April 6. 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 8. 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 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 14. 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. 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 25. 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.
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.
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.
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 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." In my experience, 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 20. In the book The Lost Art of Reading Nature's Signs, 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.
May 23. Study suggests maladaptive daydreaming should be classified as a unique mental disorder. 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.
May 23. 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 25. I was watching college softball, and 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 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.
June 3. Yesterday I saw this on TV and jumped out of my seat to snap a pic. It has to be accidental, because if she tried to do it on purpose it wouldn't be this perfect. If you want to look closer, here's a larger photo. And that's not a green screen behind her -- I saw from another angle that they were at the actual event.
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.
June 6. Eric comments:
A friend went on a mindfulness retreat once where the exercise was to fully experience a thing that you were eating. The instructor gave everyone a segment of a tangerine to savor. My friend told me that later he tried the same practice at home, and he discovered that it was impossible to savor an Oreo.
I read a similar story about an exercise to stop overeating, where people were told to completely savor one Hershey's kiss. It's not that it was impossible to savor it, but it had never occurred to them to do so. They'd eaten hundreds of chocolates and 100% of the time they had gobbled them down.
I think we're talking about two distinct mental states, one where you're holding tension between what you're doing and something else, and one where what you're doing is self-justifying. And these two states come into clearer focus with that eating exercise.
Coming back around to "enlightenment", that concept, in western spirituality, is framed as an achievement, something you strive for. Paradoxically, the mental state people are seeking is already inside them, but they can only see it by not striving. That idea is thousands of years old, and we're no better at putting it into practice.
I've heard it said, if you can enjoy being in hell, you're in heaven. But some of us don't even have to enjoy being in hell -- we just have to appreciate second-rate heaven.
More explicitly: whether you're talking about making more money, or having more fun, or being a better person, there's always a way to reach the next level. But the higher you get, the harder it is to stay there, and the more likely you are to notice: the good feeling of achieving a higher level is less than the bad feeling of not being satisfied with the level you're at.
This helps explain a cryptic line I read years ago in a Cynthia Ozick story: "Heaven is for those who have already been there."
June 11. Moving is terrible. Back in the nomad days it was probably lots of fun. But never in history, until now, has it been normal for people to have this much stuff, without being rich enough to make other people deal with it.
So for the last several weeks I've painfully going through stuff, looking at ten thousand things from matchbooks to grain mills, deciding whether to haul it across the state, use it up, sell it on Craigslist, take it to a thrift store, or throw it away. And then there's the cleaning.
I'm now in the terminal phase. The last time I was this busy was my final week of college, when I put a sign on my wall that said "WORK EAT SLEEP" because if I did anything other than those three things, I wouldn't finish.
But this time, something peculiar happened. I wouldn't call it a "flow" state because it's not something I would seek out. A better word is inertia: near the end of my second straight 14 hour day, I reached a state where having one more thing to do was no longer painful. I was like, wow, this must be how highly productive people feel all the time.
June 13. Last week I heard someone on TV use the word "synchronicity" when they meant "synchronization". This is synchronicity: I was just at the post office to fill out a change of address form, to move from Pullman to Seattle. While I was there, a guy came in with something for the address 140 Windus. "140 Windus," called one postal worker to another. 140 Windus is the house I lived in when I was three years old, and right next door to the house I came back to when I was born.
June 21. The reason I stopped writing about social issues is I got tired of fighting. Twenty years ago, when I started writing on the internet, I wanted to slay dragons. Gradually I shifted from warrior to scout, from fighting to trying to understand stuff. But lately I'm thinking, what's even the benefit of understanding stuff? For example, if I have a good understanding of why gas prices are high, or if I have a bad understanding, what difference does that make to anyone?
Now, there is value in seeking understanding just for the intrinsic pleasure of seeking understanding. But if that's my motivation, I might as well be gaming. If I understand ship loadouts in Starsector, that benefits the world exactly as much as if I understand gas prices -- but it benefits me more, because I play the game better.
Another value of seeking understanding is that I can develop habits of thinking that are generally helpful. That's why it's good to study philosophy, not because those dweebs were right about anything, but because you're getting practice in precise thinking.
But if I'm writing for an audience, there's one big factor that affects whether people even notice how I'm thinking. If they already have a strong opinion on the subject, the only thing they're going to notice is whether I'm right or wrong.
So now I can formulate a better rule than "Don't write about social issues." If it's a subject where people already have strong opinions, don't write about it. And if it's a subject where there's no practical benefit to better understanding, don't write about it unless the process of thinking is interesting.
June 27. I've been on Ask Reddit for a long time, and it used to be a rare question: "What do you think happens after you die?" Lately it's one of the more common questions, and the answers are not that interesting. I understand why people believe there's no afterlife. If you think this life is all there is, you live better. And given that the question can't be answered from here, it's prudent to choose a belief with practical benefits.
But I prefer to use that uncertainty to choose beliefs that are more fun. A better question is: "What do you wish would happen after you die?" If you think consciousness is fundamental, then it seems likely you'd have some influence over where your bit of consciousness goes next. Even heaven and hell are usually imagined as reflecting your earthly life in the details, the people you meet or the precise torments.
Some consciousness-first thinkers still imagine only two levels of reality: the universal, and where we are now. So when you die, you go straight back to the one mind. But if I were the one mind, or on the way back there, I'd enjoy making some more levels. So I like to think that merging with the Absolute is one option among many.
A growing number of people believe we're living in a simulation. Ok, then think it through. The simulation is first person. The people outside the simulation aren't watching you from the sky -- they're watching you from you. Or, you are one of the people outside the simulation, and when this life is over you'll remember yourself.
If a world exists with the means to simulate this world, what would they use it for? It makes sense that they would use it to filter their own members. If you live well, you get to join them; if not, then back to the great melting pot. This is not that different from original Christianity, in which there is no place of eternal torment, only hanging out with Jesus or nonexistence.
Western metaphysics is awfully vertical. What if we're not being sorted into higher or lower places, just different places? And consider how peculiar it is to be a modern human, compared to, say, being a tree. A tree probably has little sense of what else it could be, except another tree. But not only can we imagine being a tree, or a hawk, or a sea otter, we can imagine being a space pirate, or a wood elf, or a postapocalypse scavenger.
So if there is sorting going on, we seem to be in a great nexus, or concourse, with a huge variety of options for where to go next.
The problem is, we need other people. There's a Twilight Zone episode where a guy thinks he's gone to heaven, because he can have anything he wants, but he soon gets bored with his own ability to entertain himself, and discovers he's in hell.
Suppose, after you die, you want to go to the Harry Potter universe, and because it's popular, you can gather enough other people to create a world. Ok, who wants to be the muggles? Nobody? Maybe we can just fill them in with NPCs.
I don't think there are any NPCs. Someone always has to play them. In your imagination, you play them; in a tabletop RPG, the game master plays them. And in any enduring world, every feature of that world has to be maintained by someone who continues to get something out of it.
That's a pretty severe constraint. So my best guess about the afterlife is, under that constraint, it's whatever you believe it's going to be, or whatever you can get away with.
Coincidentally, in another context, Tim just sent me chapter 50 of the Tao Te Ching. I looked it up in Ellen Chen's translation, and this is part of her commentary:
Death is a phenomenon from the individual's viewpoint. Cut off from the life of the round and standing alone, an individual faces his opponents and arrives at the place and time of his death. However, in the round, which is the eternal life process, productive, and embracing all opposites, there is no death. There is only intense life-producing activity. A person who transcends his individuality, identifying himself with the eternal life process that has no place of death, also has no place of death.