Monday, January 8, 2024

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Dennett

Since my Mom just died, and I'm thinking a lot about her, assembling memorabilia, and remembering things, I remember way back when I was bombing out from academic physics - really from anything academic - and there was a shallow pool of water in her sink and some machine or other was jiggling it, there was produced a squarish noded pattern on the water, and I pointed to it to say that this is how the cosmos is organized.

She gushed her amazement, which has always left me cringing and disappointed. I've always preferred a challenge to praise, and still tend to hide out rather than to expose myself to social disgraces. I blame Mom.

Anyhow, Dennett just seems trapped in brain as entity and its various possibilities for reproduction, representation, origination and creativity. Now I, along with Plato (I guess) don't consider ideas to be something which can originate in mind. They are, rather, a sort of eternal which only mind can apprehend. Creatives (I hate the term. It denigrates so) seem to believe, some of them, that their creations begin with an idea, which, of course they can't and don't. Creativity and all thinking have to originate from outside the self, which is in interaction with all that the physical embodiment of the mind is working with.

If there were a limit to God, which of course there isn't, then conscious humans might be other from God and in a kind of interaction which machines can't do. I think that's all why Jesus had to be invented, once you're stuck with a God concept. Machines, rather, become a kind of context for our own minds' informing, and are no different from musical instruments in that way. That's one of the nicer observations which Dennett makes.

He's very astute with his distinguishing virtual from real, in that with real there are always impingements which have to be gotten out of the way or dealt with, and which inform us in ways that virtual reality can't and doesn't. Virtual reality requires the creation of those impingements.

There's no mystery to the apparent beauty of computer generated music, or more recently of computer generated imagery. So what' the difference from the real? Well, maybe not much, except that our minds are now so extravagantly informed by the proliferation of machine assisted creative beauty, to stay limited by what machines might do without us is to abdicate our human obligation to work with it, the machine's creation, instead of to be amazed by it. 

A paint brush is a primitive machine as such, and I don't think any painter really wants to watch a machine deploy the brush except, perhaps, to discover possibilities not apparent otherwise. 

I am suggesting that the human being, the conscious mind, is never severable from the real environment of its inception. There is no mind without its perceptual context, and without lots of other like minds. Together, we all form the same kind of lively matrix I witnessed in the kitchen sink with Mom. 

To remain obsessed with particles when they are better seen as nodes within the context of the all, whatever that is, is just a mind stopper. We know that there is no ether, in the primitive meaning of the term as something which might provide drag or pin down absolute zero motion. But now we also know that there is no perfect vacuum, and that these metaphorical "particles" pop in and out of reality all over the place. It's all interactive. 

I might even grant to machine simulations of life the same kind of emotion which I believe actually does pervade the cosmos. That emotion depends from conceptual arrangements when the shape of concepts forcelessly transform. Emotion-free physical motion depends on forces. And these forces are never by themselves, just as our metaphorical particles aren't conceivable as isolated items.

Upon the medium of the mind then, ideas must participate in a kind of evolution. No idea originates with you alone, but also, whatever ideas you might have will be different from those of an earlier or later generation. But they'll never be yours, though you might be the first to apprehend one.

I just finished reading the entire written corpus of Joseph Mitchell during his time at the New Yorker, conveniently compiled into a single quite massive book before he expired. He stopped writing after he awakened to his mirror in Joe Gould. His salary was never suspended, though he never wrote another word. So many poetic types - creatives - were "friends" of Joe Gould. Not only do we invent our projections onto others, we invent ourselves, and Mitchell must have felt a fraud of sorts. Others know better than I could.

But Joseph Mitchell channels the language of his down and dirty livers of life in all the grimy quarters of his environs of pre-digital New York. You sort of know, by the remove of time at least, when styles have shifted, that his own voice overpowers the voices he so faithfully reproduces. The result in any case does feel like real life, and the reader - I - is grateful to know life, well, before. Before it was so belittled by, oh I don't know, the oil-powered explosion of humanity. Life seems closer in Joe Mitchell's recitations. Death too, of course.

I won't have the chance to interact with Dennett while he's still alive. I shall remain intensely grateful to him and to each of the other four horsemen (well, I don't really know Sam Harris, though my daughter had her picture taken with Ben Stiller. once).

I have nowhere been brought more closely to God than in reading Dawkins. It is such a shame that his mind has become right-wing retrograde on social issues regarding gender. Ditto Dennett whose very efforts to disabuse the rest of us from God only cements for me the wonder of existence. I remain radically uncertain as to how those who did finally forsake a clockwork determinate cosmos which could eventually be figured out, went right ahead and replaced it an only subtly different kind of materialism, which won't admit that the unlikelihood for our complexity is the very wonder stuff which Dennett bans from all their models. And anyhow, didn't even Christopher Hitchens go all right wing in the end? God forsaken?

There is indeed nothing very special about humanity, as Dennett's alter ego Stephen Jay (not Joe) urged us so eloquently to understand. Of course Gould would have been a better scientist if he had only let go of his religion. It tends to make a person cheat. Intellectually. As Dennett points our so severely. 

Well, who knows? Not me, that's for sure. I do know that digital reality, which generally means virtual reality, is cut off from cosmos, which is the meaning of on/off zero/one. It's a lousy way to model consciousness, which is far more subtly connected to the all. That doesn't mean that digital hasn't and won't continue to change us, no matter what our beliefs are. 

No comments: