narratives, and they must be but some approximation of true. Truth, in the abstract, is but the old Platonic match of perceived pattern to ideal form. We now must move beyond that.

Far from one single truth, there are as many narratives as there are people in the world, past and present, and imagined future too. We have now been required (oh, passive cosmos, be not taxed) to match our narratives across the globe; to true them. 

Now in retrospect, it feels as though COVID was inevitable, and plenty of people are named for unheeded warnings (What really does go on inside Bill Gate's massive houses? We know what goes on inside his head because he tells us that his brain is a CPU.) 

The pandemic also takes place beside a host of other anxieties of our age. The most relevant linkage among all of them might be absence of trust. We don't really agree about who we want in charge, and how the machinery of power might work if we did agree. This is nothing but the struggle for the right narrative to take us forward.

We are in the final throes of an absurd belief that it is possible to understand everything by way of the scientific method, and to therefore, by agency, make everything alright. For sure, that is as crazy an assumption as are the various ones about some personal God. It's not so hard to imagine the vacuity of a world of perfect understanding. These are the preoccupations of all philosophers down through the ages. If perfect understanding is the end, then we are already finished.

We are confused just now about the differences between happiness and pleasure, when in fact and in deed the two have little to do with one another. Sure the wealthy can enjoy pleasures beyond our imagining, though it is quite apparent that there is nothing of fundamental happiness there. Still, one can endure indefinitely in a state of pleasure. 

Happiness becomes but a distant dream in the throes of addiction, and it's never the right time to go sober.

We can all agree that there is no such thing as a happiness machine. Pleasure machines abound, of course, and it would be trivial to invent an un-happiness machine. There is no cure for the challenges that nature will always pose. 

Happiness may inhere in simple homeostasis, and it may be fleeting. That is a physical fact of physical life.

Me, I find my happiness in the deferred pleasure of after death. No, I don't mean that kind of literal eternity. I mean that my self never did end at my skin, and my mind has always been distributed in the world around me. If happiness is a function only of what you can accomplish before you die, then I'd say you've already pushed happiness off to eternity. You only want pleasure.

The virus doesn't listen to no stongman, it listen to a lady. This is a test of the emergency social agency system. The strongman ain't no use. He talk to hisself and to his bros. They gonna get sick too.

I was young when I babysat Michael Harrington's children (no relation!). He was a good friend of the artist whose children I took care of in return for room and board and a little closet bunk bed in a loft near Washington Square Park. I was introduced to the notion of an artist's loft, art that is challenging, and fine food and wine. It has been my lame attempt at humor to remark that Harrington was an aficionado of fine wine. As though that revealed a contradiction. 

Still, it's hard not to find it a tad ironic, but then irony be my God. George Carlin be my priest. Science knew irony when its workings gave us the Bomb so quickly, and still it has nothing to say about love. Well let me tell you that I am the genius of emotion, and that is likely because I have some handicap in that regard. Sometimes it takes a blind man or an innocent to point out the obvious.

Now Michael Harrington is resurrected all over again. There have always been two Americas from the very start with the Federalists and the anti-Federalists, the slave states and the free. It seems to be how we are built. But we have now moved beyond even 'truths that are self-evident,' and can't share even the bedrock under our feet. Even the New Yorker from New York can not be trusted, if you trust the New York Times.

I cannot be resigned to Trump again, and yet I must be. Diseases are never eradicated, though they may be displaced. Bedrock truth will always be beyond us. That is how the world spins. Trump is but the pustule on the Nation. Popping him will do nothing but gross us out. Love him and we might be immunized. That is really hard to do. You'd have to give up on narrative truth altogether.

My body is a colony. It has a story. My asshole is far from my mouth, and sometimes I just have to jump in the nearby shower when the toilet paper doesn't cut it, or I run out. I live in a sea of memes, and I can't even handle a good story ark [sic]. My curves are all flat. As though that told the story of the virus

I read William S Burroughs as a kid; his Naked Lunch. I had no idea from drugs. I just knew that it described my real world. I only recently learned that he was descended from the wealth of typewriters And now I learn of Iceberg Slim, by way of this Chinese humorist who doesn't know irony, and then back to Bratton, who seems to, but maybe doesn't. And so how could I know that Iceberg Slim articulated the seventies, my formative years.

He was a pimp, and we are all the pimp's whores when our world is so constricted that we need some boss to lord over us with threats so that we do, for our sustenance, what he wants us to, just because his world is somewhat larger. We are all of us wage-slaves and dependent on the water pipes the sewer pipes the pipe dreams of our betters. Better bettors, though they may be.

Why, oh why did I decide to spend so much of my life swimming in sea of Chinese words? It doubles the cosmos that I'm not competent for. This Chinese dude was a technician for the broadcast industry in Beijing and he liked to write. The English version is so much less interesting. He knows how to write fairy-tales, and so do all of our leaders. It's what we need and want to hear. He's my age, but much funnier, and surely easier to read.

They have an entire tab in the Kindle store on Chinese Amazon for the Three Body Problem. Don't they have any other writers? I mean he's good, but not THAT good. He's a nuclear engineer, fer chrissakes. Dharma Bums across the universe. 

Trust is what's required for social agency. Otherwise we have strongman agency, at a time when we can only grab for truth, and when we read only on the surface. 

Half of us neither understand not believe in genetic truths. The virus is defined by genes and pools of genes. Easy to deny. You can't even see them. But there you go!

Science, among other things, is the language of trust.That trust is also broken.

Half of us trust only in what we want to hear. We stop at The Word. And why is it so nearly always halfway always. Can't we write a better story? Our homeostasis is always so ready to explode, held in check by mere balanced anarchy, loosed upon the world. 

Red and Blue, the primary hues, purple and green the story machine.

And yet we use our smartphones, buy our goods on Amazon, and generally know that cities are full of glass and stainless steel and fully automated underground trains, and high speed internet that works, and still half of us believe in creationism. This is just weird! Or is it just Occam's razor? We will do whatever you tell us to, Iceberg Slim.

History has been plagued with plagues, but this is the first time we really know what a virus is. That doesn't seem to have made a difference. Our behaviors haven't changed. Has science jumped the shark now too, Fonzarelli? 

Well, why is there news now about those nasty Chinese trying to steal our valuable intellectual property about vaccines? Shouldn't that be public domain? Do we really want someone to make money by fighting the virus? How can we even think in those kinds of incentives?

The good news and the bad news both is that we do share beliefs. In action, we believe in technology as what brings scientific understanding down to earth. In words, some of us believe in whatever the strong man has to say. But do we really think our high tech guns and shooter games are made by God? Ah, no, those get to be mankind's inventions. Right.

An accident or a rogue player might loose the nukes, and an earthquake could hit at any time - not only along the San Andreas, but farther north where the tsunami might be a lot worse, or inland. 

There are plenty of things we haven't prepared for, but we don't even really believe in agency at the social level. We believe in an invisible hand of capitalism, and we believe in some mystic crowd wisdom for democracy. But undergirding these is a culture of zero-sum gaming, and the politics of adversity borrowed from the adversarial justice we practice in the courtroom.

This all goes on behind the new overlays to our living, which have become so natural. The Stack, as Bratton would call them. The overlays are the overlords at least as much as the virus is. We believe (in?) the virus because we know what it can do. The Stack is as remote as God. We deny what it is doing.

We don't even know whether to thank the fates that so much of our lives had already moved online so that we could isolate without quite being cut off, or to curse them for shrinking the globe so much that we are truly all in the same boat now. Whatever the case, our response seems not much different from that during the flu that ended the First World War, or even the Plague that Daniel Defoe wrote about.

But surely this much is true: we are now one world and we can see what is happening all over. Except that the flood of imagery means we see nearly nothing other from what we want to see. That's how the media makes its messaging now. Is there even the remotest possibility to make sense through all the noise?

I wonder how we can remain so much as we were, given how fundamental we thought the changes have been. 

What is it that hasn't changed? What are we stuck on?

Now that we trade selfies globally, try to emulate the same superstars in looks, money, personality or whatever, or in the other direction to create our most authentic selfie self? What hasn't changed?

We have global time automatically adjusted for any relativistic warpage, linked to the multi-national global positional satellite orbiters. We are about to send a new generation of privatized astronauts out in the direction of those satellites. What is it that hasn't changed, I ask!? 

Well, death for one.

But really, what is a social animal? Do we, collectively, resemble more a beehive? A termite nest? A school of fish. A swarm of bird flu? The best antiseptic for this plague would be a wholesale wiping clean of those in power in these United States. Start with the Republicans, please! And so the question is, how did they get there? Why aren't the proper people in charge? Where are they hiding?

Another thing that clearly hasn't changed is that we believe that each of us individually is special. That's a nice thing too, like our personal God, Lord Jesus, wants us to know. And yet our new notions of how special we are seem highly mediated by our, well, media. Instead of a president, we have a narcissist in chief. I mean, he does channel us as we are, doesn't he?

We are glued to our screens just like Plato's denizens in the cave. So, we haven''t changed at all? We remain at a remove from reality, in our wombs with a view. Now we're stocking our caves with guns. Is this our return to frontier days?  Is there no other story to tell?

The trouble really is that we never quite stopped believing in Plato. We think we have ideas in our heads. We think only humans have them. And we think creativity is ours alone, too. Generating ideas is like getting something from nothing, as though there were no interactions with our media ahead of time. We don't believe in an uncarved block that feeds back as we work on it. We believe in spontaneous generation inside our empty heads. We don't even have a germ theory for consciousness. 

The screens we have are now the real screens - the Dao that can be spoken is the eternal Dao - and they've brought into being what we only thought before. There must be some screen inside our head. We still think that God is out there if only we get the pixels in alignment. Surely they will show us the ideal world as it was meant to be!

I have no license to think, nor certainly to write. I am a handyman. I have fixed some very big and complex things, and many of them remain fixed, though some were beyond my simple means to preserve. A school, a massive distributed computer network, houses, parts of houses, a boat, cars and cycles. I am emotionally attached to my tools, and when I sharpen them, I am attached to the sharpeners. It is like a caress. It makes me happy.

Now, I've given most of them away. I make do.

I maintain that absent belief in God, there is no sense of irony. I mean this in the most ironic way! I've proven this to my own satisfaction by asking an expert in China, where the plague was caused by a routine pun, which got turned into food as medicine. The bat, after all, is an auspicious "sign" in so many ways in Chinese, so why wouldn't they eat it? They have no sense of irony. They only laugh at puns. 

The selfie stick was invented in China, or at least found mass appeal there. The irony is that so was the software which will transform your selfie into something much closer to the ideal look for a black-haired Chinese lass with almond eyes. The miracle is that it will still be recognized as you. Just a better, more ideal, you. Beats makeup!

The other becomes us!

I hold in my hand now the most wonderful tool of all. After my original iPhone 6 - which had as many lives as a cat - started taking me more time waiting than finding, I bought the new one. It's not so much the piece of jewelry the 6 was, but it has the same feeling in my hand. I bought a case as cheap insurance, and it wasn't perfect. I bought another and endured the wait for the Amazon delivery man, wondering if they would go on strike first. Just like Christmas, the new one was a disappointment. I need it to charge wirelessly, to stick to the magnet in my car, and to not add weight. I know I'm asking a lot. But I finally got it!

As if life were going back to normal. As if I even want it to.

I was disappointed that the new case from Canada was also made in China. I was only disappointed because I might have been overcharged. As though I wasn't already overcharged by Apple. 

One is black and military style. It feels confidence-inspiring, It was cheap - no bones about China! But it's magnetic disk interferes with the wireless charging The other feels almost slippery, but it works with the wireless. But when I plug in my cable so that I can stream to a bigger screen, its flaw is revealed. The video plug won't make it through the case.

No problem. I like to fix things right? I shaved the cable plug ever so slightly, and here I am having formed a new cathexis - that magical capitalistic transference of my self onto some object. I've had that so powerfully with motorcycles, bicycles, cars, boats, houses, and most of all with my tools. I look at them and feel warm in the recognition. And still, I've given them all away, or have allowed them to transmogrify. My self is in the process of contraction. Death be not proud.

Too bad the road is closed to my tiny house.

My old iPhone was drowned and replaced by one identical. Then it was traded for my daughter's, which had more memory. New battery, then full stop. Now I have an entirely new one, but it feels the same. Like the USS Constitution, which is the iconic Ship of Theseus, I don't want it to change. I was among the first to use a smartphone, and I would have kept my first one if it would have carried the burden. It was very cleverly designed - nothing like it since! It had a keyboard and a stylus!

I don't like the world of digital reality. I feel it accelerating our demise as a civilization. I shall continue to try to find the good in it. Plato doesn't have to be all wrong. Philosophy is not a zero-sum game.

The most exciting book that I'm reading just now is called The Spread Mind, which exposes the fallacy of our seemingly ingrained belief that we have a mental life apart from the life we experience as physical bodies out and about in the world. I find the thesis utterly convincing, while strangely hidebound in certain ways. The author, with whom I've communicated a bit, seems dogmatically bound to a kind of physical causality which is manifestly not true. 

I agree with him that cons-truing time or temperature as the metric for real destroys the real experience we have of time and temperature. Sure, we like to true our experience against the shared standard, but we know that there is also a deviant 'subjective' time which feels very different from the scientific 'true.' Indeed, meteorologists have had to invent the 'feels like' temperature to guide us about going outside. That takes into account things like wind and relative humidity, though it still replaces what we feel with a new external standard for what's real.

The thing is that Riccardo Manzotti complains about scientists with instruments getting in the way of our 'real' at the same time that he wants to do away with subjective experience altogether. I mean, I just simply find that ironic. Mainly because he won't entertain my modification of his theory. He's acting like the scientific authorities that he himself complains about, who would rob us of our authentic experience. 

But there is no subjective experience. Our experience is, literally, one with the objects of our perceptual experience. He and I agree about that.

Where I start parting company with Manzotti is when he makes the claim that it is our experience which defines the 'real' time. We experience change and we are embedded in a physical causal universe and therefore we experience the flow of time. 

I want to say first off that it is my emotions which first determine my sense of lived time, and second that my emotions are as much out there in the world as are my physical, perceptual, experiences are. I asked Riccardo if he had come across the work of Mark Solms, who locates consciousness in the affective regions of the brain stem. I think that question is what ended the communication, though I can't be sure. I probably just sounded nuts. By definition, I always do! No, I'm not nuts. I just sound nuts because I'm not writing or talking like everyone else. And still I feel like I'm in good company.

According to Solms, emotion is the inception of agency. The survival value of acting as near instantly as possible in the face of recognized danger is patently obvious to me. That means acting thoughtlessly. Another way to put it is that we must act automatically, in almost the way that we breathe. We don't have that much room in our conscious mind, and so we use the shorthand of 'stored' memories of similar experiences, and match them up to successful actions. The relationship is felt, emotively. That's what emotion means, in my vocabulary.

Riccardo seems afraid of reifying Platonic ideals, and therefore dances around the existence of a lion in our minds which might help us to deal with the one just now in front of us. I don't see the need for any ideal form of a lion. I only see the need for the shorthand of generalization, which must have happened in the animal realm long before and apart from human consciousness. The brain must engage in a game of pattern matching, which would help it to put away perceptions according to category. Else what would a mind be for? What would be its survival value?

That's what pattern recognition does, and that's what narrative is. It's how we get by. The brain trues the world by fantastic approximation of reality. There is no truth, and numerical control is useless for lived life, no matter how wonderfully it might enhance our perception.

I know that I can find my memories in my lived environment, and especially in those things I made and in my tools. Traditional proponents of neurologically-based consciousness would take issue with my location of memory in things outside me, but Manzotti would not. If our senses are stopped, we hallucinate. Of course I must exist in and with some world apart from me.

As I drift through the landscape, it's pretty clear what's present and what's immediately past. The past quickly merges with the imagined future for vagueness, and then sometimes there's an emotive charge and you might have some enduring image. It's not hard to conceptualize memory as just this preservation from the flow past 'present' into the less urgent past (and future). I see no need to think of memories somehow 'contained' in or by the brain, and have an easier time now just to imagine actual direct perception (no internal images) and a sort of quick falling off of the aftereffects due to variable attenuation, punctuated by a moderate number of "permanentized" impressions kept running in a nearly endless loop.

This strikes me as the great evolutionary value of a complex brain; first, the ability of the organism to project a wise and complex course of action, and second with the outering of words, to allow engagement with other organisms for the purpose of learning, social organizing, and long-range planning. Written words may be memorable in the same way landscapes are.

I look at the world and I find things to be familiar. I find familiar things. That is what generalization means in this context. If you have a proper name, and I know you, then there is only one of you. If you are a type, well then I generalize. This happened long before naming. Reptiles do it. Some things they bite, and some they run away from. Some they screw. (I don't know much about reptiles, but I'm still pretty confident to this extent)

Our sense of what is present in what Manzotti calls the spread NOW, is those perceptual objects that we can interact with. I would go further and locate the now among those perceptual objects on which we can act. It is our ability to act which informs our sense of time, and not just our ability to interact as thoughtless percepts. He seems to want the chicken/egg question about agency to be left open, while I want to preserve some of my own.

It doesn't seem a stretch to locate pleasure in homeostatic motion, and perhaps to locate happiness in a sense of agency about such motion. To be in control and to be surrounded by loved ones does seem to constitute happiness. Well, that plus being able to sit around a mesmerizing fire, sipping wine, perhaps, and smoking s cigar.

In just the sense that my future is constrained, I can know the future in a way similar to how I can know the past. I project onto it a whole host of generalizations to locate where my degrees of freedom lie. If I'm in a building and I have to get out, I'll have to go through the door, unless the catastrophe which meant my exit opens up a wall. If it does and if it's safe I'll take it!

This is no different from the 'reverse' causation of the double slit experiment in particle physics. I disagree with Riccardo Manzotti that time is not a physical dimension like all the others. All of our behaviors are conditioned by realistically available futures. Without agency, evolution goes nowhere and is like the world Riccardo imagines where time stands still. He is right that there would then be nothing; that such a state is not even conceivable. 

For photons, the double slit represents a timeless relation. Manzotti denies relations as real. He's wrong about that. I think it's also wrong to consider quantum entanglement to be about information. It's really about identity. The scale of separation in quantum entanglement just indicates something about the perceptual object. Information relates to perceptual relations between objects.

In my quirky cosmos, emotional relations are less about information and more about timeless matching as a felt prognostication.

Manzotti seems to miss that boundaries between objects are always fractal. Causation becomes predictable only when objects are rather large in time and space. At the scale of our perception without the enhancement of numerically calibrated instruments, predictions are highly reliable. We feel safe much of the time, even while at the wheel of an automobile hurtling along the highway.

But even billiard balls are subject to the butterfly effect, beyond a certain trajectory. Physically linked levers are subject only to accident, or wear and tear for their reliability. Only a fool would push too hard on a rusty lever. Only a fool would play dice with life. But lived life is reliably predictable up to a point.

On the scale of social agency, meshed time and temperature seem to work. If we could but trust them, Google and Apple could end this pandemic almost instantly, provided that usage of their devices saturates our population to the level of herd immunity, which it probably does. And provided that enough people who have such devices would decide to do the right thing. 

This is what my good friend Benjamin H. Bratton would advocate. He won't correspond with me either. I gotta say it baffles me when the stars diss their most enthusiastic fans. It must be that just like Trump, you can't really disagree with them very much. Maybe being a star goes to your head somehow.

Well, who really would want to be in any position of influence in this fucked up world? Trump, that's who, and if we're honest with ourselves, he's only there because we sure as hell don't want the job. We're the ones asleep at the switch here, waiting for our lovely white lives to come back.

OK, here's the real ontology of COVID-19. The virus is money. If you have it, you don't need agency. You can buy your pleasure, even if you can't buy your happiness. The viral qualities of money were never evident before information technology. Once upon a time, money was used to exchange value, in much the way that the brain delays ("stores") perceptions. 

Our mythical narratives would have us believe that there is some relation to the value of a person according to how much money they might amass. Trump certainly believes that (His world is winners and losers - in that we agree. We disagree about the moral valence of being a winner in his terms). That's what the perverted version of  'work ethic' means. By "perverted," I just simply mean when we assert absence of work-ethic where racism is at work. Our economy has become a lottery, and young white males like it that way.

We have to find ways to trust our institutions again, we have to find ways to trust our neighbors (defined by Žižek as those who smell [bad]) and we have to find ways to trust even our enemies. If they demonstrate they can drive a bus and have self-interest in keeping the bus on the road, then we should let them drive the bus. China has demonstrated that it can drive the bus of Covid-19, and we should learn from them rather than to vilify them.

I mean please, this is a pretty mild catastrophe that nature has tossed us. It's a slow pitch, and we should figure out what to do. For trivial starters, how about a $2K universal basic monthly income for the duration. Yay Democrats! 

And if we don't want to institute universal healthcare (which would be so much cheaper than to keep the economy closed because of the chaotic ways that poor people have to access healthcare) we could at least mandate that nobody gets charged (I'm talking money, but you can leave the pun in if you will) in any way for Covid-related testing and illness. 

Ditto immigrants whether with or without papers. Do we really want people hiding from the law now instead of feeling protected by it? Do we want people ducking exposure (more puns) because they need to go to work? Are we nuts? The illegals have always been essential workers. What choice do they have? What choice do we have?

So yes, I don't see Covid-19 as some external menace. I see it as yet another natural challenge in the non-zero-sum game of evolution for our planet. These 'emergencies' will continue to escalate until we get a clue. That's just how the game works. 

Prayer won't help, and science won't help either so long as it's subject to the virus of money. How much trust should we have in science now that funding for research is motivated by profit? How much confidence should we have that the price is right when Wall Street money is deployed to destroy an industry in order to monopolize the business and ultimately set the price however they want. 

Walmart is established on that crime, as are, obviously, Uber, or Doordash. Instead of the public spending money on research that we really need, we now practice sugar daddy science.

Money wasn't viral before the Internet. Who even remembers that now? When big pharma couldn't advertise and neither did lawyers. Being able to afford shelter and rent with whatever lousy job you wanted to do was better than a universal basic income. I've never been happier than I was as a minimum wage bike mechanic! I had a very nice penthouse apartment, furnished with comfy things of my own making!

I do believe that we are at the end of Science as a way to know or to control our lived environment. I don't believe in social agency on the China model, and I've lost my faith in social agency on the model of the United States. But I still recognize the promise at our inception.

I think it's time to reinvent ourselves all over again. This will surely mean getting away from our various screens and engaging with the real real again, not the fake real of represented reality. As Manzotti says (I know, that's even more rude than to use his first name), we cannot have experience of a representation. We experience only the screen. Information defines only the interaction between our bodies and some distant object. It can't inform our minds. And yet we still act on it. 

Get me an alarm on my phone (for proximity to proximity to COVID-19 infection) and I will act. But not until you do too. I'm ready to come out and play. Covid-19 is a natural goad to social agency. We should thank the gods for it. Without it we would already be back to normal, which has long been the most dangerous way to be. Of course that's self-serving of me!

Covid-19 is pure information. It isn't even alive. Viruses have always been with us. They fuck with the plans. There is no plan for our minds, unless and until we start acting like robots. Which we did at about the same time that the robots started acting like people.

It's time to open our eyes and wake up. Hello World! I've been asleep at the switch. Sorry! Knowledge doesn't inhere in information (I love what you can do to mangle English!). Our brains don't store information. Our brains mediate familiarity and agency, and by means of consciousness, to promote the survival of our selfish genes. 

And once we had a written language to turn our words into durable objects for perception, we could think (Jaynes was almost correct). And once we could think we could share our thoughts. And once we started to share our thoughts and science took off, we started up an hyperbolic curve which can never be flattened. 

That sort of narrative is very exciting, but it doesn't end well.

We have to accept that there are limits to what we can know. These are limits in principle and not only practical limits. Our interaction with the cosmos is not only perceptual. It is conceptual and driven by emotion. This things are real and out in the world just the way that percepts are.

In order to go back to living, we have to let go of certain fantasies. We have to be in touch with the world as it actually is and not how we wish it were. There is no ideal world, no utopia, no final understanding. There is only growth and decay, and I am rooting for growth to the whole. Personal decay is always a done deal.

OK, so I have to get back to work. I sure do wish that I had ever learned to write a story. But I do know that if we cure the money virus, all the other ones will fall into line.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Notes on Reading The Spread Mind, by Riccardo Manzotti

Subtitled, "Why Consciousness and the World are One," this book is a masterful reworking of theories of consciousness. Unfortunately, I'm not sure it really touches on what consciousness is, though it certainly does help to make clear what it's not.

I find the book truly exciting. There is a genuine breakthrough here. Manzotti's own analogy to the move from spontaneous generation to understanding seeds and germination is apt. We truly have been laboring in a world of pure fantasy when it comes to understanding the workings of mind in matter.

For me, in just the way that Richard Dawkins exposes the wonder in the facts of evolution (to me much more wonderful than to suppose that some god just made things as they are!), Mazotti exposes the facts of consciousness as both far more wonderful and far simpler (like evolution to explain complexity) than trying to map the brain as though it were some ultra complex computer for which we don't have a plan. I believe that he links the brain more directly to the sensory organs, and by doing that also does away with the need for any kind of complex internal representation 'inside' our heads, of the world as it is 'outside.'

Even though it makes sense in evolutionary terms for us to locate ourselves in 'the center of gravity' of our perceptions, where our most consequential organ resides behind that famous Italian 'testa dura,' Manzotti properly locates our mind as distributed among those things that we perceive. He goes even further to say that we are our perceptions. I differ with him in only subtle ways. 

As always, I expect no readers, and am really just selfishly posting my notes in case I wish to refer to them myself. I hardly ever do refer to my own notes, but my second and more important reason to do this is that writing is a kind of thinking out loud on steroids. I am firmly in the camp - as is, apparently, Manzotti - that I don't know what I think until I hear myself say it (or as he puts it, until I see it, which is apparently the more proper attribution).

I wrote to him after writing to Tim Parks, and both were kind enough to respond to me. Parks really just handed me off to Mazotti, noting that he had, himself, moved on from Spread Mind. And predictably (to me) Manzotti gave me a cursory and apparently peremptory response that he doesn't know much about emotion. 

I believe that I can offer Manzotti both an enhancement to his approach, and a broader generalization. I ask for nothing in return. I'm not looking for an endorsement. I'm looking for better understanding of how things work. 

So perhaps I should start with what generalization means in this context. I've just re-read Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, wherein he effectively lays out a theory of replicators. His minimal unit for the gene - heuristically and not structurally so designated - is that segment of "code" which persists as a unit through a variety of "robot" hosts which exhibit ever-elaborating behaviors. He does not describe a zero-sum game of winners and losers, but rather a living world of symbionts and parasites and multi-species colonies such as humans, which exist in an environment which co-evolves along with the replicators. Such is life.

Dawkins and Manzotti are both distinguished for me by having given a nod to Julian Jaynes' thesis as laid out in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. (Incidentally, I believe Jaynes is wrong about Consciousness, as I will try to show below, but he may have been correct in a lot of other ways.)

There are two things which are hard for me to miss. The first is the similarity between Dawkins' elemental gene and Manzotti's object of perception. The second is the similarity between genes so defined, and memes in language which may also persist in remarkable fashion.  I have always been heartened by archaeological excavations inside China which validate the integrity of their classic texts down through the ages. 

There may be some confusion here about what information can mean with regard to genes, which seem to encode it. Dawkins seems to think they do, in the sense of an ontogenetic plan. 

Manzotti seems to think that information is simply what passes between objects in the perceptual act which brings each object into being reciprocally. He doesn't think that information is what gets stored in our brains, say. The perceptions are stored (postponed) directly.

Well, genetic "information" is only useful in some certain environmental context, so that may be a distinction without a difference, but I do think that genes exist as objects, if not as objects we can perceive very directly (without theory and instrumentation). In some sense they mediate between a latent object and the environment. 

The other important bit of my recent reading has been Mark Solms' on how consciousness is seated in the brainstem - the affective centers - which lies prior to and beneath our otherwise bicameral cortical brain. 

Solms writes together with a physicist about something like the economy of the mind. The problem is survival, and the organism must respond quickly to threats and opportunities. No time for thinking really, and so emotion moves to the fore as an efficient means to sort among subconscious cognitions to choose a good path into the future. Emotion here means a felt sense of toward and away from danger and homeostasis. 

That felt sense - affect - requires two brain functions, neither of which require bicamerality, broken down or otherwise. The first is perception, as described by Manzotti. Perception operates in what Manzotti describes as an expansive "now" where percepts may be distributed in time and space. Crucially, for me, he denies the existence of  'relations' among things/percepts in his dogmatically causal universe. 

In place of relations, he talks about information as that which crosses the divide between realized things. I believe his purpose here is to demolish any notion that the brain is in any sense analogous to an information storage and retrieval device.

For me, of course, relation is a real object 'out there,' just as percepts are. Here's why: The second quality of mind, required for good choices, is generalization. A conscious mind's primary responsibility is to match perception in the NOW to generalized past perception, in order to make a prediction according to generalized patterns of what has happened in the past, depending on choices previously made in the similar or general situation, or accidents befallen. These generalizations and memories/delayed perceptions must be on the subject's mind.

It is the project of both Manzotti and myself to disassemble mind as some interior process apart from objective reality, and to move beyond subject/object dualism.

Again, I make the physicist's argument for economy. It is simply inefficient and therefore ineffective for the brain to have to recall all experience. In essence, you've seen one tiger and you've seen them all. That's what re-cognition means. What gets "stored" are not the perceptions themselves, but rather the generalizations among perceptions, as a kind of efficient shorthand, with specific instances highlighted for more prominent recall by their emotive valence: That time the tiger had me by the foot.

Like Manzotti, I don't imagine a storage device. Instead, I imagine a whizzing mesh of bejillions of neurons repeating the experience of those perceptions which compose us as unique individuals, over and over again for so long as is economically required. 

So let me lay out what I think a little bit further. First, consciousness occurs at the inception of likely the most primitive brain - probably in reptiles. I'm far too much of a generalist myself to have anything terribly specific to say here (or anywhere) so I beg your indulgence, gentle Reader. Consciousness is just simply defined as that interplay among past experience, future projection, generalized perception, and efficient emotive choice. 

There may be two kinds of feelings, but feelings they are nonetheless. Colin Turbayne's The Myth of Metaphor has been a very useful book for me in this regard. So I distinguish between perceptual feelings - sensations - and affective feelings, which are felt more directly as they engage things already present to mind in the nexus of the NOW between past and future. 

And so of course I think relations are real, even though these exist only in mind. But the mind, remember, is distributed among all those actual things that we have perceived across the unique trajectories of our lives. So 'in the mind' becomes a misleading phrase. Perhaps ‘on the mind’ is better, but it's easy to see how one might mistakenly induce Platonic forms from generalization as a basic mental process. It seems as though there might be an actual idealized tiger, just as it seems as though there must be some soul as motivator for the gene-hosting robot. Both of these notions are very basic and fundamental errors. 

These errors derive from written language, which formed the sort of "consciousness" Jaynes was actually writing about. 

Clearly, in Jaynesean terms, much of humanity remains bicameral. They may be able to read, but not so much to think. (I don't think that I have the power to move on to what thinking might be, but I do believe that it has to do with the written language, which becomes a defining feature for humanity). 

Bicameral minds are the believers in some sacred text. Some single Bible. Such things stop thought, as they are meant to do. What is significant is that what they believe in is The Word. Oh my!

Manzotti, as far as I can tell, is a believer in the sacred text of Materialism, the false God of Science. I have to say that while I am a pure materialist as far as it can take me, I hardly believe that it will take me to the ends of the cosmos. 

There is nobody quite so dogmatic as a beginning grad student of physics. Their professors have generally learned to be more open-minded. I am frankly mystified by Manzotti's brand of materialism. He trips over this toes trying to stick to it. That hardly feels necessary.

Given that I think relations do exist (are real), then I must regard conception, as counterpoint to perception, to be real as well. A concept is a felt relation among objects held largely static (in suspension) by the mind. Just as visual perception requires that the eyes are moving, I don't think that there is any such thing as static anything, conceptual or perceptual. But I do think it makes an accurate generalization to call conception the relation among otherwise unconnected - perceptually - percepts. E-motion is still motion, after all. Wanting and needing relate in some temporal sense.

So another quibble that I have with Mazotti is that he seems to believe that time is not just the fourth dimension as I believe it to be, but that time is ever going cosmically forward, and what we perceive - what composes our minds - is change. 

He deconstructs time in the same way he deconstructs temperature. We have been misled by scientific authorities (experts, priests, whatever) into believing that their metric time and temperature is more real than our experiences of either. But I am finding Manzotti now to be putting himself into the spot of the expert, in the way of my very real felt experiences.

I don't believe that time has a direction. I do believe that life does, as described by Dawkins, and that this is what is meant by time's arrow. Survival means making decisions into the future based on experiences in the past. No agency, no time. 

We can't step out of time., of course. Or can we? By my read, all that is needed for thought is the strange collection of grasping hands with opposable thumbs, recognizable individual faces, a musical voice box, and the tools we make and use. Most notably, those tools now include both syluses and keyboards. In a way - a very mild way for sure - thinking can take us out of time. While the little but massively important decisions are made pre-consciously, emotively, and often automatically; the big decisions, like buying a car, require lots more conscious back and forth.

In Manzotti's purely perceptual cause and effect world, if time were to stop there would be nothing. To me, that is no different from saying that if time as a dimension did not exist, there would be no life. Three dimensions are plenty for systems which never evolve. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. Big Bang be not proud.

I am fairly well convinced that Mazotti is correct as far as he goes. As do I, he wishes to pull the rug out from under the Platonic world, where mind is apart from matter and somehow uniquely capable to apprehend those ideal forms which are supposed to undergird the messy phenomenal world.

Interestingly, for Plato, and for all of science which follows after him, the ideal world - the world of ideas - is both out there and more "Real" than the world that we perceive. Manzotti and I turn that on its head. If ideas exist, they are sure "out there" and not in our head, but in a special way. They are not reifications of something that is in our head. They are, instead, generalizations which enable us to link multiple perceptions as being of a category. We need to know a wolf when we see one. That's what evolution means.

Circles and squares and lines and faces are abstractions from the real which are useful, and not only to humans.

I don't buy Platonism, but I go further than Manzotti by locating emotion also in the world and not in the mind. But I'm not so ready as he seems to be to simply dispose of emotion as just a complex case of material phenomenon. I'm also not so ready as he is to dispose of agency as something like an illusion.

As I have done, he takes as persuasive the evidence that we make decisions before we take conscious ownership of them. And so he places agency in the external causal realm as well as something that we can only think we do ourselves, but which is, rather, done for us, by the complex of  'out-there' reality which each of our bodies uniquely composes.

First causes are apparently lost deep in the causal web which generates what we perceive as ourselves. Nevermind how this obviates chaos theory and quantum physics, it just seems like a lazy way to dispose of agency. Agency is, after all, something that we perceive directly, just as we do our consciousness.

Unlike Manzotti, and probably unlike most others, I don't consider that time is a cosmically set direction. This is evident at the level of particle physics where, by many interpretations, 'particles' must move back in time in order to make sense of certain results.

My nuance is that time - which crucially here, is the root of causality - is more a conspiracy of first, lived life, and second, most - but not all - of material reality. My distinction does no harm to ordinary causal principles, but it is an important distinction, I believe.

Not only theoretically, but actually, agency disrupts ordinary causality. While it feels like an act of  mind apart from matter, I would say that agency is more mind as part of matter. Mind is, for me, a part of the cosmos out there.

I'm not trying to explain away random, but then again I sort-of am. I would define agency as first the matching of concept with percept (the pattern recognition game) and second the emotive selection of a course of action depending mostly on the match.

This is a chicken/egg problem, and I don't care which comes first between conception and perception.  I only know that agency precedes consciousness in some sense, while consciousness is that which admits of conceptual formation. So consciousness must also be abroad in the world and not (only) in our heads.

But how could this work, and what difference would it make? Well, I'm defining 'concepts' as 'static' slices of dynamic reality, much as Manzotti defines his apple.  I'm saying further that while the cosmos as we know it is fully dynamic, as are our brains and certainly our perceptions, the cosmos can't and couldn't exist apart from conceptual reality.

Of course this all becomes linguistically silly as I am forced to say that the cosmos can't be conceived without conception. But my claim is that this formulation is no more crazed than linguistically possible but meaningless statements about 'God is love' or 'the meaning of life.'

In any case, Manzotti seems to want to have his cake and eat it. First he insists that each slice in time of his iconic apple is a separate perceptual apple. He explicitly states that the apple is not some sort of four-dimensional 'worm.'

But then later on he wants to define constructed reality as 'objects,' such as constellations which are often made of stars sometimes many light years apart from one another. Or pieces of music which are objectified only over time.

Of course he is right that these are all perceptual experiences, and I agree with him that mind exists outside of body in the objects of our perception across time. But when I identify my friends as unitary assemblages, I am surely doing something which is at least analogous to what Plato did with his 'ideas' and cave-bound movie screen. I am doing that as an extension of my survival moves. 

The key difference is ontological; regarding which is the real and which the illusion. The idealization of an object which I am describing is simply an abstraction from the raw stuff of perception. It is the most familiar sort of mental move, and one clearly essential for our evolutionary devolution into consciousness.

All animals must be able accurately to identify predators, if the selfish genes contained in their assemblages are to survive. It won't do any good if one has to identify each and every threat anew. So even the most primitive animal mind must form a generalized wolf in order to respond to the actual one in front of it.

Agency then is just this matching between object and form. Survival depends on it, and conscious mind has been nature's most effective preservative for those successfully selfish genes which have made it through the eons.

What Manzotti seems to have trouble doing is to locate conceptions outside the mind, and so he tosses out the baby with the bathwater, I would say. But it is the very act of perceiving a constellation which is conception. Constellations are reassuringly stable; almost Platonically stable, or ideal. No wonder most every persistent civilization has wanted to bring such stability down to earth! They've done it by religion or its ilk (Taoism nor Confucianism are religions in the normal sense of that term, but they do it too). Now we try to do it by science. 

I am appreciative that Manzotti correctly posits that the photons which impinge on our eyes from stars some multitude of light-years distant have 'themselves' experienced/perceived no passage of time at all. The stars are thus literally present in some sense of simultaneity, which is itself, necessarily, a relative term.

I will continue to try to work this out (for you!) but I find it very complicated. It is my claim that emotions are both reciprocal and simultaneous in a radical usage of those terms. This distinguishes emotion from perception which entails forceful impingement by way of motion. Of course the stars are eons distant, but it is my claim that all of evolution is present in the moment of NOW. It is my claim that there is a direction to evolution if not to time, and that direction may be described as Love. Pure and simple. OK fine, so maybe God is Love. Who am I to say?

So when I notice Bill Gates striving to do good for the world while simultaneously buying ever bigger houses and perhaps even maga-yachts, I have to wonder: What in the world does one do inside such things? To me, that question is far more theoretical than the one about what goes on inside the mind. Bill Gates apparently thinks his brain is a CPU. OK, so whatever he does inside his massive many houses, I don't care. I'm glad he still thinks more clearly than our zero-sum politicans do.

I don't care and couldn't care less, but now that's a problem for me. I don't want to be noticed. I have absolutely zero desire to be present for anyone other than those who love me. I would otherwise like to disappear into the background.

And yet let's just say that there's a non-zero chance that I have something important to say. Then I would have to announce myself, as it were. I have been spending nearly my entire life trying to find someone who has already figured this stuff out. It feels like a hot potato to me.

You and I both know that the world is in a crazy place now. We are overrunning the planet and the coronavirus is but the most gentle possible wake-up call. And still we won't heed it. We don't seem to have any way to assess what's going on with digital reality, even while our minds are warped by selfy moving images of ourselves right down to our first moments on the planet.

And here now is a theoretical framework for understanding what is going on, and we can't pay attention for long enough beneath all the Trump-eting and streaming of a sort which titillates our, what, minds? Is mind even left anymore?

So this is how we will re-assimilate to the stew of creation? We will simply dissolve because we could never figure what to do with consciousness except to amuse ourselves to death? To play host to the virus of money? To allow robotic AI to take us over?

Really the most powerful thing about Manzotti's theory is that it utterly dismantles any notion that the brain is identical to the mind. The mind is now a distributed quality, and the body is an experiencing machine, if you will, except that here the term machine is entirely inappropriate now. That usage could only make sense if you thought that the eyes truly were the portal into some self inside his skin; some self which has a complex brain where images and memories and conceptual breakthroughs are stored and might be released at any moment.

In fact, the brain becomes more like an antenna, though a very elaborate receiving device indeed, for the reception and cataloging of all that individual's experience. The cataloging is not, as is often thought in this cybernetic age, engaged with storage. Storage is for shelves and computers. The brain, instead, simply distinguishes between perceptions which must be acted on right here and now, and those which can't be acted on because they project into the future or are of something too far away in either time or space or both. 

We have no problem understanding now how things far away - even bejillions of lightyears away - impinge on us perceptually. Perceptions from the past then, which once had been near and actionable, just keep spinning in the apparatus of our brains, like a backwash in a downstream flow, according to one metaphor developed perhaps together with writer Tim Parks. The brain, in other words, must keep moving itself, in order for memory to go on living.

But left out, I think, is some understanding of abstraction and generalization. These are required for efficiency of perceptual cataloging and retrieval. An instance of a lion must bring up other instances, and the strong memories they may carry. In the moment, the match between a present perception and a past one, now generalized by the mind, must be near instant so that the mind "knows" what to do in that first instant, and well before we take conscious ownership of our decisions. 

Buying a car is a decision which might involve lots of back and forth, and might never problematize what we call "free will," where we know from neurological testing that quick decisions, like pushing a button, are made before we are conscious enough of a choice to make it. 

Not too long ago, my daughter moved to New Haven, CT where I spent a big chunk of my life. She indulged me driving her around and showing her where I'd lived and some of the things I'd built. Each visit, and especially each sighting of something I'd built, in many cases still surviving, triggered the massive release of memories which were nowise in my head. These memories were in the world around me, and rich beyond belief. 

I'm sure that it's conventional to assume that the memories are somehow stored in my brain, but if they are I certainly do know that I would never have retrieved those memories with my daughter, especially as I continue to grow older (and older!). But they were so ready when I saw things. So there!

Ever since that experience, which was transformational for me somehow - I guess there was a long gap between my living there and returning, which made New Haven unlike many other places I have lived - ever since then, I have felt bad for folks in Shanghai, where I've also spent considerable time. In the case of Shanghai, if I were gone for even a month or two, my favorite restaurant might be gone, and buildings torn down or built. China seems to have no sense of the Spread Mind, and the dangers of too much change too fast.

Well, how would they? The cultural revolution, so recent in my life space, was designed to wipe out cultural memory, though their written language won't let it go so quickly. 

In New Haven, it took some work to find certain places. I had to circle and retreat and try a different advance before finding the professor's house I sat, and the porch steps I built. I had to work things out in the landscape. I couldn't quite remember street names, but when they came back they felt very familiar again indeed. 

This is proof enough for me that the Spread Mind is both real and the right way to call it. I am excited. I really am.

Most of us are familiar with the emotional stimulus to memory. People my age know exactly where we were and what was going on when JFK was shot, or when the trade towers went down. Or when we did something really stupid, or had an accident which might have hurt us badly, especially when it was because of our own omission to take proper care.

These are interruptions of agency. There's nothing you can do about distant events (in general) but when they impact you, there is sometimes a heavy emotional load. We know from Mark Solms' work that emotion is the efficient mover for agency. Prior to that is the need to make rapid preconscious decisions based on matches between generalized memory and perception.

So the very most important functional structures of the brain must be consistent across species. Perhaps some question remains about whether animals are conscious, but I don't see why. From an evolutionary point of view, of course any animal with a brain must use that brain to generalize, to abstract (take the relevant and easily recognizable features of perception and recall them as a special case of generalized identity). They just simply don't stop and think about it very much. Thinking is our peculiar curse.

Humans have the additional fact of language, which allows generalization and abstraction to be communicated, and the higher level generalization of a name to further decrease the load on the brain to remember. Note that I am not saying that the brain holds memory banks. I'm saying that brains somehow hold perceptions, just as Manzotti does.

Interestingly as well, the longstanding controversy about the existence of a Chomskyan "black box" for language that is internal to the brain disappears. The structure of language is built into our surroundings as we interact with them on the basis of "higher" brain function which now includes naming things as well as actions, all of which must now be percepts in the world.

Unlike me, Manzotti provides a framework for testing according to scientific procedures. His theories are easily falsified, and he provides many examples of how his approach exposes many false and unscientific assumptions surrounding the understanding of the brain around which research into consciousness remains focused. Many of these examples regard dreams and hallucinations and how false assumptions reinforce the mistaken belief that the brain can produce reality from whole cloth.

But his sidestepping of agency is crucial here. Agency is real, and we need it now. Full stop. The breakdown of the bicameral mind occured because we could outer our words. There was no longer any need to hallucinate the voice of either God or the alpha male to know how to behave socially. We could work it out collectively, once we could write our thinking out. Now we must move away from our magic screens of so many sizes and confront actual reality all over again. Virtual reality is a con-game.


Friday, May 1, 2020

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

I'm never quite finished, even though I never quite say anything interesting. But I require a place to make notes for myself, and this - up here in the cloud - is more likely to persist than most places. Just in case I want to remind myself of something. I still feel that I'm out in public naked. The way people react if they do take a look only reinforces the feeling. I know you look askance. I would. It's only polite.

Oh well, I am a fraud, so why complain? Like this morning I woke to a fever dream that I'd somehow brought the entire university network down, which was never impossible. I didn't really know what I was doing when I reconfigured the network for the entire Law School. The authorities were not pleased. But I got away with it!

The dream persists. I didn't have an actual fever - it's just a figure of speech, so to speak. Well, no it's reality, but you know what I mean.

This morning I sent out for public consumption a link to a story that is both true and interesting, though I think I wrote it to death.

Yesterday, I listened to an online live presentation where two authors, one a roboticist, one a novelist and writer, presented their theory of consciousness just like the one I keep trying to develop, except that I'm a fraud and they're not.

I feel really lucky for the coronavirus most of the time. It's like being in a room without any distractions and lots of time to read. I understand that Bertrand Russel did his best work in prison. And he liked it! I'm not sure, but I think he was imprisoned for disbelief in something or other. Those guys yesterday would have given a lecture someplace I could never get to, and I wouldn't have had the intimacy of  'live' the way I did by way of the magic of Zoom.

But now it's May 1, and the workers of the world really should unite! Especially the essential workers, none of whom, by definition, is rich. They owe student loans, which ought to be forgiven (Thanks Bernie!), and they take risks that the rest of us don't have to (thanks postal workers, delivery people, grocery stockers and checkers, truck drivers, nurses, doctors, EMTs, police and the list goes on and on), and they twist apart their lives to teach online, which has almost nothing to do with what school is all about. And especially all those "illegals" (Jesus, can a person be illegal?) who keep our food growing.

And then there's this tasty little article this morning speculating on the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine in their time of plague. It starts by stating the regret the US must feel for chasing out a spy. He was the man who fathered the Chinese nuclear and space industry. Sometimes we are just so stupid. We are so blinded by our certainties.

Like we are certain that we must have some inner life, and that it's important to have one, and that if one doesn't have an inner life then one really isn't quite human. Like all those Trump supporters. I mean, really, is Trump human in any sense that we respect?

But those Chinese who are now elect for becoming our brand spanking new enemy on the block that we always seem to need; those Chinese never really were concerned about an inner life. You wear your secrets on your face, as it were, and no need to probe too deeply. I think that's why they readily accept the face-recognition cameras and the app tracking in times of virus, even though there's lots of overstepping. I mean you've got to trust someone or something, and so why not trust the government if they show their basic interest in the public good?

There are certain things that it never was polite to say out loud, though now, even in China, they say the equivalent of fuckety fuckety fuck out loud into their cellphones in public just like we do. Though they mostly keep their electronic mouths shut about what's wrong with the Party.

Wouldn't it just be too ironic if it was all the Trump supporters who are being taught that China is the enemy who are going all Chinese now? No inner life to speak of. Take Trump at face value.

The thing is that there is no sense of irony in China. I once asked a Chinese expert on global humor to his face if there is any sense of irony in China, and he answered 'of course,' and proceeded to tell a standard-issue Chinese joke that didn't have the slightest shred of irony to it. I wish I could remember the joke. It was really funny. But I can never remember jokes. That's part of what makes me a fraud.

My theory at the time was that you have to believe in God to have irony. Irony arises when you first realize that you're believing in something ridiculous. Without irony, you could never believe, even for a second.

Well, unless you're a freaking evangelical, in which case I guess you'll believe just about anything. In my little circle we call that being po-faced, because we can't come up with a decent word for people without a sense of irony.

The etymology for po-faced is uncertain, but the one which makes the most sense and the one I find most compelling is that po-faced describes the look on your face when you emerge from the outhouse. Potty face, to go along with potty mouth.

Yep, it's true, there are lots of times and places where you have to shit in public in China. Although along with our giving them lots of other diseases, they're starting to put doors on their stalls (though not seats on the toilets since that would be just gross, except where foreigners might congregate. They don't want to offend us.).

Too bad that China is catching our lab-built bugs of privacy, secrecy, and speaking out badly in public.

And I'm not done with Richard Dawkins either, even though he does have a bona-fide connection to Western New York, which is an odd place for the most significant atheist org on the planet, given that Buffalo very recently had the highest concentrations of Catholics of any city on the planet.

Well, now that I think about it, with the Church in Buffalo now bankrupted for pederasty, maybe it's not such a stretch for atheism to be headquartered in these parts.

But Dawkins wants to go all the way out there to many worlds theories, as in what if our little Big Bang were just a local one, and there are lots of other universes out there? I don't see how that can be much different from just stopping up the endpoint with the word "god" and being done with it. I mean, once you strip the word of any meaning beyond just "wow," who really cares?

Yes, I know, it must be a wonderful hobby to keep on truing the maths for all eternity as though there were going to be some elegant and complete understanding of the physical cosmos which would let you keep your materialism and eat it too.

These consciousness dudes I listened to yesterday are thoroughgoing materialists, and so am I, but that doesn't mean I think that we're going to figure it all out. Consciousness is limited, as is the life-span of the cosmos, and I think we already know enough to know that we can't rule much of anything out. Or in other words, there's a lot we can already say about what we can't say. Like causality gets all messed up by chaos theory. And you can't know position and momentum both. That sort of thing.

Certain things that we recently thought impossible will soon be shown to be not only possible but actually quite likely. But that doesn't mean that everything will go all wonky.

Like, for instance, just now we're caught up on privacy still. Even though by telling the world and everyone exactly where we've been and letting an app tell us what we can do and where we can go so that we don't have to stay imprisoned in our houses anymore, we're afraid to do it.

Well, I think we should be afraid to do it, because there are so many bad actors out there who will try to do something with your private information that could hurt you. You might find yourself in a different kind of prison if you've been touched by the virus, or if you are mistakenly blacklisted like they did for airplanes, once upon a time when airplanes were actually still flying.

While the workers of the world unite, why don't we just stop flying around so much already? Why don't we just ban cars from cities? We're trying these things and they're working out pretty well. They ride bicycles up north in Europe and we could too! Nevermind that China kicked the habit after we introduced them to the car disease. I was there at the beginning, with Jeep, so I should know.

Hell, I got an ebike recently and it's so damned pleasant that I don't even mind riding where there are steep hills. I hardly break a sweat, if that's what you're worried about.

Let's let the oil industry go down the tubes, and let's leave our cars to the rural areas where all the Trump supporters are, and let's install capacitive charging for all the new graphene capacitor electric cars we're gonna have, once China perfects the technology (I don't know why Wired located the Chinese-made busses in Serbia, but I can guess.) Busses with capacitive electricity storage are all over the place in China. They charge while passengers get on and off.

Before we can do a thing, we have to find some way to trust our government. We thought we had that down, once upon a time. But we don't any more. Can't we please just get the money out of the elections? Can't we please get rid of gerrymandering? Can't we please make voting more universal and more trivial to accomplish?

Hell, we moved everything else online. That seems related to why the economy hasn't quite collapsed. It's not that we lack the tech to make online voting happen. If Estonia can do it, then so can we!

But really, I have nothing against Trump voters. As far as I can tell, they're real people, just like me and you. My so-called inner life hasn't ever done me any good. When I turn it out - we call that expression, just like what you do to a dog with a blocked bladder - it just goes splat!

Well, I'd better go take a walk. Oh wait, is that legal yet? Nah, I'm taking a bike ride, outside, socially distant and without a mask. It's a nice day. I'll go shopping tomorrow with my mask on. It's been over two weeks, and I just got my stimulus check. Whoopee!!

I'm sending mine to the Biden campaign. Well, no probably not. I tried that once when Dubya tried to buy us off. Just like now, it wasn't enough money to pay any bills, but you could buy a flat-screen with it. I gave the money to Obama in a fit of some anger. But I had a paycheck then and now I don't. I still might though. Obama won.

I'm no crazier than I ever was, but a lot more sane than you are if you think you have an actual soul and that God listens to you babble on, even to yourself.

Yep, I'm sane. I believe that my actual self is located outside and all around me, in my past and into some indeterminate future, just like those guys talking about consciousness on Zoom. (with Zoom, through Zoom, over Zoom?).

Given that the stars are part of me here and now, and given that I've already experienced eternity on or with or through or over the experiences of actual death I've had, not to mention over the moon, which would just make me a lunatic, I'd say I have as much of an eternal soul as you do. So there!

What I don't have is any difference between inside and outside, which just problematizes the hell out of what privacy means. Unless it just means lack of trust, in which case we're plenty warranted.

I think this is a pretty good reality TV show. I just want it to end so that I can go back to living.

Let us pray! Mom used to say that. I'm not sure she really meant it either. But it sure can't hurt. It helps to focus the mind. You know, that thing I'm out of,  along with shaving cream and money.