November 2022 - ?

previous archive

November 3. Psychedelics: a personal take is the report of someone who was very lucky: "After I did psychedelics for the first time, I waited for that magical feeling to go away, waited to slide back into a vaguely anxious numbness. It didn't happen."

Yeah, the only permanent effect I ever got from psychedelics is seeing the beauty of trees. Everything else fades when the drugs wear off. That's why I keep using them once or twice a year, to remind me of the mental state I'd like to have all the time.

When the drugs don't do the work for us, we can still do the work ourselves. So I've been edging closer to that mental state by grinding through numerous practices, and it's all obvious stuff. Get out of your head and into your body. Move your attention to the present moment. Be grateful for small things. Talk to yourself the way you'd want a friend to talk to you. Be curious and non-judging about your own emotions. Have fun, but don't do anything you know is wrong.

November 3-4. A lot of people come back from psychedelic trips with the insight that love is all-important. I'm sorry, but that's not helpful. Everyone is already in favor of love and no one can define it. So I've been casting about for a practical application of that insight, and this is what I've come up with.

Love is feeling good about it, whatever it is. I'm not holding that up as the true and only definition, only suggesting a useful way of thinking. What I like about it is how low-level it is. It doesn't require a relationship or even another person. I don't want to exclude, from my definition of love, something like loving the sound of rain.

But if you want to get from there to a high-level definition, like Erich Fromm's in The Art of Loving, the path is to practice feeling good about feeling good, whether it's another person or yourself. And then you can continue the recursion: feeling good about feeling good about feeling good, and so on, sensing your way out into the universe.

November 7. "Fascism" has become a propaganda word, in the sense that everyone agrees that it's bad, and we only disagree about how to define it. In the 1930s, politicians would stand up and say "I am a fascist." Now we have Rudy Giuliani, who totally would have self-identified as a fascist in the 30s, calling his opponents fascist because the popular definition has been watered down to anything the government does that you don't like.

One popular definition comes from this 2003 article by Lawrence Britt, The 14 Characteristics of Fascism. Umberto Eco, who grew up under Mussolini, had already published a different list of 14 Features of Fascism in 1995.

I want to try to do what I tried to do last week with "love", and look for a low-level definition from which high-level definitions can be derived. And I want the definition to be emotional, because I think it's obvious that people decide what they're going to believe for half-subconscious emotional reasons, and then cook up rational justifications.

I suggest, as the root of repressive human institutions, feeling good about positive feedback in power-over -- and by extension, feeling bad about the erosion of power-over.

So whoever already has power over someone else, you feel good about them using that power to consolidate and increase their power. From that, you can derive everything from supporting China annexing Taiwan, to supporting paddling in schools. You can derive the philosophical belief that humans are basically evil, because that's what you have to believe, to rationally justify solving social problems with more police and prisons (positive feedback in power-over) rather than wealth redistribution (negative feedback in power-over).

November 11. It may seem that election deniers start with the belief that the election was stolen, and then they say that the election was stolen, and then they start trying to overturn the election.

I think it's exactly the other way around. And this goes beyond any issue. It's a sequence of actions that's a permanent temptation for our big dumb human brains. 1) Identify what you want. 2) Say whatever you have to say, to get what you want. 3) Believe whatever you're saying. 4) Go looking for evidence to confirm that belief.

This is why arguing on the level of evidence gets nowhere. It's too far downstream from where the action is.

This also explains the function of propaganda. Propaganda doesn't tell people what to believe. It takes people who already want to believe something, and puts that belief in a tidy and compelling package.

November 13. Nik Turner has died. He was a core member of Hawkwind, the band that pretty much invented space rock. He wrote and sang one of their most important songs, Brainstorm, and was interviewed in this BBC Hawkwind documentary.

Two other great Nik Turner Hawkwind songs are Children of the Sun and D-Rider. "We never knew what time it was. We just knew how sublime it was."

November 14. Octopuses caught on camera throwing things at each other. This reminds me of a 2014 David Graeber essay, What's the Point If We Can't Have Fun?

Generally speaking, an analysis of animal behavior is not considered scientific unless the animal is assumed, at least tacitly, to be operating according to the same means/end calculations that one would apply to economic transactions.
Why do animals play? Well, why shouldn't they? The real question is: Why does the existence of action carried out for the sheer pleasure of acting, the exertion of powers for the sheer pleasure of exerting them, strike us as mysterious? What does it tell us about ourselves that we instinctively assume that it is?

November 28. Autistic people outperform neurotypicals in a cartoon version of an emotion recognition task. More generally, "people on the autism spectrum show strength with... cognition around nonhumans such as animals, cartoons, robots, or dolls."

This gives me an idea about one of the things that is getting folded into the "autism spectrum". It's a more specific spectrum, of how specialized a given human is for other humans. Neurotypicals have perception and cognition that are highly tuned into other humans and the human-made world. And then, outside that specialization, there are all kinds of other things you could be tuned into. This is why people tagged as autistic can be more different from each other than they are from neurotypicals.

November 28. Highly ruminative individuals with depression exhibit abnormalities in the neural processing of gastric interoception. I think what they're saying is, depressed people are circling around in their own heads, and not sensing their gut enough. The causality is not clear. Do depressed people need medical intervention to fix their gut sensing? Or could they reduce depression by building a habit of focusing more on their gut?