Monday, October 19, 2020

Out of My Head, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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