Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Who This Man Is



- I'm sure you are as tired as I am at hearing our president described as a leader of a cult, and of warnings how management of such cults historically has paved the way to totalitarian dictatorship. There clearly is some truth to these claims, but I don't think they express the significance of this president. He does lead his followers in ritual: recounting to them a story of the American people's lost greatness, of being weak now and under attack, the story of how his people, acting together under his guidance, will immediately be able to recover strength. But this cult leader also plays the clown, claims to be a lover of order while inciting to violence, that is, inciting to disorder, while he himself is openly, even joyously lying, complaining the next minute about lies being told about him by his enemies. Is there any way of understanding him that fits all that together?
- I think there is. Our previous president expressed for the people their exceptional among other nations ability to take on any new role.* We call this hypocrisy, from the Greek hypokrites, actor on a stage, when we believe roles are deliberately taken on and left behind to deceive others. Our previous president claimed to want change but kept things almost entirely as they were. Accordingly many call him a hypocrite. If in doing this with virtuosity he expressed to the American people their unique ability to take on roles at will, and was loved by them for performing this important service of aiding their self-recognition, helping them feel more comfortable with themselves, what is our current president expressing about the American people and comforting them with, if anything?
- You are going to tell me.
- Our current president expresses the American people's predilection for, not taking on roles at will, but at will writing the scripts for their own individual, self-instituted rituals of rebirth, done in the company of others at a revivalist church, or done following the script of a story told to oneself about one's personal relations, seeing others as an enemy to be fought, a successful fight concluding with the order of the world returned to and personal power restored. The time of fighting is left behind and forgotten with the old life of weakness. The president attacks when he's feeling weak, then calls himself a very stable genius when he feels reborn by imagining how his words have decimated his enemies and that he now lives in a world of order and safety. His lies are the scripts, the made up stories of his constant battles to reestablish order out of perceived disorder, and since the truth about these lies is that they do truly perform this function they are not really lies, truth is a feeling and personal belief. At his rallies the people follow their leader's example, along with him they self-consciously throw themselves into ritual, at times clowning out the ritual as their leader does. They follow the course of his wild swings, from his claiming he is intelligent and self-controlled and a lover of order, to his deliberately exciting fears of being under attack, to making a joke of himself because he wills himself to travel the path of ritual along with his followers and along with them is reborn god-like out of his old ridiculous self, all faults left behind. Order and disorder, violence and steady-as-it-goes confidence, lies and truth, each are phases of rituals instituted at will, each has its time and place, each phase rehearsed calling to mind its place in the ritual sequence (1. weakness 2. violent group response 3. recovered strength) much as in music a refrain gathers its feeling from its recalled and anticipated position in the song as a whole.**
- The president's supporters participate in this virtuosic show, which far from being chaotic and meaningless, comfortingly reflects back to them their personal lives.

Further Reading:
The Character Of Donald Trump
Liars & The Free Market
_____________________
* See: Killers
** “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” ― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Monday, November 25, 2019

Impeachment & Evil

Related image

- Let's talk about the impeachment.
- Do we have to? What's the point?
- I have a reason.
- Which is?
- Evil. I'm looking for a better definition.
- You've already said evil* is acting on a principle of destruction. Have you changed your mind?
- Not exactly. Political statisticians say that the president's supporters are comprised of a small proportion that actually likes the man, what they can see of him, and the rest of his supporters are regular Republican Party voters, that is, people who don't want the government to do redistribution of income through taxation and benefits. This latter group has the distinction of for the most part not paying attention at all to the actual activities of government, leaving that to a power struggle between politicians. They seem to intuitively understand that once you give up acting on a principle of sympathy for others character goes with it, along with right and wrong, and all that is left to politics is a compromise between different special interests. In the course of the impeachment the active supporters are holding steady in their identification with the president, but the party loyalists, at least some of them, are abandoning him as he begins to appear a loser in the battle of interests.
- So which do you call evil?
- It's not that simple. They all are acting on bad principle, choose to live a life without sympathy for others.
- A difference perhaps between crimes of omission and commission? The party loyalists turn their backs on public life, the active supporters enjoy the idea of violence against others. So again, which are evil according to you?
- The singer songwriter Leonard Cohen said about his work, 'Poetry is the verdict that others give to a certain type of writing.' What if, like what we consider poetry depends on not only a principle describing its composition, but public judgement of its creativity as well, what we consider evil depends both on both principle of action and a public judgement of its destructiveness?
- If evil is only a feeling then isn't it entirely relative?
- No. Evil is something like anger, a passion that responds viscerally to undermining of social standards such as lying, stealing, violence. Like anger, being a passion, it leads to action done in a kind of blindness.
- And as it is better to act without anger, if you can manage to stay reasonable and still act to change the world, so it is better to attack bad coolly than indulge yourself in a passion of evil?
- In my experience I call actions evil only when they come close to me, seem to undermine my unconscious expectations of what is going to happen. When I saw the pictures of the children of asylum seeking parents crowded in cages at the border I cried.
- You? You cried?
- I did.
- I did too. I never thought I'd see something that in this country. It hit home. You're saying that as anger is a response to circumstances undermining our unconsciously relied on security, evil is a response to action that not only undermines security but bears with it the bad principle of action that leads to it being done.
- Yes. Calling someone evil requires both witnessing a clear bad principle acted upon, and a violation of expectations in one's own life.
- If that is right, then depending on how I feel, if I, like you, as I understand your life, feel myself an outsider, and look at others looking desperately for sympathy from strangers, I'll see even party loyalists as evil, but others more like me, others, forgive me, better befriended, might only consider active supporters of the president as evil.
- Or even if not 'better befriended' they might have learned to respond calmly without anger or desperation and see no one as evil, confident enough in public life to respond with knowledge without passion.

Further Reading:
Evil & The Corporate Executive
____________________
* Beverly Hills Jews

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Trump vs. Schiller

The Original Trump Baby 30 INCH Balloon w/Balloon Straw & Ribbon. Easy to INFLATE
         Balloon Donald Trump

- This time I have a brilliant idea. Maybe even a beautiful idea. Do you want to hear it?
- Why wouldn't I?
- I think I know why theories in science are more liked the more of the world they bring under the fewer principles. Why is that? you ask. I'll tell you. The reason is we are the unique species of animal that uniquely practises both science and anti-science.
- What is anti-science?
- A science against science. A science of bringing others in the world in obscure relation to ourselves for the sake of forgetting everything else about ourselves and the world. Science helps us remember by bringing as much as possible under rule of a single law, anti-science brings a few antagonists in obscure relation to each other for the sake of forgetting everything else.
- Scientific theories are felt to be beautiful, at least by the scientists themselves. What about anti-science? Is it thought to be ugly?
- Not by practitioners. But by everyone else, by lovers of science, yes!
- Our president exhorts his followers to make American great again, throw out the elites running the county exclusively in their interest, expel the foreigners who are taking our jobs and committing crimes. On the basis of an impoverished history and rudimentary method for its remedy his followers can imagine themselves in the company of like-minded others being reborn in a new world where they are free of a sense of defeat and weakness and can start again. A ritual of rebirth. Old life is forgotten reborn in the new. These are old ideas for us. Your brilliant idea, or should I say, your beautiful idea, is that what they are doing in the eyes of others is ugly, but not to themselves? A way of looking at the world, unifying complexity, helps us remember, and we call that beautiful, and we call ugly a way of looking at the world that places a small part in conflict with another under a simple but obscure principle, because it helps us forget. I don't see it.
- I don't think we've talked before about Schiller, the late 18th century German playwright, poet, and philosopher, friend and collaborator with Goethe. According to Schiller, beauty, both in nature and that made by us, educates us by reconciling, putting into harmony, our thoughts and desires, so that what we judge we should do is what we want to do. We love what we see when we are looking at something in the world that helps us do this, that reminds us to do this.*
- We call it beautiful.**
- Yes.
- How is the beauty of our behavior related to the beauty in science?
- By what Schiller called grace, exemplifying the lawful unity of our behavior, simply and without exception acting in harmony with ourselves. Perhaps you've heard the arguments about our president, now beginning the impeachment phase of his term of office, that he really is not worse than his immediate predecessors who oversaw a massive transfer of wealth to the rich, immensely destructive and futile wars waged on false pretexts, a global recession, mass surveillance, etc?
- I've heard. Why bother impeaching him for his obvious small scale crimes, numerous as they are, when we stood idly by while the country was being despoiled by its rich and powerful?
- What do you say now? Is it a danger to the people to have a leader teaching by his behavior forgetting, a leader as ugly as our own Donald Trump? Do you ever hear anyone, I mean anyone, described as being graceful, in the full meaning given to the word by Schiller, harmony of thought and act, not mere fluidity of movement or something of that sort?
- Can't say I do. We live in the capitalist money making world of doing and not seeing anything else. With such good teachers as our president of the practice of anti-science, constantly lying, clowning, stirring people up to intemperate thoughts and feelings, we've forgotten how to act gracefully.
- We've forgotten how to even recognize ugliness when we see it.
- Yet here we are, remembering and trying to make a science out of explaining our anti-science.

Further Reading:
Political Correctness
Killers
________________________
* 'A free action is a beautiful action, if the autonomy of the mind and autonomy of appearance coincide. For this reason the highest perfection of character in a person is moral beauty brought about by the fact that duty has become its nature. (Schiller, Kallias Letters) ' Drive away lawlessness, frivolity and coarseness from their pleasure, and you will imperceptibly banish them from their actions, and finally from their dispositions. Wherever you find them, surround them with noble, great and ingenious forms, enclose them all round with the symbols of excellence, until actuality is overpowered by appearance and Nature by Art.'  
** 'For readers to whom the pure significance of this word—so often misused through ignorance—is not entirely familiar, what follows may serve as an explanation. Every phenomenon whatsoever may be thought of in four different connections. A thing may relate directly to our sensuous condition (our being and well-being); that is its physical character. Or it can relate to our reason, and furnish us with knowledge; that is its logical character. Or it can relate to our will, and be regarded as an object of choice for a rational being; that is its moral character. Or finally, it can relate to the totality of our various powers, without being a specific object for any single one of them; that is its aesthetic character. A man can be pleasant to us through his readiness to oblige; he can cause us to think by means of his transactions; he can instill respect into us by his high moral standards; but finally, independently of all these and without our taking into consideration any law or any design in our own judgement of him, but simply contemplating him, simply by his manifesting himself—he can please us. In this last-named character we are judging him aesthetically. So there is an education for health, an education for understanding, an education for morality, and an education for taste and for Beauty. This last has as its aim the cultivation of the whole of our sensuous and intellectual powers in the fullest possible harmony. But because people are meanwhile led astray by a false taste, and still more confirmed in this error by false reasoning, into taking the conception of arbitrariness along with them into the conception of the aesthetic, I add. this superfluous note (though these letters about aesthetic education are concerned with practically nothing else but a refutation of that error) to point out that the mind in its aesthetic condition, although it certainly acts freely and is in the highest degree free from all restraint, is by no means free from laws, and that this aesthetic freedom is to be distinguished from the logical necessity of thinking and from the moral necessity of willing only by the fact that the laws which guide the operation of the mind are not realized, and because they meet with no resistance do not appear as compulsion.' (Schiller, On The Aesthetic Education of Man) 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Babies & Wingnuts

The Hillman Group 3001 1/4-20-Inch Stainless Steel Wing Nut, 5-Pack

- I want to talk to you about someone.
- Alright.
- Or rather, I don't. I'll get at what I'm interested in this way. What would you do if you were dropped from space down to Los Angeles, someplace affluent, and affluent, at least in appearance, yourself.
- How old am I?
- Fairly old. 60, 65. You've fallen from space to sitting in a chair at a cafe, in a shopping center.
- Where do I live?
- You live nowhere. You just dropped from space.
- So I know no one?
- You know no one.
- Then I'll make friends.
- That isn't what I want to ask you about. In fact, I mean, in our hypothetical, you can't make friends.
- Why not?
- Because it seems to others that you've just dropped from space.
- They don't understand me. I'm not human then?
- You are.
- But I must be different if they don't understand me. How am I different?
- You sit at the table in the shopping center and look at the baby held in its mother's arms at the next table. The baby looks back at you. You ask yourself, how long can this go on? The baby looks away, and a few seconds later, looks back, locking on your eyes. This repeats a few times and you withdraw your attention because now you're interested in the general question, what does the baby see when it looks into your eyes, is it the same you see when you look in its eyes? You answer, you think it is, it is contemplation, a recognition of being in a good place, a place you can rest in that no action is required to remedy. You've arrived. With no need to do anything, nothing in the world stands out from another, you see the world as a whole. And yet, after a while, you look away. You, dropped from space, an old man...
- I'm a man, am I?
- You are. You've been dropped from space at that table, knowing nobody, and you can't make friends because you're too different, and you're too different because you are perfectly happy to sit at the table and watch this baby look at you and look away, trying to understand why when what the baby sees when it looks your way is perfect and whole, it nevertheless looks away.
- This old man I am, dropped from space would look at the baby, and when its mother takes it away, he'd continue thinking of the situation in general. He wouldn't look to get whatever kind of job an incomprehensible old man could get. He'd more or less drag his old body around, looking and thinking. Until what? He makes a friend or dies?
- He wants to solve this problem which he expresses to himself thus: if the baby looks at me, and I look at it, with complete and satisfied attention, with a sense of wholeness, therefore no sense of will - will involving desire for taking action - why does the baby take action and look away?
- Why does it?
- The old man thinks he knows how to begin his search for an answer: will he decide to get up from his chair and look for means to keep himself alive, or will he not, and remain in contemplation of babies and whatever else that his attention grasps hold of?
- Doesn't he feel the urge to look away?
- No, not immediately. But hour after hour passes and he begins to feel the cramping of muscles and the onset of hunger and thirst. He understands himself well enough to know that his appreciation of the world's beauty requires the physical underpinnings of perception. His body is holding itself in relation to the world. He understands that in time that hold in relation will weaken and ultimately fail.
- So he's solved his problem.
- He's made only a start, for he asks himself, once he looks away, how will he be able to return to contemplation of a baby contemplating him? He looks at the affluent people around him, well fed and at ease with their bodies...
- And there is no looking-at-babies-looking-at-them in their lives.
- None. Now, in our hypothetical, we provide our old man dropped from space without a friend in the world with a laptop computer connected to the Internet. He's realized he has no idea what connects the physical aspect of himself with the mental. He opens the computer and types into a search engine the phrase 'physics mysteries'.  He taps the link to a video, and he can hardly believe it: he seems to have found an answer. The video is about an observation made by a Russian astronaut during his stay in a space station in zero gravity. A wingnut had come loose and was floating in the air, continuously rotating around one axis. After every few seconds, however, the wing nut would flip over on a second axis, and then continue as before. It seems magical, this on and off of movement of a solid piece of metal.
- Did our old man actually see a clip of this happening?
- Yes. Do you have an explanation?
- No. Tell me.
- The video presents another physics mystery, a cylinder sliding down an inclined plane, then stopping, then resuming its slide, then stopping, and so on. The mystery is explained: inside the cylinder partly filling it is a viscous fluid that as the cylinder as a whole moves forward, slides towards the back of the cylinder, cause it to stop, the fluid then recoiling from the back to flow forward, causing the cylinder to resume its forward motion.
- But the wingnut you said is solid.
- It is. But if you looked carefully at the video clip you could see that when the wingnut was apparently spinning on only one axis, on the second axis it was after each flip already slightly wobbling.
- And that wobbling built up until it flipped the wingnut completely over.
- Yes. Our old man...
- Wasn't I the old man?
- You didn't seem to want the job. Our old man thinks he understands: the movement produced by one force is being modulated by the movement produced by another force. The baby looks at him, impelled to do this by one force, but looks away, compelled to do this by another force.
- But looks back again when the first force reasserts itself. No act of will required for either exit or entrance to its state of contemplation. Nice and neat.
- The old man closes his computer, sits at the table at the shopping center and thinks. It's not food and shelter his body needs, but a counterforce to contemplation it already is in the care of. How is he going to find that?
- I don't know. Not by getting whatever job an incomprehensible old man dropped from space can get?
- And in off work hours look for what in life he should be doing to produce the required counter-force?
- Yes.
- He considers this, and thinks. Maybe. But it would put him in the grips of extraneous forces and complicate matters. Better first to find the counterforce, come to know the movements it produces when he sees them.
- How is he going to do that?
- He sits there and thinks. His limbs cramp, he feels hunger and thirst. The stores close. Shopping center guards escort him out to the street. He stands on a corner, still thinking.
- Doesn't sound good.
- He thinks like this: mathematics can account for the sloshing back and forth of the viscous liquid in the cylinder, and the wobbling on the second axis of the wingnut. If he can find a similar mathematics in the activities of life when not resting in contemplation, then wouldn't he have what he needed to work on making a life that would as expeditiously as possible return him there?
- To rest and beauty.
- Yes.
- Then what? What happens to him?
- He goes back the next day to the shopping center.
- Where mothers often come with their babies.
- Yes. He begins his studies.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Fearful Dreams



- Imagine you are dreaming. You are dreaming this very conversation you are having with me. And then, still dreaming, you wake up, understanding that your conversation with me was a dream.
- And then I wake up from the dream, and tell it to you.
- Yes.
- Have you ever had a dream like that? 
- I have. How do you feel when our president claims that every crime he is accused of committing is actually being committed by his critics, every lie he is accused of telling is a lie perpetrated by his opponents? Is it like trying to wake yourself up from a dream in which your reality is revealed to be a dream?
- Something like that.
- And could it be that the dream you struggle to awaken from is of a particularly terrible kind? The kind of dreaming called sleep paralysis in which you dream you are under threat but cannot move. In our country there is supposed to such a thing as a market in which all human nature is abstracted out except the desire for profit, and our only freedom in relation to the market is how much we allow the government to regulate it, government itself deprived of all functions except regulation of the market. Between these enclosing walls of market and government human nature is paralyzed, and an ominous fear is generated, the result of a total lack of security: anything can be expected from hundreds of millions of human beings isolated from each other by self-identifications in the products they consume, isolated and self-identified by their race, gender, wealth. The president's supporters mock us, accuse us of dreaming, and in this particular sense of having to live in this world of sleep paralysis, we agree!
- What do we do about it?
- Let's go back to the dream of our real conversation being dreamed, and in the dream waken up from. Do you remember being young and, as we say, dreaming of a life of love, friendship, adventure, achievement? How do those dreams look to you now?
- A lot of what I dreamed of came to pass, but it was not much like what I dreamed.
- How different?
- Temporary, mixed up, confused, but deeper, much deeper.
- Much better?
- Yes.
-  Plato makes the argument that only those who have the experience of the higher pleasures of knowledge know their superiority to the pleasures of the body. Would you say that about waking and dreaming?
- I don't follow.
- Dreams are stories. Reality has story too, but it is a story of interruptions: of reflection, play, imagination, experimentation, detachment.
- Then what we can do about being accused by the president's supporters of lying, of dreaming, is to point out we are experiencing these times of interrupting consciousness and therefore are awake. You've had the dreams and I haven't, so I ask you if the dreams of real life that you wake out of in your dream have these marks of consciousness.
- They do not. They are mere narrations, passively listened to stories.
- Then we search for these marks of consciousness in the words of the president's supporters...
- And don't find them.
- We who are awake know they are dreaming, but they themselves don't.
- They are caught in the fearful dreams of sleep paralysis.*

Watch:
Quantified Society
_______________________
* 'The more eclipsed the public becomes, the more citizens come to believe in their omnicompetence. Self-contemplation through pluralistic public discourse—necessary for genuine public self knowledge—is regarded as superfluous. Reassured by cognitive biases inculcated by the culture market that they already understand the world and themselves, pseudo-individuals prefer consuming opinions that they already agree with over facts they believe they already know.' - Trumpism and the Dialectic of Neoliberal Reason, David Lebow

Monday, September 2, 2019

Interference

Two-Slit Experiment Light by inductiveload. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

- Yes, yes, it's not your area but I'd like to hear your answer to my question.
- The simple answer is: some parts of Einstein's relativity theories are real, others are matters of appearance, are observational illusions, are not experienced.
- Give me an example of an illusion.
- Different perspectives on a movement, one stationary, the other sharing the same movement, can show it taking differing amounts of time (because of the fixed speed of light).
- And an example of something real?
- A clock placed higher or lower than another will click at a different rate (because of differing pull of gravity).*
- So really it's right in the nature of things that people, including Einstein who inaugurated the study by demonstrating the particle form of light, ask the same question about quantum mechanics: Is what we are looking at real or illusion?
- Yes.
- So which is it?
- You're asking me?
- Is there anyone else here?
- Then we'll give ourselves some distance and take a few steps back. At the beginnings of Western philosophy attempts were made to describe how things can change and still be what they are. If we couldn't get them together, if they were irreconcilable opposites, was change an illusion, a mistake, or was the mistake permanence? Should we try to see our lives only in one of them? Or did we live in a cycle alternating between illusion and reality, change and rest? Plato followed Parmenides' plan of cycling between the illusory world of change to the permanent world of truth, accomplishing this transition applying the tool of knowledge; in his dialogs he developed a technology of observed life, experimenting in words, searching for knowledge of how life should be lived that could survive the test of debate. Alright?
- Yes.
- Now, long before Plato, a social technology was practiced that obstructed change. Everyone was locked in roles ranked in a hierarchy, the actions pertaining to each role specified by law. We'll be coming back to this. Following Plato, Aristotle provided a way to allow real things and illusory change to occur not in sequence but at every moment together: things had a capacity which circumstances activate, make come into being: capacity reflected change, characteristic activity reflected stability, provided a definition of what the thing was.
- An account of growth, development.
- A study of how our past experience develops our capacity to act. Do you see where I'm going with this?
- Not really.
- What would be required to adapt Plato's experimental science of mental life into an experimental science of the material world? I'll answer for you: the social roles and laws of the ancient empires. Social roles replaced by things in the world, laws of the pharaoh replaced by measured movement of things showing them in accord with natural laws. Keep in mind this distinction: the pharaoh's fixed laws and roles, Plato's self in the movement of acquiring knowledge. For Plato any social life of fixed roles and rules was lived in a world of illusion: succeeding there in the application of a technology of knowledge one gained access and rest in the true unchanging world.
- Could we say that our world of change and illusion had the capacity to lead us to experience of a real, unchanging world?
- We could. Aristotle was replaced by a social technology of material laws, losing by this Aristotle's solution to the problem of describing how a thing can remain itself and also change, the individual's capacity for change actualized in the present. Forces acted to change the position of things no one knew how or seemed to care, at least not until out of nowhere a joke was played on our scientists: experiments showed that the behavior of photons was predictable only with probability, that they acted sometimes like waves and sometimes like particles, and that they seemed to remain in connection with each other across large distances. A catastrophe for science: no fixed laws, no fixed things. In the double slit experiment waves of light pass through two slits in a wall, creating two new waves, which produce a characteristic interference patter of a series of bars and gaps on a second wall. When instead of a continuous beam of light, individual photons are shot towards the slits, when both slits remain open, the same interference pattern is made on the second wall by the accumulating dots made by the individual photons, but when one of the slits was covered, a single bar of light results, no interference pattern. Scientists generally have treated this as a problem of space, a mystery about the location of things defined as remaining the same. But isn't the problem better seen as a mystery of time, of things being in two times at once, as something very like consciousness where the influence of the past is felt on the present, where the wave-borne memory of past underpins the present appearance of particles?
- Like you say the clocks show different times after individually experiencing a history of different physical conditions.
- Yes. With a little attention on their part the scientists saw that the joke played on them was doubled: just when they had convinced themselves that consciousness was an illusion, that the material world was all there was, consciousness was back staring them in face at the most fundamental level of physical reality. Shakespeare, we've talked about this before, developed Plato's social technology of knowledge into a social technology of role play.** We can imagine that when we deliberately, self-aware take on a role in society we are manifesting ourselves, ironically as it were, from the individual personal history of the wave into the thing-like permanence of the rule-following particle.
- In the reconciling of change and rest, the particle takes the part of rest, the field the part of change. But this all is taking place in the world of illusion?
- Yes, in the world of change, allowing for a temporary stability. But if from the abandonment of Aristotle at the beginning of the scientific revolution scientists haven't seemed to care about the newly returned problem of rest and movement, our social world is increasing arranged on the same technical model as the material world, and people do notice, feel strongly the lack of relation between their social role and individuality.
- You've got me confused. You believe in both: first the means Aristotle invented of securing rest and change together, his capacity and activity model of every thing at every moment; and second, you believe in the Platonic passage through the world of change toward the world of rest where there is no change and no parts?
- Yes. Both. Maintain your individuality against society's roles and rules, then decide what best to do with your individuality. The material technology of things and laws of science, like Shakespeare's social technology of role, should be practiced for the sake of getting out of the world of illusion, and to do that requires an understanding of individual life in which rest and change are reconciled. Quantum physics can do us the service of warning us of the danger of submitting to the rules of social role, losing individuality; danger of a return to the pharaoh's social technology that locked everyone in roles ranked in a hierarchy, the actions pertaining to each role specified by law, each individual like an unchanging particle in unclear but fixed, probabilistic relation to each other.
- Quantum mechanics interpreted so is an illusion. The problem of change and rest is obscured under claims of non-locality and probability.
- Yes. Quantum mechanics alternatively can be seen in the capacity/activity interpretation, taking account of actual individual histories, and making as good as sense as we have ever made of the problem of things and change, and offering reassurance that consciousness is real.


2.

- I'm surprised at you.
- What have I done?
- You're making speeches. Jumping from subject to another. Nothing is developed, everything is confused: capacity and activity, consciousness, quantum mechanics, social technology, material technology.
- And the truth has escaped us?
- I think so.
- Would you like to make your own speech then?
- I think I would.
- Go ahead.
- My thesis is....
- Here we go....
- My thesis is that quantum mechanics is in fact somehow related to consciousness, but only one kind.
- What kind?
- A bad kind. False consciousness. What you in your system call passion and vanity, passionate action in which self is forgotten, and vain reflection in which the world is forgotten. The transition from action to rest occurs while the self is forgotten, with the result that movement is unaccounted for.
- When a field resolves itself to a particle, that is like passionate fear and hate bringing us to a place of security when ritualistically performed in a group?
- For example. The alternative your system proposes....
- I don't have a system.
- Has you theory been tested in any way? Can it be tested? The alternative your system proposes is creative action leading to ethical thought, action taken in awareness of self ends in rest forgetting self in contemplation of the world. Because action is taken in awareness of self a history of the movement from action to rest is possible, therefore there's continuity. Is such a model applicable to quantum mechanics?
- Continue with your speech.
- It is not. We have no idea how a field resolves itself into a particle. I conclude with this: as our material technology was prepared for by a prior social technology, our new physics has been prepared for by a prior psychological technology.


3.

- Are you finished? I won't make a speech. I want to ask you a question.
- Ok.
- What does it mean that the material world is subsequent to, and is the worse version of, personal technology, social and psychological?
- What a question! I don't know. Do you?
- I can make a guess. We have in language (1) words reflecting things (2) things acting in lawful relation to each other. A structure in the technology of language - things in lawful action - formally the same as involved in material technologies.
- But we can use language creatively. Why is it that the material world, even at the level of particles, is only of the destructive form?
- Can we ever expect to reach a level of physical reality that reflects our creative personal technology?
- Yes. What do you think?
- I think, reasoning only from what little experience we have, that if we could establish regular forms of good consciousness and good society, acquire a technology, a tool that worked all the time, it might follow that we discover an equivalent material technology. Language supplies the model of technology. Practice of social and psychological technology allows material technology to be discovered. Practice of good social and psychological technology would allow, perhaps, a good material technology to be discovered.
- Wild. Do you see any signs of that happening?
- Maybe. You know here in L.A. we have a sort of open air zoo where human beings are the, to pick up on your word, wild life. I mean the hundred thousand people with no place to sleep, who are fed and watered by various charities and the government, and then thrown back to the public, functioning as a warning of the consequences of failure to conform. Strange masks are put on by the zoo animals, strange effects are produced among them. Earlier, sitting over there in the corner booth, was a little old lady, a highly talented consumer of free services. Before she began sleeping in the park she was a worker in the offices of UCLA's neuroscientists. Foreign scientists, she was telling me, brought with them research on fetal brains and half-brain lobotomies for patients with severe epilepsy.
- Where's the strange effect?
- That is now brought in by me, who among the zoo animals is taken to be one of their own. I relished the opportunity to inform the little old lady that I was in correspondence this very day with a professor at the University of California studying consciousness.
- Is that true?
- Yes. The effect builds. Also here this afternoon was the statuesk Romanian courtesan with her newest adventures. She's always being exploited and thrown out by her landlords and landladies: from a room in a Beverly Hills apartment, $1000 a month, she must leave early in the morning and return to only late at night, to a balcony to sleep on in the same apartment for the same $1000 when she'd gone to a new city and wanted to come back, to a room in what she described as a palace, a three floor French farmhouse behind the Beverly Hills hotel, supposedly the second house built in the city, in exchange for washing the dishes, which being called on to do several times a day because of frequent guests, was a bit too much, despite the $300 a week salary with room and board, so she got angry and was given a ten day notice with a cash payoff of $500, and now what should she do? Should she go to another city? She suddenly drops the pretense she's kept up for years that the $100 here and $1000 there men give her who she meets at the bars of expensive hotels didn't require anything in return. But it's so hard, she exclaims. What she gets barely covers her rent. She can't get out of her head, every time she sees me, to ask these same questions of me: What should she do? Where should she go? Me, who is in correspondence with philosophers of consciousness and is in a direct connection to British royalty.
- Since when?
- I'm getting to it. The Romanian courtesan departs, and a few minutes later another woman arrives. She four or five decades ago was in my high school class, and now is some kind of Jew for Jesus. I asked her to confirm what she'd told me earlier: that the newest British princess was the daughter of a member of our high school class. This princess, following in the footsteps of her mother, who after high school went on to become a revolutionary member of the Black Panther Party, had recently snubbed our country's chief executive by refusing to meet him when he visited the U.K. With a prince of that country not our princess' husband, our chief executive, as you must know, is involved in the large scale scandal of Jeffrey Epstein, organizer of a island club where the rich and powerful could enjoy teenaged prostitution.
- Your point being that the rich and powerful are in their own open air zoo.
- If you like. I see masking and unmasking, and strange shifting relations, both personal and social, as opposed to clearly defined things in lawful relation.
- And, as we've said, such masking and unmasking and shifting relations are the material for personal and social creativity.***


4.
Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”
The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”
 “So! Indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”
The Master replied, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.” (Confucius 1901, chap. 16)

- I've looked up that cognitive psychologist you're in correspondence with.
- And?
- He's also a professor of philosophy and computer science. I wonder you're not embarrassed to be making up theories of consciousness off the top of your head when there are people like him, people who have similar ideas but unlike you are trying to make rigorous mathematical models of consciousness testable by computer simulations and programming games to reveal evolutionary fitness.
- I admire his ambition. The professor argues for consciousness creating all our perceptions and that our perceptions, self-created, are illusions.**** I'd say instead that consciousness doesn't create, but arises out of the process of perception.
- What difference does it make? You have your view, he has his, but he in addition has game theory and computer modelling as supports.
- What good is it to use computers to make models and test evolutionary fitness if what you are modelling and testing is not right?
- Not a correct picture of consciousness?
- Yes.
- Obviously it would be no use at all. But if you are claiming to have a better picture, shouldn't you make a testable model like the professor is doing?
- He has a whole team working with him.
- And you're just a talker.
- Coming up with a good model to test needs a lot of talk. I told you about the Romanian courtesan, physically imposing, otherwise rather ugly. She's in love with beauty: with her own, with the beauty of her clothes, jewelry, hair, skin She's so in love with beauty, anyone who is attracted to her is loved for participating in her love of beauty. Are we, with the professor, to say her beauty is an illusion? He tells the story of a male beetle that tries to mate with a certain beer bottle having a pebbly surface it takes for a female beetle. Are we to conclude, with the professor, that what we take as reality is a convenient illusion that makes decisions more efficient but which is not an accurate model of the world? What if consciousness arises out of repeated experiences with things in the world remaining available to awareness, and therefore the attractiveness of the Romanian is not meaningfully to be called a mistake or illusion? Men seem to be mistaking her ugliness for beauty, deceived by an illusion created by certain sizes and shapes of certain parts of her. But what if, like with the actress Marilyn Monroe, her inclusion of viewers in her history-bearing consciousness of her own beauty allows them the thrill of reacting to her body as if it were real life pornography, pornography which excites even though it is not doubted for a second that it is an illusion?
- In short, consciousness is not deceived.
- In a game testing evolutionary fitness the professor carried out, seeing the color red representing both too much or too little oxygen, and the color blue the right amount, was more fit than seeing red half-way to the maximum oxygen experienced and blue the rest of the way, even though one color representing both too much and too little oxygen doesn't represent any state of the world. That's a problem if consciousness is thought to produce its own perceptions, but not a problem if consciousness arises out of a history of interactions with the world.
- The professor says the world is an illusion, our consciousness has an active role in creating perceptions which evolution selects for fitness. Our perceptions are like the icons on our computer desktops: not similar in form to the world modeled - pushing on a two dimensional square box on a screen is not similar to the electrical changes on a silicon chip - yet there exists a practical relation between the two that can be tested in game play for evolutionary fitness. You say our relation to the world is real, though sometimes what we are used to seeing connected to what we see betrays expectation. Your ideas would hold their own, you predict, tested in evolutionary game play. That seems plausible. What then? Can you model the consciousness that arises out of perception in a way that can be computer simulated?
- The professor suggests that consciousness produces space and time in perception of the world, doing that production presumably outside of time and space: if it's already there why produce it? Where then is the agent of consciousness itself that is making space and time if it is not in space and time?
- I don't know. In the quantum world?
- All alone there? Consciousness arises, I suggest, when awareness of present time looks back on the awareness of a past time, with what is perceiving in the different times, divided by time, taking on definition as different objects. We know what and where consciousness is - it's in all this detail. Wouldn't that make consciousness easier to model?
- I'm no more a computer scientist than you are.
- As an independent agent producing perception, his consciousness is a quantum world all to itself. After elbowing consciousness aside he doesn't have more than the beginnings of a model. But maybe we do, with the quantum world involved in, arising out of every perception. The professor is working within the world of bad human technology and the bad science of things and laws that developed out of it. In a good human technology we - 'we' referring to consciousness intimately connected with, having a history in the world - seek exits from the world of time and space by experimentally trying on one role after another: both space/time and evolution are in the same model and clearly related.

Further Reading:
The Technology of Good
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
Authoritarian and Democratic Technics, Lewis Mumford
Studies In Relativity
__________________
Atomic Clocks Reveal Einstein's Relativity
** The Technology Of Magic
*** Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
**** "Our perceptual capacities are products of evolution and have been shaped by natural selection. It is often assumed that natural selection favors veridical perceptions, namely, perceptions that accurately describe those aspects of the environment that are crucial to survival and reproductive fitness. However, analysis of perceptual evolution using evolutionary game theory reveals that veridical perceptions are generically driven to extinction by equally complex nonveridical perceptions that are tuned to the relevant fitness functions. Veridical perceptions are not, in general, favored by natural selection. This result requires a comprehensive reframing of perceptual theory, including new accounts of illusions and hallucinations. This is the intent of the interface theory of perception, which proposes that our perceptions have been shaped by natural selection to hide objective reality and instead to give us species‐specific symbols that guide adaptive behavior in our niche." - The Interface Theory of Perception, Donald Hoffman, 2018

Friday, August 23, 2019

Numbers & Numbers



- I suppose, someone like you, you never get lonely?
- Someone like me is someone always talking to people?
- Yes.
- Talking philosophy.
- Yes.
- After spending most of last night on YouTube watching lectures on physics and debates on philosophy, I can say categorically the result was falling into a state of sadness and loneliness.
- Why do you think that was? Because you were only watching, not yourself talking?
- Watching the right kind of conversation, like the one in the movie I mentioned last time we talked, Godard's Living Her Life,* between a philosopher and a young woman confusingly setting out on a life of prostitution, only intensifies the sense of there being something important to do with people.
- What was that?
- The philosophers and physicists of the debates and lectures communicated to me information and ideas. But we don't communicate, in the sense of get close to each other, through information and ideas.
- How then?
- One of the philosophy debates was on the problem of reality: do we see the real world, or only a world of our own making? We talked last time, and many times before, about how perception works: we learn to give things a name after repeated response to what we see has had a consistent effect on what we see, something like when we speak we try one word after another, and if we're lucky at the end we've completed a sentence that summarizes our experience with the world in some way. In order for this act of naming through repeated acts of perception to work, we have to start with a response to the world. That is, we have to have the sense equipment that puts us in relation to the world that is to some extent stable. To learn the name of a chair, my eyes must be able to receive consistent images that over time seeing and touching the chair allow me to know what a chair is. Those original perceptions are not names we've learned through experiment, but inborn possible relations to the world.
- And that inborn possibility of relation, not being of our making, is a real relation to the world, a relation to the real world.
- That's the argument. Now consider the situation we are in when, with our inborn relation to the world, we find ourselves looking at something we haven't yet got a name for. Our inborn relation allows us to have a series of perceptions as we move through and in response to a world which we don't yet know. Until we've developed a habit of perception that gives us a consistent sight and therefore name of the world, our perceptions are like numbers, without content but nevertheless real and building one upon another.
- The professors of philosophy and physics you watched communicated to you their perceptions, but their words didn't go deep into that realm of numbers. And watching the movie did? How?
- First, by feeling drawn to the young woman.
- Being drawn, an attraction felt, but not to be accounted for.
- Yes.
- You are in relation to the real world. Then?
- Presumably the philosopher in the movie feels the same. He communicates ideas not much different from those I heard in the debates last night, but they are being spoken in a way emptied of content, spoken like numbers because spoken not to identify the world but as mere instruments used to come to know this mysterious young woman.
- And you're back with the ancient Greeks who believed in the magic of numbers and that words could only be spoken in a world of illusion.
- Yes.
- The words of last night's debating and lecturing philosophers and physicists left you feeling lonely because they seemed to come out of a world of illusion and to leave you stranded there with no way out, unlike the way out with the woman of the movie of coming to know her, learn her name.
- Yes.
- Wouldn't the physicists with all their mathematics be surprised to hear they weren't good enough with numbers?
- There are numbers and there are numbers.

Further Reading:
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
My Wife Who Throws Me Out
The Mathematics Of Consciousness
____________________
* Now Voyager

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Now Voyager



- Picture a deserted street in Beverly Hills. 2:30 in the morning. Fairy lights in the trees. An empty cafe terrace. I sit alone with my computer. Hearing footsteps, I turn to see a pretty young woman standing still, looking at me. She asks:
- Do you know when they open?
- Not for a couple hours.
- Do you have any money? Or food? Or marijuana?
- No. There's a little Scotch left in my bike bottle. Should I get it?
- Yeah.
- Sit down.
I fill for her the small plastic sample cup I had in my pocket. She asks if I mind her smoking. I notice her deeply stained hands as she lights up. You know the feeling of being floored by life delivering to you what maybe decades ago you'd told yourself would be just about the best thing you could imagine happening?
- I haven't yet been so lucky.
- Well, here before my very eyes was being recreated my favorite scene from my favorite movie, Jean-Luc Godard's Living Her Life. A young woman, after losing her job and place to live, both out of need for money and contempt for society slips nonchalantly into prostitution. She strikes up a conversation with the man reading a book in the next booth at a late night Parisian cafe. She asks if he'll buy her a drink. She asks him, if I remember correctly, why he's reading so late. He says it's his job. He's a philosopher. Though this cafe I'm at is closed and this is LA not Paris, and though no one in his right mind would ever give me a job as a philosopher and I'd be very surprised if she's an existentialist and not crazy or a drug addict, or both, this is my chance to play philosopher to a pretty woman mysteriously appearing out of the night. I ask her what's brought her here. Where is she coming from? She answers:
- Now, or in general?
- Either.
- Now, from the beach, Santa Monica.
- How long have you been in LA?
- Two, three days.
- And before LA?
- In Mexico.
- Where were you born, raised?
- Up North.
- Where up North? Seattle? You don't want to say. What were you doing in Mexico?
- Being a medium of communication.
- Communicating what?
- Solutions to the people's social problems.
- Do you have the solutions to their social problems?
- Not to put into words; but through my being there I express what needs to be done.
- Will you do the same here back in the US? What needs to be done?
- My generation is lost. Things will get better with this president I think.
She asks if she can play some music from YouTube on my computer. She calls up a video with lyrics of a rap song, words grunted out to a simple rhythm with the usual jerky violence, expressing the deep truth of the singer's own story, which is before he was weak and poor and now, look at him! He's rich and has what everyone else only dreams of, money, music, cars, and bitches, bitches meaning prostitutes, bitches being the generally accepted term for women in this art form. Why did she like this, I ask her. A generational thing, she answers. Sex, drugs, rock and roll: like the song, that's what's she's about. I tell her I don't miss a chance to interrogate anyone who admits  to liking our president. Last time was a wealthy woman in her late sixties, only hours before at Bristol Farms Market, the supermarket the cup she's drinking from comes from. I ask her how she knew the president was the great, heroic person she said he was, and she answered it was her intuition. What, I asked the pretty young woman, did she think of this rich old woman also sending and receiving communications by intuition? She doesn't answer; asks for another drink of whisky. I oblige, and ask if she'd like me to tell her about what I've been thinking about. Usually at this time I'd be reading, but tonight like she had I'd gone to YouTube and was watching a lecture by an historian of the Holocaust. His latest book argues that both our president and Russia's president operate on an assumption that history has ended or going nowhere. Progress was an impossibility. Not something new, rather what is the order of the day is to clear away the enemies to the perfectly good arrangements of the past. For us history has ended with the establishment of capitalism and democracy. For Russia history never should have begun, history should be done away with. Any society no matter what kind must be corrupt. Any society, Russia included, is the product of a fallen world. Only Russia as a spiritual entity was pure, and must be defended by using to the limit expertise in corrupt practice in battle against corrupt enemies both internal and external and their corrupt practices. An earlier book by this same historian,* a book I had actually read, explains how the majority of the killing of the Holocaust occurred in stateless places, in countries where through successive occupations national institutions had collapsed, leaving citizens without a nationality. People without nationality, stateless, were easily murdered. My guess would be this was because personal progress requires society. To understand others, in my own experience, I first had to understand myself, and to understand myself I needed to see myself reflected in the eyes of others. If the historian is right, depriving someone of participation in social institutions raises doubts of having a personal life, thus making that person a non-person, as easily killed as animals that are likewise non-persons. Easier, in fact, when the killing is done in the rehearsal of ritual, in which the killer, under attack from the existence of the non-person, who is an infection, part of an invasion, is an adulteration of the society; the killer loses himself in cleansing violence, and in the end his enemies are eradicated and he is reborn in strength. No actual murder is required to achieve the result of restored strength. Passively listening or remembering a story suffices. Merely imagining the story told in the company of like minded people works. The certainty of the greatness of their leader-story teller, presidents of the United States and Russia, seems to have been proven to the ritualist without need for them to point out a single actual deed or characteristic. Knowledge is ascribed to intuition. A sense that time cannot take us anywhere. There is no progress, only return to the purity of the nation or the perfection of achieved institutions, with the act of return justifying taking on any power and using any amount of violence. Claims made by totalitarian states about the nature of time, and ritual consciousness of the individual - that particular time consciousness, a timelessness from forgetting in rebirth - are closely related. So too is related the physics of our times - that however is being more and more challenged - in which the passage of time is said to be an illusion: the sense of now, of flow, of there being a one-way direction to movement, past to preset to future, all is a deception. In four dimensional space-time there's no special present, no flow, no direction to history. But when we look to time, and its progress, mysteries abound. What is time? Aristotle said: a counting of change. Every day the sun comes up. The counted repetition is time measured. But what about time itself? How can we be aware of time itself? What counts the moments of time? An Israeli physicist puts it this way:
Ordinary experience notoriously clashes with physical theory with respect to time. We keep feeling that time “goes by,” that there is a special “Now” moving from past to future, and that future events are born anew out of the present. These characteristics of reality are referred to as “Becoming.” Yet theoretical physics dismisses this so-natural impression as mere illusion, and for good reasons. Time is the parameter of all motion and change; ascribing motion or change to time itself is bound to run into absurdities. For example, if time flows, or if the “Now” moves, how fast is this motion? To apply such terms to time would entail a higher time parameter, which would in turn necessitate a yet higher time and so on ad infinitum.** 
Aristotle's full definition of time in the Physics is 'the number of motion in respect of before and after.' Time counts motion. What I was thinking this evening was that there was a natural sort of counting to consciousness itself: moving from action to thought, creative uncertainty to contemplation, from naming of the world, where each name was a repeated perception of the world that finally resulted in a habit of perception, to stopping of movement in the perception in the world of the thing named. In physics, a direction to time, progress requires causal determinism to overcome the tendency to disorder, that is, to entropy. But the determinism which takes the form of the search for knowledge is exercised on a world not yet of named things, a world where qualities are seen as flowing. When we speak, we begin in the unique moment now, unaware of how our sentence will conclude. We listen passively to each word seemingly being dictated to us, while the words spoken one after another with no assured grammatical connection or ending seem to flow into each other, and when the sentence is completed, progress has been made, action is complete, a meaning new to us expressed. If the consciousness of a no-history ritualist's, of someone whose sense of time has become fixed, is of intuition of communication, is the product of rehearsed passionate action or imagination, those who allow time to progress have an entirely different consciousness, one that gives them a sense of an unique now, of experiencing the flow of experience, of seeking understanding in the progress in knowledge towards an open future. I think it's possible to recognize right off people like this who are counting out time in its various phases of now, flow, and direction. Being aware of time's passage comes with the wish to seek the aid of others to make progress in the knowledge of life. Time's passage, knowledge, society all together;  a philosopher, a lover of talk, ready to learn from the company of the passing moment, at a cafe late at night with a lost young woman.

Further Reading:
The United States & Totalitarianism
Numbers & Numbers

Further Viewing:
A Speech To Europe
_________________________
* Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder.
** Consciousness Makes A Difference: A Reluctant Dualist's Confession, Avshalom C. Elitzur

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Second As Farce

Image result for karl marx wiki
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
― Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
- Wouldn't it be nice if it were so.
- That history had a direction. 
- And a simple, repeating mechanism, like the tick of a clock. 
- This particular claim of direction to history is exceptionally wrongheaded. Satire following tragedy, as a technique of art, was first practiced in the tetralogies of ancient Greek theater: three serious plays followed by a comedy. Concluding with comedy had a specific function: to allow the audience to learn from the preceding tragedies without getting stuck seeing the world itself as tragic.
- Leaving the world undefined, their own individual actions unconfined.
- Yes. And if the nature of the world, not of a man-made art, is tragedy followed by comedy, openness goes out the window. Openness can go out a window if the window's open.
- Why not? This weekend I had the chance to relive a scene that the first time was, not by any means tragic, but let's say somewhat serious, and the second time...
- Farce.
- I had returned from years wandering Europe to a Los Angeles where I was born and raised but where I knew no one, was a complete stranger. I had ten dollars. What to do? A girl sitting next to me at Starbucks suggested, I was Jewish, right? Try the rabbis. I could start with the one at her temple, she knew him, and she wrote down on a paper napkin the name of the temple. I immediately went to see the rabbi, the first of a half dozen or so visits to temples and rabbis. 
- What did he say?
- If I wasn't a member of his congregation he couldn't get involved.
- Involved in your life?
- Yes.
- Nice guy.
- The next two rabbis, believe it or not, said the same. Resources were scarce. 
- Lifeboat morality. Load on too many people and the boat sinks.
- At one particularly rich temple the rabbi takes a closer look at me, says: you're still young. The rabbis at Jewish center in Century City are young too. He goes off for a minute, returns telling me to wait: he's called the rabbis, they're coming there to see me. 
- Do they come?
- Yes, a couple of them, wearing wide brimmed hats and black suits. They tell me to go to the Jewish Center when it closes around midnight. 
- I remember this story.*
- At about one in the morning I was led into a room where five rabbis sat. I was asked about my life, ending with the question, Was I a child molester?
- So that story is really true?
- Mostly.
- And did they have any ideas about what you should do, other than look somewhere else for children to molest?
- One of them asked me for a member of my family they could call. They'd try arbitration. Call if you like my brother in New Jersey, I said, but don't blame me. For what? You'll see.
- And your brother told him he was 'tired of you'.
- Yes. The rabbi said, that's that. Good luck. Oh, yes, there was something more he could do for me.
- What was that?
- He had a sleeping bag I could use, sleeping outside the religious club on the sidewalk, or any place of my choice I elected to sleep.
- As our president would say, Sad! But better than nothing.
- Do you think? Now earlier this week, waiting on my bike at the corner of Wilshire and Doheny for the light to change, a tall man came up to me and asked if I was Jewish. 
- Yes, I am.
- Both parents?
- Yes.
- What are you doing? Where are you coming from?
- I'm riding my bike, as you see, coming from Starbucks.
- Where are you going?
- I haven't decided. What about you? Where are you going?
- That's something I think a lot about.
- What is your profession?
- I'm an investment baker. But my real job is collecting souls.
- I see. Is there a special place, some kind of vault, you store your collection of souls?
- What do you do?
- Nothing much. I write on the internet.
- Where on the internet? Your own site?
- Yes.
- You're a blogger.
- If you like.
- What do you write about? What are you doing Friday?
- Nothing.
- Come to my temple.
- You won't be able to do any rituals on me.
- Come to dinner after temple. 
He writes down the address. My soul, I warn him, is a slippery thing hard to take hold of. There's no chance of him catching it. Come, he says. 
- And this guy was from the same organization, that group of rabbis that asked you if you were a child molester, called your brother, and offered you the sleeping bag so they or others could walk over your warm sleeping body in some doorway as they arrived to work the next morning.
- Yes. Proselyting Jews. Their newest temple was down the street from where he'd stopped me to talk.
- You went to the dinner. And?
- I acquiesced to undergoing the ritual hand washing before meals, which however I botched by reaching for the soap - not allowed! - and had to start over again. The man who invited me hadn't arrived yet. I was shown to a seat at table, one of many arranged in a large 'U'. I try to start conversations with the men to my left and right: on the right, my guide to hand-washing, a man my age with a deeply lined face, wearing a tailored light blue suit, untypically lean for this crowd serious about their food. On my left, a retired used car dealer. Neither wants to talk. Across sits a row of silent old women. A prayer is said by a rabbi, and the meal begins. 
- I'm sorry, but what's so funny about this meal?
- Wait. The investment banker arrives. He makes a speech advising good deeds. In the bank of god there is no better investment. You'll be paid back with interest in good fortune. A self described Kentucky Hill-Billy Jew stands and makes a speech telling the story of his conversion and travels to Jerusalem. Then another rabbi, the head rabbi present, stands to tell the story of what he personally was up to lately: a great good deed, navigating complex government bureaucracies, helping to get to a famous Jewish financial criminal sentenced to twenty-two years in jail the equipment he needs to perform his rituals. 
- This guy is the one who operated the pyramid scheme that made tens of billions of dollars disappear? You must have been remembering the sleeping bag.
- I was. It seems some good deeds banked with god bring a greater return than others.

Further Reading:
Beverly Hills Jews
________________________
* Back In L.A.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Selfless



- The 26 percent of the electorate who voted for our president, a man who last night the television comedian Steven Colbert called 'the worst man in the world', about 63 million people, apparently don't see his bad character.
- Advertising has taught people to associate consumer products with emotion, and to seek only good feeling in making their choice of politicians. The president uses ritual, telling his supporters they are weak and suffer from the attacks of an enemy hidden within, but together they will eradicate the enemy and once again be strong. The president's supporters don't care to listen to anyone but him, believing him when he says journalists are liars and his enemies, so are not aware he is one of the elites he promised to save them from.
- But the novelty of the campaign product they bought should have long ago worn off, and ritual rallies don't happen every day. Why aren't they experiencing buyer's remorse? Why don't they wake up to the president's astonishingly bad character? Why don't they wake up to his lying, bullying, sexual assaults, his cheating, his ignorance? It's true these 63 million Americans have been deceived by a con artist, their attention diverted from noticing his bad character, but must not they have had bad character themselves long before not to have woken up to him by now? Only a person with bad character can fail to notice bad behavior in others when no attempt is made to hide it, it is out in the open.
- Seems to me we've been through all this before.
- I want to look at it from another angle, that of research into artificial intelligence. And yes, we've been a little into this too.* Experts claimed, some of them, that studying how computers work will help us understand how human beings think. Other experts claimed the reverse: studying how people think will help us make smarter computers.
- And?
- Those who wanted to make computers work in ways like it was supposed we think were ignored, while those who wanted to see people in terms of a computer's logic, symbols, models predominated. The logic, symbols and model's camp failed to make much progress and ultimately were forced to admit defeat and went over to the other side. The other side used what's called an intuitive approach, in which numerous attempts were made in many different situations, and the success or failure taken into account to adapt the subsequent attempts. Success if it came did not bring with it any model of how that success was achieved: you learn to ride a bike by practice, without having a model, without being able to say what posture, leanings, pedal force was required in which circumstances. The ideas of the philosopher Hubert Dreyfus, a phenomenologist, were used to successfully teach a robot to locate its position in relation to objects it was to manipulate by the programmer taking physically hold of the robot's arm and guiding it through the motions required. Dreyfus warned the logic, symbols and models camp they wouldn't get far. He was ostracized. Most prominent among the symbols, logic and models camp was Marvin Minsky at MIT. He is said to have single-handedly been responsible for more than a decade's delay in progress in AI. In his book Society of Mind he wrote that we are made up of thousand of little minds, that is, little programs arranged in hierarchies, with the top level supervisory programs - programs like play, sleep, speak -  competing with each other for precedence. And supervising these top level programs or minds were models unconsciously acquired from authority figures in our childhood who laid down the law about when and how much to work, play, speak. These outside imposed programs also didn't always succeed in holding control, for though top level they are only a few programs to be executed among thousands.
- Who is executing all these programs?
- Programs are turned on and off by other programs.
- No one is in charge?
- No one. For Marvin Minsky the self is an illusion. A person doesn't have a self any more than a computer does. And further: emotions are faulty thoughts. Love is not something special about human beings, distinguishing life from mechanism. Love is merely a thinking that has been deprived of critical sense. Since love can be defined as a kind of thought process it is not different in kind than the thought process a computer has. If you said to Minsky, as many people did, that being a kind of thought didn't stop an emotion from also being more than a thought, to have other qualities, he missed the point, couldn't see it. If you said love often involves fear of loss, how is that fear a thought? He would reply that fear is a recognition that a thought would likely be interrupted, that tasks would not easily be completed.
- He didn't have much choice. He couldn't very well believe in the reality of emotion and have those thousands of little minds or computer programs making emotional demands on each other.
- Take away from this bit of AI history a dominant view that human beings have no self and no emotions, and let's return to our president. His supporters are bored with their presidential good feeling choice, and campaign rituals are not everyday things. But the supporters have modeled themselves on computers, or rather, been educated by popular culture to model themselves on computers. They have emotions, but emotions mean less than nothing, mean defective thinking and shouldn't be allowed to have consequence in the competition between minds going on within themselves subject also to outside demands which they themselves are only partially in control of: demands to get a job, make money, find a mate. In the course of meeting those top level demands coming from outside and all the inside ones too, thousands of them, how could anyone keep to the truth, be consistent in life, have principles, show discipline, encourage one's better feelings and restrain the worse?
- So you think the president's 63 million supporters think of themselves as fundamentally incoherent, a collection of selves competing for command and obscurely guided from without, which is to say they have no character, and couldn't care less that the president has also no character.
- Yes.
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Monday, July 22, 2019

The Odyssey


- We're not meeting as often as we used to. Is something happening with you?
- What would you like to talk about?
- Stories.
- You think my problem, if I have a problem, is that I'm in the wrong kind of story?
- I'm not accusing you of anything. I know you've given some thought to stories, we've gone into it together, and I want to tell you what I think now.
- I'll tell you what's going on in my life: a bad example of a good story.
- What makes a story bad?
- It doesn't mean enough.
- Of Christopher Booker's seven basic plots - rebirth, tragedy, comedy, voyage and return, the quest, rags to riches, the monster - which would your story be?
- Voyage and Return, but the long drawn out type, as in the ten year journey of return home in the Odyssey, stuck in the middle with many episodes of capture and escape, over and over again, capture and escape; I'm equally far now from memories of being at home and from hopes of return.
- And that is a bad story to live through. Though departure and return is good?
- Not exactly bad, say rather a hard story to live through. 
- And a hard story does not necessarily mean more meaningful.
- Correct. Are we done?
- We've just begun, be patient. You don't see any value in the numerous episodes of capture and escape? Is it that you want to get back home, for you value is in being home, you don't care at all about the stories themselves of you attempting to get there, you don't pride yourself on the ordeals passed through.
- No, I don't. 
- There are others who place value in stories exactly opposite to the way you do, others who value the stories of departure and return more than the life left behind and returned to.
- Who, for example?
- Joseph Campbell. I'm sure you know him and his theory of one basic form to all the world's myths. His books have sold more than a million copies.
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day to a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. 'The hero's journey' begins in the ordinary world. He must depart from the ordinary world, when he receives a call to adventure. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading him to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials, where he is tested along the way. The archetypal hero is sometimes assisted by allies. As the hero faces the ordeal, he encounters the greatest challenge of the journey. Upon rising to the challenge, the hero will receive a reward, or boon. Campbell's theory of the monomyth continues with the inclusion of a metaphorical death and resurrection. The hero must then decide to return with this boon to the ordinary world. The hero then faces more trials on the road back. Upon the hero's return, the boon or gift may be used to improve the hero's ordinary world, in what Campbell calls, the application of the boon.*
What you find hard to take, the repeated episodes of capture and escape all while far from home, for Campbell is one heroic journey after another, is the life story of a hero repeatedly daring to seek his bliss. In Campbell's words:
Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives. [...] The artist is meant to put the objects of this world together in such a way that through them you will experience that light, that radiance which is the light of our consciousness and which all things both hide and, when properly looked upon, reveal. The hero's journey is one of the universal patterns through which that radiance shows brightly. What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss.
Why do you think what depresses you is for Campbell an ideal life? He talks of daring, a  strong will to pass through ordeals, to test oneself. He talks of ordinary life voluntarily left behind to seek one's bliss, he talks of gaining power. Whereas you see yourself as having involuntarily been ejected from, not ordinary life, but a life of love, of having been betrayed and having no choice but to go through your Odyssey-like repeated captures and escapes. Is that a correct summary?
- Yes.
- I'll tell you about my intellectual journey in the last weeks I've been deprived of your company. I'd been thinking about what kind of life would teach one to be willing to admit one's mistakes, and make one prefer to be corrected than be left uncorrected and wrong about the world. Was there, I wondered, one kind of life story that would have that result?
- And?
- And this was in the back of my mind as I came across on YouTube the six hours of TV interviews Campbell gave near the end of his life. Strangely, he reminded me of our president, Donald Trump. 
- Stunned by my betrayal, you spent that time in the strange world, mythic world of a Trump-like Joseph Campbell.
- Like you're something of a joker, Campbell's something of a bully, an authoritarian. I checked the Internet for articles about him. Indeed, there were accusations of antisemitism, of his being in sympathy with Fascists and Nazis during the war.
- And what did you make of that?
- It raises the question whether Campbell's monomyth, the one basic story to life which gives structure to life, had the same kind of story that Fascism had, and of which you have given a definition: individuals who each separately feel weak join together in a group to follow a leader who tells them of the necessary task: expel the enemy hidden within responsible for all their troubles and be then strong again.
- Campbell would say that his hero was not today's isolated man, overspecialized by his work and distracted by his entertainments, but a strong and independent hero.
- But consider the form of the story: from ordinary life, to strange supernatural, back to a more powerful ordinary life. Campbell's hero begins isolated, ends with the power to be even more isolated, but passes through an unfamiliar world in which he loses himself and his independence, is forced to undergo what all must undergo or lose self respect. Whereas in the kind of story you advocate we start in the social world of love, pass through a strange world in which we individually, experimentally disguise ourselves, with no commitment to following any one path or to being one sort of person or another - which lack of commitment includes being or not being the kind of person who is right all the time. In Campbell's story the self is not much. It is not free to duck out of supposedly universal ordeals; the self is a thing to be seen through to reach a higher consciousness, gained by force of will passing through ordeals and achieving new power. Which of the two kinds of story can we imagine a fascist leader tells to assemble a mass of followers around him? Obviously he tells Campbell's, where uniformity in following the same story comes easy to people who believe they are compelled to participate in ritual, who are interested not in facts, in things themselves, but seeing through them to attain power, higher consciousness, and bliss.
- And all of whom must follow the same script, stick to the same story, any story, if they are to achieve the security that group ritual practice provides.
- Hannah Arendt wrote: 'What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.'
- The truth of the story doesn't matter, because truth and falsity are extraneous to what is wanted and delivered by participation in the ritual performing crowd. And so you have an answer to your question, what kind of story teaches people to be willing to admit to being wrong, and what kind teaches not to admit to being in the wrong.
- Those who won't admit to being wrong are those who must follow the ritual script, be in agreement with the others doing so, who start from isolation and weakness, achieve a higher consciousness in seeing through the things of life that is the hero's journey, and who end back in isolation but newly strengthened. 
- Yes.
- And now too is your own intellectual journey over without even having to admit you've been wrong, the practice you claim to have discovered the training for.
- Almost over. I found this just published study about the effects of divergent political views upon the group editing of Wikipedia:
As political polarization in the United States continues to rise, the question of whether polarized individuals can fruitfully cooperate becomes pressing. Although diverse perspectives typically lead to superior team performance on complex tasks, strong political perspectives have been associated with conflict, misinformation and a reluctance to engage with people and ideas beyond one’s echo chamber. Here, we explore the effect of ideological composition on team performance by analyzing millions of edits to Wikipedia’s political, social issues and science articles. We measure editors’ online ideological preferences by how much they contribute to conservative versus liberal articles. Editor surveys suggest that online contributions associate with offline political party affiliation and ideological self-identity. Our analysis reveals that polarized teams consisting of a balanced set of ideologically diverse editors produce articles of a higher quality than homogeneous teams. The effect is most clearly seen in Wikipedia’s political articles, but also in social issues and even science articles. Analysis of article ‘talk pages’ reveals that ideologically polarized teams engage in longer, more constructive, competitive and substantively focused but linguistically diverse debates than teams of ideological moderates. More intense use of Wikipedia policies by ideologically diverse teams suggests institutional design principles to help unleash the power of polarization.**
Look at the journey of the group editing like this: In the beginning, the community of editors are at home with each other, proud of their group undertaking. Then, especially in political articles, they fall out with each other. But in the give and take of the supernatural would of disagreement they in the end reach homecoming in the production of a superior article all can be proud of participating in the making of, some giving up part of their positions, some not, but this of no importance compared to a peaceful homecoming. Ok, that's all. Have I cheered you up any by my storytelling?
- I think you have. And what about you? Have you been following your bliss, have you caught up to it in the art-work like beauty of the story of your search, the story bringing you to a heightened consciousness, which you've been kind enough to put on display to me? Or is that not you?
- It's not me. Maybe I'd say, if I didn't think you'd make a joke of it, how relieved I am to be able to leave that whole story behind and simply be happy we're talking again.

Further Reading:
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
MyWife Who Throws Me Out
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* Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What You Can Expect At Whole Foods Market Beverly Hills



- You've repeated so many times that in our extreme form of capitalism in each transaction buyer and seller were enemies that I was going to ask you to stop, when this happened.
- What?
- This was in Whole Foods Market in Beverly Hills, now owned by Amazon, one of the largest companies in the world. In the last few months I've been noticing, almost every day, customers, often daily customers like myself, being accosted and accused of stealing and a receipt demanded of them to prove they weren't. Today I had a little talk with the store manager, 'Oscar', on the subject. I asked him first whether it was the store policy to accuse everyone of stealing who holding store products passed out of the store without going first to the cashier, based only on, not probability, but possibility they were stealing. They could have after shopping and paying gone back into the store to get a napkin, a plastic spoon, a teaspoon pack of soy sauce, to eat some of what they bought in the dining room, or to look for a product it turned out the store didn't have. The manager answered:
- We're not accusing anyone. We're only asking for a receipt.
- But you must believe the customer was stealing if you asked for a receipt. After all you're not asking everyone to show a receipt. Don't you think it is wrong to be treating people as thieves who have been customers many hundreds of times?
- We're protecting our stock.
- Without any concern you are acting as enemies to the people who come not to make war on you but to shop? Are you admitting you are accusing regular shoppers?
- They steal too. You'd be surprised. Most people we ask to show receipts are understanding, they don't care like you.
- They're being polite. They're angry, disgusted. I'd guess you won't find in your store for months in the future, or maybe never.
- Why should anyone care about showing a receipt if they aren't stealing?
- Because now entering the store they know they are being watched, suspected of being thieves, by every store employee who it seems you have instructed to spy on the customers, even authorized without further instruction to themselves make the accusation.
- That's it?
- It's not enough? Ok then. This is from you, five years ago:
As you enter you see painted on the floor in giant letters "VALUES: No artificial flavors, additives, preservatives". But maybe your value is no artificial people? Sorry, you'll have to shop someplace else. Look to your left. Behind the counter is the surveillance staff, watching you enter. They watch you as a possible loss of income or a possible gain. They don't know which. They have to watch. You have your values, they have theirs. You value additive free food, they value humanity-free profit and loss. They're allowed. It's a free country. Or no, not so free. Not if you don't want to be hunted while you shop by the surveillance staff. And not if you don't want to be subject to the empty politeness of customer service staff. True, the ritual respect of How are you today, sir? makes for a more efficient shopping experience than being hunted by the surveillance staff. But there is, or was, another kind of experience than shopping? Was there? What was that?
Further Reading:
Watching
When We Love