Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Three Body Secret of China

The Three Body Secret of China

Some time back in maybe 2016, when I was routinely in Shanghai working for an American College which wanted to build a bridge between here and there, I became aware of the SciFi novel then known in English as The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin. Of all things, I learned of the book by way of Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg touted reading it and touted himself by proxy.

Now I’ve grown to detest Facebook for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here, but mostly because I’ve always been socially shy. It was a work-necessity at the time (across a VPN while in China). But I learned about the precedent-shattering Hugo award, and I even watched Zuckerberg mimic an American tech-titan in a cringe-worthy imitation of Chinese. I’ll give him credit for trying. I won’t give him credit for much else.

While trying to build my bridge, I would routinely speak before large groups of Chinese students, and sometimes - after I’d read the book - I would ask who had read San Ti, its Chinese title. I was surprised that only a few would raise their hands, though my survey was not an accurate count. The book has its subversive undertones, which might have kept hands unraised at the time.

Amazon was viable then in China, and I had a physical address in Shanghai, so creating my Chinese account was trivial. I had amassed enough WeChat cash to purchase the three-book collection for a song. It was a pretty easy read, not exactly packed with those pesky four-character expressions or too many erudite literary allusions the way that Card Apprentice was when I translated its 600-plus chapters uncredited and for a pittance while wandering across the US trying to understand Trumpism. I was translating for the Chinese on-line literary equivalent to The Voice or whatever we do over here on television that I shall never watch. I was indeed a party to, and part of, the modern version of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, or a six-day ride-until-you drop bicycle race. Not pretty.

Hey, let’s put on a show! Let’s get rich on the desperation of the intelligent masses. Let’s transform our economies to something even worse than capitalism and make the people love it! It’s all free, after all! The money pump to the top is more efficient than ever, post-industrially speaking. That’s what tech means!

Along my travels, I was told about the child of an acquaintance of my sister who was starring in an upcoming Chinese film about the story of Edgar Snow and Red Star Over China, which I’d obviously read, since I’ve obviously studied some about China.

Now Kenan Heppe, who played Snow in the film, comes across as a rather caricatured American, reminiscent of Zuckerberg’s self-caricature, and is criticized for that. I think that’s how he was cast though, and he played the part brilliantly. Zuck is just a tool.

Way back when, I spent some hours trying to figure out if either film was ever made, and never could. That was when Covid was hitting, and frankly, penetrating the Chinese web remains deuced difficult by reason of a kind of language and ordering that is still more different than Chinese already is from English. I gathered that production of Three Body was suspended for various reasons, having less to do with Covid than with cinematographic cultural reconfigurations. I watched some atrocious clips. And then I forgot about the whole mess.

Now, in the midst of another great China-America chill which makes me glad I never did build that bridge because it would have crumbled if not from Covid then from America’s continued ignorance about China, I find myself curious again.

Low and behold, there is a Chinese TV series called Three Body which is easily available now to continent-bound me, by way of Peacock. And that unnamed American piratical (when I point at you there are three fingers pointing at me, nenerneenernana) mega-service had the Red Star film for free. Navigating cross-continent subscriptions remains tricky for me, and the price differential can be mind-boggling, although I may still have some yuan in my WeChat account. Hmmm. In any case, Amazon in China, having my now defunct Chinese phone number on its mostly defunct service, is well beyond me anymore.

So here’s the point of my meandering post:

Each of us is a strange attractor by way of coincidence; we are attractors mostly for links which none of us could make solely on the basis of hard work. None of us can master what is really true in cross-cultural relations. All of us are subject to prejudice, and all news is slanted, at least by the prime directive to get your attention.

But I shall and must confess that I wept while watching the Red Star film. It was a fine representation of China’s founding hagiography. I saw myself in my own youth, since the actor somewhat resembles me at that time. The film was also a morality play meant to remind the US of old promises, and the way we once were. Both cinematic productions are old by now, just as I am.

Anyhow, I’ve dived right back in to reading Three Body for yet another time, with my old-age Chinese on my crumbling China-based tablet. I know that I was thrilled by the first read. But there are deeper harmonics for me now. I doubt that anyone even yet knows how profoundly this book has altered China’s sense of itself, and our relations with China.

These twin experiences have given me new hope.

End of Message.

Monday, February 19, 2024

It's About Time

I said I'd stop this. I'm old and I'm tired much of the time. I'm always in pain. Not debilitating pain, but the kind that makes you not want to kneel, lift, climb and so forth in anticipation of how it will feel. I exhibit many of the signs which most people refer to as lazy. I'm certainly lazy in my writing. 

Way back when I hit on what I thought then, and still think now, was an important reconfiguration of how we conceive of understanding, I was certain that the upshot was so obvious that all I had to do was prime the pump and then some more qualified individual would take it over. 

Indeed that pattern has been my conviction about how things work. If Einstein hadn't come upon his theories of relativity, someone surely would have. After all, these are matters of truth - or what I prefer to call truing - where, over time, all of us must agree. I don't tend to credit genius as much as an exuberant first to the finish line. Perhaps you might say that so-called "genius" is a grant from the Fates, which it surely is. But a winner does require skill and training to luck into a win. 

A lazy ass like me can almost never be a winner. Well, I'd say, based on work I've done and jobs I've held that I am not a lazy soul. But I sure am shy of winning. 

Lately, I've been making the unsupported claim that time is a conspiracy of life. Then last night I watched a fairly pedestrian biographical look at Einstein, on Netflix, and realized that I'd better do a bit more work here. 

Among the quips tossed off by the actor playing Einstein - all credited as the actual words of Einstein in writing or in speech - was one about time. Something like "no future to look forward to and no past to regret". I find this online: "The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." Close enough. 

But Einstein's theories only showed that time would slow according to relative velocity of motion, I don't think he ever demonstrated, in his thought experiments, that time could reverse. Subsequent physical models have required time reversal - a kind of reverse causality - as a feature of our cosmos at its extremes.

So it remains unchallenged and therefore unexamined that on the macro scale, causality defines the material cosmos. That's the basis for how the scientific method sets out to understand the way things are structured, and the way that they work. Prediction is the thing, and it should, ideally, be based on a schematic model; a theory. I understand something, scientifically, when my predictions are true, to within some acceptable margin for error.

In a way, I would like to broaden the meaning of "understanding" to accommodate what most of us mean when we say "understood." We live in a time of radical mistrust of authority, which must relate at least a bit to the complexity of elite theorizing. I think that the cosmos may be rather simpler than the experts let on. I continue to believe that this reconceptualization will be good for us all. And by "good" I don't refer to the good life, but rather to life that is good for everyone. A community of man.

But most of us who read at all know that there is this pesky matter of quantum theory, also triggered by Einstein, which prevents, in principle, knowledge about causality beyond certain limits for perception. Indeed, most accepted versions of the theory have it that the investigating subject cannot be removed from the observations; that any attempt to measure - to pin down - what is happening has an impact on the results. Objectivity is dashed beyond a certain scale. 

Now way back when in my youth I was troubled by the twin paradox in classical relativistic physics. In my thought experiment I had to reduce the cosmos to just two elements, each of which would leave the cosmos of the other were they moving relative to each other.

I understand that the paradox has been rubbed out by math, but however those formulations are made, they don't resolve the thought experiment for me. It's trivial to realize that objects in relative motion eventually fall out of touch. But for me, the trouble was that 'out of touch' meant impossible of relation in the direction of what I consider to be 'multiple cosmos solutions' to knotty physics problems. Talk about a violation of the principle of Occam's Razor!

In a material world, there are only forces and objects, and all relative motion must be accountable to those. I surmised that there must be a conceptual relation apart from forces and objects, without which there couldn't be a singular cosmos at all. 

Without forces, these relations are static; they form concepts or ideas. When they change they do so according to the quasi force of emotion. But emotion is an apprehension rather than an imposition. Still, it is real. The shape of a crystal is real and realized over time. It seems to tend in the direction of some idealized geometric form. 

We humans are used to distinguishing natural forms from artifice on the basis of shapes which tend toward ideals, discounting the spirals of the nautilus for their very complexity; their no two the same quality. 

Now here's where my laziness kicks in. I simply don't know what the consensus is about apprehensions of intelligence. I know that the creationists are crazy, but I don't know that the evolutionists care enough about how unlikely evolved "natural" forms are. I differ with their usage for random.

Over enough time, the random processes of evolution begin to look similar to crystallization; as though revealing a kind of hidden structure - the manifestation of an atomic structure "underneath." Might we ourselves not be conceptualized as the manifestation of some latent structure of the cosmos? Something only manifest over time. 

I would maintain that time is directional in either the materialist or the evolutionary sense only as a conspiracy of the whole. Furthermore, there is no purely physical resolution to the conundrum of time's arrow. 

Here I make my lazy leap, that, therefore, time's arrow is a function of the evolution of life. And the attention given for the measurement of quanta, whose existence in a particular locus in space-time as required by an act of measurement, is demonstrably absent prior to the measurement being taken. The "thing" measured demonstrably exists in a measurable, or at least estimable, cloud of probability. There are waveforms which pervade the cosmos, until they are collapsed by impingement.

My own impetus for this kind of thinking was to resolve - or to "understand" - the many "meaningful coincidences" that I, and I suppose all of us, experience in life. It seemed too lazy even for lazy me to attribute these to God. There had to be something missing in our treatment of random. In all things, I took some clues from China.

Probability relates to chance which relates to random. It is my contention that emotion is what turns the attention of the measurer to the object being measured; passionless though those operators of the perceptual apparatuses may seem. I am redefining usage for emotion to where it is never absent and is never just some quality of the higher forms of life. Emotion is apart from, but essential to, the materialistic outlook.

If there is consternation about the weirdness of quantum mechanics, it seems to focus on the absurdity that conscious measurement determines the disposition of reality. Or call it conscious attention. I understand there may be argumentation about whether, and if so how, consciousness might be an aspect of everything. A kind of panconsciousness. Some call it panspiritualism, panpsychism or maybe "analytical idealism" the way that Bernardo Kastrup does.

I'm trying to make this all much simpler. In my understanding (haha!) it is emotion which is pervasive. And emotion is not something that is possessed, any more than forces are. Emotion is a relation, as is force, and it constitutes the apprehension of forceless motion; meaning, really, that there is a correspondence between the motion happening "over there" and something "familiar" toward or away from which it is moving. 

I don't wish to imply that there has to be an apprehender. I'm only trying to distinguish from perception, which is material implication. Emotional implication is what entangles the twins of the twin paradox. A sense of potential oneness. This is also the superposition familiar to researchers in quantum computing. The connection of distant particles, by definition as I'm suggesting, is an emotional connection. 

At the mega scale at which we operate, all that means is that the particles are connected by a "knower." There is no other way to define both the separation and the oneness. Knowledge then consists in a correspondence between models in the mind and models in reality beyond the mind. The match is an emotional match. Reality can't be defined without it. I guess that I must confess that I also don't think "mind" implies a knower. Mind is a distributed quality of matter when that matter takes a form. Mind conceives, while force is required for perception. And exchange of percepts or what we sometimes call gauge bosons (I think).

Or in other other words, the search for strange forces or time un-bound exchange of information is fruitless, and shall forever be. Information theory is strangely agnostic about means of transmission, which makes information seem disembodied, which, of course, it can never be in reality. There has to be something to count; whether "packets" of zeros and ones as transmitted by wifi or ethernet or light pulses or whatever. The information is sent and it is received. In the case of superposition, there is no transmission at all. There is a definition for identity which is far more extensible than the resolution of the twin paradox ever need be.

Well, I guess and suppose that this is all about as clear as mud to you, though it is as limpid as ether to me. I remain convinced that this shift to understanding can and will make a difference, and that it is as inevitable as Einstein's part I. Part II is where we neutralize the power of the bomb because we realize that it is only love which is holding it all together. No matter what the Right Wingers tell themselves, truth does matter. A lot. 

Let's start telling it.

Interregnum: Grey Gardens and Pale Fire

You will recognize by tortured non-native English my affinity for Nabokov, who is quite unreadable in Pale Fire. I depended on meme-literate offspring for the existence of Grey Gardens (I watched all three renditions). But it is by the strange happenstance which orchestrates all our lives that I witnessed and read both renditions, gape-mouthed, within a very short interval. 

It is strange that either of these works existed in the first place, and stranger still that they have survived. I could say the same about myself.

I won't recommend the works, mainly because of each their obstinate impenetrability. And yet they were fun for their makers, who must all have felt no choice in the matter once it began. The creative world of media was certainly strange during my childhood. Stranger even than now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Really Big Picture

Across the span of my lifetime, things have changed with almost breathtaking speed. My tendency, which must be the tendency of most everyone as they grow older, is to disparage the changes. So I have all these possibly fake memories about how workers once took pride in their work, and devoted themselves to a lifetime craft. I remember my own jarring discovery in my youth on a bicycle, that each city looked like any other with the same ugly shopping strips sporting the same ugly shops and bright neon-analog touts.

I've watched and tasted good local eateries replaced by automated franchise outlets, and national brand-names supplant local trusted merchants. I grew up in a house with a fallout shelter, and I remember "helping" to build it. World War II replayed incessantly across the same television networks which helped me cheer our arrival on the moon.

Or, in other words my upbringing left me blind to racism, sexism, ghettos of poverty, except in retrospect. I was insulated from deficits in health standards or building standards or how much industry was changing and despoiling the landscape. Until Lake Erie died, which changed the course of my entire life.

By the time I was a conscious adult, computers had already infested banking and supply chains and would soon infest education and commerce more generally.

Now, on a macro scale we see any and all kinds of trust dissolving into an unholy mess of conspiracy theorizing. I know it's attraction. I remember reading about the Bildebergers in a tract out in the territory where Bo Gritz was as prominent as Jesus Saves billboards. I could feel the panic and outrage as it fitted itself to my doubts. Somehow now the billboards and the tracts have become coarser and even further removed from reality. How quaint it is really, that it was a Google divorcee who funded the bizarre retro respiriting of JFK with the likeness of his nephew. The flaw not quite being the nutty nephew, but rather the already weird and unreal conception we've all inherited about JFK himself. 

Judging by how one stream of filmic zeitgeist has developed, many of us are transfixed by apocalyptic endings. History can and likely must be jarring in our technological streaming age. It's never the same river anymore, in a way as different from what Heraclites might have meant when he spoke or wrote of flow and change. 

We still think that at least a part of the change has included improvements to understanding, to knowledge, to security, and even to decency. If things are not getting better that must be because of a moral failing. Indeed it is.

Like a ski jumper, there can be no doubt that my life has spanned the end of the geometric curve which represents the scientific and industrial revolutions. Guilty! Any sort of geometric curve ends not in quasi-parallel trajectories to eternity. It ends in explosion. It ends in a leap.

I hope for an explosion of consciousness, let us pray.

So many people now apologize for Trump by calling him honest, honorable, not part of the swamp. We crave a moral compass now that we accept unvarnished appetite for the way an honest honorable and clean person should behave. 

Others challenge you to find an honest or decent politician anywhere. When did that become a proper defense for the moral vacancy now in ascendance on the Republican side of the aisle?

Anyhow, the thing about all understanding and knowledge is that it must build within a kind of master cultural narrative. The feeling of understanding is really the pleasant feeling of meshing with the larger understanding; our cultural zeitgeist. One person's understanding, these days, is another person's woo woo conspiracy theory, or religious dementia, or depraved hedonism. 

The kinds of Kuhnian shifts which really change our minds are at least analogous to cultural clashes. At least that jarring. 

Now we seem to have fragmented into a kind of heaving swamp of mini-cultures clashing in ways as subtle, changeable and confusing as what the world looks like through a kaleidoscope, without the wonder.

What could possibly bring us back together, now that commerce is the only thing which can truly define the overall appearance of our living landscape. Commerce based on wants and needs which start with food, shelter and community and end with abstracted lusts for those same things writ larger and larger and more and more complex. How much of our enthusiasm do we spend anymore on things that really count. Do we even spend a relative dime on sustainable permanence? Should we?

Or are we locked into a collective supposition that we can collectively achieve a kind of perfection in our systems? A supposition which seems indistinguishable from driving over a cliff in a mad paroxysm or joy at the ride. 

When we despair about "biodiversity" we've reduced the earth to a matter of complexity. By some measures, our complexity has increased, especially if you're focused on data, which is a focus on tabulation which is a focus on a false information theory based misapprehension of intelligence. What we obviously need are sets of better metaphors. To fret about biodiversity is to ignore the possibility that the destruction is equivalent - and I do mean morally equivalent - to the destruction of each of our own bodies. We are killing ourselves for the sake of dead metaphors. 

Frankly, we're doing it because we're having too much fun. We dance on earth's corpse. 


Well, I started this quest by the instigation of meaningful coincidence, or what Meghan O'Gieblyn calls "doublings." I felt at the time - when I was a younger man - that I'd figured it all out. I have to confess that while I may be wiser, like Joe Biden, I may have lost some acuity. I can't quite bring back that Eureka! sense. 

I had something to do with a basic realization about the structure of the cosmos, and I know that it didn't challenge any of our materialistic certainties. It only drew limits around them. Those limits were fundamentally premised on the "function" of chance in reality. Not just in genetics, where it might be almost obvious, but in our daily lives. I experienced a kind of euphoric sense of amplification of the quite ordinary observation that most of what determines who and what we are is not a predicable function of material reality, but rather a complex interaction among more factors than we can catalog. Emotion defines the thrust of those factors, just as emotion defines how we make our decisions, rational or otherwise.

The essence that I have retained is that there is a more expansive definition for emotion than the limited and limiting one we intuit in our naive - as in "naive physics" - ways for making sense. When we despair of our destruction of biologic diversity, we also, at the same time, arrogate to ourselves the obligation to make it right, which goes right along with our guilt for the destruction.

We are simply not that important, and all of our metaphors, dead or alive, have it that we are of cosmic importance. We've refined that to some measure for "intelligence" which is the thing we hang our collective hat on. As though that were the core function of evolution and of life.

Well, I do declare that our naive understanding for intelligence is indeed an important aspect of life's evolution. But we should hardly omit the certainty that earth will not go quietly into the dark night of eternal nothingness. The totality of life on the planet is not in accord with our contemporary notions about what intelligent life is doing. On the scale of politics, we have obviously demonstrated most our idiocy as stewards of anything at all. 

Borrowing mildly from Chinese, as I often do, intelligence without what in the West is referred to as heart is not intelligence at all. When we put orgasmic irresponsible thrilling performances of love front and center in the guise of triumph, success, and performative joy, we are ignoring and not embracing love. To say this sort of thing will not make me a popular fellow. I'm positively anti-economic thrusting. We have to cut it out.


We have to stop searching for any postscriptum to the standard model of physics. It's no longer about force and particles. There are force-free conceptual relations which compose the structure of eternal ideas, though I don't quite mean what Plato meant (the first real book, honest, that I ever did read was Plato's Republic). 

The ideas I refer to are not eternally static. They move, and that motion is what emotion describes. Before Apple patented the i- prefix, I was already calling it e-motion, just as a kind of joke on what we're most proud of.

Well, I might be signing off for good. I'm getting too old to make good arguments, and nobody is paying any attention anyhow. 


I must repair my house and car. It didn't use to hurt so much.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Super Bowl Predictions

Just like Tracy Chapman, ha, I drive around in my old car. Too much money going into it after too many miles. But it's a stick shift and has no interest in guiding my driving. I scoured the universe and there are no more manual transmissions on the market. And I've had it with rehash of someone else's driving habits being pawned off against my own concocted penury.

A tipping point for me. Driving is dead and so should car culture be. Buying electric is a vote for a future I don't even remotely want. I want my city back from Robert Moses, and don't we all now? Vegas can't even do Formula One right!

I wrote about eating at the restaurant at the end of the world, the one which targets the inhabitants of Mcmansions. All of whom spend at least some time in Vegas. What were we thinking? Let gambling in and the NFL will be better? Richer, sure, but . . .

I went to Vegas once and it was mind-blowing. Never have I been so panicked than when crammed by a funneled crowd of strollers at a choke point in the storied sunset walk though and past all the competitive free shows.

If TayTay were performing at half-time it couldn't be more over the carrot top who might yet be our president again. His swan song will be to impersonate Elvis let us pray. What are the odds. Haven't we invited in all the terrorists of the planet for this one? How will it start and how will it end. Will anyone even notice what is being kicked off?

The only places I would still like to drive anymore are in the flyover realms off season. I would like a walkable city with parking at its perimeter and plenty of convenient mass transit thank you very much. Bicycles a-plenty where all the beefy guys are nice.

I will watch on a wall-sized low-res projection, even as TV prices still incredibly drop. I will make wings in Buffalo, coals to Newcastle, over the airwaves. Missing Hunter S. as my wheels are already smoking, my engines belching fire over which rainbow reboot? He shot himself for what?

Anyhow, what's being kicked off is the end of this whole mess. Everything reverts to local, where there actually do remain politicians who are public servants, and who knows, maybe we'll stop paying attention to the global once the media starts its inevitable crumbling now that the interconnections exceed the actual knowledge to keep it all going and safe and worth interacting with. Now that everywhere is pretty much the same.

Let's start with the Post Office, how about, located at the very origin of our brand of capitalism, and put Facebook back where it belongs there. Separate out the product from its delivery again. We'll devolve expertise back local as well. Prices will recalibrate with working class wages and nobody will abide the megawealth of sports or media superstars because what's that all got to do with me.

I like my music live in intimate venues. Welcome back, Buffalo, and may the Super Bowl recede from importance in all of our recollectivism of community activism. Don't come rushing in to where we'll have drinkable water without climate catastrophe for a lot longer than you will. We will dig ourselves out from our automobile destruction a lot more quickly than you will, by hand if necessary, without the panic of New York City.

Vegas will melt down from desert heat. The coasts will be inundated. It's a sign that many of you will find us during the eclipse. Darkness at Noon. Ish. A sign of the times. Groucho not Karl, we shall move beyond the twin models for totalizing labor at the expense of real work. Real human work. MAGA. Communism. Same thing. Whatever.

Any end is always a beginning. Go Bills!

* * *

Well, for sure the Bills didn't win. I was rooting for the Chiefs despite TayTay, and they did their end thing in then end, which maybe we'll learn by next year. I'm keeping my old car, I guess, no matter the cost. It's my service for the sake of the world and so that I don't hate driving. 

It's interesting how much infrastructure can be destroyed how quickly, in Ukraine or in Gaza say. So it's a good thing that our world is now built of cardboard? Has that been the plan all along? Build it and they will come to burn it down. And then we can reinstate, as it were, our art. Reclaim beauty as a public good. Find a way actually to know our neighbors and talk to them. Let go of guilt and outrage both, because they tend so much to become their opposite which never seems to resolve in the direction of love.

I don't know. A bunch of the family went to Niagara Falls the day before the Super Bowl, indulgently and somewhat embarrassingly crowding around my wonderful granddaughter as she was treated to the aquarium. A mostly deserted place on the American side, and mostly deserted by Americans as most strollers were speaking other languages. And it was that rare thing for this winter. A sunny day.

Who knows why the ice boom was put up this year, the first year really in a while that it held back no ice at all. So few years ago it was busted by ice which scraped the low lands bald. 

And as we did with the Peace Bridge, we will debate to death our dire need to rid the city of cars instead of coddling them. Until the car culture dies its natural death, too long after I'm gone for me. So long. The Peace Bridge undercapacity was solved by an obsession with terrorist crossings, making it so unfriendly that casual trips to Canada, by boat or by car, have become too cumbersome to be a pleasure.

The most amazing thing about the Super Bowl was that with tickets costing a minimum of a couple grand, and a maximum of a few hundred K to average 11K a pop, there was a streaker on the field, adverted to carelessly by one of the announcers. What's the backstory to that one? A bet redeemed? An actual football fan who bares his or her chest routinely and spent their entire fortune just to be there? Surely no rich person would risk the attention.

God knows. Yeah right, we all need our comforting fictions. My wings were great!

I do take comfort that wisdom and grace do win out when nature takes its course. We'll get over this because we have to. We shall continue to evolve, like it or no.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Reading with Indigestion After the Pandemic

I lay mostly awake, almost in a panic, from too much unaccustomed rich food and wine. My seeming fevered imagination recalls the day's peregrinations in search of a stick shift car. Inside the ones that I could have spin endless rounds of mindless interconnections. I want to drive dammit, not to be driven. I need at least to picture what is going on.

Automobiles now like golf carts, even reminding you when you approach a hole; prompting you to look up from whatever doomscroll passes on your phone. In my forced awakeness I catalog shopping trips. Rude memories of empty shelves for toilet paper may have been part of the impetus to install a squirting toilet seat. At least I won't ever have to fret for pinching shit between my cheeks, though I do discover that my skin there is tender now when forced to wipe. Perhaps frozen raw by my lack of wherewithal to make the squirting heated. 

How much flour shall I keep in reserve? How much pasta? I measure the balance between nearby store and my shelves and shall never again be completely calmed by how close it is.

Rolling along overfilled tailgated lanes past almost unbelievably ugly squat structures sporting touts for this and that, without even any hint of architectural digest. It is abomination cast in fake stone. Getting even worse by the flashing lights of delivery vans right in my lane.

Of course, I am attempting Nabokov Pale Fire as the simpler alternative to Finnegan's Wake which shall never be worth my bother, or the Recognitions which inevitably shall be. Metanovel, what? Oh please. Exposing the structure is interesting only to dissectionists.

Hypertext progenitor, I do actually own two Kindles and can, therefore, move easily back and forth between the cantos and the cruel send-up of all academics, true to my own experience though that may be. I am rather more sympathetic.

There are roads left to travel, though not many. Not very many at all. We suffocate in sameness.

I feel it all fall apart. We all do, but won't admit it. Our landscape the fever dream of getting by and shooting for the very top. We drive the landscape of raw greed, and where's the advancement in that? 

I truly have no understanding of what, truly is left of the attraction of, say, the Himalayas. To climb perchance to die and along the way to make everything worse for your efforts. I'll watch the filmic version and be plenty excited enough. There are plenty of real heroes, locally.

I was treated by my wealthy friend who had the good sense or good fortune to inherit scads of Eli Lilly. The restaurant so self-consciously tasteful I knew that it would have to be one of at least several in a chain, though it touted a chef of its own. There was utterly nothing fine about the food and so where is the line between a Macmansion and the superstar houses depicted as a kind of pornography on or through our webs? The taste is all gone. My digestion has aged is all. 

Shall we survive this our maturity on our planet. Perhaps small enclaves, but where it the art? Wasn't there something good once?

Where is the love? It would seem that the king of our Amazon wanted only large tits. My boat is more fun to sail. Bush free for the sake of grinding beef. Really? Is that all that there is? I don't even want an automobile anymore. I would rather walk or ride in the company of nice architecture. Nice people, well read and fed and led by those who at least know how to read.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

What Emotion Means for Consciousness

As you must know by now, gentle reader, it is my burden to convince you that emotions are at the core of what it means to be conscious, even at an animal level. Just as emotion pervades the cosmos, which would never move without it. 

I don't believe that I am a panpsychist, being rather more attached to the successes of materialism than those folks seem to be. My take is more limited. I take rational consciousness - of the sort which enables us to fix and build things and to get to the moon and back - to be a human quality; a quality of humans alone.

What I don't believe is that emotions arise only at some point in the evolutionary process. Along with Steven Jay Gould, I don't quite believe that evolution is progressive, teleological, or tending toward completeness in understanding or fulfillment. Evolution is life, driven in the direction of love, and is no more forever than the sun is. We're in a shady moment now.

Love is not necessarily a force for progress.

Emotions are as there at the beginning as elementary particles are, though they don't avail themselves to perception. Emotions are more directly felt - they are the only truly inner feelings. Emotions move without any rational consciousness at all. Interactions among Platonic ideas, if you will. Though nothing is eternal.

The researcher Mark Solms has convincingly demonstrated, and cited others who have demonstrated, that consciousness does not require our "higher" faculties; it requires the stem more than the convoluted surfaces of the brain. Emotive awareness is a direct response; a weighing of the odds which requires no more calculation than does the attitude of a leaf which wants the sun.

I am no researcher. I am an interested party, convinced that we are on a very wrong track with what we think intelligence means, and free will, and how that all might relate to evolution and our very existence. To think that we can design our way out of life is to believe that you can lift yourself by your bootstraps. I think this matters, and that those who are researchers need to be nudged by random others, before the consequences of our misapprehensions play out their massive consequence. Our world will not endure our contemporary cleverness; our heartless AI designs.

Like everyone I've ever met anywhere, I spend a lot of time trying to figure things out. Mostly, like everybody else, I keep these things to myself (except for here, haha!), though I may have a talent for eliciting the everything thoughts of others. Not sure.

When I mention 'heartless AI designs', that does not mean that I think AI research is somehow evil. I just don't believe that it can lead anywhere close to what it means to be human. Except, perhaps, by abreaction. Like all research, AI research can move in many directions. It's the remoteness from ordinary thought that makes it suspect. We've already ceded so much of our reason to the upper echelons, which is plenty enough to explain the Trumper backlash. We need to stop this. Stop ceding our local initiative.

For sure, I am not as willing as some researchers are to discard the possibility that there will still be a godhead, no matter our apparent progress toward more and more complete understanding. I am quite willing, however, to discard religion, which is fundamentally the play of patriarchy; and a perennial goad toward its power. I'm still not sure if or that my godhead differs in any significant way from the panpsychists' sense that consciousness is everywhere in everything.

No, I think I meant the idealists, Bernardo Kastrop style for whom my godhead is his cosmic mentation. Mentation still feels like a kind of direction to me; something that tends toward completion. I'm not sure that there's anything wrong with Kastrop's thinking. I just a little bit unsure that it really adds anything or resolves anything. That's because he seems as emotion-voided as the physicalists.

Well, enough of that blather. Because I am convinced not so much that I might be right about what consciousness isn't as I am that it's not what most researchers on consciousness seem to think that it is, I am rather more interested in human tool usage than most seem to be. And less interested in design.

As a boat rebuilder (I'm not bold enough to build from scratch, nor can I see my way clear to becoming a builder, any more than I could become a researcher), I find that there are two approaches. The one builds on experience, but engages in back and forth with the results of the building at various stages until a serviceable and beautiful boat is revealed. The other begins with a design - on paper, if you will - which the builder endeavors to realize as nearly as possible. 

I am and shall remain much more enamored of the first sort of boat-building. I guess it feels more "organic," and therefore more real. It allows for triumph that's closer to the grass roots. It never favors the rich and the powerful. I still drive a stick shift, idiot that I am.

I find my own attachment to tools to be emotive. There is a feel to tools and their usage, which is quite on the border, for me at least, between physical feel, which is a quality secondary to perception, and the more direct feeling of an emotion. Direct feeling in the mind is that in which consciousness consists. An emotion is only ever obliquely mediated by perception. I say that because emotions are always prior to conscious perception. They turn our attention, so to speak. 

Just about the only thing I take actual joy in is fixing things. I'm good at it, though not professional good. Git 'er done kind of good, but my work lasts. I'm old enough to prove it. I'm also old enough to be losing the joy in the fixing. A certain kind of energy is required for that. I'm losing it.

And yes I do mean something akin to what Zen In the Art of Archery describes. Attempt for too much precision and you miss the mark. As an item of trivia, this is the book I've given away most in my life. But I'm no purist. I do use electrically powered tools now, where my emotional feelings are mostly engaged in the sharpening. I no longer use them free-form, though I once did with pretty darned good accuracy.

Zen in life involves accepting the inexplicable accidents as a part of the life that you have rather than a distraction from the life that you (think that you) want. Want too much and you miss all the good stuff. Of course that's easy for someone loaded with as much social capital as I have. My desired contribution to helping others is by way of a quest to improve our understanding of what life is, and by inference therefore our understanding of what it isn't.

Our brutish behavior toward one another is not a necessary part of civilization. Our brutishness toward others demonstrates only our own lack of civilization. 

Now, for sure, as always happens, my relation between perception and feeling raises a kind of chicken/egg problem. For me, that is only a milepost on the way to what we generally mean by consciousness. Does it happen first in bacteria? In plants? Is it only ever a matter of relative speed? Over a long enough time, the world does evince a kind of consciousness overall, or so some would say.

But we are not aware of any "other" for our earth, nor of the necessary bicameralism of its thinking apparatus. Each of those dialogical processes is required for rational consciousness. Or any kind of consciousness; there is no such thing as a unitary solitary lizard. So far as we know so far, there may be such a thing as a solitary unitary earth.

I rather think there is no consciousness in plants, although there are other sorts of researchers who think that plants have feelings too. I can't seem to get that far, though it may be that plants are so integrated with our own thought-based chicken/egg sets of dilemma and paradox that it would be hard to disentangle the relations. There are "plants" within the boundaries of our skin.

The moves of plants - toward or away from the sun, for instance - surely mimic our own feelings toward homeostasis, as Solms would have our feelings work. In any case, up through the food chain, plants provide our energy from the sun. They are, at least, a part of consciousness.

And so I raise yet another reason why there are no digital tools, in the literal sense of tool. At least, I claim a mild distinction between "proper" tools and metaphorical tools. In our language now, we seem to like to paint with a brush too broad, and don't always notice, or want to take note, about when a particle has become a meta-particle, or when a tool has gone meta too. 

For me, tools represent a reversal of the ordinary vehicle/tenor vector toward meaning beyond what words can say. A tool is not like a hand; a tool extends the hand to make the hand like a tool. Sometimes there is love in the touch, though almost never by way of a tool, once you're meaning human to human love.

And I'm not so enamored anyhow of the metaphoric conceit. I think that's because there always seems to be a direction to it, analog at least for the direction for history that most of us in the West - which means almost all of us altogether now - seem to believe is progress. 

As metaphor, a tool points, as I say, backward, to the thing itself. The hand, say, or the teeth or sometimes to the eye or the ear. I have now on my bookshelf an actual telescope from the age of sail. And it's still functional. And wooden and brassy and gorgeous, in its way. 

I have said, very early on, that the skin provides a kind of boundary to when words become metaphorical. Head of state, hand of the market, foot of the mountain kind of thing, expression of the self or of a bladder. Our body is what we know intimately, while these others things can only be pointed at. The soul, say. God, maybe. Sub-atomic particles certainly. Mathematical constructs which happen, in the aggregate, to work, mathematically speaking. So long as you don't try to pin them too exactly.

But now plants may indeed feel, though I doubt they're conscious. Lizards are surely conscious, but they don't have will. Not free will anyhow. Nope, one needs reason to have free will. The body moves and the mind takes credit. After the fact.

Back when I worked with computers and networks, I really didn't know as much as plenty of the rest of that crowd. But I was the better trouble shooter and problem solver, and network systems developer. I think pretty much because I knew how things worked and how to fix them. I had some sense that others lacked. I had worked with my hands and with tools. Actually, in fact, when gathered as a group, by Novel or by Microsoft, for example, we tech managers were all aging baby boom liberal arts and portly schlumps.

Tools are extensions of the body. They give the mind room to calculate; the sharper the tool the sharper the mind. One must take the time to sharpen and hone if one wishes to cut the uncarved block and not to cut oneself. Break the skin. Outer the blood, and let the aliens in. 

If one wishes to think, one ought to do it by a tree, the very way that Kindle pictures reading. Leaves. Which the tenor, which the vehicle? The both do move in mysterious ways, one by wind, one by reading and round and round the qi flows, where it stops nobody knows.

Come in, my friend, come in. It's warm inside. There is no metaphor where qi is flowing.

Well anyhow, our trouble now is that we've allowed everything to move up, up and away. There is almost no decision-making to be made locally anymore, with finance capitalism funneling it all to the mystical top. Money is the beating heart of artificial intelligence. 

When restaurants and grocery stores and hardware stores were owned and run locally, there were smart and informed people involved with local politics. Sure, they had local prejudice and shortsightedness. They needed to be invaded by the feds now and again. Whatever.

Most of us have abdicated our responsibility to try and understand life, the universe and everything. We prefer to entertain ourselves to death. In rough order of descent, let's start with religious abdication, go through hedonistic apologia down to the basement of utter depravity. Call that one lust for power.

At the lowest level one becomes an avatar and not a person. A reflection of the depravity of at least and at most the half of us. Consciousness depends.

Now nobody knows who and what to believe. Otherwise smart people think that it's OK to put a zero like Trump in charge. Should have been tossed out with the bathwater. There's nothing there after you wash off all the dirt. But things are so bad that really people are just excited to blow it all up before it turns into their personal nightmare. We can't even share our nightmares anymore. 

Like maybe SBF is fundamentally innocent, since it all comes out OK after the wash when the Ponzi schemes rebound, and maybe the board members she sold ought to have been sent up instead of Grace Slick Thanatos, I mean Theranos. Would Harvey Weinstein have been convicted if he looked like gay Rock Hudson instead of like a troll? He picked me up as a hitchhiker when he was part of Harvey and Corky here in Buffalo - music promoters - and I just wondered how someone so young and dorky, wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, could afford to be driving a Buick. A Riviera, I think. Maybe. He was very nice, not like those creepers who sometimes wanted to grab my leg, but always let me out when I objected. Thanks God I could be threatening. Look, I always liked the guy's films.

On the whole we're out of whack and off our balance. Getting it together globally on the planet is proving much more tricky than we seem to have anticipated. Like, who could know that fascist piglet Giorgia Meloni could be good for Italy's economy. Mama Mia!

So now I'm trying to read Dennett et al. on humor. I can only try to read now, I am so decrepit. But along the way of my read, they make a vague claim that the two uses of "funny" may be universal; the one leading to involuntary laughter apparently so-called as Duchenne laughter, and funny as in my stomach feels funny.

Try as I might, I can't find that distinction/identity preserved in Chinese. I'm not native enough to say this with any certainty, but funny haha is just "laughable" in Chinese, and funny/weird is just "weird." I think this all goes along with yin/yang couplet versus metaphor pointing toward universal truth. There is no irony in Chinese, though the Chinese themselves don't seem to know that. This, to me, goes along with humor, as in funny haha. The word for humor in Chinese is actually a phonetic borrowing from English.

Irony requires eschatology, teleology, eternity, and God. China is always glossed over, even by the Chinese now. The literary couplet as the major figure of speech is being glossed over. Funny. 

So anyhow, AI is nothing new under the sun. It's been codified in our economics since we started thinking that we could and even should take over the earth. Scientific and industrial revolution, same thing, The joke's on us. AI has long since taken over.

God and Confucius walked into a bar. Both of them needing a drink. 'On me!' says God. 'Oh no,' says Confucius, 'you have no credit down here. This one's on me!' Wanting to honor the Chinese courtesy, God defers to Confucius upon entering, who then says, of course, 'oh no no no, after you,' as must be said to any foreigner. Now God in his certainty that he was the ultimate, the one, the only God, says back to Confucius, 'It's true that I have no credit here. Might I borrow the coin to treat you?' 'Let's flip, says Confucius. Head for yang and tails for yin.' So God flips the coin and it comes up. 

It is sad to me that our American attempt at universal democracy is failing so miserably. A part of that sadness is that we won't admit Chinese as equals, though that only means that we're returning the favor. You won't yet quite really be admitted to China as citizen unless you have Chinese blood.

Perhaps the world requires the othering of peoples. Rural urban east west divides, not to mention north-south. Perhaps our ultimate awakening depends on this dialogic process, and perhaps there will always be blood. I had hoped not. 

A dream for final understanding is but fantasy. Progress is not good unless you know toward what. Understanding doesn't ever lead to meaning. If you buy too many new things you'll lose track of what you like. If you practice love with too many lovers you'll lose the possibility for love. These obvious truths are at odds with our current behaviors on the planet. We should really get a clue.

What we really need is slack.