Sunday, December 14, 2014

Beverly Hills Jews

- I sent your picture to a friend. "A typical Jewish Intellectual", she said. Are you are a "Jewish intellectual"?
- Jewish by ethnicity, not practice. Intellectual? That charge I don't think I can escape.
- Then she asked, "This isn't the Beverly Hills Jew you're always talking about?" Are you a Beverly Hills Jew?
- Don't you have anything else to talk about?
- No.
- I did most of my growing up next door in the Fairfax area. My mother lived for about a decade in Beverly Hills after I went away to college.
- And you live in Beverly Hills now.
- If you call it living.
- Who was that woman pounding on the window?
- What window?
- Here in Starbucks. Yesterday. Don't you remember?
- You mean Leah. How could I forget Leah.
- Are you going to tell me about her? Why was she pounding on the window?
- She was taunting the rabbis sitting at the round table.
- Ah.
- You're happy because you're back on your subject, Beverly Hills Jews.
- Your subject too. You've told me the only people you're sure read your stories are government spies and haters of Jews.
- You're in luck. Leah is fine material.
- How do you know her?
- I was at Ralphs market one night around midnight waiting for the Guru to come out...
- The Guru of Beverly Hills. The guy you live with.
- Yes. Leah, outfitted in the costume of an orthodox Jewish woman, long plain skirt, peasant blouse, and covered hair, was going around to every man on his way to or from his car asking whether he was Jewish and if he was did he want to marry her.
- Was she serious?
- Yes. But aware as well she was being entertaining. Before she went crazy she'd studied music at an elite academy in New York. That was long ago. She was about fifty now, divorced, with three teen-aged children. Ex-husband and children have gone to court to get an restraining order against her visiting them. The Guru has one too now. So does Starbucks. Probably the rabbis too.
- Why was she pounding on Starbucks' window?
- I'll get to that. Leah at last came over to me, asked me her questions: am I Jewish, will I marry her? At that moment the Guru came out of Ralphs. I told her, here comes your perfect husband. He's an orthodox Jew and crazy like you. They started talking and soon had it all arranged. They'd get married.
- No!
- Yes. There was a slight problem however. The Guru was already married, his separated wife in constant telephone contact. But that was no problem two adult human beings couldn't handle. Sadly, it didn't work out.
- Why not?
- Leah demands money and personal assistance from everyone she meets. She has artistic and business projects. She takes being Jewish seriously. Follow the rules set by the group, be aided by the group in accordance with those rules, do something good. Unfortunately somewhere along the line she went crazy, developed this maniacal anger appearing instantly when anyone refused any of her demands for assistance. The family threw her out, got their restraining orders. At the time of meeting her at Ralphs she was living in an apartment paid for by family and on a thousand dollar a month allowance from them. That's no more.
- What happened?
- She got worse. She tried to seduce the Guru's eighty year old mother whose mind is gone.
- Thus the restraining order.
- Yes. Then she decided the carpet in her apartment was dirty so she tore it up and rolled it over the balcony to the street one floor below. She got evicted, and was to be seen wandering up and down Doheny demanding aid and services from everyone, from the rabbis at the Temple across the street, from me, from anyone going in or out of Starbucks.
- Her family won't help her?
- Apparently not. So do you know who she ended up staying with?
- How should I know?
- The Holocaust survivor down the street. Ninety-two years old, and not Jewish. She introduced me to him outside his house, had him give me a copy of his book. I was instructed to make a TV mini-series out of it.
- Was he in a concentration camp?
- The worst, Auschwitz, for about a year. I knew of the book's existence but hadn't come across it before. I saw on the back cover it was published by a marketing company. That was strange. I'd read enough of these memoirs and didn't want to read the book, especially since, as the author explained, it'd been co-written by a professional writer. The two had met when they both worked at the old Beverly Canon Theater, long only a memory, where the Montage Hotel is now.
- How is the book?
- Nicely written. I'll have to be Jewish intellectual for the rest of my answer. I hope you don't mind.
- Not at all.
- Philosophers like to play with the question, what is the human species' primary characteristic? Language, tool use, upright posture? Foresight? Or is it the ability to deliberately forget, as I myself once thought? Or better, is it mass killing? No other animal makes such a habit deliberately getting together to kill. I'd choose the last as a better answer. It brings together almost all the special characteristics. More than bringing them together, it organizes them. We humans are able to look ahead to forgetting ourselves in acts of group killing aided by technology.
- Isn't that also your definition of evil: deliberately doing what you know as an individual is wrong for the sake of rewards acting in a group?
- Nice that you remember. It is.
- The specific characteristic of the human species is evil?
- Do you doubt it? The Holocaust memoir of Leah's host was published by a marketing company. In the marketplace of life mass murder would be the human being's trademark. Life is characterized by growth and reproduction. With our mass destruction we have to be the life form most incompetent at life.
- So we're evil.
- You said it. Here's the part of my explanation you won't like, the Jewish intellectual part. If in Nazism the individual is the agent of the group, in Jewish life the group is the agent of the individual. The group is the storehouse of the rules, is the tool the individual uses to remember. But the individual makes his deal directly with god, not with the group. The Holocaust isn't special as a mass killing, mass killing is the characteristic of human beings. But it is special as a model, a paradigm of evil.
- Why?
- Because the Jews, acting as Jews, are logically incapable of evil. In Jewish life the group is the tool of the individual. Evil requires the reverse, the individual lowering himself to being the tool of the group, forgetting what he knows is good, getting in exchange rewards of group conformity. I brought this up because this model or paradigm has no applicability to the old man's Holocaust memoir. The previous ones I'd read were full of grief, confusion, anger, with the knowledge the tool of their memory, their group, was being destroyed, with disappointment and shock the rules weren't working. This book, however, was written with ironic detachment, a story of cleverness and resourcefulness that reminded me of Homer's The Odyssey more than anything else.
- The old guy committed the crime of not being Jewish.
- All I'm saying is reading the book I felt a flatness, the absence of the model, of the attempt of evil to destroy its opposite.
- So Leah is living with the Holocaust survivor down the street...
- Yes. Last night leaving Starbucks on my way home I saw a crowd gathered around the old guy's house. A police car was parked in front. You can guess what happened.
- They'd arrested Leah?
- Taken her away. One policeman, two social workers, one long-time friend of the old guy who'd driven him a few times to speak to organizations about the Holocaust, and four or five concerned neighbors. The younger of the social workers explained to me: the law allowed the police to take someone who appeared dangerously unstable to a hospital for observation, and that is what had occurred. She went on:
-They can hold her for about a week, then she'll be out again. Back here maybe. We're concerned for the old man's safety. His rib was broken the last week.
- Do you know Leah's family?
- No, but my partner has spoken with them.
- They can help her, they're rich, right? Her ex-husband the vice-director of the country's biggest Jewish organization, her brother a Beverly Hills doctor? That's what she told me.
- How are you involved?
- I know Leah. I've met her host. I have his book. I'm a concerned neighbor too. I'm worried that Leah might hurt the old guy inadvertently like a big dog lying down on an infant. So her family won't help anymore?
- No, they're tired of her.
- Tired of her? I've heard that before. The free market in action. If someone doesn't make money, it's at the individual's discretion whether it's better to see your mother dying on the street outside your window or to pay out a little cash to avoid the eye-sore. Leah's family evidently chose to save the cash and watch mother die on the street. The eye-sore parades up and down Doheny, demanding respect and cooperation from everyone, is denied by everyone, everyone except this last of the Holocaust survivors who takes her in, putting himself in danger. The man who the Nazis couldn't kill the Free Market might.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Peace Of Mind

(Continued from The Mathematics Of Consciousness)

- Drop a pebble in the water and waves spread out from the point where the pebble hit. Stirring a spoon in a jar of peanut butter creates a spiral pattern. If you try to retrace your movements with the spoon will the smooth surface you started with come back? If the pebble was on a fishing line and you drew it back out of the water will the waves retreat and smooth water reappear?
- No.
- Why not?
- Physicists talk about entropy, probabilities, many more ways of creating disorder than order. I don't really understand.
- Look at it this way. I have or had this sort of wife I like to talk about. She couldn't decide if she was staying with me or going. It drove me crazy. But at times I could manage the situation, I took a step back and was content. But then I was discontent with my content. Content was just a foundation for something more important, for happiness. Happiness meant trying to get back to love.
- So did you try?
- Yes, and failed, and became content with that failure.
- And then discontented with your content again.
- Yes.
- Does this have anything to do with your last story?
- It does. Three functions of consciousness were outlined: one bad, one good, one practical.
- The bad is ritual, the good is creative, the practical is science.
- Yes. Science, when kept practical...
- Was what you were doing in the story, you called it mathematics of consciousness, was that practical science?
- I'd say so. Science, when done as a type of creative action, with the sense that things studied are defined like our selves are defined in an undefined world when we act creatively in general.
- Experimentally, hypothetically.
- Yes. When science becomes a model, is applied in a restrictive manner to the other functions of consciousness, we get a destructive myth.
- Such as the the myth of the free market. The belief that art and love are meaningless except in their application to a life of buying and selling things.
- Before science was made a myth of, used to modify the other kinds of consciousnesses, ritual was made a myth of. First nature myths, in which each ritual involves a different god or set of gods. Then monotheism, seeing all of life as one continuous ritual, history a single performance involving only one god. The first monotheism took the inception of ritual as its model, focused on the organization of ritual, the rules that describe its practice, and looking with expectation to the power and security that would result at the ritual's conclusion. The next monotheism focused on the conclusion of ritual, on that security and power achieved, on the end of history. The third put both together, both the rules of performance and the imagining of the achieved security and satisfaction they comes from following them.
- Judaism, Christianity, Islam.
- The myths of ritual that invade the realm of creative consciousness are: strict application of the rules (ritual performance), fatalism, resigned passivity (imagined results of ritual). The myth of science invading creative consciousness: organization for the sake of organization, doing for the sake of doing, power for the sake of power. Now what if, like we've done with ritual and science, we become conscious of what we might call the myth of creativity?
- You mean the cycle going from art to beauty, movement to rest?
- Yes. Is there anything we might do to rid ourselves of it?
- Would we want to?
- In the story of my wife, definitely yes. Every new beginning of action had at its beginning a sense of betrayal. I'd lost my wife's love, and didn't have the slightest idea of how to get it back. What if this entire system of movement and rest, self and world, defined and undefined could be replaced?
- By another consciousness without distinctions between self and world, between movement and rest, defined and undefined? How? If everything is all together what can move?
- Take my love story of discontent with lost love, content with memory of love and with love's possible return, discontent with that content - doesn't this involve both movement and rest (content and discontent), involve both self and world defined as separate, and not defined as separate (not separate in love, separate in lack of love)? What if all this movement and rest and separate self and not separate self all together became the foundation of consciousness? What if we could take care of every new betrayal standing back at a distance, the Bhagavad Gita's "knower of the field."?
- With the field being not only fighting, but art, and love too. I expect you to supply a mathematics of all this.
- Let's go back to the wave made by the pebble and the spiral in the peanut butter. One way of looking at what is happening is that every incremental motion set going by the spoon or pebble creates a "machine for moving" out of the material immediately closest. Not only movement is passed on, but organization; a machine is creating copies of itself. It might be a simple switch that decides on two paths. The wave and spiral forms reflect such a decision process in operation.
- Is this science?
- It is. Certain molecules have been observed making copies of themselves. Cosmologists are using this model as explanation what order in the universe and in life arises in the first place. Now consider the sense of betrayal in my love story. I want to be content with my wife's betrayal. But when I go back with her, I wonder, is her every word a lie? Is she really listening when I talk? Will she decide to leave in the next five minutes? The original cause of betrayal ramifies into results each with their own results continuously as time goes passes.
- Like the wave and spiral.
- Yes. I can't simply go back, draw out the pebble, push the spoon the opposite way. If I am to repair the damage I will have to revers all the different ramifications. The world of the reversed spoon and drawn out pebble is a world of machines, not the smooth water and ever surface it was before. When you move through those machines they resist your movement, and pushing them you create more disorder rather than less, the smooth surface more interrupted. Following?
- Yes.
- If we know how this works we might be able to help each other take that step back to being the knower of all the fields of ritual and science and art and love. It would require a social organization where everyone surrounding someone betrayed, everyone receiving the ramified results of that betrayal immediately pushes back, compensates.
- Your friend's wife has left him so you show him confidence to help him recover his confidence.
- Exactly. Now there is an economic organization that mixes self and world, movement and rest, defined and undefined: voluntary cooperatives, developed in 19th Century anarchist political theory. People guarantee each other the practical necessities of life, food and shelter, and on that basis decide individually what to do and what to make with each other, sharing the results. In theory such an economic organization could allow a new "function" of consciousness, where everyone cooperated with everyone else to smooth out the waves and spiraling results of betrayal. We could retain all the aspects of consciousness we are familiar with and move on to something new. What do you think?
- Aren't higher states of consciousness supposed to leave you in peace? Yours makes me dizzy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Mathematics Of Consciousness

Starbucks, South Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills

- What are you writing?
- About a philosopher I found on the internet.
- What about him?
- Are you interested in philosophy?
- Yes. As much as I can understand.
- I'll explain, but tell me when I lose you. A while back I'd used the idea of emergence in something I'd written, and it occurred to me to look on the internet to see what others had done with the idea. I write stories - here, this my site - and bring in ideas along the way. I don't go into ideas in depth. Not when I'm writing. But afterwards I often do, having become more deeply interested because I've used the idea. Does that sound the wrong way around, self important?
- No. You don't force yourself to be interested in what you aren't.
- Are you familiar with emergence?
- I don't think so.
- In one form, it is when a whole is more than its parts, and the parts create the whole by doing nothing different from what already they do as parts. A flock of birds is created by each bird following the rules, keep a distance from other birds, and don't keep too far a distance. A democracy, another form of emergence, is created by individuals with power over their lives coming together and finding that seeking power together increases their power, gives them ability to do things they couldn't do alone. Understand?
- Yes.
- Pebbles can accumulate to form strata. Strata can build on top of each other to form sedimentary rock. A pile of strata can be twisted up into becoming a mountain. The collective activity of mountain, pile, strata involves no new behavior of the individual pebble. But in a democracy, the other form of emergence, individuals, thinking and acting cooperatively are able to individually do things they'd not been able to do before. In the case of ancient Athens, produce the greatest theater, architecture, philosophy. Do things, for example, like I had a chance to do last night, talk with a physicist at UCLA and test my ideas about consciousness on him.
- What ideas?
- Defining consciousness by what it does: produce something original. Emergent thought and action. Still with me?
- Fascinating.
- Really? Good. It was at one** of those Art + The Brain get-togethers I'd been going to. Last week it was more about science using the tools of art. One scientist was making artificial brains, following the path pointed out by a philosopher.*** But this time it was more about science being thrown into art, with ludicrous results, for reasons I'll get to in a minute. A performance art piece was underway, a dinner party where we dressed in lab coats and were given stick-on labels to wear identifying ourselves as members of different animal species, monkeys, pigs, sheep. I was a sheep. The performance was supposed to be an illustration of the Hox genes which guide the development of the basic top down form of many animals including us, heads, arms and legs, etc. Sitting down to a meal of each other's meat we were acting out the possibility of communing with each other on that genetic level we had in common, the artist explained afterwards, we were imagining a recognition of common origins. I was supposed to stay within my own species, but I could hear a physicist explaining research into how plasma under controlled conditions could be made to register something done to it, have a kind of memory. I slipped over and joined his species, the monkeys. As our party was broken up and we were herded out to the lecture part of the evening I asked the physicist if he was specially interested in how material systems resembled mental ones. We'd stopped outside in the hall to let the crowd pass. He said he was very interested in the subject of consciousness. I said, did he mean the relation of mind to body? Yes. What would he accept as an explanation? What kind of description? Mathematics. What element does mathematics involve? Functions and variables. What if I could give him one such a mathematical description? Then I'd be the most famous man who ever lived in history. I'd accept the honor I said, begin work on my acceptance speech. To do the mathematics, I went on, I have to use a description of things of the mind that includes the things of the world, not the other way around, because physical description can't do anything with mental world. It can, he said. You mean prod the brain in a certain place and a certain thought results? Yes, for example. Imagine, I answered, that we figured out how to prod the brain in one place after another until we assembled a complete sequence of thought for ten seconds. This would be like what Plato described a prisoner in a cave sees when his captors parade puppets outside before the sun and the puppet shadows are projected on the cave wall the prisoners face. The description would be like a memory. When we do this thing called remembering, we are there doing the remembering. We who are not identical with the remembering, because we do also other things like feel passions of fear and anger, feel emotions like love and loss; they lead one to another, and are the background to our remembering. The alternative experiences are lived in the real world of people outside the cave. I asked the physicist, how in prodding the brain would these other experiences be prodded into it?
- What did he say?
- That he didn't have an answer. Did he still want me to give him the math? Yes. Ok then: it happens that in our mental world every thing the physicist does is included, all the actions he performs and the experimental result all appear to the mind. It makes sense to find in the "data" of mental experiment the material with which to define function and set variables. The variables, in the rough model I worked out decades ago, are: self and world, each defined or undefined, in two states of rest and movement. That's much too schematic, the words can't mean anything to you. What I want to say is I think consciousness always involves the infinite. I tried this idea on a philosopher once.* He wouldn't accept the infinite as data. What about this physicist? Would he? No, he wouldn't. He had to go soon.
- Me too.
- I'll be quick, I said to him and say to you too. Start from one set of variables, you can expect another set of variables to follow. You can establish a law of change from one to another. You can observe two basic "functions" of one set of variables being replaced by another set. And those two kinds of change describe two kinds of consciousness.
- What are they?
- Being conscious or unconscious, when acting or at rest. Creative action involves seeing ourselves in a deliberately chosen habit or movement, which, based on past success, we try out. And if it gets us where we're going, we become unaware of ourselves, and see the world as beautiful. That's one set. The second is intoxicated action and vain thought. Being unaware of ourselves in action, only aware of the world we are trying to make, and when succeeding in getting the world as we like it, aware of ourselves as powerful and paying no more attention to the world. The first function is conscious thought and action, the second unconscious thought and action. It turns out that a function of a third set of variables, regularly moving from action to rest, gives us a description not of consciousness, or unconsciousness, but of the behavior of doing science. It is not a kind of consciousness because it is discontinuous. It involves a gap in description, where nothing is defined so no story continued. It is: limited self, limited world at rest; unlimited self and unlimited world in movement. In the other "functions" of consciousness, either self or world is defined in both states of rest and movement. You can tell a story. But in this third "function" of consciousness, definition vanishes in movement. Before movement things were here. After movement things are there. What happens in-between no one knows. Philosophers call this the mind body problem, how the mind and body affect each other. Scientists don't give the problem a name. They ignore it. They ignore the problem because they can, because physical theories work despite the confusion about what a thing and movement really are.****
- Why do they work?
- The best I can come up with is they work because of an obscure relation to one of the staked out possibilities in how we think and act, that "third function" of consciousness. But I'm not sure that means anything. Anyway, to go on. The citizens in a democracy gather together with other citizens and pass a law, funding public theater for example. Attending that theater will be something new for the citizens, teaching them something about themselves perhaps, changing them as individuals. But the pebble is still the same old pebble when assembled together with other pebbles in layers. Nothing new in what a pebble itself can do arises from its arrangement in layers or within a mountain. How then can it be possible to do what the physicist is trying to do, discover the emergence of mental things like democracy from "natural" things like particles and atoms in movement? Instead, the discontinuous physical world trying to emerge into the mental world provides a function and variable description of all major categories of insanity. Depression and catatonia: being locked in the defined world and self. Mania and psychosis: being locked in movement with undefined self and world. Schizophrenia: the passage of one to the other, depression to psychosis, losing history crossing the gap in undefined movement between world of defined things before movement and defined things after movement, where the origin of our own thoughts is forgotten and our own thoughts become outside voices.
- I never thought going into Starbucks to look up something and send my daughter a message I'd be hearing anything like this.
- There's more, if you have time.
- Yes. But I have to get the information my daughter asked for to her soon.
- Everyone is in a hurry.
- Not you.
- No. As you see. I outlined what I just said for the physicist who was more in a hurry than you. I told him I wouldn't go into the details of the different kinds of conscious and unconscious thought and action. What I wanted to know, he'd already told me he didn't like the idea of infinite as data, was would he accept such a mathematics? Really more like formal logic as it didn't involve quantities, but it was what he asked for. I was sure, I said, he wouldn't accept it.
- And?
- He said he wouldn't.
- Why not?
- I asked. He said he really had to go and he went. Now the philosopher I was writing about when we met and I said I'd tell you about. I found his name in footnote to an article related to emergence. I'd heard him mentioned several times before by people who didn't particularly inspire confidence so I hadn't looked him up. This time I did. I was astonished to see he wrote about many of the same subjects I had, and was coming up with similar conclusions. Like me he was particularly interested in the problem of why we can't have a political debate. He said he didn't have an answer. I felt some satisfaction when I read that because I did have an answer. I'll get to that. I read through the first half of his new book, some of his older books, then played a few of the videos posted on his site. I couldn't believe this guy: pompous, false, affected. How could he have come up those ideas which include anarchist economics? How could anything good be produced by a professor for forty years at Harvard University, that institute of social conformity? Had this guy been reading my stories maybe? Seemed unlikely, though Google told me when I checked that I have readers in Cambridge where the professor lives. I was curious what people had to say about him, went to an recent interview he gave to a reporter at the Financial Times. Somewhere in the middle of the interview his wife came home and jokingly asked the interviewer if her husband is using her ideas without giving her credit.
- Really?
- Yes. Better late than never I woke up to the fact that he'd coauthored a book with a physicist who uses ideas of emergence, that he'd coauthored another book with a French philosopher who wrote about the emergence of democracy. This guy who looked on video like he couldn't be the originator of his ideas wasn't. Of course not. They'd been put together out of other people's ideas. But to get back to the problem why we can't have a debate. The Harvard professor says he is neither a dogmatic leftist who want to change the economy in accord to a blueprint, nor is he a dogmatic rightest who want to let to things go further along the same path. He wants to experiment with different economics. But, as his French coauthor explained, people are immobilized, they have unconsciously learned to accept that only existing political alternatives are possible.
- Like the physicist.
- Yes. But how do you wake people up out of their unconsciousness? At the end of his life the French philosopher went back to studying ancient Athens. Actually he was a Greek spending most of his life in France, as the Harvard professor was a Brazilian who spent most of his life in the U.S.
- What are you?
- Me? American American. You won't catch me making affected gestures, I've got being cool down cold.
- You're funny.
- Glad you think so. In his video, the French Greek coauthor, seen arm pounding an invisible mallet on the table, goes back to his Greek roots and the famous funeral oration of Pericles as reported in Thucydides. I quote the speech a lot myself. I'll get it on the computer. Athenians, according to the funeral oration, thought of themselves like this:
Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about. Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics—this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.
Democracy is a sharing of power, concludes the philosopher pounding his imaginary mallet. If you give your power to someone else, giving him the job to represent you, doing nothing yourself to make the democratic thing being made, the thing made will not bear your stamp. It is not yours and no longer will serve your interests. He doesn't go further in the video. But you can add that in Athenian property inheritance laws only the elder male inherited. And citizenship required property ownership. The only way later born males could get property and citizenship was by marriage or adoption into another family without male heir. The others simple were out of the democracy. Athens was a slave society, citizens made up a small fraction of the population, but slavery was a misfortune, not a natural state. Anyone could be captured in war and become enslaved. Slaves could be and were freed. A slave was a slave because without power, and no other reason. It was very easy to become a slave: lose power. I know you have to go. The point I want to make is that the French philosopher in his commentary on the speech of Pericles left out an essential element: beauty. For the Athenians, the power to create was limited by the sense of beauty. They create so as to make something beautiful, and when they've done that they stop. They don't go to excess. They stop. They don't create for the sake of creating for the sake of creating, with each creation carrying forth the movement to new creation. Doing for the sake of doing is a characteristic of our period of market economics, and you know why?
- Why?
- The Athenian example explains how laws and ideas that are against the interest of the majority of people are supported by them without their knowing why. You can't know how and why laws are made if you don't participate in making them. The laws don't emerge from your own activity, they are not part of your history. You learn them without attention, unconsciously imitating the behavior of those around you, And the laws don't respect your interests because they were not produced as a function of your power. When you don't exercise power, participate in politics, when you delegate authority to a leader the emergent laws don't represent you. In the course of debate the Athenians change in their character to the kind of people who can understand the law they are instituting. Making a law establishing a festival of theater they become the kind of people who are the understanding audience to the performances produced at the theater. Still with me?
- Yes.
- When you stop moving in a democracy, you give up your power to participate in what is constantly emerging, and at the same time lose understanding of what emerges; the resulting laws don't respect your interests, you unconsciously learn to obey laws you don't understand by imitating of the behavior of those around you. The only way to maintain power, knowledge, consciousness, avoid becoming a slave is to keep moving.
- But I don't understand. Democracy is good, isn't it?
- If it isn't a democracy without beauty like ours! When you remove beauty from a society of emergent laws you get modern times. Freud built his psychology on democracy without beauty. What we thought was love, he said, was regressive memory of the security and pleasure of being in the womb. The life of the mind was a constant fight against blockages that appear the moment you are inactive, blockages caused by unconsciously followed laws continually produced without you and against you. In Athens laws were not constantly being made. People had other things to do with their lives. Remember what I said to the physicist: prodding the brain he might succeed in creating a story of consciousness that was like a dream or a memory, a puppet show in the cave. It would leave out all the rest of life: love, art, imagination. In democracy without beauty you get philosophers who can't stop talking, texts and performances that are ugly, even self consciously so. The French philosopher says in the introduction to his big book that he is setting out his ideas as he creates them, that there is no finished order, that the book is not art like a completed building, but is more like a construction site. To pause in the exercise of power is to have the continually emerging power go on without you. When you step off the path of power you step on the path towards slavery. There can be no rest. The philosopher of democracy without beauty speaks in a self perpetuating way: every sentence produces a new foundation to be built upon. He speaks not to please an audience, not even to please the audience of himself, the first audience of any creator. Instead, one idea emerges after another, the pebble and sediment layer way, not the way of Athenians whose voting into existence a theater remakes them into the audience of that theater. The philosopher of democracy without beauty pounds into your head his idea: the self directed activity he calls autonomy creates the thing autonomy which is itself creating the thing autonomy, etc, expressing the fundamental incoherence of the physical world left to itself: thing, movement, thing, movement. Layer laid down on layer. No story. No exit. No rest.  But think about the words of Pericles. They're beautifully expressed, wouldn't you say? Speaking with art takes the audience along the path the words travel all the way to the beautiful result. There the audience rests, conscious and empowered, having followed successfully in the footsteps of the artist. Beauty is where people meet. The arrival of beauty was the criterion used by the Athenian to makes their decisions, the sign that something done better had emerged.
- Are these your ideas or the ancient Greeks?
- The ideas were in the air. Expressed by Parmenides in form of a poem, they were to be found also in the Jewish religion, the day of rest after six days of creation, god stopping to say it is good after every individual act of creation. Let's leave it at that. But before you go...
- What?
- I think I saw you before. Twice before.
- When?
- Today, when I was on Beverly Drive walking to the market. You, or your double, looked at me as I looked at her, or you. And then your double or you passed me again when I was sitting outside the market and even threw an over the shoulder glance back at me. I called after but wasn't heard, I guess. I wanted to meet her, your double. I thought she and I had the same kind of power, to put it in language we've been using. Something might come of it. And I liked your double's looks.
- It wasn't me. I didn't go to the market.
- I'll know if you are your double by your walk when you leave.
- I'll walk now. Well?
- It's you.
- But I didn't go to the market.
- I didn't see your double actually in the market. Were you walking down Beverly Drive at all?
- No.
- Are you sure?
- Yes. No. Maybe. I've got your site's address. If I remember I'll let you know.
- Do that. It's been a pleasure.
- It's been beautiful.

(The mathematics of consciousness in more detail here)

Further Reading:
My Wife Who Throws Me Out
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
** Bird Song & Machine Talk
*** We Make Brains
**** Machines & Consciousness

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Property Is Silence


- You've heard the slogan, property is theft?
- Sure.
- If we all live in common, holding onto something only for oneself is stealing from others opportunity to use it.
- Some things should be only for our own use.
- For example?
- Right to care for our own children. Right to live in our own house while we care for our children.
- And wouldn't the reason for these exceptions be that others, if they thought things through, would agree with us that it was better parents care for their children and families have one house to live in while raising children?
- House and children would be our property and not stolen because other people would not, should not want them.
- And we would not want to give them away either for the same reason. When we talk, we are giving away our words, and we are giving our attention to the other's word. When we are silent, refraining from giving and from expecting to receive, we expect it to be understood we cannot always be speaking. In the same way, we cannot always be passing back and forth the things we live with and among.
- Exchanging things is only one out of many human activities.
- Yes. We give and receive things not for the mere sake of it but to make our lives better and more beautiful. We refrain from sharing at times because we do not live for the purpose of sharing.
- Property is then not theft but a thought-through exception to sharing.
- Or a taboo*, if established by tradition.
- Property is silence that allows us to speak better.

Further Reading:
The Right To Property
The Conquest Of Bread Peter Kropotkin
The Great Transformation Karl Polanyi:
The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man's economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets. He values material goods only in so far as they serve this end. Neither the process of production nor that of distribution is linked to specific economic interests attached to the possession of goods; but every single step in that process is geared to a number of social interests which eventually ensure that the required step be taken. These interests will be very different in a small hunting or fishing community from those in a vast despotic society, but in either case the economic system will be run on non-economic motives.
Note the inescapable conclusion: things held onto for the sake of trading for profit, because used in an activity done for its own sake, by definition are never eligible for the exception "private property".  Private property and trade for profit are principles fundamentally at odds with each other. Profit can claim no property right unless, as Aristotle allowed, it is made not for itself but for the sake of private life. Since the exception of property for private life depends on public good, the amount of profit taken into private life is limited to an amount which serves public good, beyond which profit becomes public. (See Part Two below)
* Taboo: that we have anything is because our ancestors had us, a mystery that expresses the exceptional nature of ownership. To the extent we can be said to own anything our ancestors own us.


- Ready?
- As always.
- Private property, we said, is a thought-through exception to sharing. This has very interesting consequences.
- What?
- We lose property rights in anything we take outside our home and bring to market for buying and selling. Everything including our own bodies.
- Why?
- Sharing authorizes, for the sake of sharing itself, the exclusion of certain property from sharing: in ourselves, our children, the houses we occupy for raising children. Since what goes on in the market is the opposite of sharing, each merchant attempting to gain an advantage over the other, rights to the exception that private property is cannot arise.
- But the rule of law protects everyone's property while they seek personal advantage.
- But what is the rule of law based on?
- Human nature?
- Human nature is to share.
- The rule of law is a social contract to play the game by its rules.
- And what forces individuals to abide by the rules?
- Police and army.
- And what prevents individuals from attempting to gain control of the police and army?
- Laws written to prevent that from happening.
- Which will be subverted by the same individuals.
- Whether it works perfectly or not, still there are the rules.
- But what is property under those rules?
- What do you mean?
- That property in the market place, not protected by social good, instead only by "rule of law" is hardly a "right". It is not something inalienable. In fact, it is constantly alienated.
- How alienated?
- You can't go out in public without clothes, you can't take into public with you a machine gun. The possessions on your own body are controlled. Your possessions at home are regularly taxed by the government and taken away by threat of force. Torture, the elimination of property rights over your own body, is said by the government to be "enhanced interrogation". The government takes possession of all your email, telephone calls and internet history, no walls prevent observation. You have no sure property rights to things in your house, to your own body, or to what you carry on your body outside the house. And all this because while playing a game of exchange for profit you are not sharing and so not protected by the private property exception authorized by sharing. Still with me?
- Yes.
- Your property, your body, your private communications, your possessions, once they leave the house and offered to trade for profit, are protected solely by what practical considerations demand. In the game of public trading you are safe from torture, your messages safe from being stolen, your possessions safe from being tricked away from you, only so long as that is to the profit of your wealthier trading partners. When it no longer is, the good times end, you are cheated, tortured, spied on, and robbed. And then you start over, everyone, cheaters and cheated, tortured and torturers, spied on and spies. Security builds up, possessions seem to be safe, everyone makes their profits, until again the end approaches and the time for being nice is over. Simple game theory.
- Then what do we mean by "rule of law"?
- Law is a claim of social life's precedence over private life. But when you define public life as free from the demands of cooperation, "rule of law" is without meaning. Or to be exact: no one obeys "rule of law" while playing the game of exchange for profit, except when it is to their advantage, other than those indoctrinated, trained into a habit of submission.
- Private property only exists in the home. And once we and our possessions leave home and enter the market, we take our vulnerability back home with us, our bodies subject to surveillance and torture, our possessions to taxation?
- That's right.
- I think I see where you are going.
- Where am I going?
- Redistribution of wealth.
- Taking from the rich, and giving to the poor. An intolerable offence to private property.
- Except there is, according to what you say, no private property in the public life of exchange for profit. No intolerable offence occurs.
- Private property remains sacred and intact in the home.
- You've argued in the past that under current law profit made from crimes is to be confiscated. That authorises taking from the rich who have broken the law. Private property is not violated. And now you want to argue in addition that any property thrown out into the world of exchange for profit is not entitled to the claim of private property in the first place. Is that a fair summary?
- Yes.
- The first is for the indoctrinated, the second for those capable of understanding. Both arguments say, "Take It Back!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Duty: Two Points

According to a Swedish diplomat's published memoir, in the fall of 1944 he hosted a dinner at a house in the Buda hills of Budapest. Attending was his superior officer, Raul Wallenberg, and Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi in charge of deportation of the Hungarian Jews. Eichmann is reported by him to have responded to Wallenberg's attack on Germany and his prediction of Germany's impending defeat as follows. He does not believe Nazi party ideas. He has gotten to the top in life, has an enviable life of power and pleasure. He understands Germany has lost the war, and that he has a limited time left to live his life of grace. But in that time and until the end he would continue to do his duty to the best of his ability and to reap the great rewards for doing his duty.

His duty in Hungary was arranging the murder of 800,000 people. He succeeded in sending 400,000 to their deaths.

Note in the words of Adolf Eichmann:
1. his pride and satisfaction in doing his duty
2. his gratitude to his group for providing a better life
3. his knowledge of unjustified group practice

At dinner parties we celebrate our lives together, and Eichmann took the opportunity of being questioned to make one final affirmation of his life. Our definition of evil is the deliberate denial of our human nature for the sake of the rewards of acting in a group. Eichmann then is a perfect example of evil. Evil is the deliberate choice of belief over knowledge. Obedience to one's group, mere convention, is allowed to overpower knowledge that grows from one's own experience. Evil is the wrong way, a turning on its head the civilized precedence of knowledge over belief.

That is the first point. The second point is even harder, even uglier.

What made the Jews a unique target of mass murder is their religion of an individual contract with god, with the group functioning only as a reminder of that contract. It is a religion that makes those who practice it incapable of evil. That is not to say it makes them good.

In The Nazi's Last Victims, a book published in 1998, Rudolf Vrba tells the story of his escape from Auschwitz concentration camp, his making his way into his native Slovakia and contact with the Jewish community leaders there, his drawing up of his eye-witness report of the preparations for the mass murder of the Hungarian Jews. That report was sent to Switzerland and published there, was also placed in the hands of the Jewish leaders in Budapest. They chose not to inform the Jewish people, thousands of whom a day were being loaded onto boxcars, 80 or more to a car, to be killed in Poland. Instead, the community leaders arranged with massive bribes to protect one or two thousand of the rich and influential including of course themselves. (Some later said they tried to tell, but were not believed. Some denied they knew.)

We want to call this behavior evil, but it does not fit our definition, group loyalty leading us to do what we know is wrong, and definitions are important, are all we have to hold onto ourselves in a world that defies us to give up the job of making sense of it. The Jewish leaders in Hungary were not evil, rather they were simply failures, intellectual failures. Individual responsibility to know and act on the truth is one component of what is necessary for a good life. The other is love. We tell the truth and do good for the sake of love, not for ourselves. We think for ourselves, act for others.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Machine For Making People Unhappy


- I saw you here a couple of days ago. I was sitting beside you, this same chair. Did you notice me?
- Yes.
- Then I saw you again yesterday. And here you are again today.
- You were here earlier today and left. You came back. Was it to talk to me?
- Yes.
- Really? Why?
- I just moved to the neighborhood. I wanted to talk to somebody.
- You couldn't find anyone better?
- I couldn't. And you look like you might be, what's the word, conversable? What are you writing?
- I had this idea...
- What?
- I would start a story with the line, "American life is a machine for making people unhappy."
- Is that what you think?
- If I say yes, are you leaving? What do you do, by the way?
- I act. Tell me what you're writing.
- It's a wonderful irony. Stupendous even. We Americans love our technology, especially love our computers. But as computers become more like us, acquire artificial intelligence, we become more like them, acquire computer intelligence.
- What's that?
- Theorists of artificial intelligence said from the beginning that working on how to make computers think would help us understand how we think. That didn't happen. It was the other way around: it took study of human beings before programmers could tell computers how to think. And then when smarter computers were thinking more like human beings, human being threw themselves more and more into thinking like computers, that is like computers used to think in the days before they were educated and taught to imitate humans. Computers apply rules to symbols. American society has a symbol, money, and the rule, get it. Success once was our religion. It was optional. Freedom of religion. Then it became science, the economics of Neo-Liberalism, and applicable to all. No one escapes the rule of nature. If no one will pay for anything you do since nothing else defines society you have to die. No other human qualities recognized. You are by character, education, habit or experience suited to a different kind of life? Too bad. You have to die. We operate on each other like computers on the symbol money, applying the rule, get it. Such rule application to symbols was the highest intelligence computers could produce before a philosopher taught them to act more like us. I mean us before we became Neo-Liberal.
- What did the philosopher teach them?
- And that we've forgotten? Computers had a hard time locating in the world, the particular world they were given the job to look at, the things symbolized. The symbols they were programmed to operate on named a class of things: chair, table, person. When a digital camera fed the computer an array of light and dark pixels, how were they to find in this multitude the shape of some particular thing that was an instance of a class symbolized? A philosopher told them how.
- What was his name?
- Dreyfus. U.C. Berkeley. 20th Century philosophy, in the footsteps of an ancient tradition, had worked it out. We learn to see by moving our bodies through real world of things. If a computer did the same, it would be able to know which arrangements of pixels to look for, what kinds of arrangements: lines, circles, grids, whatever. When certain movements of our eyes and hands found a regularity, a shape comes into sight out there in the world, we try those movements again, and confirm again. We develop habits of looking and we see the thing out there.
- Confusing.
- Yes. But it is what we do. Computers were taught to do it and it worked.
- Really?
- Really. First they were programmed in the neural structure of the brain, where individual neurons learn, change in response to experience. Then robots were built such that when you moved them they remembered, and compared how the world changed in appearance as they moved through it. They learned.
- Wow.
- Wow is right. Not so wow is that at the same time humans were, in country after country, moving in the opposite direction, instituting Neo-Liberal policies that explicitly reject or devalue individual learning and creativity. We humans regressed to rule and symbol, the symbol money, and the rule, get it.
- We did make the computers though, right? We had to learn to do it. That was creative.
- Ok, so we haven't totally regressed. We are professionally creative. But still our creativity, if we don't go beyond what computers can do, shares the same limits computers have to what they can learn.
- What limits?
- Learning by developing habits of movement always has a history of movement behind it, influencing which movements to try. For living beings there is always a history to the history, actions that led to the formation of the habits we use at the moment. When we program a computer to work like our brain, or teach a robot by moving its arms, development of habits starts from a fixed place. That place we built the machine from. The causality of our development, however, our education of sight by movement, goes back into the beginning of time: childhood, infancy, fetus, chromosomes, evolution, the big bang. We can imagine for ourselves no physical beginning, always a cause to a cause. In computer learning the choice of habit to be tried, like the choice of words in the creative use of language, provides an infinite number of paths to be taken, each path different depending on initial conditions. Causal determination allows for individuality. But individuality is not at issue. It's not good enough for us human beings. We can imagine for ourselves something very different and much better.
- What?
- That the experience we know as beauty, love, religious union, was there at the beginning setting us out on a very particular kind of path. The computer has no good reason to choose one path over another. What kind of shape should it start moving to look for when seeing each different shape require moves in an incompatible direction? When computer scientists tried to simulate Darwinian evolution, natural selection by random mutation,** they couldn't get anywhere. With chance producing variation, no path was continued, there was no development. When programmers try to simulate human choice they come up against the same problem. With no particular goal, the computer does not know which of many possible paths to pursue. A chair can be put in the category of wood, category of less than 10 pounds, category of to be sat upon, etc.
- How do we, people decide?
- Beauty guides us. When it does't, we act like the computers that can't evolve, can't move consistently in any one direction.
- But computers do learn. Isn't learning creative?
- Robots, computers learn, but strictly speaking this kind of learning is not creative. All is pre-determined by rules, symbols, world. The decision what category to put the chair in, wood, heavy, to be sat on, will depend on the chance factors of where the program began, and then all what subsequently happened. It's all predetermined. Beauty arises only when determination can be interrupted.
- How?
- When decision of which habits to try is guided by memory of beauty. Because we have learned, also from the beginning, that certain choices, kinds of choices, lead us back to beauty. We go from beauty to beauty. Love to love. A computer, not starting from beauty but some or other condition, set by us, never can get to beauty. How can a computer, with rules operating on symbols, ever get its entire apparatus invisible to itself? See a world whole, undivided? That is, get to beauty? The result of rule operation on symbols always will only be chance and meaninglessness.
- From love to love: what kind of story is that?
- A story of its loss and return. Trying to break out of the world of rules and symbols. Stories like a fairy tale. We start out happy, someone or some chance betrays us, we get lost and have to find our way back home. While lost the world is strange and we are strange to ourselves, the world is unclear and we see ourselves in a role, see ourselves exclusively in our habits of movement. We know from computers, as we've been talking about, such observed and guided movements educate our seeing when we get the rules right for choosing them. In these stories of going from love to love we learn how to get from the alien world of rules and symbols back home. We practice a kind of technology, using expertise with one world to get us into another. And perhaps, our experience suggests, that other world, the world of love, exercises a technology of its own, perhaps it throws its weight around in the world of rules and symbols.
- Extra sensory perception, messages from spirits. Miracles.
- I'll tell you a story, about what isn't a miracle but looks like one. I used to wear my wedding ring.
- Aren't you wearing one now?
- A different ring. I got complaints. The consensus was I shouldn't be wearing a wedding ring, it gave people false ideas, kept woman away, or in another version, attracted them. I took to saying that if I found another ring that would fit not my left hand ring finger but middle finger, was gold and the same style I'd retire the wedding ring.
- And you're going to tell me you found one? On the street? The ring you are wearing?
- All correct. Now this isn't a miracle. I used to buy and sell old watches when I was living in Europe. I have what we've been talking about, an educated eye, in relation to the kind of old things one finds at a flea market. I live in Beverly Hills. It's not at all unlikely when you think about it to find gold on the street here, rings dropping off careless, diet thinning, rich fingers. But here's another story. A British biologist has claimed that the rapidity with which birds flying in a flock react to predators demonstrates thought transference: reaction time to change of direction are four times faster than minimum tested reaction time. I went back to the original research to see if the first birds taking action responded much slower. They did. They respond with a normal reaction time. The birds with the impossibly fast reaction time aren't looking at the nearest bird in the flock but several birds away towards the initial response. They begin to calculate well before the wave of successive movements reaches their position. Human beings, when they collaborate with each other, if they stay together in the same place can achieve great results by doing the same kind of calculation. Like chess players looking many moves ahead, they think of a new idea, imagine their collaborator's response, imagine their own response to that, on and on, and reach a conclusion whether this idea is a dead end or not, and if so, move on to a new idea. Nothing telepathic or mysterious going on.
- Never?
- If they are only friends, no, I don't think so. But if they are more to each other, if they are each other's home, maybe. If failure of their project risks home. Does the world seem unreal, do they see themselves only in habits and role? Then the tools of the technology of love are set out, their creativity may attain to what we call art.
- Where does telepathy come in?
- When connection that is solidified in love makes an appearance in the world of rules and symbols. The British biologist did a study with dogs. Their human companions were told, at an arbitrarily selected time of day, to set off for home from miles away. Recording cameras on the dog at home showed them going to the door to wait at the same time.
- You said he was discredited.
- I don't know if the bird flocking research was revised after he had cited it. And people make mistakes. Anyway calculative group behavior like flocking is not going to be where we find love. I'll tell you another story. I met an acquaintance at Starbucks a couple nights ago, the night you first saw me. Maybe you saw him.
- No. I don't think so.
- We'd meet each other by chance about every few months. He invited me that night to the restaurant next door. I've been there only once before, two years ago. I'd struck up a conversation down the street with a beautiful woman putting coins in a parking meter. She was an actress, she wanted me to meet her boyfriend a movie director who was waiting for her at the restaurant. Now the next day, yesterday, I was at Trader Joe's in Westwood, waiting in a long line to pay. My attention was drawn to a woman waiting a few lines down, her face hidden by her long hair. When I'd just reached the head of the line she appeared beside me, announced, "I moved over here" and before I could reply, the cashier said, joking, you're together I hope? I'm ringing everything up together. No, just the banana was mine. Then he said I would pay for her? No, she said. She would pay for me.
- She said he said and a banana. I don't get the point of the story.
- I paid my 19 cents, said she could pay for me next time, and looked over to take a parting look at her. My thoughts stopped dead in their tracks. The beauty I'd expected was hidden behind the vale of hair was in fact there. I left in a rush. A minute later I wondered at my rush. I wished I had spoke with her. I realized she reminded me of an actress I knew, a reader of my stories on the internet who I'd met once for coffee. She'd never outside that entered my life, but she stayed in my life, if you know what I mean.
- Stayed in your thoughts.
- Yes. So later in the day, that same day I get a message about my latest stories from this actress reader that I'd not heard from in months. And then later that night I met the acquaintance I told you about here at Starbucks and he takes me to the same restaurant the girl met on the street took me to.
- Who, I take it, was the same girl you saw at Trader Joe's. She was the actress who brought you here to meet her boyfriend.
- I think so.
- Must have been. It explains her forwardness. She knew you.
- A lot of correspondences, coincidences. Was I intuitively following through on some theme, or was this an example of the world of love interfering with the world of rules and symbols, like the dog sensing from a distance the home directed movement of his human companion and going to the door to wait?
- I don't know.
- I don't either. I wrote beauty into the story in my choices, in which case I am the artist, or the world was in charge, the behind the scenes producer. Good both ways.


- So you live near by?
- Not far. With a mother and son. The mother lost her mind long before she got old. Sometimes she goes crazy and attacks me. The son says he is doing god's will saving the needy of the neighborhood. He's saving me.
- Is he crazy too?
- You can decide for yourself. I'll introduce you.
- No thanks. There's a name for it: messiah complex. A good subject to write about.
- I don't want to write about life with these people. I'm sick of it.
- Write that. It's funny.
- When I was growing up I believed there was some good in me, some beauty, some love that would attract love and beauty towards me. And instead I get this.
- Get what? Self pity? Get a job. Sorry. I've another idea: use the family as an example of what you were telling me, of American life, people making themselves unhappy by turning themselves into computers.
- Write that the son operates a rule on symbols. The rule: help those in need. The symbol: the needy. He does this self-consciously, deliberately not paying attention to the individual character of anyone. He keeps his eyes on the symbol, he's not interested in whether he really helps or who the people really are he puts in the class collected under the symbol. I wrote this all out long ago and threw it on the internet. No one particularly cared. Alright, here's an update: last night the mother decided I'd made her a gift of underwear and wanted to return it to me, the size wasn't right.
- Too big or too small?
- Too big. I asked.
- So she imagined it?
- Of course! Do I look like I buy underwear for eighty year old women?
- Where did it come from then?
- I'm not interested! Maybe someone threw it in the window.
- That's even stranger.
- The son knows some strange people. Yesterday morning I woke up to a woman sleeping on the floor a few feet away from me, her two shopping carts parked at her feet.
- Nice.
- The son goes out every day, giving away few dollars to the desperate, goes out at night, gawking at naked girl at strip clubs. Doing god's will by day, buying prostitutes by night. Paying a prostitute is giving her money. Giving money is helping. Helping is good. Doing good is doing god's work. Every thing is in some way like everything else, everything can be fitted into some class, made to be included under the symbol. He gets nowhere.
- Like the computer.
- Only love allows development and consistency.
- Love must have been there somewhere in him before computer craziness took hold. This giving away money of his, visiting strip clubs: not every night, every day?
- No. He's on an allowance.


- What are you doing later?
- Nothing. I never do anything.
- You eat, don't you?
- I eat. You too?
- I eat. Wouldn't you like to invite me for dinner?
- I would but can't afford to.
- Just one time.
- Maybe I should. It's an occasion. The poorest woman in Beverly Hills has met the poorest man. An old woman I know lays claim to the title, but she's a fraud.***
- Let's go eat.

Further Reading:
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
The Picture Of George Sand
Hubert Dreyfus - Human versus Machine
** Monsters
*** Bird Song & Machine Talk


Postscript: Anarchist Texts

1.  Two Kinds Of Mystery
Can you get people to make a better world just by demanding it, or do you first need to talk about what kind of people can actually make a better world?    
A dispute over helping people is not a dispute of reasons and logic. With a few exceptions everyone agrees it is better to keep people alive and healthy than not. The dispute is over where people find mystery.  
There are two places to find mystery, and the corresponding two kinds of people who find themselves living in these places.  
 First, there are the people who think they owe society, and society owes them.  
 And second, there are the people who think social obligation comes from what they owe themselves. "Social justice" is the demand of people of the first kind. The mysterious knowledge that this is right comes from their unconsciously learned, repeatedly regained security of acting in role. They feel a "patriotic" love of the scenario that they play roles in, and believe society owes them justice as payment for fulfilling their obligations to play their roles.  
The mystery the second kind of people see is that love makes us happy, and that when we forget to love we owe it to ourselves to remember. Their demand is personal integrity, not social justice but the personal justice of being fair to ourselves.    
They say: We don't owe others anything, except to remind them to remember to love. We owe each other that because of the coincidence of motives that makes social life possible. When I help you remember to love, not only is there a chance you'll love me in return, but you serve as a reminder to me to love when I forget. Helping you I help myself, when I remember what I have done, when I look at you now and am reminded, and in expectation of good things from you in the future. The people who believe in obligations to and from society don't agree with each other what these obligations are. How can they when the origin of their mystery is unconscious learning?    
And the people who believe only in obligation to oneself can't agree to any set program of social justice at all. They want to find out what social arrangements, in this particular time and this place, work best to help people remember what they owe themselves.    
The people who believe in social obligation each know which programs they want, but they can't agree with each other.    
The people who believe in obligation to oneself can agree with each other, and don't have any preconceptions of the best way of moving forward.    
We have social mystery, we have personal mystery, both somehow locked within our nature. You know, don't you, what kind of people can actually make a better world.

2.  Gods For Staying In The World And Gods For Getting Out

                                 MANY GODS                ONE GOD                           
IN THE WORLD              ritual                         empire                                             

OUT OF WORLD            beauty                       love              

God: The word "god" represents nothing visible in the world. Rather the word "god" functions to remind us of feelings that are invisible. Stories of gods connect these invisible feelings to the visible events in the world of the story.
Immortality: The immortality of gods tells us gods are to be understood, not as physical things, but in relation to these invisible feelings. The gods are acting either in passion, when like us in our passions they have no awareness of themselves and thus no awareness of their mortality. Or they act with love, in which case since there is no separation in the things of the world there can be no awareness of death. Death can come only from dissolution of a whole into parts. 
Passion: Acting with passion (socially educated instinct) the gods express staying in the world.
Love: Acting with love (in the sight of beauty) the gods express getting out of the world.
Many Gods For Getting Out Of The World: Contemplating the beauty of an individual thing is to partly get out of the world of different things. This is expressed by the many different gods associated with different things. 
One And Only God For Getting Out Of The World: Getting out entirely, the invisible feelings of love and religious experience are expressed by the "one and only" god, the god of love.  
Many Gods For Staying In The World: The different gods of staying in the world represent different feelings, passions unconsciously learned acting in a group, one group among many, in the practice of ritual.  
One And Only God For Staying In The World: When the one and only god is a god of staying in the world, the invisible feeling expressed is the product of continuous ritual of a "one and only" group, a group in the power of a king or emperor who is a stand in for the one and only god.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

We Make Brains

Art + the Brain: Stories and Structures
California Nanosystems Institute, UCLA
November 14, 2014


- I'm a physician specializing in the treatment of pain. I do brain surgery, but would like to avoid it if there's a better alternative. Your MRI research shows different brain states for someone lying and someone telling the truth. Some of my patients are able to tell themselves there is no pain, and they stop feeling pain. Sometimes a suggestion from a hypnotist does the same. Do you think your research will enable us to identify the mechanism involved here and set it in motion?
- Pain is real.
- Yes. But for some, lying about it makes it go away.
- I'd be happy to discuss this with you afterwards off the record.


- Hi.
- Nice to meet you.
- Likewise. While waiting to go off the record with the professor can I ask, suggest something?
- I agree of course that pain is real. If I kick my rabbi, he's feels it, even if I assure him he doesn't.
- I'd like to kick a few rabbis myself. I was thinking that in hypnosis, whether you do it to yourself or another does it to you, two things are happening. First, we make a break, decide not to act. We decide to reflect. We will let someone else tell us what to do, or do the telling ourselves as if it really is someone else telling us. Up until now the self we are wants to respond to the pain we feel. But this other, suggesting self, takes upon itself the decision to do nothing. Pain is associated with unthinking response. When we rule out response - in meditation, or maybe confusing response by the simultaneous multiple minor pains of acupuncture needles, or an outside hypnotist - we rearrange the organization of our experience, reevaluate importance of information so it does not lead to the report of pain which is inapplicable if there is to be no response. That re-organization can be near immediate. If this is possible, there is no actual lying going on.
- What do you do?
- I write stories.
- That's why you're so smart. I've got to go to eat. See you later maybe.


- Interesting.
- Are you with the Doctor?
- Yes. I have to go.
- What did you find interesting?
- The reality of pain like everything else is a matter of perspective.
- Is it a matter of perspective if the Defense Department, currently funding brain research to determine the best techniques of persuasion, uses the results to lie more persuasively to us?
- If the government tightens up society that is a natural thing. We are social beings.
- Are you serious? You don't mind having your life completely controlled?
- We already are all controlled. We just don't think of it. We act by instinct.
- We are both social creatures and act by instinct. If we are persuaded by our government to kill the Jews and everyone else we don't like, and set our instincts free doing it, that's fine, you're good with it?
- I didn't say that.
- What did you say?
- We just think we are free.
- We have no consciousness.
- Consciousness is an illusion.
- The professor talked about the difference between using charts to gather information, showing simply the effect of one or a few measured features on a few other features, and taking so called "global" pictures with MRI scans. He didn't go into this, but for example in researching new drugs it is common to begin with a gene responsible for a disease, identify the protein it directs the production of, and then attempt to counteract the effect of that protein. It is not necessary to understand how the disease actually develops, and use that knowledge to stop the process. We need only to take before and after pictures and look for change. Now, this is the problem. The brain is organized as a network. Each node has its own history and disposition, and responds to the other nodes. We can see globally all the nodes and their interactions together in a picture, but we miss the story of one node's disposition, the story of how its past history affects its present response to the other nodes.* What looks like a lie from the global perspective can from the local perspective look like a reasonable reorganization.
- How?
- You heard the other UCLA professor's talk about his project, rather than simulating brain network activity in a computer program, building a model of brain network directly?
- No. I must have missed it.
- Working directly with molecules, after "culturing" them to fall into network arrangement, he figured out how to create a chemical switch at the nodes, which turned on after a number of visits from electrical current. That gave the nodes a memory of past actions on it from other nodes, and similarity to how our brains work. When connected to a current videos show concentration of activities in one region after another, similar to what is seen in human brains, as an open passage facilitates more passage. What if when we tell ourselves we aren't going to act, we turn off the current as it were, then turn it on again, letting a spontaneous reorganization occur something like what we can see happening in the molecular network? From the history of the individual that reorganization would not be a lie at all.
- We can't turn ourselves on and off.
- Not if we aren't conscious. But if we are conscious, turning ourselves off is simply to stop and think. Stop acting, start reflecting.
- Reflection is acting too.
- It is the action of ourselves thinking of ourselves.
- Caused by outside influences.
- Such as hypnosis?
- Yes.
- And if we hypnotize ourselves, as many can do?
- We are caused to do that.
- What if that is just how it looks like when you take pictures, scoop up the data, and don't follow the history of each path? I asked the brain engineer afterwards what he thought the social implications were of his work. He said it has been suggested there was some connection to Buddhism. What? I asked. The individual losing his identity in the group, he said. No, I said, god in the group? In the network? That didn't work. That was all body. All causality. No spirit. God was not in the network, but in the guy who made it. He was the god of his network.
- What did he say?
- He smiled. Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan project that developed our nuclear bomb, famously said, quoting Indian Scriptures, We Have Become Gods, or words to that effect.** The pain sufferer who "lies" to himself that he feels no pain is being god to his network, turning it on and off, allowing it to reorganize itself more appropriately. That god-like action, seen in before and after maps of brain activity, is only a lie, and perhaps the success of the lie. Studying however how the network works from the perspective of the individual tells a different story.
- But we are not gods to ourselves turning ourselves on and off.
- We are turning our attention from outside to inside. In fact we do that for reasons coming from outside, but once we turn away in what the spiritual call conversion our own history determines our choices.
- I've got to go.
- If you've got to go you've got to go. God be with you.
- You're not funny.
- Say hello to the doctor for me.

Further Reading:
Bird Song & Machine Talk
* More people living in democracies say they are happy than those that don't. Does that mean democracy creates happiness? Impose democracy on unhappy people and it doesn't last long. Then does happiness lead to democracy? Obviously not, since many of the countries with more people who say they are happy don't live under democracy. Historical, intellectual, cultural factors apply. But in general, happiness is related to democracy, and it may be true, in general, both that happy people will eventually get democracy, and that eventually more people living under democracies will be happy. The "global" relation of happiness and democracy is a matter of probability, which is good enough for certain kinds of decision making. It is good enough, for example, for machine translation of one language to another. It is not good enough for machine production of language, except when that is only the translation of the language of the machine into human language. It is not good enough to know what makes people happy. Happiness, which the productive (creative) use of language relies on, is a confidence that means are at hand to achieve the ends of the moment. No general picture of the state of the world will be able to answer the question whether those means are supplied the individual. Democracy isn't going to make people happy if they don't know how to use it. Happy people are not going to make democracy last if the economic underpinnings of the peoples' happiness are removed.

** "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another." - J. Robert Oppenheimer