"Each shift into clear vision was a gift that followed total failure to achieve."
May 17. I'm still out of it. Covid barely touched my lungs but it hit my head pretty hard. Today I had vertigo and still no original ideas. But I've been reading a great book called Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn. Three pages into the ebook, I ordered a physical copy. It's all about nature reclaiming places that humans have developed, and for whatever reason, left alone. There are multiple examples of these places having more species diversity than wild places.
Two articles about places covered in the book: West Lothian's sleeping giants is about shale oil spoil heaps in Scotland.
And Wildlife rebounds in divided Cyprus 'dead zone'.
May 12. Probably won't be posting again for almost a week. Today, some music. Thanks Greg for sending this online music/voice separator. Now you can do karaoke to anything.
Crazy video, Conlon Nancarrow - Study #37 for Player Piano, with an animated graphical score.
A month ago I mentioned the band Wet Leg. I've just added their self-titled debut to the top of my favorite albums page, writing this:
This album is a taffy-spinning confection of celestial circus music. It's candy the way the Ramones are candy, with Chaise Longue covering the structure of Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, and candy the way the Cocteau Twins are candy, dense with ethereal overdubs. Riffs and licks proliferate until it's difficult to listen to, and later you don't even know what song is stuck in your head. Dreampop shifts into spacerock as seamlessly as Rush switching time signatures. The lyrics are clever, the production is airtight, and everyone is having fun. This is the best popular rock album since the 1990's.
May 10. I definitely feel a little dumber this week. Also, my first post-Covid cannabis high was my first ever that I judged more bad than good. I wrote a couple good sentences, and got some decent insights, but I could not escape the feeling: this is heaven and I'm failing to appreciate it. Or: existence doesn't get any better than this, so why am I not happier?
The nice thing about being sober is, there are no expectations. Paradoxically, when every moment isn't being made shiny, it's easier to enjoy the moment.
There's a famous Alan Watts line about mind-altering drugs: "When you get the message, hang up the phone." Apparently Alan Watts only did drugs once, or he would have known, there's no "the message" -- there's just one message after another, as long as you care to go. And yet, it's easy to do it too much. That's why I prefer the phrasing from the Tao Te Ching: "Use the bright light but return to the dim light."
May 9. So somewhere in Seattle we finally picked up Covid. My first hint that I was sick was an urge to drink all my water hot. Then I got a headache, which is rare for me, and it didn't go away. Friday afternoon I got in bed and heaped on the blankets, and for about 12 hours I felt absolutely terrible, too hot and too cold at the same time, plus nausea. I knew rationally that I wasn't going to die, because my breathing was clear, but I've never felt more like I was going to die. At some point, being cold felt less bad than being hot, and I got my body temperature back down and fell into a troubled sleep. In the morning I'd lost five pounds, mainly sweat.
Luckily, I was already recovering before the virus got into my lungs. Oddly, it also got into my right ear, which is still ringing. Getting Covid is like being shot by a small caliber bullet. It might go right through you, or it might bounce around off your bones and you never know what it will hit.
May 6. I've quit meditating. Instead, I do nothing. The practice is basically the same but the framing is totally different. Meditation is something that highly driven people do to improve themselves; nothing is what lazy people do whenever they get the chance. Meditation is a chore; doing nothing is a relief. While meditating, you focus on your breath in order to still your thoughts; while doing nothing, you focus on your breath because breathing is the only thing you can't not do.
Also, here's a nice article about the last days of William Blake.
May 4. I could have explained myself better in the last post. I'll still be posting on this blog, probably multiple times a week. I'm just trying to cut myself off from a certain vibe that's common on the internet, and my strategy is to write about weirder and nicer stuff.
Today, three loosely related links. A great thread on the Psychonaut subreddit, What realization did you have that changed your entire perspective on this life?
From Ask Reddit, Have you ever had what you believe to be a paranormal experience? It's mostly about ghosts.
And if you're looking for a good audiobook, I recommend Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory, read by the author.
Some personal news. Leigh Ann got a job in Seattle, and we'll be moving there some time in the next two months. Last week we were over there looking for apartments, and the housing market is insane. We're pretty sure we have a place, for five times the price of my low income apartment in 2001. And yet, it's a good deal and we were lucky to find it.
In parallel with this geographical transplant, I'm transplanting my online social presence. Until further notice, I will not be writing anything about politics or social issues. I've asked the moderator of the Weird Collapse subreddit to remove my name from the sidebar, and I will no longer be looking there. Also, I'm putting my "ranprieur" Reddit username into semi-retirement, and using a name that nobody knows is me, like everyone else on Reddit.
April 25. I'll be busy the rest of this week and not posting. Today, Greg sends two good links. First, another nice summary of The Dawn of Everything. I started reading it a few months ago, and I've slowed way down as the book moves from its strong main thesis -- that prehistory was a time of wild experimentation -- and into the speculative and fiddly details. The most interesting bit I've read recently is a reversal of the popular story that repression started in agricultural cities and moved out to conquer the peaceful hunter-gatherers. In the Fertile Crescent and also in central Europe, it seems to have been the opposite, with the dense populations on the plains being peaceful, and the hill people being violent invaders.
New subject: Astronomical anomalies 2, a sequel to Open problems in Astronomy. It's funny that the two "hardest" sciences, physics and astronomy, both get weirder the closer you look. Related: a post I made a few years ago, about Rupert Sheldrake's argument that the sun is conscious.
Taking a step back, I think all this weird stuff is pointing to the same idea, which if we accept it, makes it all normal. Quantum physicists are talking about "many worlds" to avoid the simpler and more troubling model: no worlds. Reality is nothing but experiencing perspectives, and a "world" is a convenient illusion where we agree to see things pretty much the same way.
April 22. I was looking through my bookmarks for something to post today, and found this, from 2012, The Real America of 2022. The predictions about energy and the economy are right on, but the cultural predictions are a bit ambitious, like "Large numbers of people, especially the young, will permanently live off-the-grid." And the tech predictions are overreaching from the very first statement, that "Self-driving cars will become ubiquitous."
Also, a Reddit thread from 2013, What key events do you think will happen in the next 10 years? This one has more correct predictions, with "Another war" at the very top, and farther down, "a global health crisis." But again the tech predictions are wildly optimistic -- even Grand Theft Auto 6 hasn't come out yet.
April 20. No ideas this week, but it's 4/20, so I'll mention something I've noticed about cannabis and creativity. With fiction, I write high so that I get ideas, and then I edit sober so that the ideas aren't stupid. With blog posts, I write sober so that the ideas aren't stupid, and then I edit high to make them sing.
I don't usually get on the internet when I'm high, but when I do, a cool thing to watch is this Mars in 4K video, with the sound muted, while on another tab, listening to Hildegard von Bingen.
Or if you want something quick and funny, Joaquin Phoenix's Forehead (Rotated).
April 18. Stray links. This deleted thread from Ask Old People has many perspectives on the hippie culture.
This Ask Historians post has a lot of stuff about recent reassessment of the Vietnam War. I'm not going to try to summarize it, but it strikes me that the ideas that are turning out to be wrong, were believed for so long because they're simple and compelling.
And three links about promising new technologies. A new heat engine with no moving parts is as efficient as a steam turbine, with a lot more info in the Hacker News thread.
Reversing hearing loss with regenerative therapy. Again there's a Hacker News thread, but it's more about tinnitus than this therapy.
And a nice article about bioluminescent lighting.
April 14. Going early into the weekend with some music. My top song of 2021, which I just discovered, is Chaise Longue by Wet Leg, two women from the Isle of Wight. Not since "Fade Into You" in 1993 has there been a song this popular that I liked this much. The trick is, when they recorded it, they were aiming for neither quality nor popularity, just having fun. Their debut album came out last week, and it has multiple bangers. My other favorite is Supermarket.
It's funny, a few weeks back, when I mentioned playing polyrhythms, Nick asked me about polymeter, a word I didn't know, but I knew the thing. The difference is hard to explain. This video does a good job. Here's me playing a 3:5 polyrhythm on piano, and it so happens that Wet Leg do a great polymeter in the Chaise Longue chorus:
(1) On the (2) Chaise (3) Longue (4) On the
(1) Chaise (2) Longue (3) On the (4) Chaise
(1) Longue (2) All___ (3) day___ (4) long
(1) On the (2) Chaise (3) Longue (4)______
April 11. Continuing from last week, I have more thoughts about "religions" of the future. I've written before about the difficulty of defining religion, and it might turn out that this stuff is called something else.
Back in the 1990's, I started to notice that people were talking about "the universe" in the same way their grandparents would have talked about "God". This is a permanent change. In a few more generations, the idea of an omnipotent deity in the shape of an older male human will seem quaint and silly, except in the world's remaining patriarchal cultures.
For a glimpse of what theology and metaphysics might look like when everyone is doing psychedelics, you can browse the Psychonaut subreddit. The ideas are grandiose, half-baked, and varied, but what they have in common is the same thing that physics has been wrestling with for a hundred years: it doesn't make sense to talk about reality without an observer.
There are so many questions here that a religion could answer. What is the nature of that observer? If reality is first person, is it one person or many? Is it just humans, or does it make sense to talk about the perspective of a tree, a rock, a photon? Future metaphysics will certainly be influenced by gaming, and there will be prickly questions about who is an NPC.
When you die, does your perspective simply merge with the One? Or are there levels between here and there? Some people already think we're living in a simulation. If so, then who's running it, and what do they want?
One possible story is that some highly advanced society is filtering its own members, by putting everyone through simulated worlds until we behave well enough to enter the real world. Or if we behave badly, putting us back in the sim.
So here's one example of a possible future religion. Reform Solipsism holds that you are encased in a world made out of reflections of stuff inside you, mostly subconscious. The meaning of life is to struggle with these reflections. Only when you learn to treat other people as real, will you be permitted to mix with real people. And only when you clean up your subconscious powers of reality creation, will you be permitted to create reality consciously.
Maybe that's too new-agey. If the people of the future are total nerds, they might have religions about math, like this new Stephen Wolfram paper, The Physicalization of Metamathematics and Its Implications for the Foundations of Mathematics.
Wolfram's Concept of the Ruliad is strangely similar to Beatrice Bruteau's concept of the Infinite Intercommunicating Universe -- which was derived with no math at all. As Charles Fort said, one measures a circle beginning anywhere.
April 8. A few more links on the future. Birds Make Better Bipedal Bots Than Humans Do. It's pretty clear that even in a high-tech future, there will not be human-like robots walking around. Simulated humans will be in non-physical worlds like they are now, answering phones or operating NPCs. And where there is risk, there will be laws that AI has to identify itself as AI.
An Elegant Bamboo Structure in Vietnam. By 2050, it might be normal to make large buildings out of wood. From 2020, Has the wooden skyscraper revolution finally arrived?
Finally, in the realm of human behavior, David sends this Twitter thread: "In the 1970s and 80s, anthropologists working in small-scale, non-industrial societies fastidiously noted down what people were doing throughout the day. I've been exploring the data and am struck by one of the most popular activities: doing nothing."
Now, you could argue that we will never again live at such a primitive level, so the age of doing nothing is over. But that's cynical about technology. Some technologies actually do save labor, and as we learn to tell them apart from technologies that stealthily create labor, we could build a high-tech society with more opportunity than ever to do nothing. I think the present manic age is an outlier, and as we abandon the economics and values of perpetual increase, more of us will be free to get off the treadmill.
April 6. Just posted to Weird Collapse, a blog post about predictions for 2050, with links to a bunch of other predictions, all from early January of this year. I've skimmed through them for inspiration, and here are my predictions:
Granular collapse. The postapocalpyse is already here, just unevenly distributed. Infrastructure decay will start in the most remote areas, and work its way in toward the cities. The best places will keep grinding along, while struggling with refugees from the worst places.
Climate change, famine, disease, war. These will kill large numbers but small proportions. 80 million people is only one percent of the world. For most of us, life will just get more difficult.
Economic decline. Economists will have to do more hand-waving to maintain the illusion of growth, while it becomes impossible to find a safe investment that keeps up with inflation. By 2050, everyone will agree that we need institutions that thrive while remaining the same size.
Artificial intelligence is too hard. I have no idea. Also too hard: China.
Space travel. In 2050, it's more likely there will be dead humans on Mars than living humans, but probes and bots will be all over the solar system. There will be realistic plans to mine asteroids and change the atmosphere of Venus.
Materials science is going to do a lot of cool stuff. When I was a kid, rubies were one of the most valuable gemstones. This winter I paid 20 bucks for a baggie of lab-grown rubies to enhance my vaporizer. Section 8 on Strange Loop Cannon's predictions has more.
Virtual reality. Video games will be like movies are now: still big, but nothing revolutionary happening for decades. The action will be in augmented reality, glasses that give you information about whatever you're looking at. There will be all kinds of controversies about who's allowed to see what from looking at other people.
Brain hacking. Psychedelics will be legal in most of the world, and there will be new drugs that do old drug things with more reliability and precision. Personally I'd like a three hour DMT trip. Cheap brainwave readers will make meditation more effective, and the new frontier will be transcranial stimulation of implants.
Body hacking. Everyone wants to look and feel young and healthy, and new tech will help with this. But rather than everyone living past 100, I expect a shift in values, in which living as long as you can will become optional. Suicide will become normal for old people, and there will be a fringe movement to make it acceptable for young people.
New religion. The old religions will be washed away by psychedelics, but the human desire to believe beautiful unfalsifiable things, and to form communities around those beliefs, will be as strong as ever. The trendy beliefs will be less in theology, and more in sociology, philosophy, and science. Radical prediction: solipsism is going to be huge.
Entertainment. The long tail will get longer, as more creators and consumers find their way to more unusual and obscure stuff. I always say: In the future, everyone will be famous among fifteen people.
Values. The word "ecology" was not coined until 1866. The word "metacognition" was not coined until 1976. The word "deconsumption" is still not on Wikipedia. The values and habits represented by these words are just getting started, and there are some important words that don't exist yet.
April 4. Two links on our continuing incremental progress out of dominator culture. I no longer grade my students' work - and I wish I had stopped sooner.
...the practice of grading, and ranking, students is so widespread as to seem necessary, even though many researchers say it is highly inequitable. For example, students who come into a course with little prior knowledge earn lower grades at the start, which means they get a lower final average, even if they ultimately master the material. Grades have other problems: They are demotivating, they don't actually measure learning and they increase students' stress.How To Get Kids To Do Chores. Start them when they're very young, and motivated to help out, even though they're incompetent, instead of waiting until they're competent and you have to force them. The article calls this the "Maya method", which makes me mad, as if not forcing each other to do shit is the crazy idea of one weird culture, and not the way of the whole universe outside of Homo sapiens in the last few thousand years.
March 31. Two psychology links. People who have high levels of self-compassion are less prone to boredom. I always say that the word "boredom" points to two things: the pain of doing nothing, and the pain of having to pay attention to something that's not interesting. But maybe they're the same thing after all, and when people find it painful to do nothing, it's because they find their own self not interesting.
And The ability to control ones attention might eliminate the attentional bias associated with social anxiety:
"In the current study, we found that individuals with relatively poor attentional control are more vulnerable to exhibiting biased allocation of attention to negative social information. Therefore, a take-home message could be that people might reduce their vulnerability to having this bias by improving their attentional control. Doing meditation, improving sleep quality, exercising, having a healthy diet, and spending time in the nature all have been shown capable of improving attentional control."
March 22. There's a lot of personal news that I've been waiting to post all at once. In the last year, I sold both the house and the land. I bought the land in 2004 and the house in 2011, and you can still read about the various projects here.
For both sales, rather than fix up the properties and get as much money as possible on the open market, most likely from flippers, I was lucky to find local buyers who planned to hold onto them for a long time, and who made it easy for me. In return, I gave them heavy discounts.
I bought the land with the idea that by living there I could escape the money economy and hang out in the woods all day. It turns out, homesteading is for workaholics who love driving. In practice, you're going to have to go into town so much that you're basically a remote suburbanite, and many back-to-the-landers are just little developers, extending the human-made world into increasingly remote places.
It's not even a good way to survive economic collapse, as Toby Hemenway explained in two essays in Permaculture Activist magazine, which I've saved here.
At this stage in my life, survival is not a high priority. I mean, my intention is to live at least to age 80, and spend many more wonderful hours doing creative work, gaming, and walking around looking at trees. But I'm so sick of these interesting times. Life feels like a three minute yoga stretch, and after two minutes, I feel the urge to quit, but I know I can make it to three, and I'll be glad I did.