Monday, April 12, 2021

Life is In-Between (God and Sub-Atomic Particles, (which are on the same ontological level))

Yes, well, so I've been getting by for many years now with no landline, and almost as long with cellular Internet. Finally, the frustration of the dongles and the wires - all things which can endure only so many pluggings and unpluggings - the frustration did me in, and I got an always-on Internet connection with WiFi. To go along with it, I bought a cheap Roku streaming device. My mind reels!

In some sense I'm cutting edge. I know practically nobody who even attempts what I do, but because of that it hardly ever works quite right. The data limit for the phone itself is different from its limit as a "personal hotspot," and so watching movies may be interfered with by all sorts of things. - calls, alerts, texts, but maybe also app deficiencies. Recovery isn't always graceful. And so I caved.

I was spending too much time fiddling and not enough time doing whatever it is that I was attempting to do. Except that truth be told, I've always enjoyed the fiddling more. So now I'm afraid that I've destroyed yet another pleasurable pastime. Well all the new house-buyers in my family, who spend money very differently than I do, will provide more fiddling than I can handle, I'm sure.

Check this out:

You might call it fiddling for family. Here's the one I made for my older daughter a few years ago:

The problem really is that not enough people do what I'd been doing for that little backwater of tech to be kept up to date. I"m not even sure why anybody would do it, unless, like me, they're mostly mobile. And cheap!

When I first visited China - I can't quite remember, it might have been Taiwan which came first - I remember the incredible tangle of wires from every tele-post. The entire arrangement (it was NOT arranged) bespoke do-it-yourselfism in the context of no regulation and no standards. Considering that it was both telephone and electricity, it was vaguely terrifying.  It was certainly all a tangle.

Later on, I was among the original inhabitants of a "foreign experts tower" on the campus of a university on the outskirts of Beijing back in, maybe, 1986. I remember the fuse closet in the hallway where wires poked out from concrete to screw-posts between which fusible wires were strung. Almost every code in the American book was broken by that building.

Hot water was available only during certain hours - unlike in Taiwan where we had to load the wood into the water heater ourselves when we wanted a hot shower. In this case we could watch workmen doing that to know when the water might get hot. 

Jump ahead, and only a couple of years ago in Shanghai, I encountered my first post-cable world of entertainment. In just the way that cellular bypassed the need for an organized set of wires and switches for telephone, so fiber optics bypassed the need for a cable infrastructure. Electricity seems pretty well organized in the bigger cities of China as well, by now.

It was confusing in a (low-class) hotel to understand how to pay for what was not free when I wasn't the account owner for the Internet TV. The WeChat I used wasn't quite integrated to China's micropayment system, since I was never there long enough to open a bank account, and bypass my American credit cards. Or to bypass credit cards entirely, the way most Chinese do.

But the interface struck me as way beyond what I thought we had here in the US. I could get all the local TV from all over China. I guess in China they want you to watch and don't wish to put omnipresent American paywalls in your way. I could also get plenty of free film - really only the new releases required any payment at all, and when they did it was modest. I just couldn't make my way through the tangle to do it.

Chinese webpages, TV interfaces, and lots more are way busier than most Americans could stand. So Roku looks spartan by comparison. It looks almost organized. Even though I read Chinese with pretty good fluency (mixing metaphors, I know) I've never quite learned to accommodate the clutter of Chinese mass-media websites. I suppose the brain is organized differently in an alphabetic zone as compared to a Chinese-character zone. 

I've never quite managed to leap that divide. My brain wiring was already too set in its ways when I started Chinese.

But here's the deal: we're always in between. 

There are things about which we must agree, if we are not to be defrauded nor to be frauds ourselves (can you tell that I’m - very slowly - trying to penetrate William Gaddis?). These are the things of science. And yet now, having thoroughly repudiated God as a silly projection, mostly used for the sake of earthly power, we are loathe to let science end where it must end; at the point where the subject leaks in among the objects.

Each of us must have our own point of view!

From many points of view, God is very real indeed, and one is less easily fooled of Him than of scientific overreach. Our trouble is that we make too much of individuality, as though point of view must be as personal as personality, and as though that is the only thing worth living for. Death be not proud. 

Redundant in Buffalo, for sure, death is, since we don't know how to stop eating chicken wings. Though we hardly wish to eat them alone. And there simply are no better ones anywhere else. This is not subject to scientific validation. 

Science let go of us, let us go, as long ago as the Atomic Bomb provided proof that we are willing to go only so far as power, which then goes right to our head and we think that the cosmos may be, finally, comprehended. We don't need no stinkin' god. We smell up the cosmos perfectly by ourselves.

I look at Roku's interface and it pretty much looks like any other interface for streaming. Except that there are so many categories; a problem somewhat obviated by a pretty good global search facility. 

But it looks primitive, in a way, by comparison with the one I saw in China. Over there, previews would show up anywhere and everywhere, and then when you choose something, characters might float across the screen while watching a video, to show reactions from people from all over the place,  watching at just the same time along with you. 

Is that the price of "free?" No, you could usually turn them off. What I considered a distraction was apparently welcome by most Chinese viewers. I guess it added to the excitement and drama of the viewing. But I'm not sure. There have never been that many people I could bother with my pesky questions about how to make sense of this and that. People everywhere lack the proper patience. 

But I do have to say that when it comes to what can be gotten on Roku for free, and what you're missing by not being willing to pay for it, the US looks more complex than that tangle of wires in China. I can sign on to Spectrum news without paying for Spectrum TV by virtue of my Internet account, but it's not available for free via Roku streaming. At a certain point I call well enough alone and give up. Or maybe I'll get some thirteen-year-old clever and fearless kid to climb the pole for me and add to the tangle.

I won't stand for being swindled, dammit!

Facebook will now add descriptors to its posts to distinguish "satire" from "earnest" I hear, along with other things. Just imagine the flames from people earnest about their beliefs which look like satire to the Facebook moderators!

So I interact with TV tech in a pretty satirical way. I don't wish to be caught short again the way I was when I came in from the cold of living aboard my sailboat and couldn't distinguish Saturday Night Live from televangelism. I honestly had no read of which was meant as comedy. My mind reeled.

Now I wait for cable and its incredible fees to be replaced by something more Chinese, but who knows? I may have my order inverted. Just because they leapfrogged our evolution away from telephone, cable, DVD distribution networks, and brick and mortar retail doesn't mean that we aren't the more advanced at any given moment in time.

I guess I'm meant to be anxious, in just the way that the ever-morphing viruses among us keep our enthusiasms curbed.

Somehow, on Quora mostly, I feel surrounded by apologists for China (I know, break-neck subject shift), who defend the Chinese take on Tibet or Xinjiang. Finally I read a long New Yorker article which has the ring of truth, and now I myself believe that there are atrocities going on in Xinjiang, no matter how clever watchers undermine what they call the propaganda of Western news. We, apparently, blow up sensation on the flimsiest of evidence.

The ring of truth to which I refer regards the article's treatment of systematic sycophancy in the apparatus which descends from power. Picture local and petty officials being afraid not to detain and inter individuals who *might* be considered suspect, on paper, from up above. 

And then, of course, I'm reminded how Dubya got us into an endless war in Iraq and then again in Afghanistan for equally flimsy reasons, but which ended in much more death and destruction than China has ever wrought on the Uighurs. This is the kind of thing which China throws back in our face. I suspect we deserve it.

Who, after all, is the dirtiest in assuming that others need to be more like us? In assuming, even, that they must want to be? In assuming that their religious beliefs are crazy while ours are not?

Of course official China doesn't do religion. Or do they? Don't we?

In the way of the virus, we're between what we'd thought would be the End of History and the Last Man - life as we'd come to like it - and our future release from viral lockdown. The stock market meanwhile surges. Too bad for all those whose lives have been destroyed.

We're stalled between the so-called standard model of (particle) physics and the next big paradigm shift. And we still think that shift will come from revelations generated by the CERN supeconducting supercollider, which is to say better descriptive explanations for ever more elusive still-so-called "particles." 

Those of us schooled only in Statistics for the Social Sciences cannot know what they do with eigenvalues at Google, say, nor do we have any way to validate our sense that they could do it differently and better were they not so addicted to their particular brand of golden goose: keyterm auction.

My nephew worked at CERN and showed me his graphical rendering of the data which achieves a scientific level of proof for the actual existence of this or that new "particle." (He works in finance now, of course) I forgot to ask how many logarithmic transforms were applied and why, and how many sigmas were achieved, though that is really a business term now.

I know that scientists cannot stop themselves, but I also suspect that they will not stop themselves, really just because their discoveries have been so very exciting, and often very useful. There is no shortage of problems to be solved. Funny thing is, post-bomb, post-discovery of global warming, most of the problems are social, and not amenable to scientific resolution unless by coercion. Unless we really do believe that we may - collectively? - become as gods. 

Given the nature of the so-called one-percent, we know that individuals can become as gods. Temporarily. Who even wants that? I know I know.

We never stop to recognize the religious roots for our terminology. Our assumption that there must be a law-bound cosmos and that those laws are natural laws, which is to say not created by "us", and that the cosmos is ultimately describable - that assumption is very religious indeed. It descends from Platonic archetypes which provided the framework for our unitary concept of God.

Chinese cultural forms are equally indelible, especially the notion that there is a right and singular form for a culture which shall remain continuously recognizable across some five thousand years. Of course, Taiwan must be a part of that. And of course the Uighurs should be flattered to be invited in. Just like the Iraqis should feel privileged to be offered our notions for governance.

Somehow it becomes always and all about a power structure. That's how good guys and bad guys are organized. And God help you if you offend someone whose mind has already been closed.

So here I am and shall remain, living in the bozone where I neither believe in religious truths, nor do I accept that scientific trueings are somehow cosmic, eternal, and apart from what we cook up in our very own (collective) minds. Wouldn't there otherwise be an end to progress someday? Wouldn't we have arrived? And what then, I ask you!

From my point of view, scientific trueings are about aligning our collective minds, which are only apparently separate and distinct according to a very cosmically local set of religious imperatives. Those religious imperatives morph easily into economic imperatives and so on. 

I mean, just try to tell someone who knows physics that the term "particle" is really metaphor. You'll probably get 'sure, sure, yes, of course,' in response. But then go a step further and insist that particles are no more real than ghosts or gods or other collective delusions, and you'll probably start pissing someone off.

We have a lot of apparatus to distinguish the crazies from the sane, but we draw the line at religion, which is somehow held sacrosanct, hoho, even or especially by our secular legal structures. But I'm calling it a fine distinction, if an important one. When religious zealots start carrying guns and taking over political structures, I get just as scared as the Chinese government does. At least the technorati only want everything for themselves. Those robbers of local wealth.

So, in my in-between state, I wait patiently for both government and science to get it right. I look forward to days post-pandemic, when I can be close to strangers again. And I look forward to an economy which isn't so tilted to those who already have all the wealth. The trick is to learn to be content in this in-between state, which is all we are destined ever to have.

Did you know that more people have started to play the game "Among Us" than have contracted the virus? How many cancelled books does that mean? It takes so much more energy to read William Gaddis, say, than to watch a movie made from a Philip Roth book (he believed that reading novels would be dead before the novel would be. Ha!) but only one of them will teach you what you need to know about fraud. I mean Orson Welles ain't bad, but, well, he hung with the likes of William Randolph, right?

Maybe I need religion for that to happen - for me to be content in my in-between state. But the trouble is that science is the better procedure to get us all together. It's infuriating to me that so many people think that they can just blithely disregard established scientific principles. Especially when they do it in the name of religion, but even more when they do it so clearly and blatantly in the name of raw power. 

So, let's say we are in a lifeboat, and let's say it's called spaceship earth, like Bucky used to call it, and let’s say we learn to agree that we will and can never know enough to fully describe the cosmos we hurtle through. All we can do is to enjoy the ride and spend at least enough time and effort to keep the ride going. 

When people in power claim better understanding than the scientific community, I feel like we're headed in a direction toward the corruption we project onto China, or onto Russia. Just a feeling, you know. And yet I feel worse when religionists want to be in charge. I mean, Pence was a lot more terrifying even than Trump, especially if one were to imagine a long-haul with that sort of duo in charge.

But I do hold back about ultimate truths. When scientists of any discipline claim truths beyond science's purview, they lose me entirely. Sub-atomic particles are not the end of any story. In that discipline, we've long since jumped the shark, by virtue of a kind of religious certainty that truth is objective and not a process for mind-alignment. We already have enough teasers to make that clear.

I personally find a cosmos where we are as much the makers as the product to be far more exciting than one where some abstract set of principles or beings abides in-charge in perpetuity. Sure, it's a lot more nerve wracking to be in charge. But hey, I'd rather get rid of cars altogether than to "own" a self-driving car. I'm really weird that way.

Well, OK, maybe I wouldn't mind being able to hail a car from my smartphone, which also told me relative time and cost for public transit. I'm just not sure that the planet can abide private cars, no matter the power source.

Wouldn't it be funny if the real purpose of science were to create a kind of hive mind without any queens? Wouldn't it be funny if the truths that we choose to guide us were as quirky - at cosmic scale - as we each think ourselves to be, addicted as we are to personality.

Wouldn't it be funny if I were actually correct when I did discover lo those many years ago now, that emotion is a cosmic force. It's obvious but still scientifically unthinkable. I think that's dumb. And God is love, full stop. No need for projection at all.

Where I was at, way back then, living on my old wooden sailboat (read all about it!) was tangling with the paradoxes in "modern" physics. Religion deals with paradoxes. Why can't science? Well, science deals with paradoxes by steam rolling them with practical solutions. Just so long as the science works locally here and now, we're fine!

After the bomb, it's true that we did still progress. We couldn't have GPS without accounting for the same theoretical structures which gave us the bomb - relativity theory, time dilation and all that. Now we dream of quantum computing, which will perfect privacy, among other things, as though computation will set us free! 

Computation is not subject to pesky human emotions and parochial point of view. And that's where the trouble begins. I mean I'm really sorry for the life that Alan Turing was forced to live. But that doesn't make universal machines the right response. That imitation game - the digital resolution - cuts us off from cosmos as the outset. That's what on/off means.

Full Stop.

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