Philosophy

Perhaps a bit random but concerning philosophy stated overtly, by behavior, or as a meme.

“Unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”. — Klaus Conrad

In clearer words, Seeing connection and meaning in data because we want it to be there, not because it really is.
3 aspects of Apophenia
  • Confirmation bias – From a background of randomly distributed items; associating items that have no connection except that they fit the story you are already telling yourself.
  • Rejection bias – Ignoring or denying information that DOESN’T fit the story you are telling yourself.
  • Pareidolia – (less important, but related) A sensory stimulus which is interpreted by the mind as something else. For example being in the shower and the sound of the running water is interpreted as possibly your phone ringing. Or the faces seen in teapots, trucks and clouds. Or Jesus on a piece of toast.
 The classic example is the gambler, excitedly seeing meaningful patterns in random information. I recently had a painful encounter with this in myself, (in a social situation) and I’m a bit shocked at how powerful it can be. This is like “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Except that all the fooling and all the shaming is me.  It’s all me. Damn it, brain.
 You could just call it cherry-picking but that sounds like an occasional, mild sort of problem one might easily correct. I’d describe it as a kind of spectrum disorder because it grows directly out of essential brain functions. About the most basic need for any organism is to recognize meaningful information and patterns. A little discrepancy in the shadows of a bush might mean a tiger. A twinkle of a certain color off in the distance could be fruit. If you can be scared by a sudden unexpected sound or movement, you are the descendent of people who made good use of that same function a long time ago. More subtly, there are patterns to be recognized in faces and voices and words: And in books and television and the internet. This function is a guardian and a navigator for us.

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“We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.”

“When we treat man as he is we make him worse than he is. When we treat him as if he already was what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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William James was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James was a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential U.S. philosophers, and has been labeled the “Father of American psychology”. Among his most influential books are The Principles of Psychology, which was a groundbreaking text in the field; Essays in Radical Empiricism, an important text in philosophy; and The Varieties of Religious Experience. He coined the phrase “stream of consciousness” to describe the experience of the mind. He made an enormous contribution to understanding human behavior and to making psychological practice more pragmatic and empirically based.  If there were “Baseball cards” for daring, dedicated and original thinkers, he would be Lou Gehrig. The linked article is a fun overview of his life and work. The Thinker Who Believed in Doing.

His theory of Self proposed that there are 4 distinct parts:

“The Constituents of the Self may be divided into two classes, those which make up respectively (a) The material Self; (b) The social Self; (c) The spiritual Self; and (d) The pure Ego.”

My focus here is his model of the Social Self which resembles my model of  The Third Mind. The following is edited for relevance from his The Principles of Psychology:

“…Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind. To wound any one of these his images is to wound him. But as the individuals who carry the images fall naturally into classes, we may practically say that he has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. Many a youth who is demure enough before his parents and teachers, swears and swaggers like a pirate among his ‘tough’ young friends. We do not show ourselves to our children as to our club-companions, to our customers as to the laborers we employ, to our own masters and employers as to our intimate friends. From this there results what practically is a division of the man into several selves; and this may be a discordant splitting, as where one is afraid to let one set of his acquaintances know him as he is elsewhere; or it may be a perfectly harmonious division of labor, as where one tender to his children is stern to the soldiers or prisoners under his command.

The most peculiar social self which one is apt to have is in the mind of the person one is in love with. The good or bad fortunes of this self cause the most intense elation and dejection …unreasonable enough as measured by every other standard than that of the organic feeling of the individual. To his own consciousness he is not, so long as this particular social self fails to get recognition, and when it is recognized his contentment passes all bounds.”

 

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I believe many of the answers to the questions that sort of enslave us are available one or two floors above where we do our thinking. And I don’t mean it in a “spiritual” way but in a biological way. We are so overwhelmed by our individual experience of the world that we don’t see that every single one of us is a member of a species and a component in a larger hive style meta-organism. Often several overlapping ones.

You literally cannot ask or answer any question that isn’t shaped by your hardwired domesticated primate brain. You have free will, but only inside a box of rules.

Listen to us, every fucking thing we say about politics and philosophy is about who is good and who is bad.

It never includes a higher insight into why things like racism and war are clockwork for us. These are species quandaries. Well known and poorly understood “fine messes” we are perpetually getting ourselves into. Until we see how they really work and why they truly happen, nothing we say about them helps to change anything.

Imagine if dogs had competing societies. They would totally relate to the idea”I’ll build a wall!”. Some would say “We need to do a lot more barking!” & some would say “We should all just roll in fish TOGETHER”. They would glamorize alphas and make fun of betas and deltas. They would make inappropriate “racist” statements about cats. And all of their damn Facebook comments would be about how “somedoggy” was or was not a good boy.

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The basic question of the universe is whether you will join with something to form a greater level of complexity.

Matter is the greater complexity of atoms.

Life is the greater complexity of chemistry.

Sexual reproduction is the greater complexity of life. Species are the greater complexity of sexual reproduction. Humanity is the greater complexity of species. Tribes are the greater complexity of humanity. City states are the greater complexity of tribes. Nations are the greater complexity of city states. Did you think it would stop there?

A single microbe is a negotiated community; deals were struck, some individuality was sacrificed, a brand new cooperation of diverse elements was necessary. A single human being is a negotiated community cubed, cubed and cubed. We are massive mobile towers of cooperative complexity. When a new stage of complexity is forming, all who don’t want to join see the new form as crazy and unreliable: A cockeyed, unstable monstrosity.

At every stage some will bond higher and some will hold back. Not because they are bad or wrong, but because they are holding the line of what they were. Life doesn’t saw off the branch it’s climbed out onto. Every simpler established level of complexity is a safe fallback. 

The force driving “Brexit” and “American fascism” is the same force driving Islamic fundamentalism and all the other retro-reality movements. There is a terror of a new level of complexity that isn’t comforting and recognizable through that lens. There is a sense that borders are out of control, that floodgates are open which will dissolve the recognizable and wash away what we love.

Don’t be discouraged, friends. Bond higher. Or don’t, but do what you love. 

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Scientists have been explaining for a number of years that race as people think of it doesn’t exist. What we think of as race is just a moment’s snapshot of human traits, reinforced by locality, conditions and culture. Traits that are selected for over time till they have a general sort of look. These traits are as changeable as a cloud over time. That time would be generations long in human terms but the enormous human genome can supply as much variety as people decide they want (to mate with).

But it is deep in humans to identify down to their very soul with their local conditions and customs and repel “outlanders”. It is our literal nature.
A better name for these defended traits is “culture” if we recognize culture as a very serious “this is me, don’t fuck with it” business. The word “racism” isn’t getting us anywhere and the reason is that it isn’t accurate. Admitting that it’s culture and fear of being “dissolved in otherness” leaves us no closer to an obvious solution. Am I really obligated to love other cultures? If so, why? And what if that love is unrequited?

Culture creates a context that evokes behaviors and styles. The phenotypes of people in a given culture probably have something to do with cultural preferences and styles. It’s like studying nature/nurture within a single family, how do you know where one leaves off and the other begins? People initiate the culture and then to a degree, the culture maintains a certain style of people…that maintain the culture!

We all have a culture and we all feel stressed when placed in one that does things very differently. That culture is not wrong for being different and we are not wrong for feeling stressed. If you’ve been lifted out of your Monopoly game and dropped into a game of “Hey, that’s my fish!” or “Twister”, you won’t be feeling quite yourself…literally. You have stepped outside yourself…you are a molecule of your own culture, far from home. This is why “travel is so broadening” it is basic brain stretching and it can feel good or horrible depending on the various players.

Think about the early 20th century immigrants who entered New York City through Ellis Island from all over Europe. These droplets of different cultures rolled as quickly as possible straight for the “Little [insert country here] Neighborhood”. There they could fuse with a tiny colony of their own people; the people whose cooking smelled right, whose voices sounded normal. An ethnic neighborhood might be as small as a single block and kids had to be careful coming and going because if they got caught on the wrong side of the street they’d be behind enemy lines. Even later when groups were more settled and established there’d still be for example an Italian neighborhood  bordered by Polish and German neighborhoods. Finally second to third generation kids would identify generally enough as American to not make a point of staying in the neighborhood.

These European immigrants were obviously more acceptable to the white and European based mainstream culture of America. The borders of difference were relatively permeable from both sides and group after group eventually became “Normal People” to standard America. Who found it harder? People whose features weren’t European. Asians found the borders unyielding and the other side of the border all too often, dangerous. But the virtual walls around the many Chinatowns and Japan towns were well maintained from the inside as well. Ethnic neighborhoods are reality islands created by pressure from inside as much as out.  Continue reading

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You know when you are at a family gathering and someone mentions something that you know is just an argument waiting to happen? Someone has stepped on a landmine and internally you race through your options: Should I placate, distract, argue, or maybe just run? My thought experiment is about race and culture, subjects that make almost everyone feel this way. At a minimum they make you brace for impact.
These hot button words make people dumb because they either snap into combat mode with arguments locked and loaded or they go all “deer in the headlights”.  It literally initiates a fight or flight reaction which means there is no thought or learning taking place. But I need to get at what these things are and mean, so here I go.

 The Experiment:

  Aliens randomly gather 200 men and women and take them to a faraway island or hidden valley and wipe their cultural memories while leaving personality, basic knowledge and survival skills intact. They leave them alone for 500 years and then return to check on them.
Would they have:
  • some recognizable “racial” traits?
  • a leadership structure?
  • a standard of beauty?
  • a spiritual / religious framework? And some sort of representative (priest, shaman) role?
  • stories they like to tell?
  • music?
  • unique styles of clothing?
  • an attitude towards outsiders?
  • some sort of roles for men and women?
  • a story about death?
  • richer and poorer? Or higher and lower caste?
  • a warrior/defense group?

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Because 9 isn’t enough and 11 is too many.

The 10 Commandments (hereafter known by their DJ name, 10C) are often cited as an important foundation of morality for the west: Sort of the moral grandfather to western civilization. This makes the assumption that without them we would behave badly, that if we are behaving well it is partly due to their influence, and that people without them must behave measurably worse.  Since they are treated as a collection I assume that they are all viewed as good and basically equal in worth. Conservative politicians have made enormous efforts at times to connect them with our government and put them in front of us in as many places as they can. It’s always amusing when a reporter asks them to recite the 10C and they can pull together maybe two of them. 

Since I could remember about the same number, I decided to read them over and evaluate their worth as a moral compass. 

1 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This is a message addressed to ancient Hebrews, why it should concern anyone else is unclear. They certainly would not have considered Christians (when they came along) as an appropriate audience for this message. In fact they might well have been outraged. The last bit is interesting because it implies that there ARE other Gods but you mustn’t put them first. Theoretically, it seems to hold out the possibility of worshipping demigods if you don’t get all carried away. As far as western morality is concerned the only link I see here is too monotheism and Christianity in particular. 

2 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.”

This appears to be a restating of the first one with a sudden very strong disapproval of arts and crafts. The emphasis on jealousy reinforces the “other gods exist” idea because otherwise, what is he jealous of? Finally there is a sub clause explaining that if you violate the arts and crafts rule he will kill your grandchildren and beyond. Message for western morality? Be very serious about Christianity. 

3 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

Perhaps it means don’t speak the name at all, again a Hebrew thing. Perhaps it means don’t use it out of the context of worship and adoration because that is blasphemy. Perhaps it means don’t pretend you love me: YOU HAVE TO REALLY LOVE ME! In any event it’s a carrying on of rule number one as additional sub-clauses. I think the vagueness inherent in this one may even be intentional, since one is uncertain what it even means, speaking the name is fraught with the danger that one MIGHT be doing something wrong. This serves the whole “tremble before me” thing. Also, this one seems to suffer from a little self referential thought circle e.g. “Don’t do it because… I’ll consider you guilty if you do it. Because I hate it when you do that.” Continue reading

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Blake-TheAncientOfDays-Trans292I am in LOVE with evidence of truly complex and sophisticated systems in Biology. It makes me really happy when something strange and amazing shows up revealing higher order relationships and systems than anyone thought. I love it because life seems more deep and meaningful in a world of higher orders of mind and connectedness. I have my suspicions that they exist and it doesn’t seem strange to me that we have trouble seeing it.  We are locked into a level of existence and limited perception that make it deeply challenging to learn anything beyond the obvious scope of our senses. Often these exciting results suggest something like intelligence, or intent. Not directly, just a through a kind of “How in the world would that work?” feeling. I have an awestruck joyous response to this. It feel like wonderful news.

But I am not in any way a creationist or intelligent design advocate. “Creation scientists” have named themselves in a way that suggests they are on par with other scientific disciplines but their work begins with tossing out the scientific method. When they teach science they are peddling a substitute. If they want to start a church of intelligent design, by all means do, that sounds like a relatively nice, relatively enlightened  theology. But that is the only appropriate place for their efforts because they are committed in advance to an outcome without testing. Because they conflate experimental results out of proportion to the experiment. Because they start with an agenda and reject counter evidence. Scientists CAN be religious people without tainting the results. They simply practice each in its own domain. “Creation scientists” are lobbyists in lab coat drag.

In this blog I am stating as if with the force of facts, things I only happen to think are true. Things I see and want to share. Occasionally I will report on experimental results that I find interesting or even supportive of my position. The difference is, I don’t call what I am doing Science. I am not a scientist and anyone disagreeing with me would be fair to say I am pretty much just talking out my butt. Maybe even those who agree with me.

My “theories” are true from where I’m looking. I find them compelling enough to want to share but I make no exaggerated claims for their worth. One man’s revelation is another’s “Meh”. Often I challenge myself to figure out something big and the best means I have found to do this is to write about it in public. When my name is on it in in a place where someone might see it, I feel inspired to keep digging and improving.

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  • Genotype: The genes present in an organism, potential or expressed.
  • Phenotype: The genes the organism is expressing.
  • Epigenetics: the turning on or off of gene expression via environmental events…”nurture”.
  • Behavioral Epigenetics: The study of how these events in the environment trigger molecular biological changes in our brains. These include: social experience; nutrition; hormones; and toxicological exposures that occur prenatally, postnatally, and in adulthood. 

A common example is the way that twins, born with basically identical phenotypes, vary as individuals in behavior, appearance and health. Nurture, experience and behavior drive the expression of different genes, leading to generally larger changes over the course of their lives. 

The study of epigenetics is a tiny new branch off the tree of molecular biology and behavioral epigenetics is a bud on that branch. Yet it is already a vast and exciting field. Excitement and ferment in science can be measured partly by how many new questions are bubbling up in that area. Most experiments in this area are yielding more questions than answers but that in a sense describes how deep and rich a mine this is for scientists to explore.  The field is seen as holding the potential to explain and perhaps even solve medical troubles, such as mental retardation, autism, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders, and even social issues, such as aging, addiction, suicide, child abuse, and child neglect. 

 

Food for thought: 

  • This totally relates to my earlier post “Epigenetics changes everything” The idea that a fear could be passed epigenetically three generations forward with no reinforcement still absolutely boggles my mind. It hints at some of the complexity within this system. 
  • In relation to Darwinism – It doesn’t exactly invalidate Darwinism because at its root, Darwinism is a small group of simple truisms that explain very little. But it further reveals how much more elegant and sophisticated life is than explained in classical Darwinism. Not that Darwin himself can be faulted for not have more advanced knowledge. Interestingly, two of Darwin’s losing rivals for a theory of inheritance, Alfred Russell Wallace and Jean Baptiste Lamarck continue to be redeemed by our advancing knowledge. Wallace saw a potential for improving the lot of the poor through this knowledge and Lamarck believed the experiences of  an organism could cause changes inherited by later generations. Darwin himself favored the idea of harsh competition as the driving force. The importance of Darwinism has always been drawing a hard line between nature and theology. The continued social disputes over Darwinism VS creationism just show how hard it is to make any intellectual advances culturally on hot button issues. 
  • If the experience of gruelling poverty causes measurable impact on children (and thus, their entire lives and descendents) couldn’t this be considered cultural child abuse or at least neglect? 
  • A related but separate issue. Darwin was personally a mild and retiring character but he was wealthy and privileged. In his own mind his theory was also a justification for rich vs poor, upper class vs lower class. EG: We are rich and well because because we are fitter. You are poor and sick because you are less fit. H.G. Wells sketched a nightmare projection of this into the future in his book: The Time Machine with the two branches of the human race, the Eloi (rich) and the Morlock (poor). Although Wells was a socialist, Darwin must have had a somewhat similar picture of the future except for him it would have been acceptable. 
  • I’d like to reference my earlier post “The Neuromechanics of Cruelty” for a number of examples of how Darwin was simply acting out the familiar human traits of rationalizing his privilege and seeing it as based on personal merit. As were all the harsher “social darwinists” who followed. 
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In this post I’m bringing together some diverse psychological research. The idea I want to support is that human beings have strong and predictable reactions to power and weakness. Each of these videos alone makes an interesting (and often disturbing) point but together they show what happens to people given “the upper hand” and some of what happens to the people they hold it over. It’s important to me as a foundation for some of the next ideas I’m going to be laying out. This is difficult collection. They are worse together than alone. It feels like a damning indictment of the human race but I’m not looking to scold so much as to understand . The important thing is establishing a clear picture of our native relationship to power and privilege. I think of this post a bit like evidence before the court. I’m going to cite this post in later articles.

There are fascinating and dark things here, but many of these videos are too long for casual viewing. The exception might be the last one, “Money on the mind” which is also very interesting and much cheerier than the rest.

Stanford prison experiment

Phillip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison experiments shockingly revealed the flexible nature of our identity in regard to ingroups and outgroups. It showed how completely uncharacteristic behaviors can be evoked by placing ordinary people, randomly into the roles of Guards and Prisoners. The young men assigned the role of guards quickly fell into astonishingly cruel and harsh treatment of the “prisoners” even knowing perfectly well that they were just their fellow students and hadn’t done anything wrong. It was merely “staging the show” that transformed them into ugly, alien strangers. Meantime the “prisoners” quickly took on the helpless, angry, calculating roles typical of people in that situation. Perhaps our behaviors are almost all situational and generated by context:If so it may be that we gravitate to whatever context feels most natural to us and simply don’t notice behavior being evoked…we just see it as our behavior.
But I see what happened here as evidence of uninhibited “us and them” behavior in an uneven power balance.  People have wondered how nice young German men with no background in sadism or abuse could turn into the men machine gunning families in a ditch. Well this is that. This is the cruelty of ethnic cleansing but also of schoolyard bullies. Your childhood memories almost certainly contain a few of these dramas, whatever side you were on. Like all play, it’s practice for adult life.
We know that the roles played in this drama are the main evoker of this pattern, modulated by the level of demonizing toward the victims. It ought to be basic training for anyone headed for such a situation to be aware of this mechanism.

Blue eyes brown eyes

In the Blue eyes/ Brown eyes experiment – “racism” or “class privilege ” is evoked in children within hours…minutes even in this experiment. As one group embraces a sense of privilege and a convenient rationalization for it the other group immediately tastes the bitterness of insults and lower status. Humans like privilege and take to it like ducks to water. That means that they probably maintain an unconscious alertness for people who could be grouped beneath them because privilege rests on that foundation. Furthermore since we are discussing groups as well as individuals, consider how likely it is that “unconscious conspiracies” to pick pariah groups actually take place in cultures around the world.

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When I’m teaching I can feel a change take place when a magic number of students is present. Before that, I am just talking to individuals one on one. When that critical mass is reached I can become a different person, the teacher, rather than just myself. 3 is apparently too few, it doesn’t make the change occur. 4 is at the edge, as is five. but somewhere in there, I can enter a state other than my normal mind. It is a remembering, performing, adapting and extemporizing mind. It’s a flow state for me and it is inaccessible when I am alone. And I enjoy it very much. But a similar effect happens to the class itself. With enough people and with a basic level of receptivity there is a tipping point for them as well where they become somehow attuned to a common frequency and it is as if we are a kind of energy flow machine where I give them energy in the form of confidence, good organization and information and their attention and enthusiasm gives energy back to me that absolutely heightens my delivery. There is a magic to the internal feeling for the exchange which is basic to its success. If students come to class with the idea that this is all drudgery, they pull me down with them. They hold onto my ankles and prevent take off. I can feel the lifeless lack of response and my job becomes harder. I am doing all the lifting and at the end I am not happy and energized, I am drained and flat.

This highly specific sort of exchange has a thousand parallels in the rest of our lives. Every two people when they meet have an exchange somewhat similar to this one. The magic of interpersonal chemistry obviously decides much of what happens next but the receiving of energy and flowing it back is basic to every encounter. I have certainly noticed that the sweetness and energy of other people seem to have a great deal to do with how I offer them energy and bounce back theirs. Some days the world seems harsh and grubby and no love or friendship seems able to jump the gap but then, on a sweet high energy day when I am open to people and taking them in with an open spirit, incredible things seem possible and on these days it seems obvious and easy. Obviously, something like my teaching experience seems to happen at shows and concerts and speeches. It seems to me that this is one of the points that we never properly own and take responsibility for: How much we determine the tone of everything that happens, how much energy and engagement really matter. We may be just one charged particle but if we are near a few others, amazing things can happen.

the-third-mind

A third mind is created when any two meet; this mind talks to itself, finds a mood, an energy, a temperament, a personality; a self. This mind if excitement and energy are present, can consider amazing things, can tinker with subtleties and complexity. As the two-part, this mind disintegrates though it can be remembered with love or disgust or disinterest by its agents. It is a social molecule. As the number of people meeting rises, the new mind comes into being with different energies possible. Certain kinds of projects and tasks can be energized by small groups in a way that feels supernatural. Complexity is still possible with small groups. The excitement of an ensemble working to put on a show or start a business can be electric. There is often a feeling of “organizing” of becoming limbs and organs specializing and working in concert with the virtual body. Of course, many meetings create minds which are inert or dull or suspicious and sour. It’s simply that SOME mind will emerge at the moment of engagement. The energy that happens when motivated minds meet, this third mind, or these “virtual creature” minds can be enormously powerful but the power is essentially amoral. The power will flow if the “batteries” are present. If the mind is engineering reform or art or charity or terrorism…the energy is there.

Emergent human social behavior is not all good and positive. This energy can go dark and bloody in any mob. Hutus and Tutsis would not have massacred each other without this electric build up and overflow. The Nazis couldn’t have existed without it. When a demonstration becomes a riot it is this.

One of the scariest days of my life was in San Francisco after the 49ers won the Superbowl. The streets were full of people celebrating and in a moment that felt strangely like clouds covering the sun, the mood twisted. There were transitional moments: people shouting words of happiness that sounded oddly angry, people looking a little too hard to see if you were celebrating too. At this moment it was like they were looking for outsiders, looking for something to push back against. Soon things tipped and it was like wild animals except that wild animals do nothing like this. It was like a torrent of human craziness and anger, feeding on itself and igniting like flammable gas. And all because “We won!”. Except not really. I don’t think it had anything specific to do with the winning, except that there was a kind of build-up of a charge. A critical mass of charged up, energized humans bumped into each other like pressurized molecules. This is why large gatherings of people always have a risk component and why well planned large events feature effective guidance of group energy, logistics management, and at least a skeleton of police exuding the “remain orderly” pheromone. It’s just a guess but I bet losing teams have way fewer fan riots than winning teams.

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  1. Mrs. Jackson is traveling west by train to visit her sister. The distance of the trip is 417 miles and the
    train is averaging 37 MPH. For a distance of 30 miles the train slows to an average speed of 14 MPH. Is
    there a God?
  2. A rock falling at 32 feet/second/second for 16 seconds bounces off a trampoline which gives it an
    upward velocity of 16 feet/second. What is the difference between having lived and then died and
    simply never having lived?
  3. Water is dripping into a 2 gallon container at a rate of two ounces per/hour. With what units can we
    measure justice?
  4. The speed of light is 186,000 MPS. If a woman looks at a sunflower 30 feet away in a mirror she is
    holding 2 feet away from her body, where does love go when it’s gone?
  5. A person is walking down the street breathing with an average tidal air volume of 500 Mls each at a rate
    of 16 breaths per minute. How many do they have left?
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1. A detail of a system
2. An individual
3. A “colony”
And every living thing has at least three areas of mind
1. The mind playing a role in the system (a mind we never consciously experience, because we are an element of it. Imagine the Internet as a mind, think of your actions on the web as this element)
2. The individual mind (Day to day you.)
3. The component minds (The cluster of selves and parts of selves that make us up.)
And each level is the emergent product of its components. 
ant

Tim

Take an ant. Take this one in particular. We’ll call him Tim.
1. Tim as one of thousands is how we think of him. As a detail of a system, a tiny component, necessary but utterly replaceable, below recognizing as an individual.
2. Tim from Tim’s perspective; sensing, perceiving, acting as a singular being
3. Tim as a giant colony of tiny components: The cells and microbes that make him up. His corporate essence, emergent from the syntheses of these.
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It is time for common sense Human Ethology. We need to start learning more about ourselves as a species and develop an understanding of our ways and our place in nature. We need it to navigate the path ahead. Many people are frightened and offended by any serious discussion of it but it’s time for us to have a little “facts of life” talk. If a disease is misdiagnosed, the prescription won’t help: If you don’t understand the machine your hand is caught in how can you escape?  A great deal is riding on us. And we begin, in the dark.

I suspect that our minds contain a built in blind spot against recognizing ourselves in this light.

Imagine being a bird in one of those huge dark clouds of starlings swarming; our perspective is constantly eyes forward, keeping up, and so involved in doing that we don’t look around and say: “What are we doing?”  Henri Bergson, an early 20th century neurologist believed that the brain had as much to do with limiting and filtering out reality as with perceiving and understanding it. 

 It’s understandable for many good reasons. First, your dominant preoccupation here on earth is SUPPOSED to be your own life. If you aren’t going to mind that store, who will? It must be contra-survival for any creature to spend its time marveling at another level of existence, I know it is for ME. And many people are disturbed by the notion that they really are an animal and that some of their own motivations are unconscious. And when you place that animal that they are in the context of a huge hive where they are a speck in the background it’s understandable that it seems disturbing and diminishing. But you could make the case that seeing the larger story and blending it with your own reveals something stunning and elegant. The foreground AND the background. The story of our life as hive animals is not the truer story, it is simply a different true story at a different factor of magnification. We exist at several levels as radically different things.

From one perspective each of us is a gigantic amalgam of self organizing cells and microbes who go about their business with no idea how unhappy we are in our current job and how much we love cake and have always wanted to learn the cello. One level up from the bits and pieces that make us up, we are recognizably ourselves, the HUB: The eyes and ears of the universe.  But one more level up and we are the “tiny” self organizing cells of a system that generally speaking, we have no conception of. What are we even doing?  Continue reading

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(Warning: Spitballing ahead. Sometimes I pose myself a problem and publish my half assed thoughts about it because the pressure of having it up where someone might see it inspires me to develop my thinking about it.)

The “binding problem” is how our various senses blend and synthesize. Nobody knows how right now. Francis Crick came up with the 40 hertz synchronization theory to explain the biological causes of consciousness but it seems very empty and thin. And unlikely. 

All neurons process. So at some level each neuron is an experience and in a tiny way, an experiencer. We know different areas of the brain specialize in areas of processing but those areas are not simple lumps of processing material, they are massed armies of neurons …gigantic rock concert crowds talking to each other and responding  to the show on stage in front of them. When the band yells out “Hello Cleveland!” and the crowd roars back…it has become like a single entity.

The mistake we make in imagining neurons is seeing them as essentially passive wiring that signals are flowing along like an old telegraph or telephone system with a caller at one end and a receiver at the other. In reality that level of transmission doesn’t require anything like the amount neuronal population and activity we have going on. The information coming into the system has to be batch processed, blended with information from other “departments” to derive the basic picture/sound/smell combination and this has to be “redrawn” at a rate that feels instantaneous and flowing to the observer. But that’s just organizing the core feed into coherent sensory information. That raw feed has to be examined for context, meaning and nuance constantly while not flooding and overwhelming the human thinking their thoughts, doing their chores, socializing and planning. This is an astounding feat and lets not forget that the same brain is also the one thinking those thoughts, doing those chores, planning and socializing.  Continue reading

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This isn’t a tortured metaphor, I promise. Many things HAVE changed about America over the years but underneath there is a Kevlar skeleton which controls the ways things can change and grow. Part of it is deeply corrupt.

Here is my proposal: 

The people fighting against admitting and correcting climate change (and against developing alternative energy) are like the slave holders who started the civil war.

This might sound like someone yelling “NAZI!!” every time they hear something they don’t like, but trust me, it isn’t.

Southern slave holders were too blinkered to see that technology was rapidly advancing and that holding slaves would soon be made obsolete. They imagined that their lifestyle would carry on exactly in its God ordained fashion forever, with them perched atop of a pile of lesser beings: those being poor whites and enslaved blacks.

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There’s some disagreement about how long modern humans have existed but the figure of 200,000 years is frequently cited. The lifestyle of the stone age was wandering groups of associated families usually between 25 to 50 people. Pretty much anyone you knew, you knew for a lifetime (yours or theirs). The stone age ended as the neolithic revolution in farming transformed the lifestyle of people into the sort of population dense settlements that have basically carried on to this day.

The Population Reference Bureau estimates that about 107 billion people have ever lived – since the beginning. Scientists suggest that out of that huge number, only about 12% of those people lived in the stone age. 12% doesn’t sound like a very significant number to influence the sort of people we are today. Until you realize that every person since then is a descendent of that 12%. And even more importantly that that 12% of all people was us during 96% of our time on Earth. Our roots are deep, deep in the stone age. 

So our inner cave clan easily breaks through the surface of our modernism. 192,000 years of comforting small groups of closely related people with a distrust of strangers is not something you shake off like a daydream. When we utterly detest racists and xenophobes we are behaving toward ourselves as we might to our dog humping legs at a party or chewing shoes. We shout “NO!” and we drag them off, “stupid dog” we mutter. The dog’s behavior has been momentarily suppressed but not altered in the slightest. And certainly not for the next generation of dogs.  Continue reading

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I think there’s an odd problem waiting for the right wing media who keep desperately trying to officially classify the San Bernardino shootings as Islamic terrorism (because it’s about blaming Obama for terrorism on American soil, get it? So much for not politicizing).

The main killer, the guy, seems to be using Islam as the rationale but really he’s perfectly in the mold of the seething, isolated grudge holder who we’ve seen so often. He’s an unusual new hybrid for Americans: He’s killing because he’s a fucked up jerk, but he’s hitching his wagon to a larger cause, Islam. Of the two issues here I would say it’s more like he did it because he was a fucked up angry jerk. Since he would identify this act as Islamic terrorism though, who am I (or the news media) to argue with him? His stockpiling of weapons and the readiness of his wife to join him in suicide/mass murder indicates a long period of drifting toward this moment.

But if THIS is terrorism then so is the more common garden variety carried out more typically in this country by angry right wing men who have hitched their wagon to anti-abortion or anti government causes. The personality type for these events is a mostly a forgone conclusion. If we can’t register guns maybe we can register bitter, grudge holding bastards. Of course it would just become one more thing on their list of reasons they plan to kill some folks.

I am 100% in favor of calling Islamic terrorism what it is. There are people who balk at the phrase, instantly complaining that it indicts all Muslims. * Of course it doesn’t represent all of Islam…It represents the terrorist side of Islam. In its own way it’s as ridiculous as arguing with the phrase “Islamic charities” because not all Muslims are charitable! This is simply using words meaningfully, to describe what something in particular is.

I would like to extend this logic though. When we have an act of right wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. When we have an act of left wing terrorism let’s call it loud and clear. We haven’t had an ongoing issue of left wing terrorism in this country since the sixties but we do have a chronic right wing terror problem. And for some reason it’s virtually taboo to state this fact. That reason of course is that the American news media are made of entirely of jelly and kissing up to power. To protect their commercial revenue and increasingly meaningless “access” they keep within the lines approved of by those they report on.

Truth in naming is notable for its absence in most public conversations. But I would adore hearing Bill O’Reilly say “Another act of right-wing terrorism” (I got your “no spin” right here, pal). Potentially some acts should even be called Christian terrorism if the rationale put forward by the perpetrators has some Christian theological justification.

But somehow I don’t think the right wing media is going to start calling it that.

— Update: It’s come out that in their online courtship the two killers shared an interest in martyrdom and prepared for an attack far in advance.

 


*(Honestly, the left is SO concerned with being nice and not offending anyone that they virtually become BFFs with the some of the most regressive, hidebound, anti-woman, anti-gay theology on the planet. But that is another topic.)

 

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Some humans can live as wild and solitary as tigers. Humans can live as isolated families miles from their neighbors. They can live in tribes, villages, clan groups, small towns, cities and mega-cities. Humans are not infinitely adaptable but they are capable of many different modes of existence. It’s well known that these different life styles operate under different rules. Neighborliness and charity for example, are different things when surrounded by ten, ten thousand or ten million people.  

If you live in a town of two hundred people and you see a person broken down beside the road, well first of all, you know them! If you don’t know them directly, they most likely know someone you know. But even if not, it’s likely that they will be approached and given aid. So there is this appearance of a warm generosity. On the downside of course is the famous way that small town folks know each other’s business TOO much…there’s the sense that you can’t reinvent yourself, you can’t break free of everyone’s conclusions about you. Rather like the whole town had become a kind of extended family, uncomfortably defining you. 

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“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”  Hamlet, scene ii

 An Odd Revelation

When I was a college boy many, many years ago I saw a cat.
I saw a cat and the cat was acting like a cat.
The cat was catlike and there was nothing about it that was anything BUT catlike.  

This was a revelation and like most revelations it loses practically everything in the translation from shimmering vision to paragraph in black and white. 

 He was stalking and playing and being curious and easily startled and all sorts of catty things that anyone could predict. What filled me with awe was the fact that this cat had a nature and that he could do nothing that was not of a piece with that nature. The word nature comes from the Greek natura meaning “essential qualities, innate disposition” and that is the sense in which I mean this. I saw that cat as an expression of the essence of “catness” but not as some platonic ideal, I saw it as an instance of a running program. The program “Cat” existed in millions of instances all over the surface of the earth and I was watching a single instance of it having a nice moment in the Florida sunshine. Continue reading

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I think there is a continuum of cruelty. But cruelty may be the wrong word; if I stick to the letter C I might pick coldness or convenience. It’s about whether other people are real or not. Dehumanizing begins in a perception and then reveals itself in actions. I’m starting in the coldest spot I can find and working toward “room temperature” because of the perspective it offers.

Murder is scorn for the very existence of another. It may be for hate or profit or amusement but the exchange is based on a “good for me” foundation that takes EVERYTHING from the other for our profit. Raymond Chandler said that murder was “infinite cruelty” because you aren’t just taking everything a person has, you are taking everything they ever would have had. Whether it’s a robber in an alley or a spouse killing because divorce is too hard, it comes to the other being an inconvenience. This has to be because the other person is already seen as “something in the way”. 

 Slavery is scorn for the life and aspirations of another. It is based on a “good for me” foundation that takes everything from the other while harnessing their energy and abilities for our profit: Essentially it is a form of parasitism. Slavery is “murder lite”. If murder is “infinite cruelty” then slavery must be only a certain number of steps removed. They are visible on the same spectrum of coldness. You have taken what they had and what they would have had, but left them alive to see the sky and think their thoughts. 

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It occurs to me that the most basic refutation of Ayn Rand is what would happen if all people everywhere were passionate “objectivists” (her incredibly self congratulatory name for her “system”). It would be a planet of arrogant lizards hissing at each other.

Rand’s philosophy requires  a world pre-populated with the rich and poor already in place so she can align herself with the one and spit on the other. Her own lifestyle, the one she oddly evangelized, requires losers to step on and revile. Besides communists and such though, these losers include everyone who shows some societal concerns and compassion. It includes mother love, family love, friendship and any impulse toward generosity. Ayn Rand produced only one consumable that anyone would pay for: That product is a greasy lotion to be rubbed upon the rich which leaves them with a golden glow of complete comfort and satisfaction with the status quo. It has a secondary property of encouraging some people who aren’t rich to assert their complete justification in behaving as assholes any time they feel like it. As a totally selfish asshole, Rand realized that a product niche existed and she could fill it very lucratively. The delicious malicious truth is that in her purest, most “objective” thinking she is utterly dependent upon other people after all, the boring, needy, prosaic people she despised. Her “philosophy/literature” is the artistic portrait of a furious toddler foot stamping or a mean teenage sister with no friends who calls everyone “loser”.


 

And as an addendum to the “hissing lizards” idea: Thomas Paine on the subject of “You didn’t build that all by yourself”– “Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally. Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.” -Agrarian Justice Part Three

 


One of my favorite philosophers, Robert Anton Wilson on meeting Ayn Rand: “The first new dogmatism I embraced after rejecting the Marxist BS (belief system) was Ayn Rand’s philosophy (not yet called Objectivism in those days.) The Fountainhead had exactly the appeal for me that it has retained, decade after decade, with alienated adolescents of all ages. (The average youthful reader of Thus Spake Zarathustra decides he is the Superman, and the average youthful Randroid decides she is an Alienated Super Genius.) Like most Randroids, I went around for a few years mindlessly parroting all the the Rand dogma and imagining I was an ‘individualist.’ “Some years later, after becoming a published writer, I actually was invited to meet Ayn Rand once. (I was ‘summoned to the Presence,’ as Arlen said.) I confessed my doubts about certain Rand dogmas and was Cast Out Into the Darkness forever to wail and gnash my teeth in the Realm of Thud. It was weird. I thought the Trots and Catholic priests were dogmatic, but Ayn Rand made both groups look like models of tolerance by comparison. “I thought she was a clinical paranoid. It was nearly 30 years later that I found out Rand was merely on Speed all the time, which creates an effect so much like paranoia that even trained clinicians cannot always tell the difference, and some even claim there is no difference.”

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The next level of complexity is something you are a part of and something you can’t see.


The cells that actively pursue and destroy invaders in your body are showing a kind of limited independent response. They are discrete “individuals” theyjYsvcgy can learn new things (like a new antibody) and REMEMBER those things. What language do they speak? Proteins and chemicals.  They obviously don’t have independent lives in any sense that we find it easy to relate to, but at their microscopic level of reality, they are whole, autonomous units. They are part of team you, and you couldn’t live without them but do they FEEL like YOU? I mean do you identify with them, like “Yeah, that’s me”?
Probably not. Can they conceive of you? Perhaps they have established a cellular religion where they worship you and celebrate the oneness of all life here in the one world there is. Evil would be antigen I suppose and they would exude hymns of folded proteins.
But even if they did that they wouldn’t have any idea that the thing they were in was a human and that there were others. Some far out cellular scientists might come up with the multiple people theory.
Anyway, down inside these cells, there are discrete building blocks of intra-cellular machinery: Vacuoles, Cell Membranes, Cell Wall, Nucleus, Golgi Body, Mitochondria, Microbodies, Microtubules, Centrioles, Flagella, Ribosomes, Endoplasmic reticulum. All of which are discrete task directed components plugging away at their jobs and constructing the cellular level of reality.

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There is no “idea” or blueprint of a hive. No ant works or dies “for the hive” No ant is sentient though there is a localized being with some flexibility of response. Scientists have observed a range of “personality” types or at least behavioral types. Some ants are lazy. Some are even by ant standards, dumb.  No ant thinks of the past or future.

In 100 million years no ant has ever imagined or thought of a hive. There is no hive except through the combined actions of essentially unconscious operators. And yet, operational responses to various situations flow naturally with seemingly coordinated group efforts to collect food, care for larva, fight off enemies and rebuild walls. What the hell is the model in the brain of a worker ant rebuilding a broken wall that says: “OK, I’m done.” ?

The hive is the emergent whole of its tiny individual parts. It doesn’t exist without them and they don’t exist without it.

What are you a tiny constituent of? What emerges from variations of YOU multiplied a million times? Can you see it? Can you think of it?

T93vqKV

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Meet Your Professors!

All across the United States public college systems have adopted a system of having a tiny minority of full time teachers and an overwhelming majority of part timers (“adjunct” “transient” “contingent” Smell the euphemisms?).

1. We do not receive equal pay for equal work
2. We face teaching caps, limits to how much we CAN work because then we would cross a barrier to a better pay and benefit scale.
3. Many receive no benefits, those who do, lose them if their workload drops from 50% to 49%.
4. We have no job security, quarter to quarter employment is luck and relationships.
5. If we have the bad luck to become unemployed, we receive no unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile of course the college is FULL of administrators, office workers, and support staff all of whom have more security and respect than us. The reason college has become so expensive is that for the last 40 years or so this administrative and office strata has swollen beyond all reason. It simply propagates at the expense of actual teaching and actual teachers. The internal cost cutting has been accomplished entirely at the expense of faculty who have become a legion of temp workers.

And it’s interesting (in an awful way) but there’s a strange class sensibility and “politeness” framing this. They’ll hold “Adjunct Recognition Day” as they did just a few days ago, by order of the Governor no less, where we are offered home baked cookies. If I was to say “Hey these cookies are great but could I have my health insurance back?” Everyone would just look at me like a burped loudly. “Do you have have to bring up such a painful subject?” Always coming from someone whose benefits are unquestioned. 

  1. http://portside.org/2013-10-30/her-own-words-adjuncts-and-academic-labor-force-campus-equity-week-october-28-november-2
  2. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/when-a-college-contracts-adjunctivitis-its-the-students-who-lose/
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/noodleeducation/2015/05/28/more-than-half-of-college-faculty-are-adjuncts-should-you-care/
  4. http://college.usatoday.com/2014/07/17/underpaid-and-overworked-adjunct-professors-share-their-stories/

 

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I ran a couple of photos through Google’s Deep Dream software. It attempts to recognize patterns using a buttload of heuristics about characteristics that would indicate various things; buildings, animals, landscapes,etc.

It can be sort of gently psychedelic and beautiful or if you turn the levels up a bit frankly horrifying. In its nicer form It reminds me of things I’ve seen when responsibly ingesting socially acceptable pharmaceuticals…or something. This feels more like what I imagine schizophrenia might be like. Here’s the worst before and after ever.

In an interesting way this is a computer emulating the very human trait of constantly seeing things in the world around them that are mental projections. Like “Doesn’t that cloud look like a bunny attacking Abe Lincoln?” This trait is keyed into our ability to recognize anything but also to our ability to recognize types of things. Like recognizing a letter of the alphabet in a strange distorted font. Or like recognizing a building as a bank or a school without seeing a sign. It’s probably also related to the neurological blinders we develop with which we see exactly what we expect to see and don’t see anything we don’t expect to see.

The role this plays in scientific discovery seems clear cut to me. The role this plays in various kinds of bigotry and blind prejudice seems clear too.  Continue reading

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Benjamin Bratton reveals the truth behind the “happy pill” that is TED talks.

It’s a short sharp shock for TED but hopefully corrective. The point isn’t that TED should shutdown but that it should splash a little water on its face and notice how formulaic it has become and how it actually steers clear of real problems, preferring happy talk.

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