Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2018-12-28T16:00:53Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com December 28. http://ranprieur.com/#668e5ce2b649cca590be5c664f42fe86ca4c110b 2018-12-28T16:00:53Z December 28. I wanted to post some afterthoughts about materialism and science, including an explanation of how the paranormal challenges our whole way of framing subjective and objective, which is related to how we think about mind and matter. What would the scientific method look like, if we saw mind as fundamental, or if we saw subjective/objective as a continuum instead of either/or?

But I'm not smart enough for that today, so I'll just write about weed.

This deleted reddit thread has some good thoughts about cannabis anxiety, including a nurse pointing out that THC lowers blood pressure, which can make the heart speed up, which can trick the mind into feeling anxiety. This TED talk, which I posted last month, has more details about how the brain creates emotions. My own theory is that cannabis temporarily increases emotional intelligence, enough to make us aware of all the mistakes we've been making.

And a scientific article, Rapid Changes in CB1 Receptor Availability in Cannabis Dependent Males after Abstinence from Cannabis. Basically, a two day tolerance break clears your brain's cannabinoid receptors so well that it's hard to measure the difference between two days and 28 days -- and yet, "Despite 4 weeks of abstinence, [receptor] availability in [stoners] did not reach healthy control levels."

I would add, recovery is about more than just clearing cannabinoid receptors -- it's about getting used to being sober again. I think there are parts of my consciousness that go numb when I'm high, like an arm goes numb when you lie on it, and even after the blood is flowing, it still prickles with pain and needs more time to work well.

Christmas Day, 2018. A couple weeks ago I mentioned Adam Curtis's prediction, "there's going to be a resurgence of religion," and since then I've been puzzling about how to define that word. With some help from Eric, this is what I've come up with:

A religion is a community of people united by a foundational belief. With so much uncertainty in life, it's practical to pick one thing that you refuse to doubt, and that belief is like the foundation of a building, or the anchor of a ship, or the seed of a crystal, for your whole model of reality.

Paradoxically, crazier religious beliefs are more robust. It's like people are boasting about the power of their faith, that they can truly believe something as loopy as flat-earthism. (Flat-earthism also offers something taken away by modernity: unseen worlds that you can walk to.)

In the old days, religion ran in families -- not just "you kids have to go to church," but people who really wanted to keep believing the same stuff for centuries. I think this is because our foundational beliefs are usually connected to whatever is the closest thing we've had to a transcendent experience. So the most magical thing kids would do, and later their most awesome memory, would be church events with their families.

That changed when we invented technologies that created stronger experiences than going to church, like television and psychedelic drugs. I'm not a Christian, because the story of the son of God dying for our sins doesn't resonate with me. Instead, I suspect that this is a badly run prison world, like on Hogan's Heroes, or that we live in some kind of fate-dense exile, like on Gilligan's Island.

Still, I'm grateful for being raised Catholic, because even though the nuns wore normal clothing, and the hymn singers looked like hippies, somehow I caught a precious vibe of epic spirituality. It's not a coincidence that my favorite sci-fi author (Roger Zelazny) and singer-songwriter (Colleen Kinsella) are also ex-Catholics.

My own most nearly transcendent experience came from a song, with help from cannabis. I feel that I've seen the light behind the world, and I want to make more lenses for that light. It's like a religion, but for one person. Just a few hundred years ago, that kind of thing would get you burned at the stake, but now it's almost common.

I expect that trend to continue, with more and more solofaithers; and I also expect a weakening of materialist metaphysics (which is totally a religion). But religion won't die, because most of us would rather share our beliefs than hold them alone. If we do get a resurgence of religion, I'm wondering what the foundational beliefs will be. I remember a favorite Bible quote of my old priest: "The stone that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone."

Callahan comic: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost get stuck in the doorway]]>
December 22. http://ranprieur.com/#2608071d57a94916077c20fb861f10224435060f 2018-12-22T22:00:48Z December 22. Some music for the holiday: Ramsey Lewis Trio - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

December 19. http://ranprieur.com/#9669c0ffd2068f632e9b7a11d518846bd4927e76 2018-12-19T19:30:56Z December 19. We're back from the coast, and tonight, on the 170th anniversary of her death, I want to write about Emily Bronte. Like me, she grew up in a small town, with educated parents and good exposure to the high culture of her time; she spent a lot of her youth in worlds of imagination; and as an adult, she made it a top priority to avoid ordinary labor so she could be alone and do creative work.

Thirty years ago, I was so obsessed with Wuthering Heights that I took four different classes that read it, and I photocopied the whole novel and put it on my wall. But what I liked about it is not what people supposedly like about it -- the intense romantic love between the two protagonists. I think their bond is something entirely different from romantic love, and only takes on that appearance after they have both been corrupted by society.

More generally, the theme of the book is the primal aliveness that is the birthright of all living things, and how the human world crushes it out of us -- or if we are stubborn enough in holding onto that feeling, how the world twists it into something destructive.

I agree with a common fan theory that Catherine and Heathcliff are actually half-siblings. And when they wander the moors together as children, they nurture and grow a rare understanding of the divinity of wildness, and will forever associate that magical state with each other's company. That's what Catherine means when she says Heathcliff "is more myself than I am" -- that in him she sees a deeper self that she has lost.

Wuthering Heights is a young person's book -- I don't feel like reading it again. But as I get older, I gather more experiences that are too big for conventional reality, and remind me of the final lines from Emily Bronte's best poem, Remembrance:

Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?

Don't worry -- I have no plans to die soon. First I have to write more fiction and find it an audience. Here's a verse from a work in progress:

Though fast be the clock belt and hot be the engine
Fearsome the distance from star to next star
Mother of Space, may your emptiness fill us
The trench of redemption must drown us to spill us
On beaches unreachable by who we are

December 16. http://ranprieur.com/#8016e51fc3f690ea817f24367bddb4a0a1ff1a6b 2018-12-16T16:00:00Z December 16. Quick note. I'm at the Washington coast, with slow wifi and only my iPad, so I probably won't be posting or answering emails for a few days.

December 14. http://ranprieur.com/#48732295df369359b37c36c39b73db50ed0075ec 2018-12-14T14:40:34Z December 14. This was heavily upvoted on the subreddit, so I'll post it here: The Unlikely New Generation of Unabomber Acolytes. I've tried to read the Unabomber manifesto, and what strikes me is how much effort he puts into covering his ass. Maybe it's because of his background in math, or that evil psychological experiment at Harvard, but Kaczynski is just so careful to make sure that nobody can find any holes in his thesis. Of course that doesn't work. If someone wants to disagree with you, or agree with you, they can always find a way, no matter how airtight, or absurd, your argument.

As manifestos go, I love Valerie Solanas's SCUM manifesto. On a strict rational level, almost everything in it is incorrect, but it's so full of life that I don't care, and her critique of maleness can be read as a metaphor for many aspects of the dominant culture. For example: "Incapable of enjoying the moment, the male needs something to look forward to, and money provides him with an eternal, never-ending goal: Just think of what you could do with 80 trillion dollars -- invest it! And in three years time you'd have 300 trillion dollars!!!"

The main thing that drew me to primitivism, and also homesteading, was my desire to escape the busyness of modern life. All I want is to have nothing I'm supposed to be doing, as much of the time as possible. So I traveled around, met back-to-the-landers, visited intentional communities, even tried it myself. And it turns out, those people work even more hours than the average urban person. It's like the idea that they're living in a more natural way, or living in a community, is a motivational trick to get themselves to do more chores than anyone should have to do in this age of material abundance. Good for them, but that trick doesn't work on me -- nor does any other motivational trick I've tried so far. I continue to get through the day on brute force of will.

Two more doom links: Millennials Didn't Kill the Economy. The Economy Killed Millennials. And a Hacker News comment thread about why U.S. life expectancy is falling.

December 12. http://ranprieur.com/#b2839a153760d810669a74eff9e0ec3d8d256b17 2018-12-12T12:20:55Z December 12. The Economist has a great new interview with Adam Curtis, the documentary filmmaker and social critic. The whole thing is worth reading, but it's pretty long so I want to try to summarize it.

He starts with the word "HyperNormalisation", which was coined to describe the last years of the Soviet Union, but now it applies to us: everyone knows the system isn't working, that it's unreal, and that it can't keep going like this, but no one knows what to do about it.

Donald Trump is a "pantomime villain" who has locked liberals into a theater of outrage, so nobody pays attention to what's happening outside the theater.

Politics used to be about groups, and now it's about individuals, and the tech system has figured out how to control us as individuals, so that we feel free while we're being managed. Big data looks at the past to tell us what we will want in the future, so it can never imagine anything new.

The concept of "risk" has spread from the world of finance to te world of politics, and to our whole culture. Instead of having a vision for a better world, we're just trying to stop bad things from happening.

The internet is like a corporate HR department, removing people who misbehave, but never questioning the larger system that feeds the misbehavior.

Baby boomers are projecting the fear of their own mortality onto political issues, so climate change becomes a looming nightmare, instead of a challenge to restructure power and resources.

We need politicians who will inspire people to take big risks for exciting visions of the future, but the left is no longer doing that at all, and the right is doing it with nationalism, "the easiest story to go for."

Curtis thinks "there's going to be a resurgence of religion," and that "there's a romantic age coming." Those are interesting predictions, but he doesn't have good evidence, or a good definition of either R-word.

December 10. http://ranprieur.com/#f5a79e8a40893a3000f4ee6520cf8e72e95b7de9 2018-12-10T22:00:31Z December 10. Quick note: long time reader Darren Allen has written a book, 33 Myths of the System. That page has free download links, and a there's also a post on the subreddit. I haven't read it yet but it looks promising.

Continuing from last week, I've had some email conversations about biotech surpassing cybertech. Eric writes, "I am having trouble imagining a self-replicating robot as smart as a dog that is created and powered entirely by a couple handfuls of kibble per day."

And Matt writes:

What if, one day, we could design organisms that we could live in? A bioengineered creature that can feed itself with sunlight, or other gradients of energy, but that's also hospitable to humans. And, what if while the residents might choose its basic structure, it grew in ways that surprised us, like a living art project?

Is the future of humanity one of high-tech animism, in which everything around us is not only alive, but capable of carrying on conversations?

I love that idea, but I think there's a trade-off. Machines do exactly what we tell them to do (which is never quite what we want them to do) but they're expensive to build and maintain. Biology can self-replicate from common materials, but because it's self-organizing, it will have its own motives.

I don't think we can have the best of both worlds, but now I'm thinking like a science fiction writer: imagine two competing utopian cultures, one based on cybertech and one based on biotech. The biotech culture will win, because 1) it's more efficient with energy and resources, and 2) its people will be mentally stronger, because they have to negotiate with allies instead of commanding servants.

Related: a long NY Times article, Can Dirt Save the Earth? We can move a lot of carbon from the atmosphere into topsoil, but we have to change the way we do agriculture.

December 7. http://ranprieur.com/#d545dab2fafbb8cc527e5badf761e6d86b65f22f 2018-12-07T19:30:16Z December 7. Last year I didn't do a year-end music post, because I hadn't heard anything that great from 2017, and I still haven't. But in the universe of my musical taste, 2018 looks like the best year since 2014, with one album and three songs for the ages -- and thanks Leigh Ann for introducing me to all of them.

The album is the self-titled debut by London duo Insecure Men. It's loaded with intoxicating melodies and complex sonic textures, with a vibe like the bottom of a tropical lagoon. The best song, Whitney Houston and I, turns the tragic lives of celebrities into an epic metaphor of the divine feminine.

My song of the year is Wiggy Giggy by the Lovely Eggs. Like my favorite band, Big Blood, the Lovely Eggs are a married couple who started recording in 2006. It's hard to find a heavy song as warm and fun as Wiggy Giggy, let alone with its message of mind expansion: "Spaceman, take me out to a place, that I don't want to go."

And the third great song is Destroyer by Lala Lala, a Chicago band whose singer-songwriter, like everyone above, is originally from England. The quiet parts sound a lot like the quiet parts of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Then the chorus is nothing like Nirvana, but it reminds me of another Seattle band, Carissa's Wierd, and their layered vocals in songs like like Drunk With The Only Saints I Know.

Big Blood released two albums this year, from which my favorite normal song is Underneath He Is A Girl, but I've been getting more into their space-ghost soundscapes, like Make Way and Wishy Wishy I. And lately I've been listening heavily to their 2014 double vinyl blowout, Unlikely Mothers, especially the hypnotic and filthy So Po Village Stone.

There are also two old songs that I got obsessed with this year. One is bright and clean and popular, a UK radio hit from 1979, known to Americans through Tracey Ullman's less brilliant 1983 cover: Kirsty MacColl - They Don't Know.

The other is dark and erratic and obscure, released in 1997 by a New Zealand indie band, but probably recorded in 1992: The Garbage and The Flowers - Carousel. I love the impressionistic lyrics:

Filing your shells by the fire
Creasing the water with violets and sighs
Asking every simmering quasar if you know it well
Autumn and the paint glowing brightly at the Carousel

December 5. http://ranprieur.com/#a5a7e8595ecca66cd016dc6dea263ab3520f596f 2018-12-05T17:10:51Z December 5. Continuing from Monday, I like Rupert Sheldrake's distinction between self-organizing and non-self-organizing arrangements of matter. In the video it's from minute 22-26. A chair is not self-organizing, so it doesn't make sense to ask what it's like to be a chair. But it might make sense to ask what it's like to be an atom, or the sun.

And now it occurs to me that modern technology has created a lot of stuff that's not self-organizing. Our nature-based ancestors were animist, because almost everything in their world was self-organizing, and could be realistically viewed as a person. Even a tool would be made by the person using the tool, or by someone they knew, so it would already be integrated into the world of people and stories.

I always thought the emptiness of modern life came from how society is arranged. But now I'm thinking it could be caused by manufacturing, which has surrounded us, far more than any other people, with objects that are not alive, and not part of the sphere of meaning of anything alive. Instead of making a tool to serve our needs, we buy a tool, as part of some aspirational project that we hope will make us a better person. (Thanks John for that idea.) We spend our lives seeking the feeling of aliveness from things that are not alive.

Sometimes I think that our whole high-tech world is a fad. But it's hard to think of an alternative, of where we could realistically go next. Now I'm thinking the answer has something to do with either artificial intelligence, making the leap to self-organizing intelligence, or biotech, making living systems that increasingly replace machines.

December 3. http://ranprieur.com/#3b43abc68d4fa3bc657dc271d0034470b8c3bbba 2018-12-03T15:50:20Z December 3. First, two loose ends from last week. On the subreddit, 2handband has a lot to say about the origins of the blues. And on the subject of young people, this long article explores some theories for why they're having less sex. My own guess is that newer generations have higher emotional intelligence, so they're more aware of all the emotional messiness around sex, while past generations were more likely to be oblivious.

Today's main subject: a new video of a talk by Rupert Sheldrake, Is The Sun Conscious? He makes a strong argument, starting with how the sun was always seen as conscious until Descartes invented mind-body dualism, and arbitrarily decided that only God, angels, and humans have minds. Later that got whittled down to only humans, and then expanded into other animals -- but there's no good place to draw a line and stop it from expanding back into other arrangements of matter, especially if they're self-organizing.

My position on the "hard problem of consciousness" is that it's not a hard problem for anyone. For materialist metaphysics, it's an impossible problem, and it's not a problem at all for any metaphysics that makes consciousness fundamental. There are different flavors of consciousness-based metaphysics, including animism, pantheism, and pan-psychism. I like to think that mind-matter dualism works like the particle-wave dualism of light, where reality can be either matter-based or mind-based, depending on how you look at it. Sheldrake mentions a fascinating model in which mind/body equals future/past equals possibility/resolution in quantum physics.

Later in the video he speculates about what it's like to be the sun, and how it might make conscious decisions about where to shoot its flares. Maybe that's the answer to Fermi's paradox: if a planetary civilization gets too advanced, its electromagnetic emanations become annoying to its sun, which zaps it back to a lower tech level. He also argues that "volitional stars", steering their own galactic orbits, would allow us to explain galactic motion without dark matter. Related article: Is the Universe Conscious? I think this is why physics has stagnated, because it can't get any farther without putting mind back into matter.

This also reminds me of fringe astronomer Halton Arp, who discovered a strong statistical correlation between quasars and nearby galaxies. If quasars are not extremely bright and extremely distant, then their light is being redshifted by something other than recession velocity, which casts doubt on the theory that cosmic redshifts are caused by an expanding universe. Anyway, Arp thinks that quasars are like seeds shot out by galaxies to become new galaxies, and this fits right in with the idea that the universe is alive.