Ran Prieur

"You know, I'm sick of following my dreams, man. I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with 'em later."

- Mitch Hedberg


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November 9. Yesterday this was posted to the subreddit, probably because my last post used the word "tribalism": America's Problem Isn't Tribalism -- It's Racism.

The way I use the word, tribalism is a biological urge that we inherited from our primate ancestors: to divide our species into in-group and out-group, and make judgments based on that division. Racism is just one flavor of tribalism, and certainly a big one, but I use the more general word to also capture non-race tribalism. For example, why do Republicans hate solar energy? Not for any rational reason, and it has nothing to do with race, or any supposed Republican values. The right hates solar energy simply because the left thought of it first, so that whole technology has been colored by its association with the enemy monkey tribe.

Moving on, various links on the subject of observation, starting with another article from the Atlantic: That Cute Baby-Bear Video Reveals a Problem With Drones. A viral video shows two bears inspiringly climbing a ridge, but it turns out, they were only climbing it out of fear of the drone that was filming the video! The article's angle is that drones are scary. But I'm thinking about the broader philosophical issue, that we think we're observing how things are, when really we're observing how things respond to our own observation.

A Fighter Pilot's Guide to surviving on the roads. It's about how our eyes and brains are not made for the world of automobile traffic, but there are techniques we can practice to make up for that.

Earlier this year I wrote about the difficulty of dancing, and this comment has some good advice on how to dance better: "Dancing is just painting music with your body. How would you convey this song visually to someone who couldn't hear?"

Finally, a great bit from an interview with jazz pianist Keith Jarrett:

I was trained classically. But one time, I missed my entrance in a very simple Mozart piece because I was listening to to the orchestra and they sounded so beautiful. And the conductor turned around and said, "Don't listen." That ruined me, man. That destroyed my interest in constantly staying in that world, because my main job is listening. If you're improvising and you're not listening, the next second that comes up, you have nothing to say.

November 7. Quick election update. A couple weeks ago I linked to this article about thirteen candidates who are trying to revitalize the Democratic party from below, by having actual progressive positions and not taking corporate money. Of course, they all lost (except Jared Golden in Maine who still has a chance). This is why I've stopped following politics -- it's too depressing. With every election, big money tightens its grip while voters get more distracted by culture wars.

Supposedly these things go in cycles. In the 1930's we had labor movements and the New Deal. In the sixties we had massive cultural upheaval. Then the nineties, if anything, were an authoritarian decade, with economic power being concentrated by globalization. Now the police are militarized, young people are listening to bland music, and the only energy rising from below is ugly tribalism.

A few things still make me optimistic. One is demographic changes -- that is, old people with terrible politics dying. Another is the change in human consciousness if psychedelic drugs become more widely used. And then there's the big structural change, when we finally come to the end of economic growth, which has been the fuel for a lot of things being done the wrong way.

I don't think Donald Trump is a friend of the common man, or an agent of chaos, because if he were either, he would tweet two words that would change the world: fake debt.

November 5. There's an election tomorrow, but I have nothing interesting to say about it. So instead I'll write about my favorite sport, women's soccer. We're about to have the college tournament, and I think West Virginia is most likely to win it. Yesterday I watched them impose their will on third ranked Baylor, and they played with an intensity and precision that I've never seen at the college level, and not even that often at the pro level.

Top-ranked Stanford is not as strong a team, but more loaded with individual talent. Check out this goal by Catarina Macario, where she catches a ball on her knee, bounces it again off her foot, and casually bends it over four defenders and inside the far post.

My home team, Washington State, does not have the possession offense to go deep in the tournament, but they have a terrifying counterattack. Here's a heroic goal by Morgan Weaver. Most breakaway goals start with the scorer around midfield, but with the team a player down, she's all the way back to defend, and she blows by two defenders in a box-to-box sprint to seal the game.

One more goal, an incredible long-distance strike from Shannon Cooke, to win the SEC tournament for LSU.

November 2. For the weekend, some sci-fi/fantasy TV reviews. You've probably heard that we have our first female Doctor Who. I love the idea, and Jodie Whittaker totally pulls off the role. But through four episodes, this could be the worst written season since the 2005 reboot. The first episode was pretty good, and since then it's been steadily declining in good ideas. Where the Doctor usually has one companion, now she has three, and all three are cardboard nice people who have yet to show as much personality as Donna Noble did in every scene.

I wonder, do the writers think that having a female Doctor is so radical and challenging, that if they do anything else even slightly mind-blowing, it will be too much for the audience to wrap their heads around? Or have they slipped into a daze of self-congratulatory social activism that takes the edge off their creativity? The last two episodes have been explicitly political, one about Rosa Parks, which dumbed down the real story, and the latest one with a villain who's clearly based on Trump.

I watched the first eight episodes of Counterpart, a really well-made spy drama with one sci-fi element: that it's about a conflict between two parallel universes that are pretty much like our world. No spoilers, but at the end of episode eight, the writers had a character do something he would never do. That's forgivable if it sends the plot in an interesting direction, but I was excited about the character behaving realistically, and all the possibilities that would open up. When the writers stuck their fingers in to steer it into cliche, I jumped ship.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also starts with a great idea: a teenage half-witch in a world where Hogwarts is full-on evil. But the writing is lame on every scale from dialogue to story arc, and they're unable to come up with a single character who's interesting and also a good person. (With the election coming up, it occurs to me that the Democratic Party has the same problem.)

American Horror Story Apocalypse is... eh... pretty good, more fun and less mean than previous seasons. Of all the shows those guys have done, the only one I like is Scream Queens, which was also the shortest lived.

Disenchantment is promising: a Matt Groening fantasy, with the headlong creativity of The Simpsons and Futurama, in a world with castles and magic. It's definitely the best looking of the three shows, but after ten episodes it's still finding its footing.

Maniac is an awesome show about a psychedelic pharmaceutical trial. The best way to adapt Philip K. Dick is not to put his actual stories on the screen, but to take the spirit of his writing and do something original. I think my favorite Dick adaptation is an obscure French film called Barjo.

October 31. I want to go back to last week's subject of whether or not we dwell on mistakes. My first thought was, it's about mind vs body. But then I was watching Monday Night Football, and Cris Collinsworth mentioned that players are haunted for years by their big mistakes on the field. (One exception is Jameis Winston, who seems completely unbothered by mistakes, so they don't shake his confidence, but he also keeps making a lot of them.) The point is, it's not about mind vs body -- it's about consequences, which are mostly social. Then a reader points out that the pain of social mistakes can linger if we don't "close the loop," which could mean talking to the other people involved.

So here's a hypothesis of how technology could be causing the social anxiety epidemic. In a low-tech culture, our social connections are deep and nearby, or you could say we have a small number of high-bandwidth connections. So we can see the full consequences of our actions, we know who we've harmed and who hates us, and we have the opportunity to work it out. But in a high-tech culture, our social connections are thin and far-flung. Even our in-person encounters are often with people we'll never see again. So we often have no idea who we've harmed or who hates us, and no chance for resolution.

You could say, that's their problem, they have to tell me if I'm doing something they don't like. But the way it works in practice is, I'm going through life with good intentions and I think everything's fine, and suddenly someone is really mad at me and I don't know why. That's traumatic, and it makes me hesitant to be around other people.

One song for Halloween: Exuma - Mama Loi, Papa Loi.

October 29. A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley. Basically the people who best understand smart phones are keeping their own kids away from them as long as possible. The Hacker News comment thread looks more deeply at the different kinds of things that are on screens, and how they have changed. The top comment is about how the newest games are being engineered like slot machines, and the sub-comments point out that even slot machines are more regulated than games like Candy Crush.

Some good news, an explanation of Japan's Hometown Tax and how it works to stop cities from draining the wealth of towns. Normally, towns would do all the work of raising and educating people who end up living in Tokyo, and they wouldn't give anything back. So Japan gives you a huge tax break for donating money to your hometown. The twist: you can declare any town to be your hometown, and towns can reward people for donations. So now towns are competing for donations by offering local goods and services.

More good news: Feds Say Hacking DRM to Fix Your Electronics Is Legal

Just submitted to the subreddit, a review of Embrace of the Serpent, a film about two white people learning from a shaman in the Amazon. Iron_dwarf argues that it's actually science fiction, because it's about taking ecological consciousness forward through new technologies.

Finally, Casey Malone, who did the "Living In A Van Down By The River" blog, has turned it into a book: Moving Out.

October 26. Continuing from Wednesday, on the subject of "grounding", I was thinking about how I practice physical skills vs other kinds of skills. If I'm swimming and my arm hits the water at a bad angle, I don't dwell on it for a millisecond; I just immediately try again. But I've made social mistakes that I've dwelled on for years.

Then I read this comment from Eric:

If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I will simply curse and get back to what I was doing, but if some stupid software doesn't work, I get pretty upset.

Trying to explain this, my first thought that the body is grounded, so that the residue of mistakes is immediately drained away; but the mind is not grounded, so the residue of mistakes can circle around into neurosis. Knowing this, we can try to make our minds as as well-grounded as our bodies. But when I think about it more, this issue is deeply related to culture, and how we're penalized by other people for social mistakes -- or for moral mistakes, whatever that means.

New subject, but still psychology. This was posted here on the subreddit: Harmonious Passion vs Obsessive Passion. It's a hard thing to explain, and the article's careful explanation is mostly about whether you're in control of the behavior, or whether it controls you. I would frame it as a continuum rather than either-or. I can play a video game that starts out as healthy fun, and gradually veers into a compulsion to keep doing something I no longer even enjoy.

The more general point is that there's more than one way to "feel like" doing something -- or to feel like not doing something -- and it can be hard to tell these feelings apart, to know which feelings to act on and which feelings to ignore.

A few months ago there was an obscure and fascinating AskReddit question, something like, "How many times out of ten are your gut feelings accurate?" Strangely, almost every answer was at one extreme or the other. If someone says 10/10, they're so intuitively gifted that they're not even bothered by unreliable feelings. If someone says 0/10, they're so intuitively challenged that they have not yet seen any reason to let a feeling overrule rationality -- or maybe their intuition is working on a level they're not even aware of. I probably would have said 0/10 until some time in my twenties, and now, maybe 6/10.

October 24. Continuing from Monday, there's a discussion of that Jung quote on the subreddit, including a link to this page about Jung and suffering, which includes this bit from Barbara Stevens Sullivan:

The most hopeful result of analysis finds the patient suffering more of his pain than he was able to manage before. More of his pain is held in conscious awareness instead of being discharged into behavior that jumbles up his life...

Buddhists make a distinction between pain and suffering, where pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. In that semantic framework, "suffering" would be unskilled processing of pain. So what is skilled processing?

I like the metaphor of surfing, where pain is the wave, and if you can really stay in touch with it, you can ride it down without hardly getting wet; but if you lose focus, you can wipe out and get completely soaked.

Another metaphor is doing the dishes. I remember, back in my 20's, when I developed the habit of washing dirty dishes immediately, instead of letting them build up in the sink. The way most people avoid facing pain, is like letting dishes pile up, except your inner world is a lot more complicated than a sink basin. I think it's possible to become a hunter of pain, where you're constantly watching inside yourself for traces of pain, tracking them down and cleaning them up. The process, like cleaning anything, is to completely engage with the mess.

Another metaphor is grounding the pain, like an electric charge. A friend mentioned this over email, and I asked, "What exactly is the pain grounded to?" She answered, to the earth. And that reminds me of a quote from Keanu Reeves: "It's easy to stay grounded. The ground is very close. And we walk on it every day."

October 22. One reason I've stopped writing about politics is that the whole national spectacle has become toxic. I feel like it's bad for my mental health to even know anything about the stuff that CNN and Fox News are focusing on. At the same time, I'm sure there are important things happening in obscurity.

This article, Portrait of a Campaign, is a composite story of several US House campaigns, in which a progressive candidate has a simple message that can win a red-leaning district, and the national Democratic party is not helping: "While claiming to seek victory, the Democratic leadership has instead created a consulting and fundraising complex that incentivizes narrow defeat."

The article has a lot more details about the politics, and a donation page to help thirteen candidates. But I want to slip out of politics and into psychology, because the same thing happens on the scale of individual people: that you want something, and it's realistic for you to get it, but you have a set of entrenched habits that keep you suspended short of success but safe from total failure.

The way out, of course, is to risk total failure. Re-quoting Yuri from ten days ago: "We must not get stuck in a local minimum. This is why we go through shocks/turbulence." I'm also thinking of a Carl Jung quote: "The foundation of all mental illness is the unwillingness to experience legitimate suffering."

October 19. This was posted to the subreddit last week: Virtual Reality as Moral Ideal. It's from Matthew Crawford's book The World Beyond Your Head, and it starts out with a fascinating comparison of old and new Disney cartoons. In the old ones, the physical world is dangerous and unpredictable, as it is in real life. In the new ones, the physical world presents simple challenges that are always tidily solved by magical tools.

The second half of the article is mostly about Immanuel Kant. I have a degree in philosophy, and fuck that guy. It's like, if you're learning to play music, you don't memorize some shitty music from hundreds of years ago just because it happened to be the first music with certain ideas. I think philosophy took a wrong turn with Socrates, and since then only a handful of philosophers, including Spinoza and Husserl, have said anything interesting. If we threw it all out and started over, we would have more fun and soon be doing better thinking, in the same way that Germany and Japan got better at manufacturing by having all their old factories destroyed in WWII.

Anyway, back to the original subject, I would frame the change in children's entertainment in terms of black-boxification. This is an idea I got from Bruno Latour's book Science In Action. A black box just does something for us, and we don't care how it works. From there, you can go "upstream", and take apart the black box to find out how it works, or go "downstream" and build black boxes into bigger black boxes that we no longer look inside.

The recent trend has been heavily downstream, with increasingly complex gadgets that are supposed to be our magical servants (Siri, scratch my butt) but in practice, when they malfunction, or when their unseen handlers exploit us, we are powerless, because the gadgets are too complex for us to tinker with or even understand.

I think that feeling of powerlessness is a big part of the epidemic of anxiety and depression. Crawford suggests "reclaiming the real" by learning skills: cooking, sports, music, fixing things. But there are also internal skills, and that's a more direct way to tackle mental illness: by taking apart the black boxes of our habits of where we turn our attention and how we think and act.

I think it's best to do both. I've been going to the pool a couple times a week, and trying to build a decent swimming technique by breaking it down into smaller bits. I might work on my kicking by doing a backstroke lap, not even using my arms, and kicking with only my right leg, and then only my left, figuring out how to move my leg to get the most propulsion. Then I'll work on freestyle, holding my breath and not kicking, so I can focus all my attention on the arm strokes. Then I'll let my arms and legs flail terribly while I focus only on breathing. Eventually it will all come together, but the point is, this physical work is like a foundation, or a template, that makes it easier to do mental work.

October 17. Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative? Studies show that it does, probably because boredom leads to daydreaming which leads to creativity. It includes a good definition of boredom. I used to think boredom was one thing, and then I thought, no, it's two things, one where you have nothing to do (which doesn't bother me at all) and one where you're forced to pay attention to something that's not interesting (which bothers me a lot). But this paper merges those two with this definition: "Boredom stems from a situation where none of the possible things that a person can realistically do appeal to the person in question."

Anyway, now I'm wondering if creativity is declining because the world is full of so many high-tech options to pass the time. But maybe when we get bored of all the TV and games and social media, creativity will be higher than ever, because we'll have learned from all that stuff how to daydream better.

Loosely related, from the subreddit, a copy-paste about touristification, how society is changing to make everything more predictable.

Also, since Canada just legalized weed, here's an update on my own use. I've always viewed my highs, and my recovery from them, passively, as if I'm being swept by forces beyond my control. Now I'm starting to view the whole thing as a workout, like I'm a weightlifter raising and lowering the mind. Or it's like every session is skiing down a ridge, and every break is climbing back to the top, and I'm starting to figure out how to ski better and climb harder. That doesn't mean I'm good at it yet.

October 15. Not smart enough today for an original post, so I'll catch up on old links, starting with two threads from Hacker News. This one is about how doctors are not scientists -- they've learned a set of accepted symptoms and diagnoses, and they tend to dismiss anything outside it, which makes them useless for any medical issue that's not completely normal.

And a discussion of Google becoming evil, in the context of a new version of their Chrome browser, which keeps Google cookies when you tell it to delete all cookies.

A sad reddit thread, Sex workers of reddit: What is the saddest experience (client wise) you've had while on the job? It's all about people who have non-sexual emotional needs, not all of them healthy.

Your IQ matters less than you think. My angle would be: IQ tests are purely about the skill of manipulating abstract symbols, which is a tiny shred of all the skills a person can have. The article's angle is to point out how badly IQ correlates with "success" -- a measure that I also don't trust, because even if you factor out people who are born rich, success is mainly a measure of how well a person fits with a given society.

If we're trying to measure the value of a person, it's hard to find any firm ground to stand on. But here's a stab at it: a valuable person is a person who fits with a society in which everyone has high subjective quality of life. So we can't measure it until we actually achieve such a society, maybe in ten thousand years.

Also on the subject of how the world can get better: The case for making cities out of wood.

And an inspiring self-improvement article, Teach Yourself to Echolocate.

October 12. I got some good comments on Wednesday's post, but I don't want to make two posts in a row about politics. So I'm going back to Monday's subject, with this comment from Yuri, a Ukrainian friend of my old friend Kevin. Somewhat edited:

You've heard about artificial intelligence being a threat. Putting a mind into a simulated reality seems a perfect way to contain that kind of threat. Imagine yourself awakening in the middle of the absolute void without knowing what you are. You realize that you can alter the void and create something out of nothing by will. Still that doesn't add to the understanding of what/who you are. Then you create creatures and put part of yourself into them in order to observe them and reflect on oneself...

That interpretation explains a lot of wonders performed by prophets/saints/reality hackers. It also justifies the existence of all the evil things, as good things have to be compared to something, and without both bad and good experiences it wouldn't be possible to achieve wholeness/deeper understanding.

In order for this simulation to continue to run, apart from not breaking initial conditions, we must not get stuck in a local minimum. This is why we go through shocks/turbulence, so that we continue searching for the global maximum. That kind of maximum might be well beyond our current physical reality, so in order to reach it we might need to expand outward (go into space) or inward (like the movie Inception) by creating an intelligence, and simulation for it to run in, within our current simulated reality.

I have another thought. The problem with simulations all the way down, is that one person can pull a plug and kill infinite nested universes. If that were possible, then with infinite universes above us, it would have already happened. Now we're really moving from metaphysics into sci-fi: to make infinite nesting work, there would have to be a way for simulated worlds to become independent, so their existence could not be threatened by whatever world contains them.

Sort of related, My journey into fractals is about the development of a 3D fractal exploration game.

October 10. The other day this was posted on the subreddit: Empty Realm. It's a thoughtful article about the NPC meme, the idea that ordinary people are so much on autopilot that they're not people in the same sense as "we" are -- whatever subculture wields the meme. At the moment, that subculture is the far right, and the author generously interprets the NPC meme as an expression of cynicism about our society, and a yearning for more genuine freedom.

Okay, but what I don't get is, if someone feels this way, why are they drawn to the right wing? Historically, the right is about top-down power, about "law and order" which limit the possibility to live differently, while the left is about bottom-up power and risky transformation. So why would anyone who is not already powerful, who is unhappy with things as they are, choose to be right wing? I think it's despair. The world is now so tightly locked down, and so incomprehensible in its complexity, that trying to have hope for bottom-up change is just too sad, so people internalize the dominator, and dream of a top-down system that's more clean and pure.

Unexpectedly related: The Best Article Ever Written About Bragging. It breaks bragging down into 17 categories, many of which we don't think of as bragging when we're doing them. I find this kind of analysis troubling and finally exhausting. The more aware I become of the complexities of social subtext, the more I give up on ever doing it correctly. I'm like, fuck it, let's just all be bad people.

Going back to last week's subject of mental and spiritual self-improvement, a reader sends this massive page of links, the TAT Forum archive. I suggest clicking randomly.

October 8. Today's post is about metaphysics, and I want to start with an overlap from Friday. I've been getting back into Starsector, a game whose designer makes blog posts about the design process, and one thing he wrote continues to stick with me (although I can't find it now, and I may have embellished something less interesting). The idea is, he used to think of a game in terms of the inner mechanics, and then you put a user interface on top of that. At some point he realized that the user interface is the game.

This reminds me of an Edward Abbey quote: "Appearance versus reality? Appearance is reality, God damn it!" And it's also related to the trendy idea that we're all living in a simulation. All three of these ideas are about the tension between the world that we directly perceive, including our sense experience and our mental states, and some hidden world that supposedly underlies it.

Whether or not we're living in a simulation, we're living in a society increasingly run by computers, which leads us to frame the simulation hypothesis as a simulation by computers, and not by some other technology. On a deeper level, our materialist culture tells us that the simulation must at least be something physical.

But we already believe this when we talk about invisible atoms and waves, the physics and chemistry of the brain somehow creating the quality of what-it's-like-to-be. The popular simulation hypothesis looks deeper than atoms -- and unimaginatively only finds other atoms, in some massive data-crunching machine in a universe basically the same as ours. The only important difference is on the level of meaning: that our world is a sub-world, managed by people with motives and plans for us.

Now, maybe they're in a simulation too, and this article raises and rejects the idea that it's simulations all the way down. I find it strange, that the author of that article finds it relieving, that if you go deep enough, you eventually get to the materialist God: lifeless matter in which mind emerged by accident. I think simulations all the way down would be kind of cool.

What I actually believe is that matter is local. Matter is the user interface of our own particular universe, which has been created on the level of mind. It's not that aliens in another physical universe are dreaming us, but that the fundamental reality is dream-stuff. Matter is dream-stuff so sticky that you can do physics with it.

So how did mind get stuck together into matter, and why? I don't think we can answer that from here. But when I think about it, a mind-based simulation is less likely than a matter-based simulation to have a purpose. Building all those computers is a massive job that wouldn't be done without a reason. But if we're pure mind dreaming of matter, we might just be doing it on a lark.

October 5. The No Tech Reader #21 has a bunch of links about the kind of stuff I used to love writing about: why plastic recycling isn't working, why growth can't be green, and so on. I'm writing less about that stuff as I understand better that there's nothing I can do about it. To give my attention to something I can't influence is a form of self-sabotage -- and if it's something bad, then it's also self-abuse.

What can I influence? My own writing, which is the main way I cultivate relationships with the outside world, and my own inner world.

More than 20 years ago, in one of my zines, I wrote that I'm "trying to become enlightened before this civilization collapses." Now that sounds like a dumb thing to say, but the problem is, I was working with dumb words. Whatever a word starts out meaning, it settles into whatever meaning is the simplest and the most seductive to the most people. Words become sleek black boxes to be plugged into ideological equations, and to use a word like that, is to be used by the word.

For years I thought I was battling civilization. Now I see that I was really battling the word civilization. Gradually, I cracked its skin and scattered its guts. I've done the same thing with the word "collapse", and I'm still working on the many things tied up in the word "enlightenment".

Here's how I would put it all together now: The way we're all living is like a giant machine made of tragic mistakes -- but also the beautiful things we've done to make the best of those mistakes. It's always changing, and the coming changes are going to be challenging and painful. To navigate those changes, I'm trying to increase my own awareness of my body and mind, and develop better habits.

New subject, sort of. Leigh Ann had to get a high-end laptop for her classes, so I've been using her old laptop, which is still way better than my dinosaur Dell Latitude, to get back into Starsector, an awesome in-development game that I've been playing on and off since 2012 when it was still called Starfarer. The designer, Alexander Mosolov‏, makes blog posts about the design process, and shows deep understanding of what makes a good game. One thing he wrote continues to stick with me: that he used to think of a game in terms of the inner mechanics, and then you put a user interface on top of that. At some point he realized that the user interface is the game. Related: Scientists are looking for ways to test if we're living in a simulation.

October 3. Continuing from Monday, it's not fair to say that my meditation hasn't worked. We have a cultural myth of someone sitting in a lotus position, blanking their mind and blissing out. The reality is both more complicated and more useful.

I actually don't do any traditional sitting meditation. I find the best time to practice silencing "the chattering monkey" is when I'm trying to fall asleep. Either I succeed in sleeping, or I succeed in putting in some time working inside my head, and that work is valuable even if my head never gets blank.

Trying to have no thoughts is different from, but related to, the practice of metacognition. It's like there are all these programming subroutines running inside my head, and I normally think of them as just me being me, but the skill is to carve out a different "me" that stands apart, and sees the subroutines as workers (or invaders) whose behavior can be changed. Cannabis has helped me a lot with this. Sometimes I wonder how much of weed anxiety is just people starting to notice that the "self" is a bunch of bad habits.

Another practice is being in the moment. I used to think it was like quitting smoking: one day you just decide to do it, and then you're doing it all the time. It's more like learning to juggle, and starting out not even knowing how to throw or catch. One day you're like, "Whoa, this moment is never going to happen again." That's a throw, and a catch is appreciating the next moment as it comes. I've just recently figured out a technique I call looping: pretend that this block of time (anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes) will loop for all eternity. Then the challenge is: How do I conceive of this block of time so that the eternal loop becomes a good thing? I know Nietzsche tried to think of his whole life looping -- that dude was always overreaching.

Another practice I figured out, and haven't read about anywhere, is what I call "expanding into pain". Every time I try to explain it better, it feels like I'm explaining it worse. But it seems to be related to the practice of turning my attention from my head to my body.

Have you ever seen someone walking down the street reading a book? My imagination is so powerful, that I don't even need a book to get that level of disconnection. But this year I've been going for walks and trying to turn all my attention to the minutiae of foot-landings and bone-angles and arm-swings. I've also been going swimming, and letting Leigh Ann coach me on my form, which after many hours of work is still absolutely terrible. I do finally feel competent at backstroke leg-paddling, as long as I don't try to move my arms at the same time.

There is one place where I've actually succeeded in duplicating a drug effect without drugs. The morning after using cannabis, I used to lie in bed with my whole body just feeling like it was glowing. Now I feel like that almost every morning, and sometimes even when I'm taking a rest in the afternoon. I'm not sure what I did. Maybe just knowing that it's possible, and then building it up by noticing it.

October 1. Update: turns out there are two Sarah Perrys. The one who used to write the blog The View from Hell, and lately has been posting her stuff on Ribbonfarm, is not the same one who has an essay in the Guardian, Out of my mind: writing under the influence of drugs. Anyway, it's mostly about pain:

I have come to understand literary drug culture as being more properly a culture of pain, and the relieving of it; of works written under the influence both of suffering and the doped-up euphoria of respite.

Using herself and other authors as examples, she tells this story: people are living in unbearable physical pain; they take drugs to move in the direction of being normal; and the drugs color their writing, but not as much as the pain does.

My world is almost exactly the opposite. I'm living in bearable psychic pain: anti-motivation, anhedonia, anxiety. I plod through the garden of the numb, going through life by forcing myself to do stuff I don't feel like doing. Then I take drugs (cannabis, rarely LSD), and everything becomes beautiful and important and alive. I gain adequate emotional intelligence and wild creativity, which enables me to do a whole different kind of writing, trying to distill that heaven into words.

But after a day or two, the weed just makes me numb (which some drug users are seeking, but I'm trying to avoid). So I go back to sobriety, and for a few days, I feel worse. Without drugs, I climb from the pain-pit back to the bleak plateau, and as soon as I get my feet under me, I launch again.

I know some people have reported reaching that state of grace without drugs, and I continue to try all kinds of meditation techniques, including some I've invented, but nothing has worked yet.

Two loosely related links: Does CBD Really Do Anything? We don't know yet. And Evidence that addictive behaviors have strong links with ancient retroviral infection.

September 28. In this subreddit thread about alternatives to central control, I've just had a little discussion about "rhizomatic" systems, which can be visualized as a bunch of boxes horizontally connected by lines. If we're talking about an ideal human society, then each box is a group of people who know each other well enough that they can get along without internal control, and there's no external control because the "boxes" are also working together as equals.

Of course, in the system we have now, boxes are totally commanding other boxes, and the main box-type is the individual. This didn't happen accidentally -- it was planned by right wing think tanks that grew up in the 1970's and took over in the 1980's. Now, social issues are framed not in terms of how we can arrange the system better, but in terms of personal responsibility. For example, instead of changing agricultural subsidies to make fresh produce cheap and processed corn expensive, we morally judge fat people. Or we blame people for littering, instead of designing packaging that, when thrown on the ground, is not ugly or harmful.

In the thread, Asterios mentions that the lines between nodes might be more important than the nodes themselves. I've had this insight too, that relationships are more fundamental than things. It follows, that in a well-functioning system, the boxes will redesign themselves to fit the lines.

The problem is, if the boxes are people, there are limits to how much we can redesign ourselves. In 1984, Orwell has his villain say that "Men are infinitely malleable," because that's what the control system wants to believe, that it can make the lines however it wants and the boxes will fall into place. But in practice, that's how social systems collapse, by pushing us too far from our nature. That's true on every scale, from the Chinese economy to one couple: the most robust system is the one that gives its people the most room to be themselves.

Different oppressive systems bend people too far in different ways. In the industrial age, it was working too many hours in factories, and that's still going on in a lot of places. But in America, in my lifetime, the main way I see the system trying to over-bend us is in how we show emotion. A hundred years ago, how many job descriptions listed emotional or psychological requirements for applicants? Probably almost none of them, and now it's almost all of them. If you're not enthusiastic, and not willing to fake it, you can't make any money. So everybody fakes it, and the collective faking of positive emotions, and hiding of negative ones, is eating our culture from within.

Here's a comic about it. And I'm also wondering, if we were all honest about how we feel, what would happen? I don't know if the system would collapse, or if it would get better.

I don't do an RSS feed, but Patrick has written a script that creates a feed based on the way I format my entries. It's at http://ranprieur.com/feed.php. You might also try Page2RSS.

Posts will stay on this page about a month, and then mostly drop off the edge. A reader has set up an independent archive that saves the page every day or so. I've archived the best stuff, and they're all linked from the old stuff page. Below are the newest archives:

November 2016 - February 2017
February - April 2017
May - August 2017
September - November 2017
December 2017 - March 2018
April - June 2018
July 2018 - ?