Saturday, August 28, 2021

Deep in History

Somewhat embarrassingly, I still find myself tussling with Bratton. He seems constantly to be building straw dogs to knock down. (Don't we all!) Boomers are responsible over the inflexion year of 1968 for distrust in authority, and in our Foucauldian slide away from rational governance. Populism is a symptom of our retreat from rationality. Of course, my mind is not sufficiently academic to properly document it all.

Bratton seems to disparage every earnest wish for any return to normal, since normal is the thing we have to get away from. And we can't do it by a change of attitude, mainly because there just isn't time for that magic sauce to do its trick.

But "normal" is to be in History, and not beyond it. But maybe that's wrong. Maybe this could be the first time we've ever had the chance to be normal, in the sense that any living thing can be normal. For an instant.

Who knows if it was like the snow in winter in Buffalo when you're only as tall as a newly conscious five-year old, but I was always taught history as though we were somehow beyond it. The caste system in India, the superstitions of non-Christians, the beautiful primitive of native Americans, and most of all the pristine beauty of nature without us. That from which we have arisen. 

But really, what was being preached was a kind of apotheosis of each and every individual, mainly because that's how our late capitalist economy works. We have raised the individual up to heaven like a flag up a pole, and no wonder we still have to identify with superstars of all stripes. Jesus Fucking Christ!

Jeans were once a way to blend in, like the freak flag of unkempt hair. Now we streak our hair with green, say, which is sometimes to lodge a protest about those with the money to sculpt their bodies and fill out designer jeans in just the right way, and sometimes as a kind of offset to how absolutely gorgeous we actually are. 

Let's say some NFL designer body has taken steroids and other medications A(gainst) M(edical) A(dvice), and is (therefore?) now worth something north of a quarter billion dollars on contract and won't take any vaccine against the 'rona. Now isn't that like mass-murder? 

Well, no, not exactly. It's just stupid, like Trump is stupid, like my friend who won't talk to me anymore is stupid calling RBG a mass-murderer. And I told him so. So I'll be damned.

What if our history now is coming to proper terms that guilt and innocence are never so easy to assign. The liar paradox is only a paradox if you can't distinguish between good and bad lies. If you can't find the continuum between. Like Zeno's paradox dissolves once you realize that all boundaries are fractal and dynamic. Probability waves collapse.

Say, when people actually believe that race is part of some great chain of being, and when fighting and killing and bloodletting was pretty-much universal and something women hardly ever did, but often aided and abetted. We are beyond the easy answers of motivated history. We're deep in it now and again forevermore. 

Even though and as and while she exposes deep duplicity in the profit models of "surveillance capitalism," I get why Bratton thinks Shoshana Zuboff is stuck in the wrong paradigm, defending individual privacy which is now the problem and not something to be worshipped anymore. 

But Bratton too is stuck within an obsolete paradigm, where agency relates to crafting our future according to rational principles. Agency never did do that. Agency is the emotively powered reaction to things which remind us of other things that have already happened for which ratiocination is never quick enough. 

Collectively also, we will never be quick enough to react to the ever so comfortably rising temperature of our froggie bath. We will respond to the wrong stimulus after it's already too late. That's what it means to be conscious and evolving. Conscious evolution has never happened and never will.

Of course we must mystify the brain. There is a straight line from Plato through Christianity whereby humans embody an idealized self in the nature of an eternal soul which distinguishes us from all other creatures . . . a straight line to our mystification of the human brain. 

We think that history is progressive. China thought that history was authoritative, and they edited it to make it so. And then history went in cycles, no God required.

Scientists look for quantum explanations and structural specificity to the brain on the order of computational reality (which means logical reality, where there is also no completeness) in just the way that Bratton looks for solutions in the form of governance structures. As though humanity is that distinct. Perhaps because we've built this brave new computational overlay to the earth. 

As predicted by Hopi prophecy, 'a web will cover the earth' and stupid humans will take credit for it. Like those paper wasps so proud of their hive that Kinsey deconstructed. There are no ideal types. There can be no pride in what just happens, because it's part of what you are.

I know that I wear my secrets on my face, and with Bratton, I know that masks have the dual function to reveal and to conceal (if there really is such a thing as choice). But if you know me well enough then you share enough of my world to know what I'm thinking and I can see it in your shaded reaction too.

It's not attitudes which must and will change. It's the science, stupid! Our minds are hardly more individual than our faces are. They exist at all only because of the shared outerances of words, just as the face depends on commonality of eyes ears nose mouth and never mind how identical all private parts are. I know you at a glance, and your thoughts are not so far behind.

Sure you must be able to recognize me as distinct - as individual - but that's what naming means. It's naming where emotion and perception, conception and force, come together as something new for the cosmos. Naming is that powerful. That emotive. It is always a mistake to put a Name to any godhead. That's emotion as a nuclear power. Something never to be deployed, once properly understood. 

So, you know, what if millenarianism (technological or religious, makes no difference) and scientism and mysticisms of all sorts and even Q-Anonymity are all no less wrong than the others. What if there really just plain isn't a right way forward, and what if your certainty is not helping, whoever you are, and whatever you are certain of.

The necessary shifts will come (or not) when the veils fall from our collective minds because the science has shifted. In just the way that the magical thinking of exceptionalist USA did, in fact, get us the vaccine and distributed it nearly in time, and now even the deniers are coming around to the real, maybe. 

Or in other words, our brand of economic radical individualism is what's killing us and always has been. Money acts precisely as a virus against our moral operations. We can't help but buy that car against our future. I have no idea if it's adjusted pennies or absolute pennies, but I have it on high authority that stagecoaches cost more per mile than my first car did. That's what economy means.

So long as the oil keeps pumping. 

So what's science got to do with it? It is scientifically already obvious that we can't exist as the absolutist individuals which objectivity requires. We are embedded and responsible for that. We are embedded not just in history, but in the science which would explain the world as if without us, which is the most important remaining fiction of our straight-line history. Starting with God as Creator. 

What a concept!



Friday, August 6, 2021


So, I backed into this David v. Goliath story, as I usually do back in, by random reads. There's the Mark Ruffalo connection from the docudrama Dark Waters, which came from a New York Review of Books review of a book I'm now reading called Second Nature, and then a Twitter thread from McKenzie Wark led me back to Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble

The protagonist of Dark Waters, Robert Billot, is certainly unlikely. His early history as a lawyer made him seem almost a moral neutral. He wasn't super-charged for success, like many or most of his colleagues at a large Cincinnati law firm, and it wasn't clear that he didn't have the same bland desires to make a good living that we all do. And yet he became obsessed and outraged by what DuPont, by way of 3M, had unleashed on our planet in the form of  "forever chemicals" related to Teflon.

In the end, in a mild sense, he brought the company down. In a very unlikely way, his firm, more of less, stuck by him. There was money on both sides of the environmental law industry. But the tides eventually turned as they realized the scope of what they'd lost from the chemical industry. And still, even in the bumpy denouement, Billot seems the victor. Which means we all won.

Somehow, in all this reading, it becomes clear that there is one kind of decision-making process which can lead to utter disaster, even for the corporate entity which the decision-makers represent. A very different sort of process was demonstrated by Billot in fighting against the first kind. 

Most of us are familiar with the kinds of thinking and meetings which might have gone into DuPont's decision-making. It might be better to call it non-decision-making. In any case, people are tied to a structure - a business - which makes their lives good, and they want to support it. Not just the executives, but the workers and even the victims in the general population want 'the trouble' to go away. Ultimately and inevitably, they want the trouble-maker to go away. Trouble-makers are shunned, when they're outside the pact. Nobody wants to believe that the object of their fervent belief is the actual troublemaker.

Nobody within this structure seeks a moral decision-maker, who might weigh all the nitty gritty of the long view to protect the company from itself. That would be almost a court jester role, if it weren't so serious. Or like the lawyers who follow our troops into battle now. Volkswagen could have used one when they were tipping the scales on emissions readings. Dupont might have been better off if they had realized the scope of what would be revealed, and what the impact would be.

Well they did realize the scope. They just simply did a cost-benefit analysis and realized that the risks were all on the side of admission. That the best form of cover would be to keep on keeping on, and then to claim a kind of sanctioned innocence. In any case, it was easier to add up the dollars, and that all pointed to the clear financial risks of admitting any kind of guilt.

Perhaps there are lots of avenging angels all along the way, and these, even the ones inside us, prevented Billot and his work from being completely stopped. Perhaps it's all happenstance, what some call fate. I'm wanting to use it as some kind of analog for good governance.

I think it's an important subject. In his approach to Terraforming, Benjamin H. Bratton implicitly calls for a very different form of governance that the one which is now allowing some form of rampant capitalism, or call it vectorialism, to keep on keeping on until we're well beyond the cliff of sustainability. 

Our current system of governance clearly renders up a structure more similar to what went on inside DuPont and its company towns, than it does what might be called the autocracy of Billot's almost monomaniacal set of lawsuits.

Except you can't really call him monomaniacal, since he's after what we commonly call the truth, and he's doing it all for the public good. Our legal structures enabled him to do that, even while so much was corrupted and stacked against him. EPA cosy with those they regulate kind of thing. 

Bratton and I agree on the need for better governance. From my read, we agree on most things. Where we differ, I think, is in cosmology, but mostly in how we understand humanity. He doesn't seem to recognize what I consider to be important subtleties, analogs to forever chemicals, in the technological blossoming that he, more or less, champions, or even celebrates.

Just now in these United States we are still witnessing a governance structure - caricatured by Trumpism - which is very much like what happened inside DuPont. There's lots of reality denial and ready acceptance of convenient truths; ways of interpreting facts to downplay not just culpability, but even the facts themselves. We believe what it is convenient to believe. It's convenient not to change. To keep what's working for us in place as it is. 

Every once in a while, I come across really far-out theories about how quantum physics will ultimately reveal those occult structures of our brains which prove that we are connected to the greater cosmos, and that we feel, along with all our brethren among all the species. 

And I think these end up being a kind of humanity worship by way of brain worship. I just simply don't think it's all that complicated, and that these promised complex forever theories are mostly convenient to those who want our current assumptions to stay as they are. The wacky way-out promised theories remain perpetual sideshows. They allow the main show to keep on keeping on.

By extension, by celebrating "intelligent life," Bratton privileges an aspect of humanity at which we are demonstrably not all that great. He favors computational intelligence, as far as I can tell. He sees it in a way which lines up, vaguely, with Haraway's feminism in her celebration of the cyborg. But his is the very opposite of  'staying with the trouble." I want both, I guess.

I've called my own maneuver an analog for what Einstein did, without claiming to be his caliber. I might claim Billot's caliber. Not sure. But Einstein didn't really discover anything new. He reconceptualized what had already been discovered in a way that the pieces fell into place far better than they had been doing. The most celebrated shift was to see lightspeed as a constant along with an equivalency between energy and mass. Everything else followed.

I have been working for my entire adult life to communicate an analogous reconceptualization. I guess that I will ultimately fail. I guess that's because there are too many beliefs stacked against me. I guess it's because I sound like just another crank. 

I don't mystify the human brain, and I don't mystify the cosmos. It strikes me that we already know as much as we need to know in order to change our ways in a manner that would be good for us and good for all of what Haraway calls our kin. And we need our kin.

We have labored under a dangerous illusion that conceptual reality belongs only in the brain. That we carry around pictures of both the world around us, and of the way that it should be. The 'should be' is the realm of "ideas," so-called. We think that only humans have well-developed emotional lives, and that we have the right to commandeer the bodies of our kin to benefit ourselves. 

We no longer think, as Newton apparently did, that other life feels no pain. But we're still pretty sure that they don't suffer the same self-knowledge and foreknowledge that we do, which prevents most of us from taking over anyone else's human bodies for our own personal sake.

No, I'm not heading toward vegetarianism. It's far bigger than that. For me, the pieces have fallen into place once I realized that mind and emotion are both out there as much as is perceptual reality. They don't originate and they don't end with us.

Our subjectivity is no longer either some sort of privileged stance "outside" reality, nor is it any kind of dodge from objective truth. We are no more apart from cosmos than we are very different from our kin. There is no time in the history of the cosmos that conceptual reality wasn't real. And it was real before we thought it up. And it shifted and led to encoded replicators which generated a direction for life that can only be called an emotional direction. It sure wasn't physical.

I mean that emotion provided the direction - an arrow in time, the reverse of entropy - for a conceptual creation which was the replicable replicator. It idealized itself by the proof of so many identical copies. Which is to say by the proof of de-identifying any individual gene.

And so as I conceive the mind, it can and should become our model for governance. Not exactly Gaia, but perhaps moving in that direction. So long as emotions are an add-on to cognition, or even an obstacle, then we can discount them. But once we recognize that emotion is basic to our minds, and that it provides the impulse not just to do the right thing, but to think productive thoughts, then we might not be so ever-ready to cede power to the best cognition. 

Of course, when in our history have we actually done that? Name one President . . . one precedent . . . But I think we do want leadership that we can trust. Maybe Confucius, a purely constructed "man" who provides a kind of retrospective structure for ongoing governance. And it took modern China a while to rehabilitate Confucius. And his was hardly a cognitive structure. The human heart/mind had cosmic function to bring the order of heaven down to earth. To tame the waters, and pacify the beasts. But not to subjugate anybody or anything.

I really do hate to say it, but this may be the positive message to the election of Trump. Rather than to fight it with all the cognitive power at our disposal, we might instead celebrate it in ways to undermine the insane conspiracy theories. Those of us on the "right" side are quite literally denying the most important aspect of reality that our adversaries hold so dear. Trump is a simple measure of how far in the direction of perceptual science we have gone. We are well beyond the cliff, and it's time we rebuilt the ground.

Or in other words, we can't argue people from their conspiracy theories which we consider detached from reality. We can't, that is, until we make an emotional connection. Less yelling and more listening. Everyone, each individual, has a story to tell. We should listen to that with compassion, rather than to assume that all those yelling at us are all one.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Filling the Blanks in Cosmology, Getting the Terms Right

I once introduced myself as a cosmologist. Only once. I meant it in earnest, but still felt silly about it. I quickly demurred that "I make my money in other ways." As though I make money at all. 

I was celebrating my 60th birthday with friends, and their friend, who is friends with (Buffalo) Mark Ruffalo, happened to be there. She runs a non-profit in earnest, which promises to find a sustainable energy infrastructure in our approximate lifetimes, which is all the time we have left. Ruffalo helps. It was she who provoked my verbal incontinence. Welcome to grandiosity.

And yet I am a cosmologist. Not sanctioned as such, but I am in line with a turn of thought which still goes back to the Bible's setting up man against nature in what must be considered now to be a battle with God for dominion. 

My cosmos is composed much as is the cosmos of the sanctioned philosophers and scientists except that they all still seem stuck with a, to me, rather silly conflation of the brain with the mind. 

That has allowed us to imagine computers, which operate in the realm of purest abstraction, as a model for the mind, and especially for intelligence. Mainly it has allowed us to conceive of a cosmos that is without us, separate from us, and which doesn't need us.

Nobody supposes that a computer is not detached from the world around it. A computer even has to reach out to the natural world for real random numbers, since it can't create them on its own. But everyone supposes that the cosmos doesn't need mind. I beg to differ.

Cosmos certainly doesn't need computers, but we might, here on earth.

I once ran into Bruno LaTour, who sat randomly behind me after his talk at the "Feverish Planet" symposium in Burlington Vermont, where I was no longer making money "doing other things." The college didn't need me anymore.

I mentioned to him that his talk gave me hope. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, commenting that most people find his expositions on planetary distress depressing. I told him that he had gotten some terms right, and that gave me hope for our future. He had rectified the words.

I sure do wish I could remember how his terms were "gotten right," but then I've entered the dead zone, Meaning the zone whereinafter my death won't be considered a tragedy so much as it will be considered part of the more natural course of events. Meaning that there's lots of important stuff that doesn't stick with me so well.

Part of it was that he'd inverted a map - a schematic - of the world, to show inside as outside perhaps, and that had empowered me. I haven't been able to afford the time or money to catch myself back up. He was concerned about the thin surface where life abounds, and to be sure that we could see it.

We certainly do live on an uncanny planet. This New York Review of Books review is right on my money. 

Meanwhile, I'd better try to clean up some of my own terms:


These are the terms which I manipulate on my way toward a description of cosmos that makes an improvement on the one concocted by physicists. I believe that it, "my" cosmology, moves decisively away from regarding man as a subjective observer of a world that runs without us. It makes a completion of the war against God, with resolution is in the direction of peace.

I would even say that this cosmology offers a kind of extravagant hope even in the midst of collective despair among those of us who are reasonably well-educated and still not so much on the winning side of the capitalist Hunger Games to where life is so good that we don't give a fuck about what happens in our collective future. 

I do disparage digital, and not only because of its hijacking of so much of our time and free-will by its futures economy of ownership of the noospheric commons, and not even so much by its hijacking of our actual organic living by luring us into a kind of metaverse life, although those things are really awful. The trouble isn't even with the conflation of mind with brain. The trouble is that these digital denizens live in a cosmos where they get the terminology all wrong. Which means, of course, that they know not what they do.

I do retain the faith that we can fix things if we get the terminology right. It is certain that we can't if we don't. It is also certain that there are some corporate persons in the digital economy which are just as sociopathic as DuPont has been revealed to be.

Digital is, by definition, only capable of abstraction. It only exists in the abstract. It can imitate life to any arbitrary degree of accuracy, but it can't be life, any more than a perfect circle can exist in perceptual reality.

By the same token, perceptual reality can't exist without conceptual reality.

Here's why (again, by way of definition):

Percepts are those things that we, living creatures, interact with physically. They touch us, and thus we feel them. We perceive them. I remember being astonished that our eyeballs can detect even a single photon, and then it was proven and I saw one. A single photon.

Concepts are those things that we can't perceive, but which are no less real for that. We seem to be able to hold them "in" (by!) our minds, but that doesn't mean that they reside only there. Beyond the photon scale toward small, we still consider things to be physically real, which means perceptually real, even though they are more properly concepts. Concepts also come into being on their own, and we may discover them but not invent them in the way that we ordinarily mean by "conception." We speak of concepts by way of metaphor, most of the time. From the physically real to the conceptually real. Often starting with our bodies. (Chinese handles this differently, without God, without Plato, by way of correspondence in form of function in a literary couplet.)

Emotion describes the relation among percepts or concepts when that relation doesn't involve perceptual motion. Perceptual motion involves forces and energy. Forces and energy involve "particles," many of which are particles only in the metaphorical sense. Emotion is instantaneous and defines "synchronous," which can't quite physically exist, in actuality. All of physical reality is in constant motion, living or dead, and this creates imponderable paradox, post relativity theory and quantum theory, in definitions for simultaneity. While those paradoxes may not be resolved conceptually, they are resolved when concepts are properly "placed" outside, in the world. A conceptual relation is, in effect, timeless.

Naming is what the human mind does in order to share, even with oneself, something important that the mind does for the sake of physical survival. To name is to abstract something conceptual from what had been repeated iterations of a threat or an object of desire. Private language is not a possible move linguistically, and so a name is necessarily also outside the mind.. Names are by definition shared, and happenstance is what's left over when the desired matching of name with object doesn't bear fruit.

Abstraction, though happens well before the human mind and before naming. Any conscious creature abstracts before emotion - sometimes referred to in these cases as intuition - can direct action in the "right" direction. Even in the human and word-addled mind, emotion directs the mind's action, even while thinking the very most abstracted thoughts, which are but rehearsals of language, preverbally, after we learn to be silent and not even engage the vocal apparatus. We call this activity thinking. We take conscious ownership of our intuitive decisions once we can communicate them, even to ourselves. Our brains may play halfsies for a reason.

Information is what might be important to communicate. It is a conceptual relation of concepts or percepts, most often, these days, reduced to numerical abstraction for ease and fidelity of communication. Its usefulness in communication relates only to the desirability of the work that it allows to be accomplished. The entropy of information depends entirely on whether it gets communicated or not. Order is reversed, in this case meaning order as orderliness where, in communication, the less order the less entropy, the more surprise. Absent communication, the more order the less information and the less entropy. This allows for the difference between life and death, the communication does. Genes are devoid of information; they are instructions, worthless without something real from which to make [life].

Mind, therefore, has always been present in cosmos, and is not attributable to human existence. I say "therefore" because a cosmos without concepts is inconceivable! 

So there's my cleanup. I still maintain that if we get the terms right we can "fix" the damage that we've done. Not by going backwards, but by going forward, as Mark O'Connell urges. Or is it Nathaniel Rich. I shall be reading them both now, grace the public library.

We can only change the way we live on our planet home if we let go of those misconceptions which allow us to feel innocent about what we're getting and doing wrong. 

We still won't change until we recognize our responsibility to change. That means letting go of misconceptions, religious, scientific, and otherwise. It means accepting that we can't know anything about how cosmos runs without us.

The good news is that abstraction is extremely powerful. It gives us the ability to make forever chemicals that might destroy civilization, at the same time that it gives us the ability to know they're there, just like we know to some degree of precision how much radioactive fallout we've added to our planetary load.

If I'm right that emotion can be defined as concepts morphing; including arrays of perceptual matter which change configuration not because of forceful interactions, but perhaps because we've changed the way we "see" them. 

And if I'm also right that cosmos doesn't require human mind for this to happen; that it's happening all the time all over the place. Then the very encoding of information about what's round about us might be an intensely emotive act in and of itself.

We find ourselves at a time when we still refuse to recognize a direction to the evolutionary process, and yet we could. That makes us the moral equivalent of global warming deniers. But I exaggerate. What I don't exaggerate is what Bratton's so-called "stack" does to provide us with levers, which could never have been so powerful, mainly because they're so collective. But alas, he lives in a purely physical world. The moral equivalent of living in a purely digital world.

As is always the case, our tools may harm us. Digital reality allows me to borrow a book from the local library in the time of the plague, and read it instantly. Digital reality also allows me to entertain myself with empty matters without ever leaving my seat. It allows for a new phase of vectorialist capitalism, which might make way for sociopathic corporate persons even worse than the DuPont which gave us PFOA, to give us Teflon, so that we wouldn't have to scrub our pans. Warfare fallout.

We shouldn't make the same old Platonic mistake of trying to live in a world of pure ideas. We have to live down to earth. We aren't alive without it.