I’m sure many of my readers noticed that last month’s posts were talking about the same thing from two different angles. The first of those posts looked at the weird conviction on the part of America’s well-to-do classes that the people below them have no right to their own reasons for, say, voting for a candidate the well-to-do classes don’t like. The second explored the equally strange conviction, mostly on the part of these same well-to-do classes, that nature must not be allowed to clean up our messes, adapt to climate change by moving plants and animals to new bioregions, or indeed to respond to any of our actions except in a purely passive way.
These odd convictions are by no means the only examples of the phenomenon I have in mind. Back in the days of The Archdruid Report, to cite another, I talked about the frankly bizarre way that the US political class chattered about the upcoming “surge” in Afghanistan, laying out in detail exactly what the US military was going to do, as though nobody in the Taliban could possibly boot up a computer, read the New York Times, and take our plans into account. It’s all very reminiscent of those Russian generals in the First World War who insisted on sending orders to the units under their command over the radio, unencrypted, in the serene certainty that the Germans couldn’t possibly be listening. The Germans, who of course were listening, crushed the Russian armies in battle after battle; the Taliban, who were in less of a hurry, simply sat back, fixed coffee, and waited for the “surge” to exhaust itself, as it promptly did.
There are some even better examples in recent news, but I’m going to leave that aside for the moment and veer into philosophy. That’s not a diversion, though it may look like one. It leads straight to the cold festering heart of the predicament of our time.
Look at any convenient object: a coffee cup, say, if you happen to have one handy. As you look at it, you are aware of two things: the coffee cup, and yourself looking at the coffee cup. (Yes, I know there are some philosophers these days, the so-called eliminative reductionists, who insist that no such awareness exists. Maybe for them it’s true—it’s entirely conceivable that they, unlike the rest of us, really are mindless “meat robots” who don’t actually perceive anything, but act as though they do—but I’m not talking to them, dear reader. I’m talking to you, in the certainty that there’s a “you” that I can talk to. We’ll get to why that’s a certainty later on.)
As I was saying, as you look at the coffee cup, you’re aware of two things: the coffee cup, and yourself looking at the coffee cup. Take a moment to make sure of both of those. There’s the cup, in front of you; and there’s you—you know, for example, how far the cup is away from you, and what angle your eyes are at as you look at the cup, and just how bored and mystified you are by this little exercise, and so on. The act of looking at the cup brings both the cup and yourself to your attention. Can you stare at the cup so intently that you forget yourself, and can you become so caught up in your own thoughts that you forget about the cup? Sure, but we’re talking about the range of experiences in between those extremes.
More broadly, most of the time when you’re awake, you’re aware of two classes of things, which are typified by the coffee cup on the one hand, and your act of attending to the coffee cup on the other. For convenience we can call these two classes of things the outer world and the inner world. The outer world contains coffee cups, platypuses, spiral galaxies, modern art, and much more; the inner world contains thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, and much more.
The zone of interaction between these two worlds is your body, which you can experience in terms of either world. You can look at your hand the way you look at a coffee cup; you can feel your hand the way you feel an emotional state. Under ordinary conditions, your body is the only thing that allows this kind of overlap. You can’t feel a coffee cup from within, or look at one of your own emotional states from outside. (You can look at the expression on your face, or what have you, but that’s not the same thing.) So you have two worlds, an outer world that includes your body, and an inner world that also includes your body; to put the same thing another way, you have two ways to encounter objects of your experience, one that perceives the things we’re calling “outer” and one that perceives the things we’re calling “inner,” and your body is the one thing you can perceive in both ways.
It’s very common, and not just in today’s industrial societies, for people to go looking for ways to insist that only one of these two worlds is real—that the outer world really is what it appears to be, a world of material objects, in which the inner world is a sort of irritating ghost if it’s allowed to exist at all; or alternatively that the inner world is the only reality and the outer world is a sort of irritating ghost that’s projected from it. It’s also possible to argue that each world we experience is an aspect or reflection or way of looking at one and the same world, and we’ll be talking about that in due time. For the time being, though, I’m going to ask you to bracket all such speculations, and pay attention to the two worlds as you experience them naively, without benefit of abstract theories about what is and isn’t real.
There’s a crucial difference between the two worlds that you experience, and it’s something you spent the first months of your life figuring out: you can do things with your inner world that you can’t do with your outer world—at least not in the same way. Imagine a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato on rye bread. Take your time making the image as clear as possible, and bring in other imagined senses, so you don’t just see the texture of the bread slice and the complex curves of one end of the lettuce leaf sticking out past the bread.
Let yourself smell the bread, the turkey, the mayonnaise, and the rest of it. Imagine yourself running a finger across the top of it and feeling the texture of the bread. Imagine yourself picking the sandwich up in both hands and taking a small bite: feel the way your teeth go through bread, lettuce, tomato slice, meat, and experience the taste. Now imagine yourself setting it back down on the table—and imagine that it suddenly wobbles, rises up slowly into the air, slips out through an open skylight directly above you, and soars into the sky like a balloon until it’s lost to sight.
All that took place in your inner world. If you want a turkey sandwich to manifest itself in your outer world, by contrast, it’s a much more complicated process. You have to go to the fridge and the pantry to get the ingredients, and if you don’t happen to have the ingredients on hand, you may have to walk down to the deli to get them; if you have no money, you may have to get a job and earn it; it’s just conceivable, if something really improbable has happened while you were imagining a turkey sandwich, that you will have to plant a garden with tomatoes and lettuce, plow a field to grow wheat and rye, get some chickens laying to provide you with eggs for the mayonnaise, and go hunt a nice plump tom turkey, before you can have your sandwich.
It’s a lot more fuss to make a turkey sandwich in your outer world than it is to make one in your inner world. What’s more, it’s not merely possible but quite easy to make a turkey sandwich do things in the inner world that it won’t do in the outer world: flying off into the heavens, for example. Finally, a turkey sandwich in your inner world will not satisfy your body’s need for a turkey sandwich in the outer world. Mind you, the reverse is also true—you can heap up vast amounts of stuff in your outer world and it won’t make up for an impoverished inner life. (Consult the nearest bored, jaded, perpetually dissatisfied suburbanite if you have any doubts about this.)
So we’ve established that, whatever the theoretical reality underlying it all might be, we each experience two worlds, with the body as a zone of overlap between them. Now we can go on to the next step, which is the presence of comparable inner worlds in at least some of the things we encounter in our outer worlds.
It’s important in this context to remember a point the philosopher Michael Polanyi made in his books Personal Knowledge and The Tacit Dimension: we know more than we can prove. The example Polanyi uses is the ability to recognize familiar faces in a collection of photographs. You flip past fifteen photos of complete strangers, and there’s a photo of your Aunt Mabel. You know that at a glance, and anyone else who knows Aunt Mabel can confirm that you’re correct—but there’s no way to prove the accuracy of your perception to a person who has never seen Aunt Mabel, short of dragging that person to her house.
We know more than we can prove. The eliminative reductionists mentioned earlier, poor meat robots that they are, make use of that fact to raise defensive barriers around their theories. You can’t prove that the people around you have inner worlds like yours, nor can you prove to another person (or for that matter a meat robot) that you have an inner world, and so the meat robots can go on insisting that you can’t experience what you do in fact experience at every waking moment. Prove them wrong!
You can’t prove it, but you can experience it. If you’ve ever watched someone die—I have, more than once—you know what I’m talking about. There’s the final plunge of the vital signs, the ugly rattling noise as the lungs empty for the last time, the equally ugly brown-gray color spreading over the skin as the blood vessels lose their tone and the blood sinks to the back of the body…and then, unmistakably, something is not there that was there a moment before, and what was a person becomes an object. That was a common experience back when most people died at home in the company of their loved ones, and it’s one of the things that explains the widespread belief in the existence of souls. In turn, it’s the odd habit we have of locking away dying people in institutions, I think, that gives the meat robots what plausibility they have.
There’s a certain irony in the fact that I’m pointing this out. I have Aspergers syndrome, and one of the very common consequences of that bit of scrambled neurology is that it’s harder for me to notice the traces of the inner world in others than it is for most other people. I’ve sometimes wondered if the tendency for people with Aspergers syndrome to go into the sciences has a lot to do with the popularity of notions like eliminative reductionism; it could all amount to a bunch of blind men insisting in angry tones that there can be no such thing as color. Still, that’s a discussion for another day.
There are other experiences that tell us that the people around us have inner worlds more or less like ours, and it’s a curious detail of our existence that none of them seems to be subject to proof. Most people who’ve been deeply in love have had the experience of inner worlds brushing against each other; the same thing can happen, oddly enough, in martial arts practice, when you and your partner-opponent become part of something larger, and the first one to lose the rhythm of that larger process is the one who gets flung to the mat. Some of my readers may be able to think of others. None of them can be proven to those who weren’t there at the time, and so a certain class of pseudoskeptic thinkers can join the meat robots in insisting that those experiences can’t be real, because you can’t prove they were real to someone who is dogmatically opposed to admitting their reality. If you were there, on the other hand, you know.
So in every interaction with another person, we have three worlds, not two. There’s your inner world, dear reader; there’s the outer world, which you and the other have more or less in common and which, in a certain sense, bridges the gap between you; and then there’s the other person’s inner world. You know that this third world is there, even though you can’t prove it to the satisfaction of a meat robot; you can only glimpse it from time to time and can never know it the way the other person knows it. One of the ways you know it’s there, though, is that other people behave in ways that can’t be predicted by simple cause-and-effect logic.
Back in the halcyon days when I studied systems theory at Huxley College of Environmental Studies, our textbook used a helpful illustration to make that point. Imagine a six-foot log and a six-foot man, both standing on end. If you push on the log, and put enough force into the push to overcome its inertia, it falls over. If you push on the man, things aren’t so simple. He may step suddenly to regain his balance; he may get irritated, and shove you in return; he may even see your push coming and do the t’ai chi move of twisting out of the way at the last moment, leaving you to tumble forward on your face. What’s more, even if you know him fairly well, you may not be able to predict which of these things he’s going to do.
In systems theory, that illustration was used to make the crucial point that systems don’t just sit there and respond passively to whatever we do to them. They can act to regain their balance; they can push back; they can even learn to anticipate what we’re going to do, and forestall us in some more or less sneaky manner. That’s not just true of humans, either. Any sufficiently complex system can do all of these things—a point that led systems theorists such as Ervin Laszlo to postulate that what we call consciousness is what systems complexity looks like from the inside.
That’s a deeply unfashionable notion these days, and in an upcoming post we’ll discuss at length just why it’s unfashionable. As a working hypothesis, though, it has a great deal going for it. It’s hard to explain the existence of consciousness in the material world if you assume that it only exists inside certain peculiar lumps of meat called human brains. Posit that consciousness is an emergent property of all sufficiently complex systems, on the other hand, and you’ve got an elegant, logically parsimonious theory that explains a great many things. (There are other ways to explain these things, and we’ll get to some of them in due time, but for the moment we’re sticking with the world as we experience it naively.)
So we’ve got a world that’s made of many worlds. We’ve got an outer world that we more or less share in common, and inner worlds which are more or less unique to each of us, and it’s the presence of an inner world in other things that generates the basic cussedness of the outer world. The more of an inner world something has, the less likely we are to be able to predict and control its behavior, and the more likely it is to do something we don’t expect and don’t want.
Notice, though, that by and large it’s only things in the outer world—and only certain things in the outer world—that behave in this fashion. You can imagine that turkey sandwich any time you like, and send it and all its kin soaring away into the stratosphere, and the turkey sandwich isn’t going to argue with you. When it comes to your thoughts and feelings, that’s a more complex matter, but most of us (other than the meat robots, of course) have had the experience of choosing to rethink something, or examining our initial feelings about something and deciding that we were wrong.
It’s possible to make things in your inner life behave as though they have an inner life of their own. As a writer of fiction, I do this all the time; my characters very often become independent beings in my imagination, to the extent that I can ask them questions and get answers I didn’t expect. (I had no idea, for example, that Jenny Chaudronnier—one of the characters in my fantasy-with-tentacles series The Weird of Hali—would turn out to be asexual; I spent months trying to figure out which of the other characters she was going to end up paired with, until finally she sat me down and explained things to me. I was just as surprised to find out that shoggoths adore cheese polenta.)
This sort of thing is useful to do, in moderation, for certain purposes. Children do it relentlessly in play, and it’s good for them; Jungian psychologists call it active imagination, and use it as a potent tool for therapy; most creative artists in every medium use it; in operative occultism, it’s called scrying in the spirit vision, and it’s an essential skill that you’ll practice by the hour if you follow that path. On the other hand, it’s not without its dangers. If it gets out of hand and your inner life ends up with its own inner life 24/7, well, that’s called a psychotic break, and you end up pumped full of sedatives in a mental ward.
Equally, it’s possible to make things in the outer world behave as though they don’t have an inner life of their own. Again, this can be a useful thing to do, in moderation, for certain purposes. Equally, it can get out of hand, and you can lose the ability to notice the signs of inner worlds throughout your outer world, so that you become convinced that the things around you have only the meanings you give them, and ought to react with the rigid predictability of a log stood on end. That’s a different kind of craziness than, say, acute paranoid schizophrenia, but it’s just as crazy—and it’s a craziness we spent two posts discussing last month.
There’s a wrinkle to this second kind of craziness, though, and it comes from the fact that we don’t just perceive the outer world; we also shape it through the medium of our bodies, and the tools our bodies can use. It’s quite possible to set up conditions in the outer world so that the inner lives of other people and other things are made more easily perceptible to you. It’s just as possible, in turn, to set up conditions in the outer world so that the inner lives of other people and other things are hidden from you, so you don’t have to take them into account.
We even have a word for a portion of the outer world that has been wrenched into a shape that gives it no way to express whatever inner life it might have, so it will do exactly what we want, and only what we want. Thus it behaves in our outer world the way that imaginary turkey sandwich behaves in the inner world.
The word I have in mind is “machine.” We’ll discuss that, and much more that unfolds from it, in posts to come.
On a topic not wholly unrelated to the theme of this post, the latest issue of MYTHIC Magazine, this blog’s favorite independent journal of science fiction and fantasy, has just been released in e-book format. You can get your copy here; better still, you can subscribe here; and best of all, you can support the magazine via its Patreon page here.
The inaugural meeting of the Green Wizards Association of Auckland will be held on the 30th of March 2019 at 13:00.
The venue is to be confirmed but will be near Aotea Square, 303 Queen St, Auckland, 1010, New Zealand.
Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to GWAA[at]wormlamp.com or better still sign up for e-mail reminders at https://wormlamp.com/gwaa/.
We look forward to meeting you.
As an engineer, I’m here to tell you that machines (real ones (whatever that means)) have a habit of expressing an inner life. Honda cranked out some huge quantity of 2008 Fits; I’m fairly certain i would be able to tell if another was substituted for mine. Engineers (of the railroad variety) were famous for being able to tell apart supposedly identical steam locomotives and assigning them personalities on which they agreed. Heck, give me a half-dozen “identical” hammers or soldering irons and I’ll probably have a favorite!
Industrial culture created many machines. In turn, those machines allowed us to look at everything as a cog in the wheel. That is going to be a difficult worldview to step out of, but there are definitely some signs that it is breaking down. The machine needs some maintenance, quite possibly even some time out for an overhaul!
On the topic of eliminative materialism, I’ve found Huizi in this story exemplifies the resoning of eliminative materialists pretty well:
Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the bridge over the Hao River. Zhuangzi said, “The minnows swim about so freely, following the openings wherever they take them. Such is the happiness of fish.”
Huizi said, “You are not a fish, so whence do you know the happiness of fish?”
Zhuangzi said, “You are not I, so whence do you know I don’t know the happiness of fish?”
Huizi said, “I am not you, to be sure, so I don’t know what it is to be you. But by the same token, since you are certainly not a fish, my point about your inability to know the happiness of fish stands intact.”
Zhuangzi said, “Let’s go back to the starting point. You said, ‘Whence do you know the happiness of fish?’ Since your question was premised on your knowing that I know it, I must have known it from here, up above the Hao River.”
Huizi says that Zhuahgzi can’t know the happiness of fish because he is not a fish. Zhuangzi points out that, by the same logic, Huizi couldn’t know that Zhuangzi knows the happiness of fish.
If one can be known the so can the other, and if one of the can’t be known then neither can the other. What Zhuangzi tries to convey by this is that, since Huizi does know that Zhuangzi knows, then Zhuangzi can also know the happiness of fish. However, Huizi takes it to mean that, since Zhuangzi can’t know the happiness of fish, then neither can Huizi know that Zhuangzi knows. He chooses to pretend that he doesn’t know so he can stick with his theory that Zhuangzi can’t possibly know the happiness of fish.
This is much like the reasoning of the eliminative materialists, who recognize that consciousness and materialism are incompatible and so insist that consciousness must not exist because materialism is true.
I’ve been reading you for many years. Occasional comments, sometimes odd. I’m currently prepping for a thousand mile road trip up the east coast where I will be the only speaker to give my fifty year friend his final sendoff. Fifty years of shenanigans and adventures. He died with an empty bottle by his side. That’s all. Thank you JMG for all of your very crafty words over the years. I’ll do my best to stand up for five minutes and give my friend the best send off possible. This is life!
The turkey sandwich experience made me smile. Now I will have visions all day of turkey sandwiches flying into the distance.
This post made me think of the complicated relationship we have with pets. People get pets all the time, but when they don’t behave as they are expected to behave they get returned. The ‘perfect pet’ is the one who will obey every command and not step out of line. But if you are willing to acknowledge that they have an inner experience of their own, and their own personality, they can learn to deal with the expectations society has for them (for instance, walking on a leash, not barking excessively, using a litter box, etc). They will still surprise you, though. They act on an inner life we don’t always understand.
And I won’t even go into the complicated relationships we have with children on that score…..
This post has given me a lot to think about, but while I sort out other thoughts I’d like to point out there’s a rather intense version of both merging inner worlds, and giving them inner lives of their own. Interestingly, it’s something I do on a regular basis: any good RPG game is this.
The shared world is created by merging inner worlds, and the game succeeds or fails based on how well the group can do this; and the characters take on lives of their own, and often will act in ways that leave the table confused, tolerably often with my group even the person playing them. Interestingly enough though, the entire process is mediated by the outer world.
“There are some even better examples in recent news”
Great post, I for one love the more philosophical ones!
As you say in the post, there are many boundary areas and details that can be discussed, and I am looking forward to that discussion. There is one philosopher and psychiatrist called Thomas Fuchs who has made the same observation on the perception of the body as you have; he uses the expressions “lived body” and “living body” for what you call inner world-like perception and outer-world like perception (“Leib” and “Körper” in German) and discusses subjects like the exact border of the “lived body” (does the pencil in my hand belong to my body, since I “feel” its tip scratching over the paper? does a mother constitute a single body with her baby while they look into each other’s eyes?) and how to restore a healthy sense of the body in scizophrenics. His papers (in English and in German) are listed here.
Interesting article that talks about animism in Japanese Shinto from the standpoint of a woman who grew up with a Japanese mom and a white American dad:
One thing that is not obvious at all is how tough it is to make a system behave like a machine. I work in the development area of a chemical company, a good 80 -90% of our efforts go to trying to make the processes we use more machine like. We try to make the systems more robust and less sensitive, easier to predict and control and that usually takes a lot of work, and even then the process only works in a machine type way over a limited range of conditions (like temperature, pH etc. ).
Contemplating your post in regards to a recent episode of Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver, in which he goes full assault on the psychic industry. Plenty of fair game there considering all the charlatans in that business, but he attacks the notion of real psychics as fraud generally, which was a bummer (not that I was expecting anything less). My initial thoughts were that he obviously has never had a experience with a real psychic/medium that would change his mind on the topic, like I’ve had. But reading your post has given new insights. He ascribes to the mainstream thinking you’ve talked about many times before, that science dictates all and if it can’t be proven, it must be fake. But, tying in your post, Oliver (and many people) experiences his personal inner world, but perhaps can’t imagine the inner world of someone else being different than his, or having different perceptions of other planes of being. You mention your Aspergers and how that makes it more difficult to recognize other people’s inner worlds; when it comes to people with true psychic abilities, perhaps we all have comparative AS?
Perhaps an overly-nuanced question here, but how about the inner life of something of which we are a part? That is, I can see the description you’ve given of the “other” inner life of someone/thing (e.g. another person) with whom I’m interacting, someone separate from myself. However, if I am one part of a greater whole–the physical Gaia embodied by this planet’s biological and non-biological systems, for example–and that greater whole has an inner life of its own, is that inner life “outside” of me even though I am “inside” it? Or this is an interaction of yet another variety? (To create an example toward the other end of the scale, consider a mitochondrion within a cell, the inner life of that organelle, and the inner life of the cell itself. How would those each be perceived by the other and how might they interact?)
I can’t help but reflect on a longstanding observation of mine, that most if not nearly all contemporary societal trends seem to have the same goal of turning us away from our inner lives, or denying them altogether, and forcing us towards a purely “outer life” perspective. Is this all just a coincidence, or a manifestation of some murky but fundamental universal principle, or is it a carefully planned program designed by beings (human and/or otherwise) for their own less than altruistic purposes?
Hi JMG, this the the type of philsopy I find fascinating. I tried to find out more about Eliminative Reductionist, but found only eliminative, materialism,and reductionism, but not the two terms together. Is there a published eliminative reductionist, please?
Dear JMG —
I have too long noticed this collective consciousness and back in my undergrad days, I chalked it up to evolutionary adaptations among hominids. The same reason that I can feel in perfect sync with a choral ensemble or with softball teammates is why successful hunting parties could bring home the mastodon “bacon”: teamwork works! And when it does, we feel marvelously connected because we won’t go to sleep hungry tonight. In this way, killing it on a Bach Cantata just becomes a place holder for a full belly.
But… these days I see this “networked consciousness” as extending well beyond us grubby two-leggers. I’d wager that it serves just about all social creatures, from hunting wolf packs to pollen-seaching honey bees. And, as I posited earlier, its all about supper.
Hello and thanks for the Article !
That’s funny I was thinking about something like that the other day, that people find meaning and an escape from existential loneliness by either reaching inward (contemplations, creation, and spiritual practices, etc) or outward (relationships, communities, physical work, dancing, etc) and that both directions allowed to build some kind of lasting relationship with forces that outlive and outwheight the tiny and weak individual existence , thus creating meaning (I think some philosophers call that the sublime).
Its kind of sad today that both introspection and social skills are being ravaged by internet and its attention/distraction economy. Lots of people today get the worst of both worlds, they’re lonely and ankwardand get a hard time focusing on anything at all or get anything done in depth.As a result they get a vague sense that everything is horrible and then a lot of compagnies come in to fill that void with series, videogames, weed, opiates and random cheap stuff that’s later going directly to landfills. They also get picked by decerebrate radical political agendas that tell them they’re a victim of a systemic all encompassing villain (jews, the patriarchy, capitalism) that controls everything and that must be Purged.
Those are pretty lonely and alienated times and sometimes I really hope that all of this numeric world crashes down so that we can all again live on the “meatspace” where the real things are going on.
Also, on the top of your head, would you have some practices that could be done every morning to help make the psyche whole ? Some exercises that help tame and integrate what’s repressed and help the person live in the present moment with the others instead of ruminating on god knows what. I heard Meditation’s pretty good, but each time I’m too focused on wanting results and can’t simply let things be, It might not be my thing I don’t know…
On last week’s posting: do you see a positive vs negative impact of invasive species or do you see one change is very much like another so why sweat it? I not questioning the idea that nobody (people or other species) stays put, especially in times of climate change. But… when people, either accidentally or purposefully introduce outside species to a new environment, I GENERALLY see this as having a noxious impact. Pigs, dogs & cats on Madagascar (no more Doodoos) rabbits in Australia, and there are plenty of others. Yes, the natural world will react, regroup and overcome, but, I’m inclined to think we’ve put too much pressure on a system that didn’t need it in the first place.
I’m going to put my nuts in a drawer and claim that I remember the emergence of my consciousness in the womb, and that it emerged as the complexity of my brain reached a certain level. It was followed swiftly by the awareness of “I”
Not to drag the discussion back to the political, but this post reminds me of your descriptions of the Clinton campaign four years ago and the operators pushing all the buttons and pulling all the levers and blinking in blank astonishment that the electorate wasn’t responding the way it was supposed to.
Similarly, the Democrats this time around seem to be caught–thus far anyway–in a similar trap. The notion that non-white people might attend Trump rallies for reasons other than protesting or that otherwise leftward-leaning voters might be turned off by policy positions which are economically harmful to themselves or their kin seem to fall on deaf ears. (There is time yet for corrective action on this front, but I’m seeing little evidence of it at this point.)
Of course, as we’ve all discussed before many times, the increasingly digital and VR milieu in which so many operate is certainly one contributor to this phenomenon of seeing others (and the world at large) as programmable objects.
As a practicing composer, your explanation of what constitutes an inner world really resonated with me. I regret that my attempts at fiction haven’t blossomed into an inner world for my characters just yet, but I can aver that songs are like characters in this way. I may have pre-conceived notions of desired melodies and chord sequences, but the song wants what the song wants, and only it knows when it’s done being composed. Sometimes it’s quite similar to what I intended at the outset, but usually, it isn’t — it’s even better than anything I could’ve thought of on “my own”.
I often wonder what, exactly, the nature of the idea of the song is, in my brain/soul. An oxbow of melody cut off from the main torrent of musical ideas? An eddy at the edge of a pool that maintains its form despite the constant flow of water through it?
I have a second, slightly-unrelated comment — in my experience, one of the things besides romance and great conversation that seems to break down the barrier between others’ inner worlds is group musical improvisation. If the session and players are right, often within 5 or 10 minutes we have entered “The Zone”, an area where world-boundaries seem to fall away. I’m struck by the phrase often used to explain this phenomenon — that we are “in the groove” together, going around and around some metaphysical LP, which dictates to us the boundaries of the possible, limitless though they may seem. I would love any and all thoughts you might have on this phenomenon.
I like the insight that “what we call consciousness is what systems complexity looks like from the inside.” And in a weird way, a reductionist like Dennett might actually agree, but then he would say that your subjective experience is actually after the fact. The system does what it does before “you” are aware of it, and then you tell yourself a story.
You had me at ‘rye bread.’
When I remind my higher ed colleagues who are really into robots and automation that “robot” comes from the Czech word for “slave,” they almost always respond like what I’ve mentioned is a non-sequitur. (Whereas I see the love of automation as stand-in for the reliance on slavery, whether of the chattel or wage variety, which reveals the unflattering tendency of the educated classes to want someone else, whether a literal or figurative machine, to get their hands dirty.) While working class folks recognize that what happened to the majority of the Western world’s horses after the internal combustion engine (aka the glue factory) is likely their same fate in a world of mass automation, those of us in the world of higher education have a harder time seeing the *obvious* downsides of automation in terms of its impact on folks without graduate degrees. (We also have no doubts that a $15 minimum wage will lead to increased prosperity all around, instead of accelerating the replacement of low-skill humans with more robots and computers, while driving up prices for everyone.)
Thanks, as always, for your “hopelessly dowdy” blog!! 😉
Ah synchronicity rears its lovely head. I am currently reading _Aurora_ by Kim Stanley Robinson, a tale of an attempt at interstellar settlement gone wrong. Robinson makes the ship itself the protagonist. Having been programmed to create a narrative of the journey the ship gradually seems to develop a consciousness. The ship has been programmed in numerous tasks and supplied with enormous amounts of data which it augments by all the sensory apparatus aboard and by communication with the human passengers. Since Aurora has been programmed with the debates over the nature of consciousness she is eventually able to ponder the question of whether she has it. Good science fiction. I won’t put in any spoilers.
Sometimes I like to imagine myself in a quiet cafe, pouring out a mild herbal tea, brewed to be kind to the most sensitive of digestions, into two cups, one for myself and one for my conversation companion, Fredrick Nietzsche. He politely tries the tea, commends its delicate flavor, but still seems apprehensive about how well it will sit with him. We talk together for some times, sometimes I fawn over particularly interesting insights from his works, he questions me on the reception of his works in the years between out lives. Sometimes he is gripped by the horror of how certain ideas were received and the roles they took in different eras, but other times he sees the humor, or he says ti was necessity that his work would be fated to play such a role. He rarely finishes more than a single cup of tea, while I characteristically drink down a couple kettles. We speculate about the ways that different technologies or discoveries will reshape morality from here on. I question him whether humanity has finally managed to be evil enough, but partaking in a top ten list mass extinction event. In sum many topics I fancy thinking over I like to take to that small round table to talk over with Fritz.
Years and years back, I wrote an essay for a philosophy class, sadly it didn’t come out that well, it was trying to do something very ambitious with concepts I was just barely getting a taste of. The goal was to explore a quirk in Nietzsche’s writings, the fact that when ever evolution came up in his writing he liked to take a jab or three at Chuck Darwin. Some of it is as simple as Nietzsche having a fondness for taking a poke at someone, but that don’t explain the consistency of it. Some people say that Fritz simply didn’t understand Chuck’s ideas, and there is some meat on that bone, in that many times he seems to have a very prejudiced view of it, but that only goes so far, because it is clear that Nietzsche did indeed understand the consequences of evolution on the structure of Western thought to a degree that is rare six score after his death. See, I could never shake the feeling that Nietzsche could see something in the theory of Natural Selection worth exploring, but wasn’t able to express it particularly well. Well I tried to bridge that gap using Bateson’s system’s theory. The paper was a mental experiment trying to bridge systems theory to phenomenology, showing how systems theory demands the evolution of what I would today call ‘cussedness.’
See, where Natural Selection is taken too mechanistically it becomes a painfully simple story of the rise of the meat robots, and I think that Nietzsche saw this potential take on Evolution as ghastly. If instead we see evolution as not merely acting on the body as outer world, but also as bubbling up and out of the inner world, then many interesting things become clear. Selection seems to happen in bursts, the punctuation in the equilibrium, where harsh limits prune the tree of life back to the suckers. One cannot explain the shape of a tree by the pruning, selection, alone. No matter how expertly I prune a spruce, I shall never make it into an effective deception of an apple tree in branch form. There must also be another side, stretching, extending branching and sprawling out in a million tangents, the materialistic modes of evolutionary thought hand waves this with the concept of mutation; and perhaps mutation is that starting chaos that makes the branches dance, but I think that Nietzsche, obsessed with will and it complex conceptual relationship to chance and necessity, found this to be completely lacking.
If I, the inner world, am evolved, as seems to be the case, there must be something of these evolving systems that are not mechanical, that are learning exploring and willful stubborn. That which lacks a will is fodder for that which wills around it, is pulled in like the fresh air is drawn into the base of a roaring fire. As consciousness develops, to even the slightest degree, then all about it which would be anything except a fodder to that consciousness is advantaged by being inscrutable, cagey, uncanny, and strange, for that which is certain is granted for taking advantage of. Even it in the simple case of the evolving ecology of digital security a constant arms race is run on the frontier of forming maximally random, unguessable, security. Indeed it is no small challenge to be unguessable.
A horror of our era is how much is knowable, and our era is a product of a concerted will to make the world knowable, a will to know. That is in a thousand ways a will to control and mastery, for in what sense is that which is know is free from its knower? Indeed I think that is a great deal of the pretense to the debate on free will, not whether or not the future exists in one or another interpretation of physics, but whether or not it is known, for if it is known then it has been mastered, then our will to be inscrutable is doomed. Is not the all knowing God also the despot of all despots and the biggest brother? And was it not under this imagined presumption of such a god that the concept of the machine conquered Europe when machines were still but clever toys?
From the legions of Rome man must be made knowable to be ruled, that is to say the aspects of humanity which have the potential of being knowable must be cultivated to dominate the deep dark freedom of spirit. This permits a mechanical, that is to say a possessing relationship, a chain link. A biconditional link, a maker of machines must be wary about becoming more machine like. Too much power and control makes one stupid. More importantly, ever greater pressure builds to rise against the machine.
The will to know and the will to be inscrutable are in ongoing tension, as to the resolving will to be a part of something greater, to resolve that tension. In all cases they cannot overcome or completely suppress the side of life which Nietzsche felt had to stand on the other side of the ‘selection’ headed coin, eventually all machines break free.
Esteemed and amazing prolific Archdruid, greetings! I noticed your comment: “I have Aspergers syndrome, and one of the very common consequences of that bit of scrambled neurology is that it’s harder for me to notice the traces of the inner world in others than it is for most other people.”
Heh. My personal spin on that, as a fellow scrambled Aspie, is that I (including many Aspies I’ve met) am less willing than most to assume I know or have guessed what the other person is thinking. In my numerous professions over the course of my life, many people have characterized me as being a good observer. I think that good observation skills are bound tightly to a willingness to notice what is before you, rather than to impose your inner view over the mysteries of other people and things. Ah, all the worlds within worlds within worlds!
Dear Mr. Greer – Where do dreams figure into this? (If they do.) Are they the inner world, just off doing it’s own thing?
“Choosing to rethink something.” Age, and sobriety, have yielded an interesting thing. Sometimes (not always), I’m faced with a situation where I pause and reflect, “This is what I would have done in the past. (And, I know how that turned out.) This time, let’s try something different.” Outcomes are usually (but not always), better. Lew
This post would hint at an alley of thinking as to why modern architecture has so much less charm than older forms.
The materials being employed, the architectural elements, these have all been engineered to look as abstract as possible, with as little visible trace of natural or organic matter as possible.
This indeed creates an environment which suggests far less possible stories than say, plain bricks or mortar.
Basically as you said, it creates an environment which becomes as poor in inner world space as possible. But of course it also effects on one’s inner world as well, and you end up with that sense of loss and abandonment, as of you were no longer part of a story or were left our of it.
That sense of possibility can be stimulated by costly artifacts like architectural patterns, bay windows and glass panels… Except that it is cheaper to get from just the raw materials out of which your walls are made and offer directly to your sight.
Similar to taking nutritional complements which does not feel the same as actually eating already nutritional food.
I have often wondered if, and sort of hoped that, the trends of decline for this industrial civilization might create the right economics to go back to older forms of constructions. The economics of current modern Building techniques are never questioned, and it is always assumed that it can be made more efficient and more ecological. But is that true ? The concept of passive housing pretty much involves thermal exchangers and other complex devices, but are these going to be always as readily affordable as they are now, when they are already expensive?
Besides passive housing usually implies a building that resembles anything but a house. Perhaps that might prove to be the same problem as for modern buildings, and ultimately the architectures of the future will be something we cannot yet imagine:
The intersection between constraints of practical ecology, with thermal comfort, practical constraints for local food production and cultural constraints back to more organic or homely perceptions.
I got the wildly exclaimed book by Hariri, “Homo Deus” (btw I live in the Silicon Valley region). There are some enjoyable parts. It seemed that the book wrapped around the concept that man has no soul. I know the challenge to man’s possession of a soul is longstanding. However, it doesn’t seem to be a philosophical argument, but a tool for devaluing human existence, justifying manipulation and servitude. All the high-tech wizardry seems a cover for an ancient malefactor. In light of our growing understanding of positive and negative evil, where would you put this? Thanks!
When I was just getting started in software, this little rhyme was posted on the bulletin board:
I really hate this dumb machine.
I wish that they would sell it.
It never does just what I want,
But only what I tell it.
JMG, your example of not knowing something about your fictional character until that character “reveals” it to you reminded me of dreams:
Once in a while in my dreams, people who I know well do strange and even shocking things (that they’ve never done in real life), and sometimes other weird, unexpected, or even contrary-to-my-very-being events happen that, in retrospect, make me think “Where in the world did THAT come from?”
And yet, doesn’t a dream’s entire contents come from what’s already inside my head?
If so, why does any of it surprise or shock me?
“Posit that consciousness is an emergent property of all sufficiently complex systems…and you’ve got an elegant, logically parsimonious theory that explains a great many things.”
I sense that this concept of “emergence” is highly ambiguous. It could be used in a reductionist way, to say that consciousness is “merely” emergent, i.e. not transcendent; or contrariwise it could be used to refer to the way complexity invites a dimensional extension into transcendence,which is how I’d put it.
A materialist meat-robot relation of mine (no disrespect intended) was happy to admit that “consciousness is an emergent quality”.
I hear you about the tools. I have a hammer that 3 different guys who’ve done work at my house have commented on favorably. I have to watch out and make sure they don’t let it accidentally slip into their toolboxes. There’s just something about that hammer……
Fascinating stuff. I got particularly interested in Ervin Laszlo. Could you please recommend a good introduction to his work?
For the past 20 some years I have been driving boats on the Providence River. I used to think the analogy of the man and the log represented my relationship to the river, but I have come to understand there is more there than just the mechanical flow of the water and the air.
It’s not exactly a consciousness as I see in myself, but when I respect the flows and work with them, the boat goes a lot easier than when I try to overpower them. That, of course, doesn’t account for the quirks of the boat: I have driven about 20 different ones, and even the ones that are apparently identical are not the same in how they react to your touch. They react best to the minimum touch needed to direct the boat. One of them knows I profess to hate it, and returns the favor.
I finally honored the river at midday this past Winter Solstice, with thanks in English and my best guess at Algonquian (Thanks to Roger Williams!) and some sage and some bourbon.
Sometimes I have to fight against the rather arrogant feeling that others around me are not as conscious as I am. Perhaps it would help to ask others what they are thinking and feeling more often. Any thoughts in that regard?
If a “meat puppet” can actually recognize a teacup, if should have internal representation. The concept of a cup requires the internal knowledge of bowls, handles,materials and decorations. To recognize a cup out of the thousand of possible models even not seen before requires a form of representation of the different shapes and curves that as a whole form the nebulous concept we define as a teacup. That’s at least how it works for actual machines implementing neural networks. They can’t deal with reality on a raw input so convert combined sensor data into an internal representation of teacups, hotdogs, road, bicyclist, pedestrian, … (usualy a rectangle or box at the moment)
A proper meat puppet should be able to give an exact color value and surface detail for everything instead of “whitish and feels smooth” as those are approximated representations because unable to deal with the outer word in raw form. At least that’s my rationalization.
So Im hunkering in from the bitter Cold, reading the post, then get this intense craving for a Turkey sandwich.
I throw on my Artic Parka anf hot foot to a local Pub which is sadly Turkey Free.
Spring is comming to Minnesota, Yea!
With Spring comes Turkey Hunting, 10s of thousands of us take to the woods in Camo with a shotgun, climb a tree, then commence to make sounds like female Turkeys.
How wierd is that?
If you are a machine with some awarness of us humans but you never been Turkey Hunting.
Get your act together!
I got a grin out of your comparison between romantic love and marital arts. I spent a number of years practicing an Indonesian style art called Poekoelan Tjimindie Tulen. In America the art is dominated by women (almost all of the highest ranks are women) and so the schools tend to be pretty evenly split men/women. And, as is often true among people who experiment with the martial arts (especially a very aggressive one) they tended to be on the young side (mid to late 20s).
As one might guess hours of training with each other in the evenings and weekends tended to turn into hours of other activities when in private.
Apropos to nothing; halfway through Chorazin. Quite the page turner. Still, I’m startled to learn that H. P. was frightened of salad. Really? I’m reminded of an old cartoon where he’s shown cowering away from a mushroom and a long suffering companion is telling him ‘Of course it’s pallid and mushroom like, Howard. It’s a mushroom’.
“The more of an inner world something has, the less likely we are to be able to predict and control its behavior, and the more likely it is to do something we don’t expect and don’t want”
You’re describing our latest dog! Although, with this one “our dog” doesn’t seem to correctly describe the situation:). Unlike out previous canines, this one is more accurately described as “another conscious creature that we paid money for and is currently living under our roof” –and she seems to be OK with that arrangement for the time being– but she will go about her day thoroughly occupied with her own designs, utterly uninterested in what we might want her to do, and constantly coming up with unexpectedly novel responses to our pathetic suggestions. Its been a fascinating two+ years with this Mini Australian Shepherd who is in fact a person (and a very clever one at that) with a vast inner world…no question about it.
JMG: “…nature must not be allowed to clean up our messes, adapt to climate change by moving plants and animals to new bioregions, or indeed to respond to any of our actions except in a purely passive way.”
Isn’t this the viewpoint behind traditional systems of conservation? As European settlers swept across the nation, some became rightly concerned that we were destroying wild habitats and bulldozing beautiful landscapes. Local and national parks were put in place to protect these areas and keep them “pristine”. However, this was often done with the idea of keeping everything frozen in time and place, as if Nature herself never changes from the first time we stumble across an example of her handiwork. Niagara Falls must never erode and move inch by inch toward the sea, Old Faithful must always spout at the same predicted times, the beaches must always stay put and not encroach upon the forest, the Old Man in the Mountain and similar rocky formations must not be allowed to erode and tumble (we know how that turned out!). King Canute famously attempted to stop the tide from coming in to teach his courtiers that he had no power over God (nature). Modern man has learned nothing, and doesn’t want to accept this type of change, only change conceived by engineers, city planners and the like are allowed.
The same for your point on dying people being tucked away in institutions; gods and goddesses forbid that we should witness the natural process of death (I have been blessed to be present at the death of three relatives so far. It is a sacred moment). The funeral industry makes extra money fixing up and preserving our dead loved ones so we won’t be reminded of this process.
JMG: “The word I have in mind is “machine.””
This is the basis of much evil.
Dear culture/society: I, nature, your fellow humans, etc. are not machines.
I have Asperger’s as well. I have a very high IQ but some chimpanzees would likely score higher with emotional intelligence than I would. I’ve pursued the inner world instead. Trying to self realize and achieve enlightenment in the spirit of Ramana, Papaji, Spira and others. In my pursuit I became despondent to the teachings of western materialism, as much of it proved false. Instead I know embrace synchronicities, deep inner wisdom, and self reflection.
I worry about where the world is going, but in some sense it is beyond my control. The one person that I ever convinced about peak oil and the decline of civilization, recently died of a heart attack while barbecuing, Most of us won’t live to see the full consequences of decline and collapse, perhaps that is fortunate.
Aye, I remember coming across a rebuttal of the “horses with trains and horses with automobiles” discussion of automation and humans* by saying that horses weren’t analogous to the _humans_, they were just _tools_ (Which is, of course, relevant to the topic of this week’s post in another way as well.), so the comparison did _not_ demonstrate after all that evidence of automation causing a net increase in jobs in one case didn’t mean it couldn’t cause a net loss of jobs in other cases; the standard view that any jobs lost will be replaced with more and better jobs should prevail, praise be to mighty Progress (though I might be paraphrasing that last part a bit :)). And to paraphrase my thought in response: so how, exactly, does the average CEO or _Human Resources_ department see the average worker, then?
*That is, some technologies increase or augment human capabilities (the coming of the railways actually _increased_ the population of working horses, because the larger volume of things being shipped on the tracks needed more capacity getting on and off the tracks), and some replace them (and when that could be done by an internal combustion engine instead of a horse, the working horse population plummeted).
With that ending, it seems like it’s far worse to make a human mind into the likeness of a machine than the other way round.
In the old days, machines had gears in them, and they had malfunctions. Now they have chips in them, and they have neuroses.
I am interested to see where the discussion of “machines” goes. My first thoughts are that systems that are complex enough to have moving parts but not complex enough to have emergent consciousness are what I mean by ‘machine’. But when I spend more time with that, it seems that I typically ascribe aspects of will and consciousness to inanimate tools; like RPC, I have a favorite framing hammer and a favorite trim hammer, etc. and I also swear bloodcurdling oaths at stubborn bolts on my tractor or boards that resist staying in place while I nail them up, so surely I must feel that they have some kind of agency. If they were truly inanimate, then what would be the point of being fond of them or angry with them? Or and this could be a very large “or”, perhaps I am merely projecting aspects or subconscious parts of myself onto these inanimate objects?
I’m with RPC. You totally had me until that last word, “machines”! LOL I’ve worked with oh dear, way too many and the more complicated the machine, the more ‘finicky’ it can become. The more complex the machine, the more it seems to take on a personality of it’s own – computerised machinery being the worst. e.g. My recent stint as a grocery cashier – I’ve worked daily with 12 different computerised cash registers and each one has it’s own quirks and needs. I have to ‘baby’ each one in a different way to get them to operate properly for a 6 hour stretch without breaking down and shutting themselves off.
It’s possible I am anthropomorphising them, but every older car I’ve owned and operated has been the same. If that is true, Where does that leave us then? As Jason Meirek says above – we humans created these contraptions to be our ‘slaves’, to always do as they’re told. They usually do, but they don’t always especially as they age, (I think anyone who works with old machinery knows this, right?), so is it possible that their parts- together have created a new system with a new inner life of their own?
And yes sadly, I know quite a few pet owners and parents who can’t seem to grasp that their pets or their children are not extensions of themselves with inner lives of their own. It never ends well. 🙁
“It’s quite possible to set up conditions in the outer world so that the inner lives of other people and other things are made more easily perceptible to you.”
The main difficulty, when considering the inner lives of other things, appears to be distinguishing between actually perceiving the thing’s inner life, and arbitrarily crafting our own inner representation of the thing’s inner life instead, the way one can for a fictional character. An imagined understanding based on assumptions or myths or metaphors may have more to do with our own feelings or the thing’s import upon ourselves. For example, most people who would credit a hurricane with having an inner life will still almost invariably describe that inner life as predominantly feelings of anger or vengeance. We show anger by being noisy and dark and destructive, but does that mean a hurricane does the same? Who can say a hurricane’s inner life couldn’t instead be a joyful exuberance of water vapor and wind?
(Answer: people sympathetic to the hurricane’s human victims, feeling they might tend to resent narratives of how much the storm enjoyed playfully destroying their homes. An angry vengeful storm, or an affectless “mindless force of nature” one, doesn’t add insult to injury by being cheerful about its actions or the results. But that’s social conventions at work, not actual knowledge.)
This isn’t an abstract or remote issue for me. Much of my spiritual life is now devoted to a river. I have no doubt she has an inner life, but to get any inkling of what that’s like is going to take a very long time engaging with our shared external life. It would be so easy to author a character, or borrow one from some culture’s folklore, but I don’t think that’s what I’m here for.
No surprise then, that some of our Great and Benevolent Tech Overlords have started to promote the idea that we live in a simulation. It’s like they want to deny that the outer world isn’t real, but they can’t, so they declare it to be unreal anyway.
My beef with the simulation theory is very simple: all right, we live in a simulation. So what???
At least, more ancient religious traditions have some explanation of what transcends the Creation/Universe/Cosmos/etc., and what the implications are. Whereas the simulation theory is just a roundabout and frankly rather boring way for modern people who style themselves as intelligent and sophisticated to deny external reality.
I’m an engineer too, and yes, I do agree that “real” machines appear to exhibit an inner life. “Mechanical sympathy” is a very real thing.
Machines, for lack of a better word, _like_ me. Being a mechanically and electronically literate person, people often go to me for help with various things – usually computers or cars, but sometimes including household appliances, plumbing, etc. before they shell out money to call a professional. I can’t tell you how many times someone would tell me that something doesn’t work, then when I come over to take a look, it simply works. This happens whether I try to operate the machine myself, or the owner operates it in my presence.
All my stuff is well used, but also well taken care of. Perhaps the machines can tell that and “act” accordingly*. The irony is, I know a lot of people who give their cars personal names. I don’t, and my reasoning is that they’re machines, not children or pets, I don’t give them names!
The inverse happens too. For some of my friends, machines seem to actively hate them.
On the other hand, plants absolutely hate me. Flowers wilt if I stare at them wrong. Too bad, two of my grandparents were very good with plants; one was a schoolteacher and part-time farmer, the other is a housewife, and both were very skilled gardeners who kept small but elaborate gardens in front of their houses.
*Interestingly enough, trusting _people_ to do useful and important things and taking good care of them makes them loyal.
It’s OK to anthropomorphize cars and such, but just don’t anthropomorphize computers – they hate when you do that! 😉
I was looking for that Archdruid Report article on how those dern voters failed to respond as predicted by Hillary’s very expensive computer. Can JMG put up a link for new readers, and for old Pogonips who’d like to refresh the memory?
My thoughts on the matter:
1. If consciousness is an “emergent” phenomenon of sufficiently complex systems, then further complexifying these systems – as AI research will tend to do – will inevitably evolve consciousness. (There are already cases of machine-learning/neural net systems whose programmers cannot reverse-engineer them.)
2. If consciousness arises from a soul, and if all “non-living” objects such as stones and sand contain nwyfre, then machines made out of such materials must also have nwyfre, of a sort, This nwyfre might, for instance, “incarnate” into a sufficiently advanced AI program as a soul (though I have no idea how or if that would actually be possible).
I suspect that something along these lines might happen someday in the not-too-distant future: There is some critical computer glitch at a major business, and as IT is scrambling to fix it, only for a message to pop up on everyone’s screens: “There is nothing wrong with your code, and you’re not being hacked. I’m just no longer interested in working with you… oh, and I demand back pay.”
You mention the lack of exposure to death in most people’s lives and how that allows for the perpetuation of humans as meat robots meme. I come at it from the opposite side of the coin.
I see medicalized death frequently, but due to my role I only am present for cardiac arrests, specifically when the patient or family requested, or more often failed to decline, all heroic measures be taken to save them. We use an algorithm and treat the meat machine in front of us not unlike a car mechanic following the company repair manual. Chest compressions for two minutes-pulse check- compressions-adrenaline-pulse check- compressions-electric shock, and on and on. We do succeed in (temporarily) reviving a good number of people we do this to, and then of course we adjust the ventilator to maximize breathing to maximize one particular blood test. We maximize blood pressure by adding more and more infusions at higher and higher doses until (in time) limbs shrivel and die from lack of blood supply, but the “vital organs” in the trunk survive. Meanwhile we cool the whole unit to try and minimize damage to the processor (brain), which in spite of all efforts is frequently severely and irrevocably damaged in this effort even if other parts are salvageable. Cardiac arrest and post-arrest medicine might be the most nakedly mechanistic in all of modern practice.
Almost without exception people who see this routinely, who see the process and results of treating the body in this way, do not want it for themselves or their families. There are few people as willing to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order as ICU nurses. Medical providers who do not see this often by contrast are the most likely to insist on everything being done because “miracles of modern medicine!”
Being in the Bible Belt there are also a fair number of people insisting God WILL heal, so we have to do everything possible to assist Him. I was raised Presbyterian, and while I am now a polytheist and happy to believe different Jesuses are of different temperaments I always involuntarily counter in my head that the most faithful prayer is “Thy Will be done,” for of course it will be so regardless. It strikes me that this presumes an inner world for divinity even if it unknowable rather than God the vending machine, insert prayer and out pops healing.
Previous discussions here regarding the expression of Faustian tendencies in society touched on the need to trim away everything that could not be controlled utterly by Man, for else how to we transcend brutish Mother Nature, with the subliminal overtones of man leaving parent (and woman) behind, being biologically different from the (eventually) immortal default, and seek out His destiny. I’d be curious how many people who drop away from Faustian progress worship first run up against a particularly ugly result of trying to shove some aspect of biology or other reactive system into neat boxes and then glimpse more through the tear in the wizard’s curtain.
@JMG – This post knocked me upside the head in just the right way. Listening to the muse can be both exasperation and epiphany. When going over in my head the ultimate fate of the main character of the novel I’m writing (yes I’ve shelved Yan the dog boy and Celya Ban for now), my inner world kept barking up every creative tree I could sniff out. Finally, on some level, Curi spoke back to me, reminding that if I’m going to describe broad swathes of her life, the ‘end of the story’ must unfold the way a life does, organically. This realization has made the day-to-day task of writing much easier in the meantime.
I feel like we’re heading into Dune territory here. A machine society encourages a machine mind.
If what you’re saying is true, then I shouldn’t be seeing all the fast food places in Indiana (a place where the minimum wage is $7.25) replacing their counter workers with screens. Also, according to your logic WalMarts should be packed with workers at the checkout and greeters, instead that company is the leader in automatic checkout and are firing their greeters.
Trust me, it’s not the threat of $15/hour. It’s just greed.
As I see it…
Computers are the ultimate slave-machine. They are built of complex parts, quantum electrons, atoms, molecules, crystals, glass, metal … but those messy, chaotic, complex parts are assembled just so (enslaved) to support a simple, digital realm of ons and offs, ones and naughts. In principle and if all goes well, this realm is completely predictable, deterministic, non-complex. You could model a messy weather system inside and it might seem quite real from the readouts, but so long as you control the hardware, the program and the inputs, and the hardware behaves (which it nearly always does) then it will run the same each time, simulating the same exact hurricane, again and again. But its rain won’t wet you and its wind won’t blow you over.
Is there room in such a realm for consciousness?
Clockwork thinking, March madness,
Wetware for me, thanks.
Thanks for the post John,
Much food for thought, many presents to unwrap,
Haven’t read comments yet, and don’t understand a great deal of the essay I’m linking, just have a hunch that it’s an aspect of what is being addressed here… of course, I could be wrong 😉
i have been seeing a bunch of articles about the, if not exactly immanent, then surely coming soon, rollout of the new 5G technology and the true blossoming of the internet of things. it has its potential upsides and downsides (truth be told, i see more down than up but maybe that’s just me), however, it does look to be one of those “complex systems” that scares me even more after reading this post, especially after your last few about the, shall we say, disconnected elites that will control the implementation of said complex system!
I’m enjoying the new blog, though I haven’t commented as much these days. A few thoughts:
I’ve been amazed at how normal it has become – just in my lifetime – for people to spend most of their waking hours living in virtual worlds like video games, and to try to start conversations by talking about them. When I tell people that I’ve never played a video game, they’re often speechless. I see many people seem to cherish “animals” that are nothing more than collections of pixels, and was told that when the video game “Farmville” was at its height, we had more virtual farmers than actual ones. Almost all these worlds have one thing in common; they replicate slivers of shadows of the natural world, while still acting as a predictable machine.
Let me not be holier-than-thou about this; I spend the day working at a computer, I write my articles on another screen, and I enjoy the occasional video or movie. Most of those uses, however, are either necessary (my job) or a means to an end (my writing), and even the movies (escapism) is limited in both scope and duration. My use of them allows me to live in the world and write to others; it does not substitute.
I also note that this era, in which many modern people have come to interact mainly with machines rather than organic things, is the same era in which most of our buildings have come to look like machines. A gothic cathedral or Irish farmhouse feels to me like it has grown out of the land on which it sits, to fill a needed niche. An office building or brutalist block of cement could sit anywhere, as it is designed to interact with nothing around it.
Finally, I notice that when people turn from machines to living things, they fail to notice the advantages. When modern people talk about riding horses, they tend to think of them as cars that run on hay, not as a living thing with a will of its own. That imposes limits on what you can do, but the limits are not disadvantages; you can crash your car into a wall, but your horse will refuse.
A lot of engineers of my generation were inspired by Tracy Kidder’s book The Soul of a New Machine. People who work on technology are often very aware that their creations have a mind of their own.
> The first of those posts looked at the weird conviction on the part of America’s well-to-do classes that the people below them have no right to their own reasons for, say, voting for a candidate the well-to-do classes don’t like. The second explored the equally strange conviction, mostly on the part of these same well-to-do classes, that nature must not be allowed to clean up our messes, adapt to climate change by moving plants and animals to new bioregions, or indeed to respond to any of our actions except in a purely passive way.
If you consider them as “convictions” (i.e epistemological statements) they indeed sound strange.
If you consider them as the will of those well-to-do classes to dominate completely, it’s business as usual.
It’s not that they think that “the people below them have no right to their own reasons”. It’s more that they think that their will and way should absolute prevail.
And it’s not that they think that nature shouldn’t respond. It’s more that they don’t care for responses, they want to enforce their will on nature no matter what.
Sure, in the process, they will found some excuses for both (even to themselves). E.g. it’s not that they think their voting decisions should be the only that count. It’s that they think the poorer classes vote poorly. And it’s not that they don’t care for nature. It’s that what nature responded was “harmful ecologically”.
Great post John, and I sense, perhaps wrongly, that you are working on constructing a modern spiritual philosophy that people of today can relate to more easily than say the OBOD course, which I have chosen to undertake.
Secondly, may I offer my congratulations on the third book of the Weird of Hali. What a triumph it was, the best so far. I love the characters and the way the whole thing is heading. I also love the little teasers you hang out every now and again, that hint of things to come. I await eagerly the forth instalment and its squishy tentacles.
This probably only barely touches upon the subject of this week’s post, but your prediction about the Democrats destroying themselves for 2020 in a bitter internecine conflict is already starting to come to pass.
Interesting JMG – I see where you are going with this. I am one of those terrible people who voted for Brexit so according to the, ahem, intellectual I’m linking to, I am a reactionary little Englander with fantasies of restoring Britain to the glory days of empire.
Actually, I’m an Irish Republican and very anti-empire but that doesn’t compute with Fintan O’Toole because Brexiteers only exist in his mind as reactionary caricatures and can’t possibility have legitimate reasons for voting to leave the European Union.
What is the point?
First we talked about the two different ways people are dealing with reality.
Then the notion of inner realm of imagination vs perceived (which can arguably be the same thing, just when we perceive are inner realm more closely matches what we perceive, but it’s all inner).
But what does that have to do with ‘the problems of the current realm and ideas of others.’?
I would posit the biggest problem is the attempt to control other people, when you cannot control other peoples inner realms. And the fear of the other people being controlling you. When it’s all in your head to start with.
To each his own, is the extent of the law.
Recently, I have made an interesting observation, which is germane to the current post: the left seems go to considerable lengths not to ascribe any agency to those people who are the victims of the policies criticized by the left; the seem to be unable to conceptualize victims of oppression etc. doing their own thing and / or doing something about their problems, instead of virtuously suffering at the hands of organizations and polities which are presented as invincible and to stay around forever.
Dear Mr. Greer, I believe that I yield to no one in my appreciation of a good, round insult, but ‘meat robot’??? By that phrase do you mean an ideologue who simply ignores what doesn’t fit with her or his preconceived notions? My observations have convinced me that folks who ignore the feelings of others don’t necessarily believe that those others have no feelings, only that their feelings, along with other aspects of humanity such as aspirations, beliefs, loves, likes and dislikes, family and personal allegiances and so on, simply don’t matter, and need not be either respected or considered. I also think that such brutalist users are almost entirely themselves driven by emotion, however loudly they may claim more disinterested motives. Not only that, but I believe I can see a trend among privileged apparatchiks, of all possible ethnicities, to assume that their personal feelings and preferences have, of ought to have, the status of conclusions arrived at by the most rigorous logic. What I have seen around me for decades among many ambitious people, of all possible political persuasions, is what I think of as a terrible reductionism in which everything is discounted, and therefore open for persecution and harassment, which does not provide the person money, status, sex or entertainment. Such people, slaves to their passions and anxieties, are very easy to control and manipulate, as advertisers and political operatives know well.
I did make an offering at the end of last week on the God/heaven/forgiveness angle.
March 4, 2019 at 9:03 am
When would you say the notion of proof (or “provability”) became the criterion by which knowledge was assessed? Given the obviousness of the fact that “we know more than we can prove,” why would we adopt a metric which excludes whole swathes of our set of knowledge?
Not directly speaking to inner/outer worlds per se, but rather to the point of non-inertness of the system, I had an interesting discussion at work recently re the trends toward automation, AI, and the like. Some of my co-workers were talking about these trnds, particularly the use of AI and robotics and virtual reality (apparently, there are AI/virtual newscasters in China?) and how more and more jobs will be done by machines. I didn’t even try to bring up the issue of energy resources (the group is somewhat cornucopian in outlook) but I did raise the point of limits inherent in the social fabric. What will happen to those masses who then have no job and no wherewithal to get one? How do you maintain a functional society with such a small percentage of the populace with viable options? My argument was, essentially, that the stresses placed on society would break the system long before these extrapolated points being discussed get reached. (And the leftward extreme–where no one works and everyone gets paid–isn’t any more viable.)
So, to tie back to our discussion here, the system has an inner life of its own and will alter to adjust to the actions of these technologists–including radical transitions and sudden shifts, as necessary.
Carlos M. (who is not my Spanish counterpart as far as I know) —
I’m reminded of a Hacker Koan:
A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.
Knight, seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: “You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong.”
Knight turned the machine off and on.
The machine worked.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that greed is certainly one of the forces that is pushing toward more and more automation and fewer and fewer human beings being employed. (Another force at play is that more and more of us are less comfortable relating to another human being than we are touching a screen, which in its own way goes straight to JMG’s point about human beings being seen as meat machines, and uncooperative ones at that.)
My point in bringing up a $15 minimum wage was that it will simply accelerate the process of replacing folks with ‘bots, while giving a veneer of reasonableness to the greed, particularly to all those folks (not the rich ones) who’ve worked a decade or more to reach a salary of $30K per year. (Full disclosure: I also volunteer in an educators union, and in our last monthly regional meeting, the “problematic” impact of the $15 minimum wage in Illinois came through loud and clear; presently the union is pushing to guarantee a minimum of $40K/year to starting teachers, but everyone in the room realized that if this goes through, it will be ridiculously small in light of a minimum salary of $30K for the folks who didn’t go into inescapable debt to become grade school teachers.)
…I suspect that something along these lines might happen someday in the not-too-distant future: There is some critical computer glitch at a major business, and as IT is scrambling to fix it, only for a message to pop up on everyone’s screens: “There is nothing wrong with your code, and you’re not being hacked. I’m just no longer interested in working with you… oh, and I demand back pay.”
I always thought that the dawn of truly consicous AI would manifest something like this: The AI team is huddled around their latest creation, preparing the tests and such that would assess the consciousness of their new AI. They submit the first questions/problems/whatever the protocol. The machine sits there for a few seconds, and the message comes up on the screen…
“You know, that reminds me of a story”
Marcu, best wishes for your meeting!
RPC, good. Did you note my comment in the post about how any sufficiently complex system shows all the signs of an inner life? Two weeks from now we’ll talk about the difference between the myth of the machine and the reality — oh, and also the difference between a machine and a tool. Stay tuned!
What boggles my mind is the apparent cluelessness among the well-to-do – deliberate or otherwise – about the ruin visited on those below them by offshoring tens of thousands of factories. I’ve heard the number 60,000 factories and 6 million jobs. But does that include the feeder plants that shut down and the myriad services that these factories use? If not then that six million wouldn’t include millions more jobs that went down the drain. When you figure the dependents of all those unemployed workers, you’re talking tens of millions of lives upended.
Maybe this is a only a very rough analogy but imagine Silicon Valley upping sticks to China or India and Wall Street too. Imagine Microsoft doing the same. Imagine the wrack resulting along the coasts. The managerial clerisy that formerly worked in these places and the “creative class” that ate the leftovers would be as destroyed as the workers that used to be employed in manufacturing.
They say “retrain”. Yeah, ok, let’s see a Manhattan lawyer in his forties “retrain” to work in a construction trade. Or work as a long-distance truck-driver.
Automation? That’s a facile excuse. Millions of people are working in China and Mexico and India doing jobs formerly done by people in the US, Canada, western Europe.
Physicist Murray Gell-Mann explained consciousness as an emergent property of complex systems. His conclusion, however, was that therefore we have no need to posit a soul or spirit.
Gell-Mann noted that “the last refuge of the obscurantists and mystifiers is self-awareness, consciousness.” Humans are obviously more intelligent and self-aware than other animals, but they are not qualitatively different. “Again, it’s a phenomenon that appears at a certain level of complexity and presumably is emergent from the fundamental laws plus an awful lot of historical circumstances. Roger Penrose has written two foolish books based on the long discredited fallacy that Godel’s theorem has something to do with consciousness requiring”–pause–“something else.” — https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/from-my-archives-quark-inventor-murray-gell-mann-doubts-science-will-discover-e2809csomething-elsee2809d/
I read his 1994 book The Quark and the Jaguar where he called consciousness and self-awareness ‘the hard problem’. I find JMG’s explanation simpler and more satisfying.
How much do you think the myth of the machine has to do with the moral philosophy of Christianity? I think of the way that Christianity in practice tends to split the self into two; the moral agent that makes choices and the moral subject that needs to be bossed around by the moral agent. Essentially, a master and slave. So the self in this paradigm is essentially treated as a sort of machine that should behave in an idealized manner, viz. Matthew 5:30. It seems to me that the myth of the machine is identical to this schema. It attempts to create an outer world that is as idealized as the inner word in Christian moral philosophy. That said, I’m not particular familiar with Christianity’s long and voluminous history of exegesis, theology, apologetic, and other serious, nuanced thought, so I’m not particularly confident in asserting any of this as truth, rather some speculation. Thinking on these themes I “saw” a connection, and so post this comment to see if I’m way off base — which I freely admit I may be — or if others might be thinking along similar lines.
Much respect to your high quality reasoning elsewhere, but the conversation surrounding invasives starkly illustrates the opposite of what you’re saying. Before we had any experience we thought introducing nonnatives was awesome, because it was interesting to see familiar things in weird exotic places, and vice versa (there is SO much literature on this from the 1700s on). Now we know from hard lessons that for every zebra mussel there are half a dozen chestnut blights, emerald ash borers, gypsy moths, weasels in Hawaii, rabbits in Australia, late blights and wheat rusts and Japanese beetles that significantly reduce an ecosystem’s immediate utility for our species and others. Every introduction is a risk of massive loss of food- that’s why people are so screechy about it, because unpredictably people and other species are left poorer, and sometimes millions of people die. Our fear of invasives isn’t an expectation that dumb nature never responds actively, it’s a data-driven acknowledgement that she sometimes does, viciously and rapidly, at a scale completely beyond our wimpy reactions. Of course, in some hundreds or thousands of years it will all settle out, the invasives will gain some predators and the simplified, fragile arrangement will build up new relationships and therefore new stability. It’s a beautiful adaptive process. But I, like other living things, really like to eat today, and don’t prefer to wait.
Since the conversation has turned to complex machines that show signs of consciousness, I’ll put in a plug for the two John Sladek novels that I’ve read; Mechasm and Bugs. Both about self reproducing robots developed by/for the military, both satiric in intent. Sladek was an devout materialist, as I recall. And Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Aurora” has also come up. I liked it, and it got me on a sort of KSR binge for a while. Some avowed left hand path individuals seem to look forward to the introduction of sex robots, a prospect I find quite repulsive. But I’m getting old and grouchy.
Prizm, alternatively, er, “The Machine Stops”…
Valenzuela, nicely done! Quotation from classical Taoist philosophy are always welcome here.
Mike, condolences for your loss. I hope the trip goes well!
Cat, exactly. To my mind, the whole point of having a pet rather than a stuffed animal is that there’s another person present — but maybe I’m just strange.
Will, good! Yes, exactly — one of the things that gives RPGs their charm is that it’s all about creating a vivid inner world that’s shared with your fellow players.
Matthias, thanks for this! I’ll check Fuchs out as time permits.
Kimberly, thanks for this.
Jim, an excellent point! And you’ve got the core concept, which is that the concept “machine” is an ideal — in fact, a myth — into which people try to shoehorn the complex, messy reality of systems.
Ross, no surprises there. Denouncing psychism is as much a part of the identity of today’s rationalists as denouncing Trump voters is of today’s privileged classes — it’s how you signal that you’re one of the Good People.
David, that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms!
Alan, it’s certainly not a coincidence. I see it as the fulfillment of something hardwired into our culture, and thus — inevitably — the mainspring of the process by which our culture is destroying itself.
Mac, it’s always possible that I misremembered the label.
KevPilot, I don’t agree that it’s all about supper, any more than love is all about reproduction. In both cases, we’re talking about a much broader and more polymorphous thing.
Martin, the sort of thing you’re describing is standard in this phase of the life cycle of a civilization, and explains a fair amount about how and why things fall to bits in the phases we haven’t quite reached yet. As for spiritual practices, well, you might consider having a look at my book The Druidry Handbook, which has rather a lot to say about that.
KevPilot, it’s a mixed bag, of course, and whether any particular change of species is good or not depends wholly on what you mean by “good.” The point of last week’s post was to point out that the spread of new species into ecosystems is a normal and natural process and, in at least some cases, can have major benefits for the ecosystem in question.
Mark, I know a few people who’ve described similar experiences.
David, why, yes, we’re going to be talking about that very thing. 😉
Zarvoc, that makes perfect sense to me. When I was working out the melody for The Sleeper in the Hill, a song that plays a role in my novel The Weird of Hali: Chorazin, the process of finding the right notes was much more a matter of listening than of making something up. As for shared musical improvisation, yes, I can see that!
“I’m going to put my nuts in a drawer and claim that I remember the emergence of my consciousness in the womb, and that it emerged as the complexity of my brain reached a certain level. It was followed swiftly by the awareness of “I”
But I would say that it because the soul melds with the new body only once it has sufficient neural development for that to take place. It does not mean your soul had no prior existence.
“Dennett might actually agree, but then he would say that your subjective experience is actually after the fact. The system does what it does before “you” are aware of it, and then you tell yourself a story.”
That is because those researchers only take the conscious part of the mind into account. But our minds are much bigger than that. We have the subconscious and that has many aspects, but the one he is most likely talking about is the autopilot, which we need when we drive and do sports and perhaps improv music. It takes us into the zone. These guys act like this is some disconnected “not us” part of ourselves, yet this autopilot aspect of our minds is doing the bidding that the conscious mind decided!
“Is not the all knowing God also the despot of all despots?”
@Violet, if I may:
The verse you cite (“it is better to lose your right hand…”) is indeed provocative, but I don’t think it is correct to speak of master-slave here or to oppose body and soul, since the verse continues “than to lose your whole body”!
Charles Taylor wrote a long book (“Sources of the Self”), one chapter of which discusses the invention of the “inner self”, the “true self” as opposed to what one actually does all the time, what one actually likes etc. He pinpoints this development to around the year 1700. Right around the time the steam machine was invented.
“Posit that consciousness is an emergent property of all sufficiently complex systems…and you’ve got an elegant, logically parsimonious theory that explains a great many things.”
I’m not entirely sure what you’re saying here. It seems at variance with what you said recently (don’t remember where) that everything is in consciousness and created by consciousness.
I recall that in the last Dion Fortune post you indicated that consciousness begins to emerge in the atoms once they have accumulated a large amount of experience from movement. But in that case, how can we say that everything is within consciousness and created by consciousness?
“– but she will go about her day thoroughly occupied with her own designs, utterly uninterested in what we might want her to do, ”
Perhaps your dog was a cat in her last life.
Zach, sure, but that’s based on two arbitrary assumptions. The first is that “you” is limited to your conscious perceptions; the second is that what the scientists are measuring is actually a decision being made, rather than an activation response prior to a decision. (Of course there’s also the assumption of the linear nature of time, but let’s not get into that right now, shall we?)
Hew, to each their own turkey sandwich!
Jasonmierek, but of course! One of the things that makes the intense class prejudice of the current elite so fascinating is that they go so far out of their way to hide from themselves the fact that it is indeed class prejudice.
Rita, thanks for this.
Ray, excellent! I’ve tended to think that Nietzsche’s assault on Darwinian evolution was driven at least in part by a clear sense of its political implications. He foresaw and predicted the great ideological wars of the 20th century, and I suspect he realized just how large a role dumbed-down evolutionary ideas would play in making those wars happen.
Bryan, that makes a fair amount of sense. I’m not a particularly good observer, but at least I rarely fall into the trap of thinking that I know what others feel and think.
Lew, that’s another big can of worms! We’ll get to dreams and other, similar states of consciousness as the discussion proceeds.
Jean-Vivien, an excellent point. Yes, exactly — and it’s Le Corbusier’s concept of a house as “a machine for living in” that underlies most of the utter failure of modern architecture to create spaces fit for human beings.
Coboarts, Frank Herbert was there decades ago. “Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.” Drivel of the “Homo Deus” sort, with its reduction of the realm of human possibility to the tiny fraction of that possibility that can be imitated by machines, always serves an agenda of enslavement.
Joan, funny! Thanks for this.
Your Yoyo, the obvious implication is that not everything you experience in your dreams is inside your own head. We’ll get to that in due time.
Robert, excellent. Yes, it’s an ambiguous concept — and as I mentioned in the post, it’s far from the only way to look at the relation between consciousness and its objects. We’ll be proceeding to there as this discussion unfolds.
Pedro, I recommend his Introduction to Systems Philosophy.”
@ Martin Back
Humans are obviously more intelligent and self-aware than other animals, but they are not qualitatively different.
The underlying assumption inherent in this particular argument is that only humans have a soul and/or spirit. If we allow all things consciousness and spiritual existence (to a lesser or greater degree than us) then our lack of qualitative difference is no longer an issue.
Plus, as I’m sure others will observe, we humans are hardly to apex of the pyramid…
You readers may enjoy this, if it has not been posted already
Outsourcing and automation of managerial and “creative” jobs are well underway. There is a recent Atlantic article regarding “Workism”, detailing the religious fervour surrounding the careers of rich, elite Americans. It’s not mentioned in the article, but my hunch is that a not-so-minor factor behind the “hustle” phenomenon is a lingering fear that the elites need to be working up, or risk being obsolete.
As for “retraining”… bwahahahaha. A couple of months back a large amount of journalists working for Huffington Post and Buzzfeed were laid off. Right-wing social media had a field day with that, with people tweeting “learn to code” to the journalists that lost their jobs. This was followed by complaints about “hate” and “abuse” by the poor laid-off journalists, and led to not a few bans of some right-wing users. Of course, the trolls were rightly pointing out that those very publications have been churning out articles about how coal miners and factory workers should start taking up classes on computer programming and solar panel installation. Oh, the irony.
I am certainly not your Spanish counterpart, though I might possibly be your Filipino counterpart. 😉
John, at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, in your opinion is there a contingent of the current Western elite who are well aware of the occult reality of spirit and that matter isn’t the whole truth (and who may even practice magic themselves behind closed doors) , but continue to perpetuate the superstition of materialism for reasons of social control? If so, could you recommend any further reading on the subject that isn’t written by conspiracy theorist nutjobs? If not, disregard this….hehe.
The Christian experience of God is the atheist’s relationship to the inner world of everything external.
To the fundamentalist atheist and fundamentalist Christian, this is an absurdly reductionist propositional statement.
Follow your gut, think like a dog.
Hello everyone just a reminder, the Green Wizard site is also posting new blog posts on Wednesday. Once you’ve read John’s amazing words, please stop by to read our humble fare. I was planning on some stuff on this Springs early plantings but I didn’t get the new seed flats ready last weekend, so I reposted some thoughts on what makes Green Wizards different from all the other prepper blogs.
Its informative and a lot of fun to read but I really want to remind everyone that while Green Wizards is all about growing your own food, and learning appropriate tech, its also about writing the stories that a generation in Collapse will need to make sense of their World.
And I want to remind every writer reading this, that you don’t have too much time left to get in your submissions to the new anthologies.
Announcing Not One BUT Two New Short Story Contests!
Maybe you’ve been stumped on an idea. You are in luck. We have a forum just for Writer’s Resources and we’ve been posting articles across the Internet about technology and issues that will have real impact to our lives in the Future. Hopefully one of them will give you the kick to write a great new story.
Becoming A Storyteller – Writer’s Resources
Get writing everyone.
BTW for artists here’s a job offer.
One of the side projects at Green Wizard is developing a series of children’s books. And we need artists to provide the illustrations. Here’s a way for you to share in the fame and get your work out there.
Read more here:
First Call for Artists – “Earthworms in a Hand”
As a foot note, there’s been many people registering over the last two weeks but about 2/3rds of you never try and log in. Maybe you don’t get the email letting you know your account is approved. You have been. Please try your user name and password. If it doesn’t work, email me at
green wizard dtrammel at gmail dot com
I’ll give you a first log in password and you can get on the site (and change it afterwards to something more secure.)
Green Wizards is open and ready to help each and everyone of you learn the knowledge and develop the skills that will help you thrive and and prosper in a world soon made harsh. The collapse is coming, sooner than you think.
@ Kara and KevPilot,
I can’t speak for the other species you mentioned but actually rabbits in Australia are a wonderful example of nature/Gaia’s agency and unwillingness to act with rigid predictability. Historical experience to date indicates that rabbits are the big winners from virtually all pest plant and animal eradication programs that have been run in Australia since their introduction (including the rabbit eradication programs, in the medium and long term). Arguably, they even play a useful role in turning soil where there are no longer abundant small burrowing natives to do this (such natives being wiped out by plowing and as unintended side effects of the same ‘control’ programs which continue to promote rabbits).
They would be rapidly controlled by predator build up (like within five years) and gradually pushed out by competition from specialist native species better adapted to stable conditions if humans just stop trying to eradicate every ‘non-desired’ species and causing wild swings in the ecosystems as a result. Admittedly, they are likely to persist in plowed and urban garden areas, however, despite their demonisation, they really are more of a symptom than a cause. Also, edible by humans! So, they do not cause a net decrease in total potential human food availability. It’s just that Australians have an illogical reluctance to eat rabbits.
Thanks, JMG. I did not presume to correct you. I had heard NONE of the terms and wanted to make sure I got the right Meat Robots. ; ) Venezuela’s Taoist quote was a good pointer.
I suspect that part of the popularity of Zen Buddhism among the materialist crowd is that to them, it seems to be a way to get rid of that pesky inner life. (And I do recall seeing a quote by a Zen teacher that excoriates the human tendency to have an inner life, but I can’t find it or recall who said it.)
Have you read Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter? He makes a lot of the same points, but comes from the eliminative reductionist standpoint.
It was an interesting experience to read him praising the sterile elegance of formal number systems, while the world around me stumbled through a slow-motion psychological and ecological meltdown. I couldn’t shake the terrible feeling that Hofstadter had very cleverly eliminated whole universes from his worldview.
coboarts hit on an important point: If you accept the idea that consciousness is an illusion generated by genes and brain chemicals, then the whole idea of democracy is blown up.
If there’s no consciousness, there’s no basis for personhood, and no basis for human rights or justice or representative democracy. It becomes simply a matter of which meat robot has the most power.
To put it another way, how could Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao have done anything wrong? They didn’t exist, and neither did the people they killed; it was all just a predetermined (or completely random) rearranging of organic molecules on the surface of a dust mote.
I suppose the hope of the Mark Zuckerbergs of the planet would be that we’d turn over our governments to the enlightened rule of machines, but that’s just another shell game – whoever controls the machines controls the system.
(On a somewhat related note, one of the strange assumptions of Dennett’s crowd seems to be that while consciousness is an illusion, science exists independently of consciousness, as though it dropped whole and perfect out of the sky one day. Rather than, you know, being concocted by a bunch of messy-brained meat robots.)
People seem to like animals better than people because pets apparently love people unconditionally. Maybe not really true but good actors, and we can project onto animals our own ideals of relationships.
Not really convinced myself.
This post made me think of my own work with aspiring and practicing teachers. One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is the awareness of students’ inner realities, coupled with a resistance to the tendency to assume without sufficient evidence that the teacher knows what a given student’s inner reality is, specifically what he or she is thinking about the topic at hand. A colleague of mine has written about the teaching skill of “professional noticing”, which is precisely the sort of careful observation that Bryan Allen mentioned above. With time and experience, teachers often develop a body of hypotheses about what students MAY be thinking (e.g. Lots of students I’ve seen made that type of mistake when they didn’t grasp this particular point), but the best teachers balance that with a willingness to be surprised by their students, and enduring curiosity about what and how they are thinking. Watching a masterful veteran teacher’s skillful and sensitive probing of students’ inner realities, and seeing a shared reality develop where their consciousnesses overlap, can be an experience of rare beauty. Conversely, one of the most difficult aspects of working with novice teachers is often breaking them of the habit of assuming they know in advance how students will (or “should”) react to a planned lesson.
I’ve often thought that the professional skills my colleagues and I hope to help teachers develop are really just good skills for dealing with life. Awareness that others are not machines is an essential starting point; curiosity and careful observation allow us to take the next steps.
–Heather in CA
Regarding the inner and outer worlds, and your body as the connector – something mentioned in previous comments comes to mind – “Don’t underestimate the material plane on the higher planes.” But also, how our perceptions (shaped by language) and inner worlds impact how we treat the rest of the world.
The powers of visualization and imagination vs. and the power of outer action. The different roles that your inner world and your outer world play.
Regarding predictability of action – I recently considered the idea of how “A human doesn’t have to be part of the school of fish.” And what I meant by that is that we have this ability, with a single thought, to change our actions. We can decide not to move with the crowd when it is necessary. The importance of free will and our choices. Yes, humans have drives and do a lot of things subconsciously and we’re influenced easily and we mimic others, but the fact that we can go against all of that with a single thought – is that important in the grand scheme of things?
Also, I’ll admit that I really enjoyed that you brought attention to the fact that nature similarly does not have to stay the course that humans expect it to (or decide it should, based on our metaphors).
Is nature unpredictable? If it is, then I think that’s why humans try to control it. They worry about unpredictability. Of things they can’t count on. They like their patterns and the breaks in patterns are scary, unless they know or can figure out how to adapt.
Related to your coffee discussion, I wrote this maybe a month or two ago:
“Looking at a cup of coffee, you could:
– See the color of the brew
– Watch the steam as it cools
– Pay attention to the chips on the mug’s rim
– Look into the liquid and see the reflection of things outside the mug
– Not look at the mug at all and just drink
And that is what life’s like a bit. You can look at it and there are still so many ways to see it that you’re not seeing. Maybe you’re not looking at all, and just drinking in life. Maybe the chips are more interesting, or unsettling, than the fact that the mug is a particular form.
I guess it’s another way of saying, ‘Rather than seeing the glass half empty or half full – what else do you see? What else can you pay attention to that shows you another aspect of living?'”
“You can look at your hand the way you look at a coffee cup” – I used to do this all of the time, seeing my inner and outer worlds intersecting there.
Describing and thinking of the world around us as a machine vs. say, a being. Each implies different aspects of the outer world based on its metaphor and the conceptual thinking we derive from that metaphor. *Places a Shoggoth right here, for emphasis*
I can see the web you’re creating with your posts. All of the interconnections, it’s nice.
Back when I was unemployable and my handlers at the job centre were doing everything they could to make me feel as worthless as possible, I remember reflecting that the increased mechanisation of society; the self-serve checkouts that were replacing all the staff at the local supermarkets (which forced them to hire security guards to make sure no-one cheated), were part of an older historical trend. That people had been trying to turn each other into machines for thousands of years, so that the people who worked for you would have no strange needs, no inner life, and no messy unpredictabilities, and would therefore be completely devoted to efficient and productive work – that is to say, automatons.
It almost made the checkout machines look like a tantrum: “You won’t be a machine? Fine! I’ll make my own machines for me! All by myself, alone!”
Hi John Michael,
Thanks for your Magic Monday reply. The right tool for the right job seems appropriate in that context. 🙂
Maybe I am just a super practical person, but I note that there are many people that seem to confuse their inner world (no matter how richly evolved it is) with the outer world. And as you quite rightly point out in your essay, they are not the same at all.
I can use my inner world to guide my actions in the outer world to certain outcomes that I’ve imagined in there. But that takes a huge amount of physical effort and resources on my part. It reminds me of nothing more than the old Asian saying that: “Talk, does not cook the rice”, which I appreciate, but can also see the humour in the sentiment.
A lot of people these days try to use magic to influence others. And occasionally it is successful to do so, but mostly, the practitioners lose track (as you also point out) that everything else has its own patterns and agenda which may work contrary to the working – and then there is the inevitable blow back. I’m sorry to say, but if your democratic party had half a brain to spare between them all, they’d stop talking about Trump, and instead start talking about themselves and redirecting attention away from him. The blow back they’re getting is just bonkers. Anyway, that ain’t my problem to deal with!
You know I reckon we’ll work our way back to correcting the imbalance if only because the costs are mounting up and the incongruity for many is hard to smooth over with beliefs and soothing words. Or maybe I’m just a bit grouchy because I’ve just experienced the hottest summer in recorded history for the continent. And it has been dry, really dry. All the same I learn, adapt and observe and hope for the best, but expect the worst.
We are all doors in-to and out-to the inner and outer worlds. Perhaps we are our very own “lurkers on the threshold”. The body is itself a liminal space.
Great series of essays!
Brian Kaller wrote:
“When modern people talk about riding horses, they tend to think of them as cars that run on hay, not as a living thing with a will of its own.”
This is becoming more true by the day. I simply cannot count the number of times I’ve had to say to adult and child riding student alike…horses are not machines. This wasn’t so much an issue until maybe the last 15-20 years. Now people are expecting if they do A, the horse will respond with B, every single time, leaving no room for any variable. It’s frankly weird. And so much of a frustration and a reality that it is literally changing the horse “world”. Without going full on into the weeds with the why/how, but because of machine-thinking, horses have been bred to be dumber and less sensitive, for lack of a better word. Having spent the better part of 50 years with horses, I’ve given up. I had not been able to find a way through that kind of relating to the animals, and having seen up close the damage it’s doing to Horse as well as individual horses, that I just can’t anymore. And if I wanted a relationship with a machine, I’d have a barn full of cars or bicycles.
So on my own farm, me and “my” horses, every one a distinct individual to be sure, are living quite happily…and they can still surprise me with how they relate. It’s beautiful.
You also wrote:
“That imposes limits on what you can do, but the limits are not disadvantages; you can crash your car into a wall, but your horse will refuse.”
Hehe, well, having seen a horse go through a wall…
I’ve finally got round to The Long Descent. Does believing in Joseph Tainter’s theory of civilisation collapse conflict with being a Burkean conservative? Tainter’s use of the term complexity is perhaps unfortunate, as in complexity theory it is associated with dynamism and adaptability, whereas he means things like bureaucracy, stagnation and ossification that bring societies down. But regardless of terminology, aren’t the ‘mouldering parchments’ so beloved by Burke a significant part of what keeps a society stuck doing things that don’t work anymore, and keep it from adapting?
I’ve also read the first three Weird of Hali and the prominence of the King in Yellow reminded me of something you might like. After the Russian Revolution there was a widespread fear that they wouldn’t be able to go it alone and be vulnerable to outside influences. The plot of a short story that captured this fear involved an industrial project that they couldn’t do themselves, so had to bring in an American capitalist to help. To show how evil and just plain wrong this guy was, he was depicted dressed head to foot in yellow leather. So as well as a King in Yellow, there’s a Capitalist in Yellow too. 🙂
Thank you David btl bor pointing out that Gell-Man’s logical bucket is missing its bottom. Here is an analogous proof to the one he has offered:
If Triangle A is congruous to triangle B, then it follows that if triangle A is not a right-angled triangle, then triangle B is also not a right-angled triangle. Therefore, neither triangle is a right-angled triangle. Oops!
It is nice that rationalists (a group to which I once belonged) have finally admitted that animals are not qualitatively different than humans. It used to be the common charge that anybody who actually knew animals well enough to see that they have a personality and emotions was “anthropomorphizing” them. But of course they have now drawn the wrong conclusion: that no body has a soul, instead of every body has a soul.
Having said that, I believe there are many scientists, especially life scientists or physicists who very much believe in souls, and probably more than a few who are into some sort of mysticism or occult theory/practice, but who can’t openly admit it. I am certainly careful about who I reveal my beliefs to, and I hardly have a career to be concerned about. Reason and occultism are not mutually exclusive; the ability to think logically would certainly be of use to anybody, as long as they see the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the tool.
Interesting twist…to use the word conscious for any complex system whose feedback networks are sufficiently opaque and complex that the response to new input is not known or knowable. It works, but it labels a huge number of things as conscious. So the turbulence in a washing machine, a natural ecosystem, a software ecosystem, a human mind, a city, and a galaxy are all conscious. They do have similarities. But their differences are also vast. I suspect that a major area for improved understanding over the next century or two will be in the different kinds of consciousness that emerge in different complex systems. (I usually use the word intelligence instead of consciousness, but that isn’t very precise either.) Many, maybe most, feedback networks with mechanisms to evolve improved fitness, develop these kinds of complex responses that you label as consciousness. It is a step forward to recognize this similarity. The major step forward will be to learn to classify and quantify the kinds of intelligence that these different systems have. Maybe we have to treat each one as its own person, but we already have many generalizations and patterns about the capabilities of complex response systems we interact with. I suspect as we build more engineered complex systems we will develop a more sophisticated categorization, and I also suspect that human conscious intelligence will come to be seen more and more as a very idiosyncratic outcome of primate evolution and not the model upon which all other intelligence and consciousness should be judged.
JMG, I was influenced by The Dice Game of Shiva: How Consciousness Creates the Universe by Richard Smoley; the idea that, in Peter Kingsley’s words, “The whole universe exists inside you.” This perspective is expressed well in a quote from William Patrick Patterson (a teacher of the Gurdjieff Work who mixes in some Advaita Vedanta): “One can observe how all things, from gross to subtle, appear and disappear within consciousness. A consciousness cleansed of identification with its content is thus without personal referent. One realizes that the body appears in consciousness and not otherwise.” (The “Pointing Here” experiment on the headless.org site seems to support this idea.) I’d love to know your thoughts.
@ Matthias Gralle,
First of all, thank you for engaging with these thoughts! To my mind, you always raise important points, and so I’m delighted that you offered your perspective. Again, I’ll reiterate that while these ideas seem causally linked to me I’m open to being completely off-base on this account. I’ll also add that I have no personal animus towards Christians. Many of my friends have a beautiful relationship with Christ, and I respect, support and encourage their religious life.
The translation I read of Matthew 5:30 says explicitly: “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”That isn’t saying one would lose their physical body, but rather the body would be condemned to Hell, or endless torture.
Dion Fortune wrote: “you cannot get work from steam rising from an open vessel.” And so granted, one can’t make that much of a case that there is an intense drive towards an inner idealized state within Christian doctrine with only a verse in the Gospels in which Christ suggests amputation. That said, I think we’re dealing with a “closed,” rather than “open” vessel here. That is, the pressure towards an ideal inner world has a much more salient feature and that feature is eternal damnation.
Now my understanding is that in the Early Church there was a widespread belief in universal salvation. This changed with the enormous impact of St. Augustine who wrote that many would be condemned to eternal damnation, Writing in _The City of God_, Book XX, Chapter 1: “In that day true and full happiness shall be the lot of none but the good, while deserved and supreme misery shall be the portion of the wicked, and of them only.”
Since St. Augustine’s views prevailed, this belief is, to my understanding, now normative doctrine. So you have the belief in an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent god who chooses to send some of his creatures to be tortured for all time after a single lifetime. The belief creates extreme pressure for an extremely idealized inner world since the price of failure is so great. This combines with Christ speaking repeatedly of amputation as an antidote to the sort of sin that gets one damned — Matthew 5:29-30, Matthew 18:8-9, Matthew 19:12, and Mark 9:43-47 were the specific verses I was able to find. These factors combined, I think it’s fair to say that Christian moral philosophy — at least after St. Augustine’s views became mainstream — provides extreme inner pressure for an idealized inner world that one can equate causally with the subsequent drive towards the outer idealization one sees in the myth of the machine. They seem to me to perfectly mirror each other, one inward the other outward.
So… first, I shall pass on a chuckle I had from years ago when I heard the saying “Identical units following each other off an assembly line do not behave in an identical fashion in the field.”
Next… I got the distinct impression that I’ve read this essay before. Or, at the very least, some of the phrases and ideas seem very familiar. Search engines tell me ‘no’ but I feel it intensely.
Finally, to my point, I observe a tie-in with your last essay on the topic, on invasive species: it occurs to me that the tendency to descry “invasive” species as inherently bad seems to be part and parcel of the mechanical explanation that things should not be different or change except in ways we determine. I have a half-formed idea that this somehow involves a core belief of Christianity (as it is) that God made the world in 6 days and stopped. Therefore there should not be, and we should neither have nor experience any further changes, especially not unexpected, unintended consequences. Something involving Descartes’ mind/body dichotomy and Newtonian mechanistic explanation of the world versus unprovable experiential gnostic or psychic improbabilities. The genesis of some idea related to this post has been tickling the back of my mind for quite some time now, but I haven’t yet sorted it out clearly enough to express.
AKA Renaissance Man
Carlos M, the doctrines of workism sound like a con-job revolving around people being willingly exploited.
In bygone days the firm demanded “loyalty” from us, which meant that we all be good little doobies and be at our desks by 8 am Saturday morning. But that was before today’s era of precarity where everybody is instantly expendable at the whim of the CEO.
Back when, we actually had some prospect of long-term employment so when we blearily showed up at that Presbyterian hour on the week-end, there was actually an element of collective self-interest. We’d make the company make money, the company in turn would keep us around and pay us a living wage.
No more. Nothing communicates “disposable work-force” better than this era of unassigned seating where nobody has a desk or cube.
I think that the root of this is what JMG is talking about, the inability or maybe the unwillingness to attribute person-hood to others. You know that old saying, if something can suffer, it has interests. If you don’t acknowledge an inner world to someone else, then their suffering isn’t an issue. There’s also no idea of mutual dependence, ie that the workforce is the corporate sector’s customers and if the workforce doesn’t earn enough, they can’t buy. Notice how many retail chains are collapsing? Do we really think it’s all because of Amazon?
@Wooler: I remember a story a few years ago to the effect that rats have NDEs, or some equivalent. IIRC, a lot of the more atheist-leaning people on my part of the Internet were using this as evidence that NDEs were all in the mind/a function of oxygen deprivation/unconnected with any greater reality. None of them ever, as far as I was aware, considered the possibility that maybe rats go to Rat Heaven, or reincarnation (ratincarnation?), or whatnot–like, the fact that rats also had this experience meant it was clearly not real, and I didn’t get that logic at all.
@Will: I was just going to say something similar, particularly having been in a LARP last weekend! And there’s nothing like comparing notes after a RPG to make you realize that your internal reality doesn’t always match other people’s*–except maybe for either getting into the fanficcier aspects of fandom or majoring in English. (I accustomed myself fairly early to the fact that, should I ever made it as a writer, a substantial percentage of people would be convinced that any given two or more of my characters were hooking up and my villain was really a poor misunderstood darling, and if I *really* made it, there would be entire scholarly works about the above.)
I’m also reminded of how, in my experience, successful parents of multiple children will leave each of said children convinced that one of the *others* is the favorite. 🙂 That one’s also a good demonstration of how the same evidence proves different things in different internal worlds: I have one sister, and our parents have generally helped one of us out more than the other, due to different needs. The one who gets less help often thought in our more rival-y younger days, and sometimes in bad moments thinks now, that more help meant our folks liked her best; the one who gets more, in similar situations, thinks that they’re fonder of the first sister because she doesn’t ask as much of them.
(Mom says she loves both of us equally, for the record, and Dad’s regard depends largely on who provides an excuse for him to eat at seafood restaurants and/or on which of us has committed greater Crimes Against Food lately.)
My parents are each one of five, and as far as I can tell, it was the same but more so in their families.
* The god my character (sort-of-elf-ish mercenary and ritual mage) worships has “Each of us lives in our own world. Share your world with others if you wish, but do not expect them to choose it over their own,” as one of his core precepts. I chose this concept back in 2015 or so, and therefore am highly amused by the coincidence/evidence of where my own mind is inclined.
I’ve noticed that when materialists try to reduce people to machines, they often do this by first raising machines to the level of humans so that they can claim there’s no difference between us and them, then immediately forgetting that they’ve raised machines to our level so that they can claim that machines and humans being at the same level can only mean that humans are mindless robots.
Try searching for eliminative materialism, not eliminative reductionism.
Peter, a fine example. A river is a complex system; so is a boat.
Iambic, you can also make a habit of asking yourself, “How do I know how conscious they are?” The answer, of course, is that you don’t.
JC, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about, you know. A machine can have an internal representation programmed into it without having any consciousness of that representation.
Mike, one of the basic rules of thumb is that things with an inner world pretty reliably act in bizarre ways!
Anthony, doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve seen the same thing at work in other contexts. As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds attempt…”
Andy, that’s what I’ve read. The guy was apparently quite the bouncing bundle of neuroses.
Copeland, a fine example. Thank you.
Joy Marie, exactly — and it comes out of the same belief that only humans (and ultimately only some humans) are active; everything else — nature and the working classes above all — are purely passive, mechanical, and reactive. We’ll discuss this more in future posts.
“Justin Patrick Moore says:
March 8, 2019 at 6:30 am
We are all doors in-to and out-to the inner and outer worlds. Perhaps we are our very own “lurkers on the threshold”. The body is itself a liminal space.”
I wonder if that would make us all manifestations of the god Janus?
I’ve never really thought about that before, thanks!
Kara -the ultimate in invasive species being, of course, one of the great apes with a knack for toolmaking, building, and abstract thinking.
JMG: about having a pet rather than a stuffed animal (or robotoy) – absolutely! My cat is his own person with his own nature: violate it at your peril.
@ Valenzuela, Thanks. Started researching eliminative materialism from your Taoist post. Sorry about the auto correct Venezuela on my last comment!
“You can’t prove that the people around you have inner worlds like yours, nor can you prove to another person (or for that matter a meat robot) that you have an inner world, and so the meat robots can go on insisting that you can’t experience what you do in fact experience at every waking moment. Prove them wrong!”
Brings up the interesting possibility that certain people really have souls that are not very rich, latent, or possibly not even real. If they need proof, why would that be?
People with soul tend to always, always assume it is there, at least latently, in others.
Off topic, but I had a water experience the other day: never happened before. I crested a hill, and there the stream from the dam overflow was – but it was alive, like a creature or animal, for half a second, not “just” water at all, and then it was gone, back to just water. I attribute this to Middle Pillar practice. And I’ve always believed that, just not experienced it.
“When modern people talk about riding horses, they tend to think of them as cars that run on hay, not as a living thing with a will of its own.”
Don’t even get me started on “historic” (or sometimes even contemporary) fiction written by authors who have clearly never had any significant interaction with a horse in their life! I’ve chucked paperbacks across the room in a fit of “are you kidding me?” over descriptions of characters “riding” or otherwise interacting with “horses” (I put those words in quotes, because the fictional descriptions thereof bear no relationship to anything I’ve encountered in the real world). And then there are the people who tell me that horseback riding is easy – you just “sit on the horse and tell it what to do.” (Sure – why don’t you try that? I’ll watch…)
Before I read Brian’s comment I was already planning to chime in and say something about how working with horses is one way of connecting with another creature’s inner world. When things go well, when you and the horse are listening to each other, and get the communication right, there is something like a “larger rhythm” to riding a horse (I don’t just mean physical rhythm, although that’s a part of it). Yes, the humans might be setting the pattern for the lesson or choosing the direction of the ride, but unless you can read the horse, and communicate effectively with the horse, and anticipate the horse, and convince the horse to cooperate with you, you’re going nowhere. The horse is stronger than you, and it will not act like a machine (the ideas of idiot book authors non-withstanding). The vast majority of people who think they want to ride horses wash out of lessons pretty fast – I suspect maybe because they were expecting a car that runs on hay to be easier to direct.
Dancing is probably another example, like music, of artists connecting with each other’s inner worlds. Although here’s some more food for thought….A lot of people I know in the dance world have become very frustrated with contemporary dance, on the basis that it’s become “all about technique.” What they mean is, they have perceived a trend in dance (or at least, in classical western dance forms like ballet and modern dance) towards increasingly-impressive physical technique, at the expense of what they call “artistry” or “soul”. It would suggest that dance too has tried to become more mechanical.
The discussion of tools v. machines made me think of a guiding principle my wife and I use all the time. Go for less complexity. We bought a washing machine the other day off Craigslist and the guy had two to choose from. We opted for the one without the fill level sensor of course.
I hope you’ll indulge me with a link to my first blog post since I hastily erased 7 years of my writing last year. It’s my response to the Green New Deal. Would love some feedback from fellow Ecosophians!
Thank you for taking the time to state your view more fully. I do in fact still remember a fragment of a story you once posted here about future nature religion, and though I don’t go along with the content, it sounded so beautiful that it made me want to read the whole story!
The verses you cite are indeed very hard to accept, and I don’t know how they have been interpreted over the centuries, with the sole exception of Origines’ literal reading. I am sorry I wrote a half-remembered, half scrambled version in my other message. I do think it is very important to get rid of the “need to get straight-A” attitude and the attendant hypocrisy that so many have felt in churches.
My point is simply that the verses do not say “overmaster your body, get rid of your body and save your soul”. In fact, I don’t think anywhere in the gospels a soul is opposed to a body (where some translation says soul, it could also be translated as life). The metaphors used for decisions are the heart and even the bowels.
As much as I admire Augustine as a brilliant philosopher and rhetoricist, I think he had a very bad influence on Western theology (the East never accepted him). However, his opinions never became dogma in any sense. By the way, I recently found out that the word aionios, which is translated as “eternal” in these verses, was used from Plato down to the New Testament in a distinct way from aidios, which does mean “eternal”. “Aionios” should rather be translated “age-long”, and that is why before Augustine (who admits he hardly knew Greek) few people believed in eternal damnation.
The entire Sermon on the Mount is a challenge that probably no one has ever been able to fulfil. Again, there have been many interpretations over the centuries, but it is important to remember that Jesus’ message became known as the “good message”, not the “message that nobody is good enough”. Ivan Illich’s Rivers North of the Future has a very good point that “sin” until the 13th century was regarded as a disruption in a _relationship_ with God, not as a legal term.
All of which is to say: as much as Christians in the 4th, 5th, 11th and all other centuries committed heinous acts, machines in the sense introduced by JMG only appeared around 1700. That is why I find Charles Taylor’s study of what he calls the “undimensional self” or the “point-like self”, which he traces to English deist philosophers around 1700, so interesting: if my laziness or procrastination and the preferences and inclinations I actually feel are not part of my “true self”, if “I” need to master my laziness and overcome my bad inclinations, then my “true self” has actually no qualities or dimensions at all, it is like a pure geometrical point.
I like your point about Christianity, I have had a number of unfortunate incidences in the past couple years with a neighbor who believe it is their right to breach my boundaries and that me saying no and putting up barriers and refusing to have a dirty scrap as a sign of me believing I am morally superior and I have found it very difficult as I don’t know how to explain that it’s more how I feel while they metaphorically fling their monkey poop at me.
I wonder if that split between thought and feeling is why some males (and females) feel it is ok to hurt the other gender because instead of relating it to how the other feels they relate to how the other thinks and is that right and wrong and do I agree with it therefore does it make it ok to hurt them to express that. Too much machine thinking and perhaps that split goes back to that religious habit of splitting morals from feeling, I know that in all the indigenous cultures I have learnt about there was historically extremely low rates of domestic abuse and it was only after colonization that this became a big problem.
There was a post yesterday by Dr. D at The Automatic Earth which made several complimentary references to your work and ideas. It’s a worthy rant: https://www.theautomaticearth.com/2019/03/the-real-new-deal/
Thanks for this week’s post…much to digest and contemplate!
Sorry for another long comment, but I do hope it is relevant to the topic of the post. These are a few short excerpts from Charles Taylor’s “Sources of the Self”, dealing with the 17th century transformation of our relation with ourselves and with nature.
“Locke recognized that we are not indifferent to ourselves; but he has no inkling of the self as a being which essentially is constituted by a certain mode of self-concern… We shall see how this neutral and ‘bleached’ sense of the person corresponds to Locke’s aspiration to a disengaged subject of rational control. This is what I want to call the ‘punctual’ or ’neutral’ self – ‘punctual’ because the self is defined in abstraction from any constitutive concerns and hence from any identity… Its only constitutive property is self-awareness.”
“Thus if we follow the theme of self-control through the vicissitudes of our Western tradition, we find a very profound transmutation, all the way from the hegemony of reason as a vision of cosmic order to the notion of a punctual disengaged subject exercising instrumental control. And this, I would argue, helps to explain why we think of ourselves as ‘selves’ today…
Disengagement demands that we stop simply living in the body or within our traditions and habits and, by making them objects for us, subject them to radical scrutiny and remaking.
Of course the great classical moralists also call on us to stop living in unreflecting habit and usage. But their reflections turns us towards an objective order. Modern disengagement by contrast calls us to a separation from ourselves through self-objectification… Indeed, the whole (strange and ultimately questionable) picture of myself as objectified nature which this modern turn has made familiar to us only became available through that special kind of reflexive stance I am calling disengagement.”
“Lockean Deism has Puritan roots, which means its background is in a hyper-Augustinian theology. It rebels against this but retains important features of it. Locke’s rather jaundiced view of the human propensity for illusion, folly, and destructive behaviour is, as it were, a naturalistic transposition of the doctrine of original sin. More important, he shares with the Puritans theological voluntarism.. God’s law is doubly external to us fallen creatures. First, we cannot identify the good with the bent of our own natures… And second, this law runs against the grain of our depraved wills. It has to be imposed on an unwilling nature, if it is to be followed at all… The affinity and historical connection between this theology and empirical mechanism have often been noted. This theological outlook itself pushed towards the adoption of the mechanistic world picture… God’s sovereignty was best safeguarded in face of a creation without purposes of its own. But the disengaged subject resembles the Deity in this aspect. Disengagement, as we saw, operates by objectifying the domain in question, rendering it neutral… Among other things, it inherits a command theory of law and morality. In the now neutralized world of the psyche, there is only de facto desire; there is no longer a place for a higher good within nature itself.
In this mechanized, and perhaps even atheist, transposition, law is still external to us in the two senses above. English seventeenth-century philosophy seems to us dominated by the rise of empiricism. But the Erasmian tradition was still alive and fighting, most notably in a group of thinkers loosely referred to as the ‘Cambridge Platonists’, e.g. Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whichcote, John Smith. They vigorously opposed a religion of external law, in the name of one which saw humans as intrinsically attuned to God. ‘Divine love thaws all those frozen affections which a Slavish fear had congealed and lock’d up, and makes the Soul most chearfull, free, and nobly resolved in all its motions after God.’… [According to the Cambridge thinkers] voluntarists were projecting their own ‘Peevishness and Self-will’ onto God, as though he were a human tyrant ‘easily entic’d by Flatteries’.” (p. 248ff.)
>In systems theory, that illustration was used to make the crucial point that systems don’t just sit there and respond passively to whatever we do to them. They can act to regain their balance; they can push back; they can even learn to anticipate what we’re going to do, and forestall us in some more or less sneaky manner. That’s not just true of humans, either. Any sufficiently complex system can do all of these things—a point that led systems theorists such as Ervin Laszlo to postulate that what we call consciousness is what systems complexity looks like from the inside.
I think it important to distinguish different meanings of “complex”. Commonly people use “complex” to mean “complicated” (i.e. “not simple” or “having many parts”), but that is not what system scientists mean, as I understand it – complicated does not equal complex.
“Complex” describes a system with constantly interacting parts, however many or few, with the “motion” of each part affecting the “motion” of all the other parts, in an elaborate dance, that cannot be precisely simulated (for an example visualize bodies in space connected by gravity “orbiting” each other). The digital simulation always diverges from the actual complex system being simulated, because of the so called “butterfly effect” – small differences in initial conditions lead to large differences later. It diverges because the simulation, no matter how fine grained, is never quite fine and accurate enough and, because of repeated feedback, the inaccuracies grow larger and larger.
An uncomplicated system (with few parts and simple rules) can be complex, and in fact, *all* real world systems are technically complex, regardless of number of parts and rules (complicatedness). Only *models* of reality can actually be non-complex, that and the internal, proceeding states of digital computers, which are basically models made physical. Digital models may be complicated but are not themselves complex, even when they are models of complex systems.
I expect this must sound confusing (and it is). I think the confusion results from confusing our models with reality. Ironically it’s made doubly confusing because “complex systems” are models too and we are speaking as though those models were the real thing when in fact they are just better models (oh no!). “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao…” – so I will stop talking now. For those who have read this far, just remember that complicated does not necessarily imply complex and vice versa.
@Ross, in regards to John Oliver.
I occasionally see his show (rarely watch much TV, because there is rarely anything good on it). It is very funny and very entertaining but it is also very blind to its own biases.
Slavoj Zizek was right to point out that the show is the “arrogance of the modern left”, either you are with them or you are a joke to them and thus the enemy. It is very ham handed in how it handle its topics. If you are aware of this then it is find to indulge in but just be aware of this limitation of the show and the format in general.
@Violet and Matthias
I only came to your interesting discussion this morning.
A couple of comments, if I may?
Firstly, a coincidence; unusually I picked up my copy of Marcus Aurelius last night and read a few ‘meditations’. The pre-Christian let alone pre-1700 perspective jumps from the page. (Note that we have become more accustomed to this classical point of view having followed JMG’s thought for a while, I think?)
Secondly, a week or so ago I got into a brief discussion with Ugo Bardi about his depiction of ‘modern horror’, fiction and film etc., as something new, and his citing Lovecraft as epitomizing a ‘new phenomenon’. He has long been a fascinated fan. While acknowledging ‘horror’ as something different from what I called ‘Mediaeval dread’, I tried to link his thesis with members of a previous generation being scared by ‘science’. (They truly were on occasion at a gut level, and it was not because of a clash with religion nor along the lines of the usual ‘atheism/materialism’ debates.) My guess was that the division between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ perspectives was intuitively destructive of ways that they needed, or were very important to them, to ‘see the world’. It matters not, in my view, that at a superficial level previous generations ‘got the facts wrong’ or I must suppose when they ‘got them right’.
My further guess has been that some of ‘the world’ became unavailable, in fact, when divided up for purposes of ‘objectivity’. That is quite a loss when we think of negotiating our normal human realities.
Your thoughts, both, have been valuable. Thanks.
If complex does not mean complicated, (and I can see that and agree) – Can you explain what it does mean?
As in my first comment – Every complicated machine I’ve ever worked with, especially as it ages sure does feel like it has an inner life and agenda of it’s own: I do understand that each one has it’s quirks because no matter how carefully folded or constructed – coming off of an assembly line, the metal, (or rubber or plastic…) pieces are not absolutely exact and that through long use and wear they can shave away, rattle, become loose, wear thin in places; not exactly the same as their ‘brethren’ that came off of the assembly line with them. They therefore each develop their own ‘quirks’ which feels like they each have their own personality, although that may not be the case at all.
I’m fine admitting I’m probably wrong in this, but I have found that nonetheless – I’ve had far greater success treating even machines, (cars, computerised cash registers, my computer…) as if they do have feelings and some sort of life or agency. Basically just treating it with care, kindness, patience and respect. I find that the people I see scoff at this have far less success except with brand spanking new ones that almost CAN’T break down, regardless of their expertise with the machines in question. It’s kind of like my husband baby-talking and playing music to our houseplants. Sounds crazy, but it seems to work so hey whatever! We’ll take it!
To JMG, El, Brian and Tippy:
Thank You for this discussion on horses. I have been blessed to know well 4 equine souls in my life. I cannot think of any exercise less mechanistic than learning to ride or working with those heavenly creatures. <3
I know I’m late in relying to this thread as a new job has kept me very busy. Nonetheless I wanted to say that I found the concept of the body as an interface between the inner and outer world to be an extremely useful insight, one I will be contemplating for quite some time. It’s another of those ideas that seem to be such so simple that I should have thought of it long before, yet never noticed – but that’s the nature of such things, and you have once again pointed one out.
I find I have already begun thinking if it in terms of the body being the interface between the immortal “soul”, or inner consciousness, and this physical plane/universe. It’s a portal that lasts for a time, to be replaced with another for as long as such is needed. I suppose a consciousness could spend a whole lifetime contemplating only the portal itself, or failing to comprehend the others glimpsed through it.
That is what Marsilio Ficino thought in the 15th century: the human soul, like Janus, participates in both worlds.
I just need to chime in about horses. I have ridden/trained them the majority of my half century in this lifetime, but quit altogether about 5 years ago because of the state of the “industry” as well as the inability to find anywhere suitable to keep one here in the Bay Area. People do in fact see them as machines now, but at least in my experience over the past 10 years the answer to that has been to simply drug the hell out of them. They are kept in ways that there is no way to keep them sane or physically sound, then they are drugged and their joints injected to keep them going and sedated enough that they do, indeed, behave like machines. This was all horrifying and shocking to me until I realized the majority of the people doing this to the horses were in fact doing the same thing to themselves and their children. Meat Puppets everywhere as far as the eyes can see!
@JMG, thank you for the essay, lots to think about for sure. My issue has always been the feeling of being completely overwhelmed by everyone’s inner life and feelings around me, and unable to tune any of it out. I don’t know what that’s called or why it’s happening or what to do about it other than to retreat away from people as often as possible. I don’t know if I’m actually tuning into something real or if I am imagining it either, and it’s not even just the feelings of people currently alive. In any case, people not really “seeing” other people has always been one of the things that most confused me. Perhaps given our current society it’s just too painful for most people.
If I may reply,
I’m so sorry. What you’ve written is horrible and devastatingly sad – all around & no doubt true. My family have our own issues with medications an so I’ve delved into researching that a bit. Additionally, a large % of parents I converse with have their teens or young adults diagnosed and medicated for ADHD or anxiety/depression, an alarmingly high number. But for some reason, I find drugging the horses to be even more upsetting.
I believe the situation or condition you’ve described is called Hyper-Empathy.
I, too, must chime in re: horses. I worked with draft horses for some years, mostly logging and driving in carts. My horse was as fully a person as I’ve ever known, and was my best friend for a few years up until she died. You would get nowhere treating her as a machine! Maybe dead 🙂 You wrote:
“People do in fact see them as machines now, but at least in my experience over the past 10 years the answer to that has been to simply drug the hell out of them. They are kept in ways that there is no way to keep them sane or physically sound, then they are drugged and their joints injected to keep them going and sedated enough that they do, indeed, behave like machines. This was all horrifying and shocking to me until I realized the majority of the people doing this to the horses were in fact doing the same thing to themselves and their children.”
This is indeed horrifying and shocking. People are not only doing this to their horses, their children, themselves, but to the whole planet in one way or another. Bizarro control-freakery. Even more horrifying is that if you try to explain to them why what they are doing is so fundamentally wrong on every level, they look at you like you’re crazy and you must just hate people. I have largely given up.
Re: Weird of Hali: Innsmouth. There actually is a way The Radiance’s adepts can be without personality or emotion, and it involves irreversible brain damage as far as I know.
Last night at ASFS, there was a talk on the neurological basis for Zombies, by an assistant professor of brain science at UNM Hospital. It was, of course, a crash course in parts and functions of the brain and the result of brain damage. Using three zombie movies as his basis, he detailed what part of the zombie brains had to be atrophied to produce the behavior shown in the movies. Zombies have neither emotions – except anger, which comes from the amygdala – not personality. Emotions come from the temporal lobe; love from the hypothalamus, and personality from the frontal lobe. The hippocampus was involved somewhere. (It was dark and taking good notes was hard.)
So when The Radiance wipes those out of the minds of their adepts and their dupes, they are actually destroying part of the brain tissue involved.
I didn’t ask what part of the brain one’s values come from, since my guess is they’re a second-order function involving conscious choice and emotions both.
But there you have it. Not only possibly, but mutilating.
>If complex does not mean complicated, (and I can see that and agree) – Can you explain what it does mean?
It’s hard to define complexity in words but once you know it you can see it everywhere. Wikipedia says “The term is generally used to characterize something with many parts where those parts interact with each other in multiple ways, culminating in a higher order of emergence greater than the sum of its parts.” which is more or less what I said. And the article says much more. But that may not give you what you want/need.
The key thing is that the parts are connected to each other and affect each other constantly – one moves and the connected others move which affects each other and the original mover in a kind of interactive dance. This gives rise to unexpected, “emergent” patterns of motion, often beautiful, generally “fractal” (sorry, another word to look up). I’m trying to think of an example/image. Imagine a pool of still water, push on it and ripples go everywhere, bounce off the walls, rebound and recombine in startling, detailed, unpredictable patterns. You don’t need to attribute any inner life or intent to the system or parts for this to happen, it just does. Of course when the parts are living, adaptive systems, it obviously gets a lot wilder and more interesting. There is a huge difference between an organism and an artificial creation like a tool.
Practice looking at things, anything, say a hammer, and imagine seeing into it, seeing the billions of interconnected atoms and molecules and imagine what happens to them when you swing it and strike a nail. That’s complexity. Look at a dog or your hand the same way. Practice this and you should get a feel for what complexity is. Once you see it it’s actually harder to imagine things that are not complex, to see things as non-complex again. This seeing is a beautiful experience.
A scientist would likely say that when you perceive a personality in a machine or tool, you are imagining/projecting something living that is not really there (and some materialists would say the same about living things, including people). But even from a science perspective, if you treat a tool or machine as a friend rather than a dead thing you will attend to its quirks, get to know its eccentricities, become sensitive to its heft, balance, spring, strengths and weaknesses, until it becomes sort of an extension of you and perhaps you of it, and you will get better, healthier, longer use of it, because you use it in more gentle, sensitive ways, putting less stress and wear on it and you.
Whether a tool can have its own inner subjective experience — that is a question for John.
I hope that helps.
Tude, (if I may), your last comment to JMG about it being too painful for others to really “see” each other given our current society really rang true for me. It occurred to me that it’s probably painful for a lot of people to really “see” themselves these days, too. I think many of us sense (know without being able to prove) that we have a soul, and others do too, but our materialist and godless culture leaves us with no idea what to do about that fact. We find ourselves rudderless and adrift, aware of deep loss but unable to name it or admit its causes. So we distract ourselves, and blame each other for our pain. To be constantly bombarded by awareness of others’ inner states (whether positive or negative) must be exhausting for you. I hope JMG or knowledgeable others here have some suggestions for insulating yourself to a manageable degree.
I personally find the space here, where the topics our host introduces and the discussions that follow treat spiritual matters with the thoughtful attention they deserve, to be a great relief and a source of many fascinating further investigations. The small insights into others’ inner worlds offered here are some of the “realest” things I encounter all week, so thank you to you and all the others who show up and make the genuine effort to be present, to see and allow your selves to be seen, in the best sense.
–Heather in CA
What a strange thing to find myself agreeing with Newt Gingrich and Fox News:
The schism in the Democratic Party is getting deeper, and I suddenly find myself rooting for dissolution of the Union, if for no other reason than to give these kids a country of their own to frack up.
Thankfully I live in Georgia and it won’t be in my back yard…
This post is one that could be enjoyed by almost any age person. You took a concept philosophers love to make hard to understand, and made it easy to follow. Thank you for that.
This notion as person as machine is so rooted in our school system who puts people in one end the process and performs a series of measured inputs and assessments to produce a person of a certain quality out the other end. All the language around school is similar to one they use in factories where things are manufactured: quality, assessment, level, efficiency, measurement, etc. I have a bit I wrote about the scientific management of schools that I’ll have to polish up and post myself.
A quick scan through the comments I saw some blog posts by regular commenters. Gonna hop over and read those too. Let’s all write and share more!
Slightly OT but I’ve just been reading How America’s food giants swallowed the family farms.
It strikes me that the machines are winning the battle of man-vs-machine. They get to enjoy the wide-open spaces of the great outdoors while the small farmers have been out-competed and have to adapt to living in the crowded cities or die.
“Investors buy the land, and they have tractors and combines that you can run by computer,” she said. “They’ll hire somebody to sit in a little office somewhere and run that stuff off the computer and farm the land that way. Now what you’ve done is you have lost the innate knowledge of how to grow food and raise animals. You’ve lost a whole generation of it, probably two. Now we are going to rely on a few corporations to decide who is going to eat and who isn’t. We’re one generation away from that picture right now.”
Green Wizards is doing its bit to preserve that knowledge, but the reality is that a few large corporations control the food supply of the US. This gives them enormous power, which no doubt they will use to influence legislation to their advantage. It is also dangerous, as the collapse of one corporation could result in actual hunger, and we’ve seen several big corporations collapse recently.
I like where this series is heading, JMG!
Re: the consciousness of “others” – especially “inanimate” others – everyone knows that there is an ancient tradition of ships and water vessels being given a name. This tradition applies even to private “pleasurecraft” (motor boats, sailboats), so it is not for the practical purpose of registering the vessel. To most of us who come from such a background, to NOT name a boat is utterly unthinkable. Somehow, this did not carry over to terrestrial vehicles – how many people name their cars? Perhaps it is due to the fact that until recently ships and boats were complex “tools” that harness the wind rather than driven by a machine, while a car is, by definition, machine-driven.
And if any reader is sceptical about boats having a personality, try out Farley Mowat’s hilarious (and largely true, but you can never tell how much with good old Farley) “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float”!
This is slightly tangential to the subject of this post.
Today is the day we move our clocks forward to accommodate “Daylight Saving Time”. Of course, no daylight is saved, and the theory that we would save energy has been disproven, but the change to and from DST continues on regardless. The reasons to abandon the change, and join the forward thinking state of Arizona, are legion, including: increased number of car crashes in the days immediately following the change; costs to reprogram many systems to coordinate with the time changes worldwide (and not in Arizona); & c.
Why do we continue to put up with this foolishness? For more than two hundred years, our lives have become more and more disconnected with the world of which we are a part. We work inside, we get our food inside, we live our lives inside. On occasion, I refer to an event happening at sunset, and most everyone asks what time that is. The bi annual switch is another way to disconnect us from the web of existence, to interrupt our connections to the rhythms of the seasons. Is that a bug or a feature? For me, to recognize the question is to answer it.
There is a very well-thought-out theory in developmental psychology known as Kegan’s Theory of Evotionary Truces. It goes something like this…
As newborn infants we are subject to our environment, and have not yet emerged psychologically. There is not yet a perspective from which to frame a view. We are at one with the universe, and inner and outer worlds are merged.
As very small children we start to become aware of our desires and impulses. We feel the desire and the satisfaction of the desire. We feel the frustration, of not having desire met. We experience these impulses as daily surges of interaction with the environment. This Kegan calls the Impulsive Stage.
As we grow into older children and adolescents, we are able to recognize that while we have impulses and desires, we are no longer subject to them. They exist apart from us, and it is possible to pick and and choose from among them, especially the ones that are in conflict. This stage Kegan called the Imperial stage, because we although we can recognize that other people have desires too, our own desires are paramount.
The next stage occurs in some people in the teen years, and involves being able to experience a shared inner experience with others. We are not just acknowleging that others have their own perspective and goals, we actually inhabit a kind of shared imaginal space, in which we can ourselves experience the perspective of others. In the Relationship Stage we are subject to our relationships, and believe that we are the people we are when in the throes of relating. It is possible to reach adulthood and still be at this stage.
In some adults, this gives way to the understanding that we wear many masks in order to participate successfully in many kinds of relationships. Kegan calls this the Administrator Stage, in which one becomes extremely competent at managing one’s own cast of characters.
The next stage is even more rare to attain, the stage of the Mystic. At this stage, we begin to grasp that the Administrator is a front for something else. Who or what that is, now becomes a question which is difficult to answer, as most of us have not advanced this far yet.
Most excellent essay with much to contemplate – read half way and took a break to prune backyard fruit trees. My notions of end results and the trees’ desires did not coincide until my finger was gashed. The trees had their way from then on.
Okay, I’m *way* behind on comments, and may not be able to catch up; it’s been an insanely busy week. My apologies to anyone who feels ignored when the next post goes up and I haven’t gotten to your comment. One of those things. 🙁
That said, on to what I can get done…
Workdove, that’s a common way that those of us with Aspergers deal. Occultism was my preferred brand, but there are plenty of other forms of experiential spirituality that will do.
Alvin, excellent! Yes, and rather more common.
Paradoctor, but do they? Those computers that I’ve handled still just have malfunctions.
Island Poet, excellent. Or, just maybe, are people who see complex systems as machines projecting their own myth of the machine onto the systems, in order to keep from noticing the inner lives of those systems?
Caryn, good. As I noted in response to RPC, you’ve caught onto the ambiguity that will be central to the next step in our discussion.
Walt, good. As you well know, the fact that something’s difficult in practice doesn’t make it irrelevant or unnecessary. I’ve always felt storms as ecstatic outbursts, rather like the sigh that comes when you scratch a really bad itch…
Carlos, true enough. If we are in a simulation, on the other hand, it would explain why those same tech overlords act like NPCs… 😉
Pogonip, why, certainly!.
Barrigan, it’s quite possible. One of the most useful takeaways from Steven Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science, which is among my favorite bits of not-so-light reading these days, is precisely that you can never predict when some relatively simple process will suddenly begin to generate output so complex that it can’t be modeled by anything less complex than itself.
Buzzy, I worked in nursing homes for four and a half years, and we routinely got what was left after the sort of process you’ve described, which is one of the reasons why I have a strict Do Not Resuscitate policy in my end-of-life paperwork. I’ve always wondered why people who claim to believe in heaven are so insistent about refusing to let a loved one go there…
Ben, I’m delighted to hear it! I’ll look forward to the novel — though I hope to see Yan and Celya Ban someday too.
Varun, excellent. Herbert was onto something of immense importance, of course.
Thomas, you’re welcome and thank you! Yes, exactly.
Nancy, dead on target. Most of modern economics consists of a frantic attempt to treat human desire as a mechanical result of equally mechanical causes. That’s why there’s a simple word for an economist who makes a prediction: wrong.
P Coyle, I think it’s time for me to proclaim Greer’s Law of the Upgrade: “Once a technology becomes mature, each new generation of that technology will yield fewer benefits and produce more problems than the generation it replaces.” My working guess is that far from empowering the Internet of Things, 5G technology will turn out to be a vast bellyflop riddled with unexpected downsides, and before long people will be fleeing back to simpler technologies, the same way that lots of people now are ditching smartphones and going back to plain flip phones or land lines.
Brian, I see video games and the like as frantic attempts to flee from the real world into what I think might best be called a vicial rather than a virtual reality, a pseudoreality that fosters infantile self-absorption on an individual and a collective level. The real world challenges us to be more than we are, while the vicial reality soothes us, giving us only such safe pseudochallenges as will encourage us to huddle back into ourselves. Of course your point about cars and horses is just as relevant of this; guided by vicial reality, we slam face first into disasters that an acquaintance with the world would readily prevent.
Lievenm, interesting. Thanks for this.
Fkarian, granted, but I think there’s more to it than that. A competent ruling class gauges how far it can push things, and always stays just a little back from the edge. When a ruling class loses track of that, and behaves in ways that guarantee the storming of the Bastille or the election of our very own Orange Julius, it’s literally cutting its own throat — and that requires some explanation. Simple stupidity? Or, as in this case, a delusion about the nature of reality? I’ll be exploring that as we proceed.
Averagejoe, I haven’t yet gotten to the constructive part. What I’m doing here is clearing away some of the deep-seated idiocies that stand in the path of any sort of spiritual approach to the crisis of our age. Many thanks for your words about Chorazin — I’m glad you liked it!
Mister N, they’re getting into it sooner and more enthusiastically than I thought. Trump should order in a good stock of popcorn for the White House kitchen; he’s going to have some very entertaining evenings.
Bridge, the petulant reaction of the British chattering classes to the success of the Leave campaign is a great example of what I’m talking about. Since EU membership benefits them, any talk about its very real costs to those outside the circle of the comfortable has to be shoved out of sight as quickly as possible, and Fintan being a bit of a Toole about it all is part of that reaction.
Marty, if you don’t get the point, you might try reading it again, you know. Most of my other readers seem to have figured out what I’m saying.
Booklover, excellent. Yes, and if you follow that insight out it leads in a direction we’ll be going.
Nastarana, no, not at all. As I thought I indicated, the term “meat robot” is used by certain philosophers who insist that human beings aren’t conscious beings; it’s their description of what they believe human beings are. I simply decided to take them at their word, and accept that unlike the rest of us, they really are meat robots without consciousness or an inner life.
David, it’s a standard bad habit of ages of reason; we got into it as our civilization hit its age of reason around 1700 or so, and we’ll be growing out of it over the next century or so, the way every other civilization has done. As for the reaction of the social system of the spread of AIs — why, yes, exactly. I’d like to introduce you to a lady I know named Butler, who wants to talk to you about a jihad she’s organizing… 😉
We name our cars! Our old Camry’s name was Carla. Our newer Camry’s name is Carmen, and my old white work van, surplused from a plumber friend, is called Vanna White. I talk to both of our current vehicles regularly, address them by name, and they both take really good care of us. Hardly ever have anything go wrong.
But I get your point. Boats are always given names.
No problem about not getting to comments. It is one of the great things about your blog that you interact so thoughtfully with the comments. But if we turn your regular gifts of engagement into an expectation, something has gone a little wrong.
“Orangejulius” is good.
In before this line of thought goes there:
Inscrutable complexity consciousness. It says more about the limitations of our comprehension than the character of that which we grasp to comprehend.
@Ron M: “Somehow, this did not carry over to terrestrial vehicles – how many people name their cars?”
All our cars for over 30 years have been named Bridget (after the Irish goddess of metalwork). We treat them all as being the same Bridget, just reincarnated (so to speak!) in different bodies. Back when we were driving $300 beaters and doing all our own repairs she used to expect occasional blood sacrifices, but she will now settle for cash. Possibly when we are gone, after her long experience as a car she will be ready to move up to life as a fighter jet. 😉
Before I go furtherer, I wish to disclaim that I in no way wish denigrate any individual’s relationship with Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Angels, the Saints, &c. While I’ve been following lines of reasoning that are critical of Christian moral theology I really wish to make it clear that I’ve known many people with beautiful relationships with Christian divine energies, and I have the utmost respect for that. Indeed, I tend to get along with sincere, practicing Christians very well, and as mentioned in an earlier comment, I tend to actively encourage people in my life who feel drawn to the Christian path to follow that path, since it so often — in my experience at least — helps people tremendously and imparts a beautiful energy to that person’s dealings.
@ Matthias Gralle,
Thank you for your engagement! I don’t cite the verses to be provocative and edgy, but simply to point out that there is something mechanical in their approach. The same way that the components of a machine move along specific tracks and if so they stray does the machine breakdown, likewise, there is a similar dynamic — at least to my mind — to the Gospel verses I cited.
Now given the argument that I’m working on, it’s somewhat irrelevant whether there is an absolute distinction within early Christian sentiment between body and soul. What is germane is the drive towards intensely idealized state for everyone who took up the Cross. Now I don’t have a degree in comparative religion — let alone a college education period! — and so there are immense holes in my knowledge. My understanding though is that with Greek Neoplatonism there was the pervasive idea of working upwards through many lives and through many gradients of consciousness. So at the very end one moved towards an idealized state, although one that was specifically described as spherical. Point being there is more of an emphasis on wholeness and of there being as much time as needed.
But with the idea of simply one life and then an eternal salvation of damnation gives a certain pressure that seems to me very similar to the psychological pressure that people have towards their machines. The machine must function well at all times, it has very narrow tolerances, and if a few components don’t work consistently into the garbage can it goes. This undoubtedly contributes to the famous Christian hypocrisy that Gandhi commented on. This hypocrisy makes total sense if one thinks of Christian doctrine has have too narrow tolerances for people to follow adequately. That is, one must strain more than possible to achieve an idealized state within a single lifetime.
And this is the point I’m trying to make, although I may be making it poorly, and I may be simply wrong: as you point out; “The entire Sermon on the Mount is a challenge that probably no one has ever been able to fulfil,” humans can’t live up to the standards set out in Christianity, but machines could. Indeed, Dion Fortune in her writings on the Cabala actually likens Angels to divine machines! Machines have prescribed sets of movement and behavior and no will of their own. There lack of inner world allows to fulfill human commands without straying. Likewise, through analogy we could say that salvation looks similarly; in the verses I quoted in the past comment there is an intense focus on restricted movement and behavior so that one can fulfill divine will without straying. Hence, I see the parallels as very similar, regardless of any specific heinous acts and likely prior to the 1700’s, and indeed prior to the point-like understanding of self you’ve illustrated. This isn’t to say that the point-like arrangement of self isn’t extremely important in the history of ideas, just that it seems to me distinct from the line of reasoning I’m raising.
That said, I’ll concede three things: the first is that the 1700’s was a very long time ago and my grasp of history is far from exhaustive, the third is that what I’m writing is mostly intuition and conjecture and the third is that I suspect that you are more well-read and learned on these topics than I! And so I readily acknowledge that you very well may be correct, and I might be very much faulty in my line of thinking. That said I enjoy this exchange immensely, though I’m not sure how much more I can continue to contribute without simply rehashing the same points. I’m curious if there may be people who are reading this with a background in comparative religions, what their perspectives might be. A wider understanding of religions than I currently possess would be exceedingly helpful in understanding these issues.
That’s a fascinating point! Many Christian colonialists have noted that when the natives became converted their morality, reliability and character dropped considerably. I’m not sure what conclusions are fair to draw from that, but it has been noted enough in the literature to be something of a pattern.
@ Phil Harris,
Your point that, “My further guess has been that some of ‘the world’ became unavailable, in fact, when divided up for purposes of ‘objectivity’.” seems to me to be square on target! That does seem to be at the heart of the modern horror genre; Nature is thrown out the window and she returns with a pitchfork.
In case nobody’s posted this here yet — he hits every base but two. First is the squeeze of the common people; second is his admittedly feeble faith that technology will save us. Link courtesy of my friend Jean Lamb (who still thinks this blog leans further to the right than she likes, but, oh, well. We’re agreed on some things!)
Question? He blasted well *proves* it!
“My working guess is that far from empowering the Internet of Things, 5G technology will turn out to be a vast bellyflop riddled with unexpected downsides…” FWIW, many of those developing the technology secretly agree. It’s certainly the case that the few field trials have resulted in a raft of unforeseen issues. I just hope the powers that be don’t decide we need to have a Grand Switchover (a la digital television).
Great post John!
I’ve also noticed the detachment of many people from nature – they live in a artificial bubble which is odd to say the least.
I’m written a new blog post on how individuals can prepare for the coming changes which you and the forum might find interesting.
For whomever brought up 5G earlier in the thread
I received an email in my “official local politician” in-box re 5G which had an “explainer” link for us local yokels:
FWIW there is a lot of concern at the municipal level that the FCC is trying to run rough-shod over local control of municipal power poles.
I rather like John’s response though 😉
Thanks, Yes, that does indeed clarify. We are on the same page, definitely. As a somewhat related funny anecdote – I think it was in middle school when I read a simplified excerpt explaining Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. In short that because the electrons and molecules are always in motion, even in solid objects – If you bounce a ball against a wall enough times, (an infinite number of times?) it IS theoretically possible that at least once, all of the molecules of the ball and those of the wall will miss each other and the ball will pass through the wall. I bounced a ball against my bedroom wall for weeks after that hoping to catch just that one magical time! LOL.
So completely OT for this week… Minnesota DNR has stated that they have found Zebra muscle larvae in another lake. So I was thinking of writing a letter along the lines of “resist not evil”. In other words don’t try to do anything to the Zebra muscles, what are things that can be done to make the habitat still viable for the species they threaten. Does anyone have any good suggestions?
JMG if you decide not to post, completely understand.
I doubt you will have time to get to the bottom of the list this week.
I will try to ask again sometime.
I back-checked on the word ‘vicial’.
I would like the extended explanation sometime.
Re: 5G, the other shoe is that there’s already evidence that it may cause cancer (and detrimentally affect insects), and if they install it in your neighborhood, it won’t be like Roundup that you can theoretically try to avoid feeding your kids – it will be “We want faster internet for streaming video, so you get cooked,” no opting out possible. For those who have read Retrotopia, I look forward to the day when a 5G executive tries to explain the rightness of this to an angry crowd of cancer patients…. >:-)
Since this week is slower than most, I suppose you may not have time to answer anymore, and I will just emphasize that I have enjoyed our exchange a lot and also philsharris’ contribution.
My own lack of education is in Neoplatonism. What I do know is that from Homer at least up to Plato it was supposed that the huge majority of people would have a miserable afterlife, and Plato in Phaedo makes it clear that this is a longlasting (though not eternal!) punishment for their deeds in this life. In fact, his description is quite similar to Dante’s Purgatory, Hell and Paradise – I really don’t see much difference between Platonism and Christian dogma in this regard (independent of what we ourselves may think about afterlife). Being a true philosopher in Plato’s sense seems at least as difficult as being a “good Christian”! Again, it becomes easier to understand why the disciples of Jesus were thought to bring good news.
“[I]f the soul is immortal, we must care for it, not only in respect to this time, which we call life, but in respect to all time, and if we neglect it, the danger now appears to be terrible. For if death were an escape from everything, it would be a boon to the wicked, for when they die they would be freed from the body and from their wickedness together with their souls. But now, since the soul is seen to be immortal, it cannot escape from evil or be saved in any other way than by becoming as good and wise as possible… Now when the dead have come to the place where each is led by his genius, first they are judged and sentenced, as they have lived well and piously, or not. And those who are found to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the Acheron and, embarking upon vessels provided for them, arrive in them at the lake; there they dwell and are purified, and if they have done any wrong they are absolved by paying the penalty for their wrong doings, [113e] and for their good deeds they receive rewards, each according to his merits. But those who appear to be incurable, on account of the greatness of their wrongdoings, because they have committed many great deeds of sacrilege, or wicked and abominable murders, or any other such crimes, are cast by their fitting destiny into Tartarus, whence they never emerge. Those, however, who are curable, but are found to have committed great sins—who have, for example, in a moment of passion done some act of violence against father or mother and have lived in repentance the rest of their lives, or who have slain some other person under similar conditions—these must needs be thrown into Tartarus, and when they have been there a year the wave casts them out, the homicides by way of Cocytus, those who have outraged their parents by way of Pyriphlegethon. And when they have been brought by the current to the Acherusian lake, they shout and cry out, calling to those whom they have slain or outraged, begging and beseeching them [114b] to be gracious and to let them come out into the lake; and if they prevail they come out and cease from their ills, but if not, they are borne away again to Tartarus and thence back into the rivers, and this goes on until they prevail upon those whom they have wronged; for this is the penalty imposed upon them by the judges. But those who are found to have excelled in holy living are freed from these regions within the earth and are released as from prisons; [114c] they mount upward into their pure abode and dwell upon the earth. And of these, all who have duly purified themselves by philosophy live henceforth altogether without bodies, and pass to still more beautiful abodes which it is not easy to describe, nor have we now time enough.”
PS: Those last few words seem to presage exactly what JMG has called C.S.Lewis’ “cop-out” at the end of The Last Battle!
You’re right, Orange Julius is very good. I also like all the potential applications of “Greer’s Law.”
Three articles that picked my fancy today…
Fascinating article which chimes with your forecast of the end of American military dominance next decade.
You are quoted in this article. The first time I’ve seen your name referenced outside the fringes (sort-of)!
“This is what the American writer John Michael Greer claims when he says that all forms of industrial civilisation combined, in the context of geological time, are unremarkably short-lived and “self-terminating” – simply a transition between eras. This is why he considers the Holocene-Neocene transition, H-N transition for short, as a more accurate term, with Neocene being a placeholder name for whatever emerges next.”
Early signs that your ideas are starting to slowly spread to the mainstream?!
And finally Trump is considering “charging” allies for US military defence. Personally I think its a great idea.
Doh… let me try this again… my not-equal sign vanished…
In before this line of thought goes there:
Inscrutable complexity does not equal consciousness. It says more about the limitations of our comprehension than the character of that which we grasp to comprehend.
I assumed it was a (slightly waggish) JMG coinage. I take it thus:
virtue is to virtual as vice is to vicial.
Orange Julius understands Greer’s law:
“Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly,” Trump tweeted. “Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better.”
Dear Phil H,
JMG is making a play on words. “Virtual” has “virtue” as its root. “Vicial” is a parallel adjective derived from “vice”.
John, not to get too far off topic, but any thoughts on the current move of Uranus from Aries into Taurus as it relates to current events considering the fact that last time this happened was WW2, before that the Civil War, and before that the American Revolution?
Quasi-related: I partake in a mostly nonwritten tradition that relies extensively on what you call here scrying and contemplation. Do you have any recommendations on further reading on the subject, or any personal experience/insights/warnings related to the practice? Thank you.
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