About 13 years ago d and I made the passive aggressive decision to open ourselves up to the chance of procreating. I’m sure the reader can figure out the choice we made. Well the chance turned into a probability of 1 rather quickly.
Archive for the ‘anthropology’ Category
Like most things Disney, Tomorrowland is a delicious snack of seeming subsistence. This movie is chock full of “I wanna believe” and “I must be a terrible person if I don’t believe” sentiments and relationships. “We are the future”, “I can make it work”, “Light and hope – the wolf you feed”, “You still have hope”, “Anything is possible” and “We make our destiny” – are just a few of the inspirational tugs. The story itself is cute, watchable and, by in large, moving. And herein lies The Problem.In an ironic twist, if that’s even an American possibility anymore, Tomorrowland, violating its own story premise, espouses overly simplified, imagination-limiting Propaganda. The movie presents the future worth chasing as people standing in amber waves of grain aweing at a technological, automated city of industry and digitization out in the distance. Hard to be irritated by the vision all of us Americans have been sold since the nanosecond we were conceived. The irony of this vision in this movie is that the realization of this future, and the children sold into it, end up creating the technology that brainwashes the world into its own destruction.
The bigger philosophical, ethical issue is that humans by in large cannot imagine a future without humans at the center of it. And in America we can’t sincerely adopt a future without technology and industry made by humans. Americans, and most “developed” societies, mostly do not view non-human growth, creativity, and prosperity on the same level as human efforts. We justify our existence by our ability to continually re-wreak havoc on the world so our human solutions can prevail again! Us humans do have a remarkable ability to solve various issues, especially through technology. But is it remarkable enough to justify our existence, and more pressingly, our proliferation in time and space?
Tomorrowland and the millions of other political, cultural narratives will never be able to ask questions penetrating enough to even hint at a possible justification. These narratives survive and thrive by preying on cognitive bias – asking “is my existence justified?”, “is my worldview accurate?”, “is my limited perception sufficient for external imposition?” isn’t exactly the stuff of mega block buster movies, toy shelf marketing, school room pledges, company missions and political campaigns. And we as consumers and producers of these narratives will not be able to imagine, adopt and create a future worth having nor even a possible future if we can’t ask those questions. The future contemplated by this Dream of the Dreamers is not one that can exist – a perpetual recycle of humans at the center of everything isn’t really a thing has been clearly demonstrated by 13.5 billion years of the universe doing its thing.
Are there popular narratives and dialectics that seem to ask deeper questions – things like “Planet of the Apes” to “The Singularity” movement to posthumanism to mathematics to most philosophy books and departments? On the surface all these things all seem to contemplate non-human centrality but they still all have anthropomorphic aspirations at their core. Anthropomorphism is very hard, if down right impossible, to avoid.
The way forward may be not be forward at all. That is, progress is a very misguided, humanistic concept. Progress is at best a relative, self-serving concept, it is not a physical law or a feature of the universe. It is a misguided concept because it guides at all. The Dream of the Dreamers is always one of Progress, never one of restraint or contemplation or admission or apology or submission.
Inside of me there is a battle. All these questions well up and make me feel like a bad father for not wanting to pass on “wisdom” but only questions. I’m a bad capitalist for questioning the unending creative destructive power of markets. I’m a bad American for questioning The Dream of the Dreamers. I’m a bad creator of technology for anguishing over its ultimate value. I’m a bad person-person for not having an identify or a mission or end goal or a five year plan and question my own centrality to my own existence. I’m a bad artist and writer for lacking happy, hopeful endings and conclusions – never answer a question with a question! I’m a bad revolutionary for not fighting every fight. and I’m definitely a bad philosopher for having no particular philosophy at all. Right?!
The Dream of the Dreamers is potent because it certainly makes for pleasant sleep and a comfortable way to get out of bed and get on with the day’s work. But it is not reality it is marketing against reality. And it is more de-pressing than the struggle with unanswerable questions.
I often think, “these are strange times.” As if I know what other times were like and as if they would be any less strange than now. The thought is completely baseless. Nonetheless, most days I drift off with a parallax feeling – something is somehow amiss.
Three days ago a healthy fever kept me prisoner in bed. I turned on the TV to distract my burning brain. For several hours I fell in and out of hysterical sleep as the MSNBC and CNN shows droned on. Finally my hand managed to dump me into the local news. I managed to catch snippets and sound bytes on various political actions in Arkansas and Indiana and the emergence of movement on Iran Nuclear deals and the various drought issues in California. Of course that little bit of content was sandwiched between erectile dysfunction ads, more news show promotions, political ads, and a bunch of other nonsense that was so nonsensical it didn’t register at all.
My fever provided an interesting kaleidoscope to consume all this “media.” I barely recall the specific words, but I vividly recall lots of reddish pink faces, stunted vocal inflections, disjointed rejoinders all trying attempting to rile me out of my feverish funk and to take action – against anything. I awoke the next morning remembering an angry opera where all the singers sing over each other and nothing makes sense but there’s a frenzy and certainly the frenzy means something because well it’s a frenzy.
This experience and any resulting thoughts aren’t really that enlightening or difficult to analyze. We live in a cacophony of cacophonies. We create them for each other, we consume them, we sell them to each other, we seek them out. Media exists only as a cacophony. Without the cacophony so many institutions and systems collapse. Our identities and sense of almost being folds in on itself. Without mass frenzy who needs a search engine? Or curation tools? Or talking heads? Or journalists? Or critics? Or pundits? Or experts? Or “likes”? Or vacations? Or spas? Or meditation centers? Or insurance? Or assurance? Or reputation management? Or pr? ….
The silence would obliterate an industrial turned digital world. Our senses are now ill suited for the silence or slowness of a world without this recursive self generating cacophony. The very senses so essential to our survival in what was likely a very competitive environment thousands and thousands of years ago reached what seems to me some bizarre threshold of sensation. These every more acute senses and brains and bodies needed more than what the fabricated industrial world could deliver. We needed media to put us back on edge. Always keep us on the edge. Something is out there to get me.
This is not the only way to fulfill and engage the senses and the brain and the body. But by gosh is it the most efficient. Thinking and engagement are costly efforts that cut into the means of production. Philosophizing is hard to monetize. Art shifts perspectives away from commoditization. Walking is slow. The mass of humankind should not engage in these activities for they lead to more of these activities. No, listen to the cacophony and like a slot machine keep pushing the buttons (the handle is too slow), let the whistle sounds and cherry sights keep us in attention without engagement – next time, next time! The human capacity for repetitive motion and thought is nearly boundless if injected with just enough stimulation (throw in a little variation to throw the probability center off).
But it isn’t as Huxley thought it would be – habituation through pleasure – it’s more effective for production to a have a slightly disembodied sense of dread. Pure pleasure would not keep the right chemicals flowing like dread and fear does. Our fear of death is stronger than our desire for pleasure.
I contest that the pursuit of truth and knowledge is more powerful and sustaining than fleeing death or enjoying pleasure – but it is a hard practiced reward. It takes a good deal of effort to get to a point where it sustains and grows. It requires an upfront investment of the mind, body, and senses. It forces one to give up the relentless pursuit of capital.
The human creature seeks the real – it can be trained and sustained on the near-real though. It can hang on the edge of the real for as long as you can keep the cells alive. But deep down the entirety of a given human seeks the real – the real world, the full view of a tree, the scent of the crisp night, the touch of another human, the lick of a dog, the view without glasses…. Without the real, we will take convincing substitutes and become sufficiently addicted until the senses have weakened and are no longer able to seek the real.
These are strange times. They are strange because we seem to notice less and less than what the historical documents of the past suggest we were noticing previously. Though we were ignorant then, as we are now, we seemed to appreciate that ignorance in some enlightened circles. Instead of hiding from it, some went to their death because of their pursuit. Now even the enlightened often seek the near-real or the unreal – the media, the virtual reality, the video games, the re-tweets, the parody news, the cable news, the ads as content, the representation vs the actual, the press statements vs a conversation, a political party vs a candidate with a feet on the ground. That Edward Snowden didn’t cause mass uproar is only one of the main signs of this parallax situation.
We can no longer see the real. I’m not even sure I can or ever could.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
– Albert Einstein
Perhaps Albert Einstein said this. It seems like a worthy ideal. Except it really doesn’t work out. At all.
Here are just a few straightforward, well known concepts that don’t give up to simple explanations even though we all assume they do.
e = mc^2
1+1 = 2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principia_Mathematica (300+ pages of proof required)
this is the color red
Simple explanations are usually very broad strokes and at a minimum only indicative of what might be going on. Any serious and remotely accurate explanation about anything is nuanced, open ended and will inevitably be amended in the future.
There’s pressure in this culture, in the US, to make everything simple. This devotion to simplicity is a trap and often a very dangerous one. It rears its head in politics, business, social situations, religion and pretty much every other facet of our culture.
Who’s Free and Who Isn’t (this is about artists) aka who should we pay aka The Free and Anti Free
An N+1 article grapples with the basic question, “should an artist get paid?” https://nplusonemag.com/issue-20/the-intellectual-situation/the-free-and-the-antifree/ It’s a decent question – that is, we ought to ask it and keep asking it. This article and so many like it definitely don’t answer it. The article isn’t poor quality. It’s thought provoking in that way where you want to chase down a lot of things. I don’t want to pick apart the article right now as it gets into class warfare, lots of history, media critique and more. I want to attack the question head on without the backdrop of all this other stuff – which I think is mostly just baggage.
The most important point of all is sort of an anti-point in life and existence. That is, none of us, nothing (no thing), deserves anything. The title of the article introduces the concept of SHOULD which is really just a form of “deserves.” Human language will never do this point justice but there isn’t any universal SHOULD. There are proximal “SHOULDS.” In some cultures, in some relationships, in some situations X SHOULD HAPPEN.
So no, artists shouldn’t get paid.
In this proximal culture, this western world of award shows and museums and ad agencies and media companies, should artists get paid? maybe. If they want to get paid they figure out how. Should they be paid a priori because they are doing art? maybe.
Why the waffle?
Really this question is bigger than art and artists. Does anyone deserve to get paid? should ___________ get paid? No. No, no category of people, persons, trades, classes SHOULD get paid. Do they? yes. Yes, some people get paid. Some categories of people with categories of skills get paid.
This distinction matters because there are FAR MORE starving manual laborers than starving artists. There are FAR MORE starving students than artists. There are a lot of starving people on the planet. There are lots of species of animals in very bad shape. The subclass of artists that are humans that are part of species on the earth is hardly unique.
what is art? that’s a relevant question at this point. It doesn’t matter. what is science? what is math? what is teaching? what is philanthropy? what is a job? what is work? Should WE Get Paid?
what do you do? Why do you think you should get paid? If you are a teacher you most likely have decided that you’re doing a good for society. If you are a social worker, same. If you are a business person you probably think you are “adding value” to the company or marketplace. Most likely you think you should get paid because those around you and those before you who did vaguely similar things think you should get paid and those people often “hire” those similar to them.
and then there’s art (and its cousins…) Art is the stuff that changes perceptions. Art is the concepts and ideas and forms and tools that don’t make sense. Pay only comes from a marketplace. Art is anti-market. It has an anti-market if it has anything at all.
So n+1 and those that worry about these sorts of things you can stop wondering if someone will pay or if capitalism or whatever category of being we’re talking about will assign commodity-based currency quantification to something that seeks, at its core, to never be defined.
Art and artists should forever seek ill definition, that’s the fucking point. If there is a point at all.
I love Robin Williams.
Robin Williams is a hero of mine. But that’s not really a deep enough concept to express his role in my life. I have absolutely shaped my approach to life around what I perceived of him as a hero. I never met him. I never received fan mail back from him or did a stand up routine next to him. I don’t have any remarkable story about him – except that I stayed up late, rented, borrowed my way into every piece of work he put out. From Mork and Mindy to the Comic Relief stuff to all of his movies to every late night appearance… I took in all of it as some source-book of how to interact, how to think, how to absorb the world so fully you can be in all of those situations and BE REMARKABLE.
As a high school senior I thought deeply about the idea of Julliard because of him. I imagined a future in which I could go out to the world and say things he said… not because I rehearsed it but because I was speaking honestly in my synthesis of everything I was taking in. I wanted to be that good only better… even faster on my feet. Even quicker with my wit. Even deeper with my knowledge. Anywhere, in any circle, at any moment.
And make no mistake, I’m not delusional about Performance vs. Real Life. I read anything I could of his non-performance experiences – from his activism and social engagement to his personal struggles to his ideas about comedy to his appreciation of J. Winters. Robins Williams life, in all its facets, speaks profoundly to me.
For most of my life the person I’ve been mostly compared to in my approach to everything, even from my own mouth, is Robin Williams. (and I not only don’t hate it, I love it. I want to be that.) I’m drawn to this engagement with the world:
KNOW EVERYTHING YOU POSSIBLE CAN
LISTEN TO EVERYTHING (EVERYTHING!) and EVERYONE (EVERYONE!) AROUND YOU
SYNTHESIZE VERY QUICKLY
TRY ANY IDEA
10000000 jokes (ideas) is bound to deliver 1 GOOD ONE, SO KEEP GOING
ENGAGE EVERYONE SINCERELY and SERIOUSLY
WALK A BILLION MILES IN EVERYONE ELSES SHOES
Yes, Dead Poets Society is one of my top 5 movies. Good Morning Vietnam is also in the top 5. Good Will Hunting is such an important movie to me….. …. …. All these things are quite obvious. Robin Williams dealt with and engaged and seriously considered the entirety of the human experience. For me he is the ultimate synthesis of this absurd and beautiful world.
The vortex that is postmortem analysis will never change the strange loop that lives on through me and others. Posit what we want about mental illness and depression and comedy and hollywood or whatever else we will try to make it all tidy, it doesn’t matter. Robins Williams is a buddha. He’s one of those rare convergences of vitality that infuses many other souls with purpose. I love you, Robin. Thanks for helping make me, me.
It’s nearly, if not totally, impossible to remove our deeply held biases, values and contextual history from our raw, sensory perceptions of the world. The difficulty to sense more objectively is what perpetuates so many non-truths about the world. Nearly everything we sense and think is distorted by the biological patterns shaped within us by the world and our interaction within the world. It is within this frame of reference I seek to put down, in an obviously flawed ways, what I think to be at least less non-truth than other theories and thoughts floating about out there.
Our most basic means of communication, the words, sounds, gestures and pictures, we use are so filled with bias it’s impossible to commit to their use in an objective way. The best hope I have is to present as many variations across mediums so that what emerges from these communications is perhaps, if not objective, at least more fully representative of various perspectives that at least the trap of obvious one-sided subjectivity is avoided.
And with that warning, let us proceed.
A first exercise is of definitions and clarifying of terms.
Everything is information. From the most basic particles of existence to governments to rocket ships to the abstractions of mathematics – everything is information. Information looped and entangeled within other information. Information trapped within patterns of information by other patterns of information. Particles trapped into behaviors dictated by the laws of physics. Proteins and chemicals replicating into biological entities by the encodings of genetic instruction. Objects of pure quantity expressed in combinations dictated by rules of provable logical inference. Symbols imbued with meaning combined to form words and sentences and stories that stick in the brains of people and come out of their mouths to be reinterpreted over the eons. Faintly remembered events strung together by stories to form history and imagined events of some time that has not come to pass forming a future hope.
More fundamentally… space and time and causality and logic and being itself. All are matters of information. The casual ordering of events in relation to what is different based on the difference of another entity forming the conception of time and space. The coherence within a frame of reference of words strung together with symbols for equal, not equal, for all, and the such coalescing into logic. What is and what isn’t in reference to what’s logically or causally sensible to us becomes the notion of being.
But this is not quite enough.
Recently various categories of research, science and/or philosophic discussion have added ’emergence’ and ‘complexity’ to the pantheon of fundamental concepts from which we can chart our maps of existence and meaning. The unseen in the parts that only shows itself in the collective – the multitude – the interactive, this notion of emergence.
All in – meaning. Meaning is a vague notion of symbolics and representation within the ontological dimensions of space, time, cause, logic, emergence and being. Meaning is proximal, local phenomenon of pattern. In totality, all things considered, that is all of infinity, there is no meaning – there is no pattern. That is, all patterns at play is pure entropy and no meaning is possible on a universal, infinite scale. (As if we can even imagine such a concept). On a local, limited frame of reference meaning emerges from patterns (people, computers, plants, etc) pattern matching (sensing, perceiving, transforming, encoding, processing).
I propose a phrase: existential equivalence. Every investigative thought, every scientific gesture, every act of art, every attempt to send a message, every ritual, every interaction at all with the world at any level is all of similar thing: the encoding and decoding of information within information. This is not a reduction or a reductionist exercise. Quite the contrary. The varieties of symbolic expression in all of existence is REAL, it is a thing. That existence is expressible in an infinite variety is necessary. and it can only be known, even in a limited way, by actual variety of expression. If anything is to exist, it must exist in infinite variety and multiplicity. Everything that exists has existential equivalence. The entirity of existence is relational.
For instance if there is such a concept and sensation of color it must have expression in physical and artistic and literary terms. It exists at all levels implicated there. If a wavelength of light is able to generate a visual and neuronal concept we called red, then red isn’t just the wavelength, nor the wave of light, nor the eye, nor the brain, nor the word… it is all of those things and all of the things we do not yet think or talk or gesture about.
Or consider a computer program. Its existence is a string of words and phrases transcoded into 1s and 0s and into physical logical gates transmitting electrons and back around and on itself into monitor LEDs into human eyes and brains into motor movements of mouse and keyboard and so on. A computer program is the interaction of all the information.
But surely there are such simple things that do not have a universal relationship – an existential equivalence? what is the simplest thing we can think or speak of? a boson? the number 1? a dot? just an abstract 1? It is impossible to wipe the complexity of existence from even these pure abstractions. We only conceive of their simplicity in relation to other concepts we find complex. Their simplicity must be weighed against everything that isn’t simple.
And so here we have a collosal contradiction. Patterns are a local phenomenon. They aren’t the entirety. And yet I’ve suggested that patterns are existence – all that exists. Unraveling this I am directly saying that patterns interpreting/transcoding/sensing patterns is what exists – creates th world – at all levels. Pure relation, which is only possible at a local level, is existence. Particles only exist in relation to other particles – a gradient. Humans to other humans, to animals, to the planet, to particles. Planets to other massive bodies… and so on, and on, up and down, left to right, back and forward, in and out….
herein lies a beautiful thing – mathematics and computation are a wonderfully efficient symbolic translation methods. This is why computers and mathematics always creep their way into our efforts to make things and make sense of the world. It is why our brains are so damn useful. complex abstract pattern recognizing patterns – these networks of neurons. It is why DNA is so proficient at replication. a “simple”, resilient substrate carrying everything necessary to generate and regenerate these networks of neurons that can then make synthetic networks of pure relation. Whether particles or quantum or digital or biological or chemical there is pure relation, pure patterns among patterns – there is math. It matters not and is completely the point that math and computation can be done in any substrate – between proteins, with pen and paper, on a calculator, in a quantum computer.
why is that? WHY?
In a feat of complete and utter stupid philosophy and unlogic… because it cannot be any other way. Positing a god doesn’t escape this. Positing a multi-verse doesn’t escape this. If any of those things are to exist, they must exist still in relation – they are relation! It’s borderline mystical. Of course it is!
And why does any of this matter? is this just another sound of one hand clapping? a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound? Yes. yes indeed. Those, while used to dismiss the question from the outset actually do call attention to the entirety of the situation. What we conceive of as existence and existing is usually reductively done in by our discrete categorization and our failure to continuously review and revise our categories. The practical implications of this adherence to categories (zoology, isms, religion, gender, nations, science disciplines, etc) is what stunts our path towards knowledge and keeps us in fear.
If we don’t lean into the idea that everything has an existential equivalence we are simply deciding to be ignorant. And in that ignorance we trend towards non-existence. In every day terms if we see the human population only by the color of skin we diminish human existence. If we say and take for truth all of the -isms, reductions, and arbitrary definitions we snuff out relation. If we make any assumptions at all and refuse to question those assumptions, even what we think are so obvious and so simple, we move closer to entropy. If we want to exist at all, we must be mystical and fanatical about sensing relation, resensing it, re-interpreting it. This is not a moral argument. Existence is no more moral than non-existence – except as a local conception.
It really does come down to this (and this is very Camus-like):
If you care at all to exist as you, you must question/express/relate to everything as much as you can before your pattern is fully transcoded into something not you. (we are just food for worms…)
So yes, ask yourself and answer it in infinite variety over and over “if a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?” This is life – it is your existential equivalence to everything else. You relate, therefore, you are. I relate, therefore I am. X is, therefore X relates.