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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.

Socrates Death

Socrates Death

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.

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The idea of progress is a flimsy concept.  Nothing in the universe comes for free.  So when some system or entity “progresses” in comes at the expense of energy somewhere.  It’s not necessarily a wholly destructive expense but it is an expense nonetheless. The way in which we commonly talk about society, civilization and the human race is in terms of progress.  We’re progressing from a barbaric or unenlightened state to a state if self reliance and control and technologically enhanced awareness.  But this progress is mostly an illusion.  It comes at a great expense to other species,the planet and even ourselves.

Some conflicting reports:

http://humanprogress.org/ (there’s progress!)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_progress (there’s progress!)

http://reason.com/archives/2013/10/30/human-progress-not-inevitable-uneven-and (there is a thing called progress but we’re not always on it!)

http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S445.htm (there’s progress!)

http://www.alternet.org/environment/myth-human-progress (progress is an illusion!)

http://www.vice.com/read/john-gray-interview-atheism (there is no progress!)

(Another way to think about this is that everything is competing to exist against other things that also are fighting to exist.  The better we compete the more we extract from the ecosystems.)

Certainly we’ve increased our life expectancy on the whole and reduced violence and physical suffering in the human race. We have invented computers, figured out space flight, eradicated some diseases, taught billions to read and write.  All progress right?

To what end?  Where is all this progress going?  How is this progress measured?  Does a longer life mean a better life? Does a less violent life lead somewhere differently than a more violent one?

Perhaps even more challenging is figuring out whether we have a choice in the matter.  Are we even biologically, physically capable of not trying to progress in these dimensions and exert our competitive advantages upon or environment?  If we had some definition of how best to live in some philosophic sense and it differed materially with the progressive ways we’ve chased could we actually change?  Could we choose less technology and a culture more in balance with the environment?  And no there’s no “hippie” justification needed for this thinking.  The question is is there a way of life that is more sustainable and less extracting from the world than the way we currently live?  Or is our survival inexorably tied to dominating everything we can?

To make this very clear consider the species that have become extinct at the hands of humankind’s hunting.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_extinct_animals
Our “progress” has led in many cases directly to their complete decline.  Who are we to say whether our progress is worth it – Was worth their demise?

I’m directly asking everyone what is the point of our focus on progress.  Certainly in America we are all put on a course to progress through life.  Our goal is clear to get through high school, go through college, and begin to produce.  One production should lead to ever more important positions in this progressive society with ever increasing economic output.  We measure all facets of our culture against GDP and endowments and ROI.  We do not recognize that growth in these aspects must be paid for in other respects.

So the question remains.  What is progress? and what’s it worth to you?

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Shadows

I’ve told some of my story to friends and family in my life, but never really publicly and certainly no one knows this internal dialog I’ve had with myself for 19 years. When you write something down and/or tell a wider audience about it it takes on a whole different level of real. should I tell my story? should I put down the never ending stream of questions and failed answers for others to read? is it grandstanding? is it helpful? is it selfish?

Like most of my questions, I don’t have a good answer for these so I’m just going to DO.

First, I don’t think I’m unique. People die. People are murdered. All of us will experience people die around us and we will die ourselves. I don’t know the horrors of war, haven’t seen someone die in the ER, have not been in a gang fight and have only see one dead body in real life, and it was at a distance. Hell, I haven’t even been to more than one funeral I think.

But.

When I was 17, a month removed from an appendectomy and having finally earned the white-shirt for Employee of the Month, 4 of my coworkers were murdered and another one shot on the night of December 14th 13th, 1993. I worked at Chuck E Cheese in Aurora, CO. The murderer was Nathan Dunlap, the brother of a classmate of mine.

I often had the closing shift in the kitchen having been revoked of the mouse costume because I had too much energy and we needed that energy in the kitchen. On that night I had a conversation with the lone survivor of the shooting, Bobby. He wanted extra hours as he had a family and needed some cash. I wanted to get out early that night for a variety of teen ager reasons. So we agreed to switch shifts.

Random coincidence? fate? divine intervention?

Bobby came in and I was out the door around 9:40p ish after having made a rare last late sandwich orders. Turns out that was Dunlap’s order I made.

I clocked out, took off my apron and said good bye to all the closing staff. On the way out I noticed Dunlap, who i did not know. It was definitely strange to have someone hanging out at a chuck e cheese late at night. Then again sometimes our friends would wait for people to finish their shifts.

I drove home. It was pretty late so I started my night time routine. And then the news started to break. In the time between me leaving and and brushing my teeth my coworkers were dead. Bobby managed to somehow escape out the kitchen exit bleeding from the shot to his face. I’ll spare any other details as I really don’t know the full story, only what I’ve heard.

That was my shift. Bobby saved me.

Bobby and I spoke only one other time after that, at the trial 3 years after that night. It was a brief conversation. Again, words fail. I thanked him.

Immediately after realizing what was going on my mind started to fill in details. I tried to remember everything. And I was imagining what happened inside that store. What would I have done? How did Bobby do it? What was everyone doing? Thinking? Feeling? How could I have stopped him?

I went to school the next day. I did a tv interview in the following days I briefly talked to the police. I met up with friends and talked about it. My brain became a swirl of information, memories, imagined memories. Shadows of events that could have happened.

After 19 years these shadows still follow me.

And I wasn’t even there. But in an infinite number of imagined memories I was there. I process my own mortality all the time, constantly. My own death over and over.

How does Bobby feel? How do the families of my former coworkers process this?

I’m not a depressed person, wasn’t a depressed person then. In fact I went on to work at another chuck e cheese in the area with my buddy Scott within weeks. The rest of high school was great and I went on to college.

In the middle of my freshman year at the University of Chicago I had to fly back to Colorado as a witness in the trial. 3 years later I had to retell everything I knew and in front of Dunlap.

How does a person remember important details after 3 years? I felt so disoriented. Was I making stuff up? Was my memory being altered by the weird ways in which the media and lawyers and trials play out? Can I please stop thinking about this?

Senior year of college included the unfolding of Columbine – not too far from Aurora. 6 years later my brain yet again went into overdrive chasing shadows of the past.

And so here we are one day after yet another massacre in the suburbs of Denver. So much sadness and distress fills me because it will never make sense to the survivors, the families, the friends, the family of the killer. Yes, I’m sure folks will find some peace in some explanation or some belief system. But in those quiet hours of the night, every July 20th, and with a million other cues their brains will run wild with shadows.

Again, I don’t think I’m that unique. We all grapple with death and the seemingly meaninglessness of it all.

I have a great life. I play and work hard. By all means I am functioning human.

I treasure every moment as much as I can. I love my family and my friends as hard as I can all the time so if the randomness strikes they will know I loved them.

And

The shadows still haunt me.

I am really alive?
Did this really happen?
How will I die?
Have a lived a life worth surviving that night?
Had I been there would it be different?
Should I talk to people about this?
Am I defined by this?
Does anyone care about my internal struggles?
Should I even try to get rid of the shadows?
How much of my behavior is shaped by this?

So here I am.

Maybe I’ve come to believe that all of existence is information and computation because it’s the only explanation I’ve come across that accounts for people brutally murdering other people senselessly.

I’ll never be at peace with this stuff. And I’m ok with that. In some ways it helps me live and love more.

In the end I decided to post some essays on this because there’s now another 100+ people out there with shadows looming. Maybe they will come across my story and find some peace in that were all connected and we don’t have to face the shadows alone. And maybe this is selfish in that now there are others out there for me to connect to that know aurora, co, that live with these shadows.

I’ve long believed that the worst kind of pain is loneliness. Even worse than death. I don’t think I can offer any grander help or relief or purpose than telling a story that leaves me and a reader or two less lonely.

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Dr. Tim Maudin posits in his “BIGTHINK.COM” article, that there is not much procedural difference between how one arrives at philosophical axioms for life and scientific ones.

However, let’s not wax Pollyannaic to the gods of ‘blog’; there are major processes that are different.   The philosophical axioms of life that one distills along the way are private and not amiable to testing or any type of validation or falsification.  That’s good for the individual according to those that traffic in concepts, metaphors, mysticism and similes, but it is not so relatively good for the species and the universe.  Those philosophical interpretations, rules, axioms and beliefs die with the owner.

Scientific ones may have, but don’t necessarily have, a similar etiology.   But scientific content is converted from private to public by the bridging of communication that can be scanned for a value proposition by anyone exposed who is attending to it and, in so doing, gets to tests the content in their reality as well as the public reality that science serves.

Our belief frame out behavior and when those beliefs don’t have any course correction available they can lead to good and less good consequences for the owner and the community that owner inhabits.  We all are stuck with some very outdated concepts; mostly tied to the Judeo-Christian-Newtonian World view, as some have pointed out responding to philosopher Maudlin’s article. No attempt or clue is offered how we all have these albatross’ of folk science, folk psychology and folk folklore and that, for some, make this Dr. Maudin’s video an opinion piece rather than an information piece.

What is unbounded is the need for explanation of relationships in ways that are general or conditional.  Private or covert neural patterns that equal what we call “cognitive” is not been a productive place to look to find out what the heck is going on in the world.  It is unbounded because of the complexity.   Staring at our belly button is one relationship that, while interesting to many philosophically, medically or technically, is not particularly relevant scientifically other than how it fits into existing context of those who value understanding a broader set of relationships. A scientific “explanatory crisis” is critical only because there is so much to do and behavior is complex. The philosophical procedures that have been around for 2500 years have left us wondering and wanting.  Scientific approaches have provided the Gore-Tex to suit the astronauts on the moon, if you get the difference in meaning. The differences are literally mind boggling because we’ve spent so much time in the ‘mind’ idiom that is marginal if not, blatantly unfruitful.  Current philosophical journals and entries validate this one-liner’s contributions to “our ordinary life”.

in starts and sputters science handles the changes in content understanding.  Philosophical approaches hang on using the metaphors and mysticism that was oh, so trendy in 1200 BC (interesting way to reference, ah!?). Thus, we have a similar explanatory crisis in our individual daily lives right now.  It could be called a dichotomy between those that ‘Get it” and those that “Don’t Get it” concerning myth, gods, premonitions, intuitions, feelings, motivations and the private axioms we treat as real (reification).  These reified concepts keep us ginned up recycling tattered messages rather than focused on the infinite simple relationships that make up the complex relationships that contribute to figuring out what the heck is going on out there.  Many people just gave up, are giving up, to become atheists, agnostics or vaccumists musing the antics of the “–isms” which are the stock and trade of philosophy as well.  But the quest to make sense of things is valuable and will find a course it finds rather than one based on ‘should-ought,’ or truth, beauty, right, wrong, etc., ad nauseum.

It is ironical that those that want to disagree with this piece are right now looking for a scientific-looking way to frame their Judeo-Christian-Newtonian folklore arguments to make them so strong that it will launch their careers… as philosophers.   Lol.

  1. Thursday, June 23, 2011; http://bigthink.com/ideas/24170

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Just watched absolutely fascinating NatGeo Explorer episode, The Moment of Death.

This is a really uncomfortable show to watch.   Asks some amazing questions AND unemotionally explores some answers/approaches.

What got me really thinking was listening to the Drs. and researchers who work on this stuff everyday.   It’s shocking to many of us who don’t deal with this stuff everyday, but for these researchers, its clinical.

Absolutely fascinating research over hundreds of years.   Some really kooky stuff.

There’s a part where this Dr. “MacDougal” attempted to measure the weight of the soul in the 1800s.   WHAT??!?

There’s an amazing part involving the air force testing the effects of G on pilots’ brains.

Definitely a much watch, if you can handle it.  It’s not for everyone.

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Here’s another article about how the machines will take over and make everything better.

It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn’t even take breaks to play Farmville.

Funny, but seriously…
Who’s to say the evolution of “intelligence” doesn’t involve the evolution of play… in fact in might be necessary.
not quite sure why every contemplation of a super smart singularity future simply involves bigger problems being solved.   history doesn’t suggest that’s how it works.

it’s plausible that other systems in the universe have already passed a singularity.   and perhaps we’re their little toy.  and what they did with their super intelligence was set up an experiment to see how things develop.   their own farmville.

it’s also plausible that ever increasing intelligence in the human sense doesn’t amount to squat in the multi verse.   Maybe the multi verse just does what it does and intelligence is a side effect that burns out like a super nova…  maybe it’s common, maybe it’s rare…

the problem with chasing the singularity is we probably don’t have much control over how things evolve.   Can’t say I want the machines to take over or not.  I’m pretty sure I won’t know the difference when and if they do, just like I didn’t notice how The Internet changed us and I couldn’t really prepare for it.    Other generations could say that about birth control, electricity, the printing press, telescope, the wheel, whatever.   Again, things happen.  we behave.  then occasionally we notice, “Gee, looks like something changed”.

 

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On the last day of 2010 I picked up lewis’ book “the great divorce”. I have no idea why other than I think he’s a creative writer and it was less than 200 pages.

The book was a thrill to read. Just great writing. Fast, fun, efficient. Oh, and evocative. However, the main morality is a pain to me. Not because of the end morals, but the justification of those morals. Sure none of us should be too selfish, too pity sucking, and too self-respecting.
That said, we need not be that way because the promise of heaven nor “eternal joy” nor “true love”. Life is just easier if you’re not a jerk nor a pity party.

Lewis presents an enticing view of heaven and Christianity.  Salvation through the surrender of self to God and everything is
awesomely straightforwad! Unfortunately, the history of Christianity and the stories in the bible simply don’t paint that simple of a picture.

(and, oh, that’s not the way the world works. )

I won’t deny Lewis’ idea that ‘it’s all good’ and we all have flaws that will be forgiven and forgotten is very appealing. It’s just not a serious position. You
have to suspend too much of your intellect to take this story as a serious philosophy to order your values around.

There is a small gem in this book for me.  Lewis seems to paint a world view devoid of personal responsibility, which is likely the
right position in the grand scheme of things.

Read the book and let’s talk!

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