Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2018-06-20T20:40:51Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com June 20. http://ranprieur.com/#fc5346e5dfc59a5f9b5f45c49c66b5c0bb9c367d 2018-06-20T20:40:51Z June 20. After the last post, a couple people said they want me to keep doing the blog and they don't even care what I write about.

Yesterday I vaped some cannabis, and despite having just taken an eight day break, the high had no spiritual value. I'm not going to try to explain what that means. But it did have some intellectual value. I realized that sports announcers, political pundits, internet comment threads, and the chorus in ancient Greek theater, are all doing the same thing: using a stream of words to moderate the interface between experience and understanding, or breaking down a complex external world into mental artifacts that are more manageable.

And then I thought: don't we all do the same thing inside our heads? It's like, on a barely conscious level, we all have a "broadcast booth" or a "news desk" where several sub-personalities sit and pass judgment on what's good or bad, what's important or unimportant, what you want or don't want. And it's possible for us to reprogram those personalities to behave differently.

The word "meditation" points to at least two different practices. One is metacognition, where you turn your attention inward to that normally unnoticed machinery. But who are "you"? If you're tinkering with the voices in your head, then what still unexamined voice is doing the tinkering? And who examines that voice?

Another meaning of meditation is to try to completely silence the internal commentary, what Buddhists call the "chattering monkey". Now I understand why that's important. Because if you don't completely stop the chatter, your metacognition might play out like revolutions in Haiti, with one autocrat overthrowing another and never getting anywhere.

I think this question has an answer, but I don't think it can be put into words: if you completely stop the chatter, what's left?

June 18. http://ranprieur.com/#6307249d3391526924340b99cd6fad558e665110 2018-06-18T18:20:40Z June 18. After fourteen years of doing this blog, I might be finally running out of steam, as I focus on other kinds of writing. Fiction writers are sometimes divided into storytellers and stylists. At one extreme you've got Dan Brown, a great storyteller and a bad stylist. At the other extreme you've got James Joyce, a great stylist whose storytelling (in his novels) is not incompetent but aggressively unreadable. It's interesting that the literary establishment lionizes stylists and despises storytellers, a value system that to me seems completely arbitrary.

In my fiction, I aim to maximize the power and density of both storytelling and style (and also worldbuilding). This book excerpt, Breaking Up with James Joyce, is about people who have spent decades struggling with Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. It's like his goal was to tease readers but never satisfy them. My goal is to intensely satisfy readers who put in the time, so not only is the second reading better than the first, the tenth will be better than the ninth.

Last weekend for my visitors I read aloud from a work in progress, and Jordan asked if I can think of anyone else who writes like me. I didn't have a good answer then, but now I do. I love to stack up mouth-heavy words like late-1950's Sylvia Plath. My favorite line from her is "the spindrift raveled wind-ripped from the crest of the wave." I try to write like that all the time. Last month I was watching an English Premier League match, and sat up in awe when the announcer spoke this perfect gem: "A welcome respite for the men in red."

In storytelling, I like to push the plot hard and fast. Raymond Chandler said something like: when the story starts to get boring, have a man come through the door with a gun, and figure out later why he's there. But because I'm writing sci-fi, the man with a gun can be a warptube cracking, or an AI leveling up, or reality itself shifting to another track. Of course Philip K. Dick did that, maybe most exuberantly in The Game Players of Titan, but the vibe of my landscapes and storylines is more like the psychedelic adventures of Roger Zelazny.

Some readers have mentioned similar stuff, and the closest I've seen so far is David Lindsay's 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus. That link is the full text online, and here's an article about it from this year, One Long Discomfort. Lindsay's worldbuilding is even weirder than mine, and his plot moves even faster, but his emotional tone is more puritanical and nightmarish, where mine is more hedonistic and dreamy.

A line from Lindsay's dialogue: "For him, in his sullen purity of nature, all the world was a snare, a limed twig. Knowing that pleasure was everywhere, a fierce, mocking enemy, crouching and waiting at every corner of the road of life, in order to kill with its sweet sting the naked grandeur of the soul, he shielded himself behind pain. This also his followers do, but they do not do it for the sake of the soul, but for the sake of vanity and pride."

And a line from mine: "Those squirrels are so far upcogged that they only fight over style. Here their nests are like pagodas, but in the east they're spherical, and at the quarrelsome boundary both designs are tested for strength. Because they keep their birthrate sub-capacity, they have so many spare nuts that they use them as feed for breeding extravagant caterpillars."

June 15. http://ranprieur.com/#579bfee448dec71b7a4121bb5c56999dd9ab6d09 2018-06-15T15:50:54Z June 15. And some doom links. A week ago on reddit there was a suicide prevention megathread, full of sad stories and a few happy stories from people who were close to suicide and turned it around. I've never seriously considered suicide, but I can relate to this: "a lot of suicidal people don't want to kill themselves, they just want to stop existing." If life suddenly became like a video game, where you could just quit without hurting anyone or leaving a mess, I think a billion people would be gone within a month.

In a thread about economics, this long comment argues that market-driven reforms have increased social instability and led to greater incidence of anxiety, alienation and depression. The conclusion: "To separate labor from other activities of life and to subject it to the laws of the market is to annihilate all organic forms of existence."

This Hacker News comment thread discusses a linked article in which researchers find IQ scores dropping since the 1970s. Are we being distracted by technology and losing our abiliy to focus? Are we dumber because computers are doing mental work for us that we used to do for ourselves? The most interesting explanation is that IQ tests are culturally biased, and have not kept up with recent changes in culture.

June 13. http://ranprieur.com/#1f745fedc256d05e5933cbcf468e1bbe70c7ef50 2018-06-13T13:30:42Z June 13. Some optimistic links. Research Finds Tipping Point for Large-scale Social Change:

When a minority group pushing change was below 25% of the total group, its efforts failed. But when the committed minority reached 25%, there was an abrupt change in the group dynamic, and very quickly the majority of the population adopted the new norm. In one trial, a single person accounted for the difference between success and failure.

A nice video, Alan Watts Chillstep Mix #1.

From earlier this year on reddit: If they made a show called "White Mirror" that was about all the positive aspects of the human/technology relationship, what would be the plot of certain episodes? Lately I've been thinking about therapy bots, AI's that can talk people through metacognition and changing their mental and emotional habits. On the one hand, AI is still really clunky for that kind of thing, but on the other hand, old-timey Freudian psychotherapists would just listen and reframe the patient's talk into new questions, something that AI's have been doing for decades, and sometimes that helped.

Related: Ask Hacker News: Is there a new habit you cultivated recently that is really paying off? I've been doing a few things lately that seem to be helping. One thing is going two or three times a week to a weight room and swimming pool. That practice is rubbing off on the rest of my life, so now when there's some little thing I don't feel like doing, I frame it as a "workout" and push through it more easily.

I'm also using a crazy practice to deal with anxiety, where a couple times a day I'll relax, close my eyes, and "turn up the volume" -- try to feel that fear as long and as hard as I can. In theory, we should be able to burn out on pain just like we burn out on pleasure, and it seems to be working. Here's a bit of verse from a creative project I haven't made public yet: "If you want to fly / You must love your fear / As you fear to die"

June 11. http://ranprieur.com/#e71ce54b7c052548ae43646806218a61d3b32508 2018-06-11T23:10:24Z June 11. Big thanks to Jordan and Ryan, who were here over the weekend to interview me for a documentary. It was strange hanging out with people who seem interested in everything I say, and never disagree. That must be what it's like for dictators and billionaires, or anyone famous enough to have an entourage. Over the long term that has to be mentally unhealthy, and I'm not sure I didn't go a little nutty in just a couple days.

On day one I wore a tie-dye shirt and talked about roots, carefully ruminating on my deep history and my early writings. Then on day two I wore my picbreeder spacewalk t-shirt and raved about musical obsessions and my insane sci-fi: "Thereafter I yearned to make every paragraph doubly incomprehensible!"

I told Jordan hopefully that someday people will be obsessed with my fiction, but I have no way to know that. I've written stuff that I, as a reader, would be obsessed with, but I don't know if my own taste has wandered so far into the wilderness that its relics will never be found.

Here's a funny coincidence. My friend Carey mentioned an obscure cult novel called The Golden Book of Springfield, so I'm reading it. Jordan mentioned an obscure cult novel called A Voyage to Arcturus, so I'm reading that too. The former was written by Vachel Lindsay and published in 1920, and the latter was written by David Lindsay (unrelated) and published in 1920.

June 7. http://ranprieur.com/#1dca4e368fb764eb1b8947b4fe5a102422c941ea 2018-06-07T19:30:51Z June 7. The dying breed of craftsmen behind the tools that make scientific research possible. It's about one retiring glassblower, but this problem goes deeper and wider. From the Hacker News comment thread:

We see this scarcity in other industries that require traditional master/journeyman/apprentice systems, like master machinists, masons, or plasterers. That there are no baseline jobs, like light bulb manufacturing in glassblowing, that allow a sufficient pool of talent to acrue so that the very best, the "10x" artisans, can be found. That pool also gives a fallback so that people who are trained but do not possess the talent or dedication to become masters can still be gainfully employed.

This goes back to mechanization. Supposedly, mechanized manufacturing allows tedious labor to be done by machines. But making stuff by hand is not unrewarding -- it was made unrewarding by an economic system designed top-down for profit, not bottom-up for people to continue enjoying what they do all day. I'm not sure how hard the system has to crash to get from here to there, or how many generations it's going to take. But at the very least, as a culture, we have to stop measuring success in terms of economic growth.

Related, from the subreddit: Steven Pinker's ideas are fatally flawed. Pinker's gig is to tell beautiful lies to the neoliberal elite, linking their ideology to real improvements in quality of life that are mostly happening for other reasons.

I've stopped writing about this stuff because there's nothing any of us can do about it. But I do find it darkly fascinating that the people with real power are so out of touch.

I have visitors arriving this afternoon, so I probably won't be posting again until next week. Some good news: last week when I posted that video of sacred harp singing, I had no idea it was still going on, and there's no religious requirement to participate. Thanks Rochelle for pointing me to fasola.org.

June 5. http://ranprieur.com/#15cb56ea778487bd7c0978feb5a3f0476d63e34e 2018-06-05T17:10:51Z June 5. More stray links. Michael Pollan on What It's Like to Trip on the Most Potent Magic Mushroom. He's a very good essayist and this has to be one of the best trip reports ever written. I'm envious. I microdose Psilocybe cubensis to clear the cobwebs out of my brain, but larger doses make me feel sick without any additional mental effects. I've also tried LSD, which gave me something short of the communion with nature that Pollan describes, and I've yet to have my first hallucination.

More weird stuff: a redditor interprets Terence McKenna's statement that the world is made of words.

And a thread, What's the most paranormal thing you've experienced? It turns out to be mostly about visits from dead people.

Every so often reddit will have a good confession thread, like this one, What is your secret? My favorite is from I_am_here_to_serve, who faked suicide to get away from a controlling family.

Two links confirming stuff I already suspected. Why Rich Kids Are So Good at the Marshmallow Test. The famous test seemed to show that kids who are able to delay gratification are more successful later in life. It turns out, kids from families that are already successful, are more willing to delay gratification because their world is more reliable.

Are Hit Songs Becoming Less Musically Diverse? Yes, because the process of creating popular songs has become more factory-like, with a larger number of writers on each particular song, but a smaller number of masterminds behind it all. "On the other hand, fewer barriers to entry means every aspiring artist has a chance to compete on originality, perhaps one day diminishing the outsized role of elite producers."

On that subject, my favorite band has a major new album, Big Blood - Operate Spaceship Earth Properly. It's not officially out until June 15, but the record company sent me the CD anyway, and I think it's their best album since Unlikely Mothers four years ago. They're continuing to push their music toward sharper edges around its ethereal heart.