"Each shift into clear vision was a gift that followed total failure to achieve."
June 2. The Buddha, the story goes, was a rich kid who indulged in every pleasure until he burned out and became enlightened. You'd think, with so many more pleasures now, and so many more people, there would be Buddhas popping up on every street corner.
Instead, there are more and more depressed people. And it occurs to me, depression and enlightenment have similar symptoms: not enjoying the things that ordinary people enjoy, and preferring to do nothing all day.
Maybe enlightenment was invented by ancient people as a way of framing depression, so that they could see themselves with more pride and less shame, and so that other people would see them with reverence, instead of trying to kill them for being unproductive.
What I really think is, "enlightenment" is a modern buzzword loosely based on a lost culture. The word has too much baggage and should not be used. Instead, we should talk with precision about the many techniques under the umbrella of meditation-metacognition-mindfulness, and the many specific benefits of those practices.
Personally, I have three goals in mental health: 1) An unshakeable sense of well-being. 2) More overlap between what's good for me to do and what I feel like doing. 3) Better body awareness so that I have better physical health. Over the years, I've made some progress on number three.
May 30. Two Reddit threads, one mostly pessimistic, What do you think of the United Nations report warning "total societal collapse"?
And one mostly optimistic, What are we living in the golden age of? "Idiots" isn't even on the first page.
May 27. A few links on time and changes, starting with this cool page by Merriam-Webster, Time Traveler. You just plug in any year, and it tells you all the words first recorded in that year.
Is an unknown, extraordinarily ancient civilisation buried under eastern Turkey? It's looking like Gobekli Tepe is the tip of the iceberg, and there's older, bigger stuff yet to be uncovered. Also, Mind blowing ancient settlements uncovered in the Amazon.
A cool YouTube lecture, Thomas Kuhn on the Incommensurability of Paradigms. The most interesting thing is, when two paradigms are well-balanced, you cannot decide between them by gathering more data, because both paradigms will have their own ways of explaining it (or excluding it).
The word "incommensurability" reminds me of my favorite solution to Fermi's paradox, that aliens are trying to contact us, but they're so different from us that we exclude their communications as too weird, as explained in this PDF paper, Incommensurability, Orthodoxy and the Physics of High Strangeness.
May 26. So Leigh Ann is in Seattle, setting up our new apartment, and I'm in Pullman, getting rid of stuff in our old apartment. This is the cycle of stuff: 1) Getting stuff feels really good. 2) Having stuff feels subtly bad. 3) Getting rid of stuff feels really bad. 4) Having no stuff feels subtly good. 5) Go to step one.
May 25. Following politics makes me stupid. Following sports makes me smart. Sports are more transparent, and less rigged, so you can actually learn stuff about what makes people and groups good at what they do.
The latest thing I learned is from some important playoffs that are happening right now. Of course it's women's college softball. Last weekend, one commentator kept saying that the hitters needed to "stay within themselves". I find that to be a really helpful combination of words. People talk about "being in the moment", which is about time, but this is about space. It's about discipline in the envelope of the self, not sticking your will beyond your means.
May 23. For me, writing about social issues is like alcohol for alcoholics. I can't do it just a little, or I get sucked in and regret it. I have to stay off it completely, which means I'll continue to write about weird philosophy and mental self-improvement.
Last week there was a good Hacker News thread about ADHD. I can remember before they added the H, when it was just "ADD". That fits me better, because I'm not at all hyperactive, but I've always felt an "attention deficit", in that I don't have enough attention to go around for the demands of the human-made world.
According to the top comment, "...the root cause is that I can't stand being with myself." My self is the only thing I can stand being with for very long. Another comment says, "...an ADHD brain needs more stimulus to feel healthy." I need less stimulus to not feel overwhelmed.
Related: Study suggests maladaptive daydreaming should be classified as a unique mental disorder, distinct from ADHD. I don't think maladaptive daydreaming is a disorder. I think it's a symptom of a talent that has failed to find a niche. If the world inside your head is better than the world outside it, that's not a problem -- it's a resource.
A few months back I wrote about an attention exercise: while walking around, practice going very wide and then very narrow. Yesterday I tried something similar. I call it "hunter-artist". While walking around, look at your surroundings as if you're a prehistoric hunter, or if you prefer, a first person video game character. The point is that you're looking both widely and narrowly, scanning for benefits and dangers. Then look at your surroundings with an aesthetic eye, as if you're walking through a painting by your favorite artist. Again, you're looking both widely and narrowly, but you're in a completely different mental state than the hunter. By switching back and forth between these states, you're exercising your brain and it's probably good for you.
May 20. Another book I'm slowly reading is The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs by Tristan Gooley. There's a great bit about ivy. While other plants grow toward the light, young ivy grows away from the light, so that it can find its way into the shade of trees and up their trunks. Then, once it's established, it grows toward the light.
So I was thinking about the Tao Te Ching line: "Use the bright light but return to the dim light," and I got the idea: The next time I get high, why don't I go away from the light? Instead of trying to make everything luminous, contemplate the void. Coincidentally, Patrick had just sent this very mellow video about meditating on emptiness.
This also reminds me of a story about Osho. One of his students asked, is it good to do drugs while meditating? He said, no, that will interfere with the meditation. Another student asked, is it okay to meditate while doing drugs? He said, yes, that's perfectly fine.
I was off weed for ten days because of Covid. (There's some evidence that THC interferes with the body fighting viruses.) So I vaped a small dose, and ate a small dose of mushrooms, and contemplated: I am not the person who has experiences, or the experience itself, but the space, the capacity that the experience fills.
I can't say I had some magical breakthrough. But it was the opposite of a bad trip. Whatever bad stuff might have come up, would be sucked into the void. Then I fell asleep. Later, with more weed, I thought of another twist on Alan Watts: There is no message, only envelope.
And some music for the weekend. Over on the dormant ranprieur subreddit, a nice post about black MIDI.
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.