January - February, 2009

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January 7. Selected Sounds of Space, and a six minute video, The Sounds Of Space. We've all heard "spacy" sound effects in sci-fi movies, "spacy" keyboards in space rock, and so on. Of course all that stuff was recorded before we knew what space sounds like. Now it turns out that's exactly what space sounds like! More precisely, that's what electromagnetic waves from planets and moons sound like when shifted into the audible sound spectrum. I like to think there are beings out there that can just hear them. [Update: Arrangements of these sounds were released as NASA Voyager Space Sounds, separated into ten 30 minute tracks from different places, and also as Symphonies of the Planets, with different planets blended into five 30 minute CD's.]

January 9. 26 page pdf essay by Kevin Carson, Industrial Policy: New Wine in Old Bottles.

Here's a post summarizing it, The Economic Benefits of Localization. If I were to make the same argument, I would start with the Luddites. The word has come to mean knee-jerk opposition to technology, but the original Luddites opposed a specific technology that replaced skilled artisans, working autonomously at home and making good money, with unskilled workers making poverty wages in oppressive factories. This is the kind of change that the industrial revolution brought everywhere: the people who did the work lost skill, money, participation in power, and quality of life, while the owners of the machines gained wealth and power.

Now, the capitalist will say: that was necessary for progress, because factories were more efficient than autonomous home industry, and they always will be. Here's where Carson comes in, arguing that factories and giant centralized industry were only more efficient for a few decades. With the spread of electricity, small electric motors, and small engines, it became more efficient to manufacture stuff in a decentralized network of home industries. Monolithic corporate production has kept itself going for more than a century, just through the inertia of power.

February 1. The globalisation of addiction, a book review about Bruce Alexander's work showing that drug addiction is caused by environmental stresses:

A colony of rats were allowed to roam together in a large vivarium enriched with wheels, balls and other playthings, on a deep bed of aromatic cedar shavings and with plenty of space for breeding and private interactions. In this situation, the rats no longer showed interest in pressing levers for rewards of morphine: even if forcibly addicted, they would suffer withdrawals rather than maintaining their dependence. It seemed that the standard experiments were measuring not the addictiveness of opiates but the cruelty of the stresses inflicted on lab rats...

February 9. Today I want to write about metaphysics. When I was staying with Rosemoon near Asheville, she mentioned how well homeopathy works on her chickens, which would seem to disprove the objection that homeopathy is all placebo effect. My position is different from the standard pro-homeopathy position, that it works independently of the beliefs of observers, through a kind of objective mechanistic science that we don't quite understand yet. And my position is different from the standard anti-homeopathy position, that it works purely through the ability of the mind to heal the body, which we can't explain but never mind, it's not important.

I think that "mind" or "awareness" is the fundamental stuff that reality is made of, that the whole universe works like a dream. I'm not sure if there's one dreamer or many dreamers, or if there's anything outside the dream; but in any case, if mind, not matter, is fundamental, then everything is the placebo effect. Even splinting a broken bone is faith healing -- it works through the faith artifact of physical matter, which is extremely powerful because everyone believes in it.

Imagine if medical tests embraced the placebo effect instead of trying to filter it out. Tell everyone exactly what they're getting, and just see how well it works. If you want to heal people, why should you care if some of the healing is through their own belief and not just your medicine? You only care if you have an ego investment, or an economic interest, in having a monopoly on healing power. Also, it might turn out that some treatments have a stronger placebo effect than others, that some physical tools, for some reason, are better at channeling mental healing.

It's important to remember that reality creation is not solipsistic, but collective. I don't know how much of the negotiation is by consensus and how much is by domination of will, but in either case, it's useful to talk about "belief fields" or a transferable placebo effect. Getting back to chickens, they could easily be carried along by a much stronger human belief field. This could also explain why some of the most successful alternative healers, like Wilhelm Reich, had very strong personalities.

Of course, suggestibility works both ways. If you're easy to heal, you're easy to harm, or to exploit. I've found that I'm highly resistant to suggestion, so both TV propaganda and alternative medicine don't work well on me. Lena comments:

One of the interesting things I have found with working with animals is that in the more independent ones you need to ask permission to "will them to heal". In cats especially, who are super independent, if you try to heal them they get insulted that you are trying to do something to them and will not heal. If you explain your intention and ask their permission they heal much better. They need to be in charge of what you are doing to accept it into their bodies. Some dogs are like this also but many dogs are ok with us healing them because they are used to being told what to do.

February 10. Yesterday I wrote that "mind, not matter, is fundamental". Bus suppose that reality is both mind and matter, the same way that light is both a particle and a wave. Depending on the context, sometimes reality behaves like objective physical matter and sometimes it behaves like a dream, but those are both just models we use to make sense of a single unified thing.

February 20. Yesterday I mentioned meeting young anarchists, and a reader asks:

Do you actually support anarchy? Like, you think it will be good? I'm not saying I know one way or the other, but do you think anarchy would make the trains run on time?

Anarchy is thought to be about lack of order, when really it's about lack of domination. My test for the presence of domination is whether anyone is punished, or led to believe they will be punished, for saying no. Our whole society is packed with domination, and I seek to move steadily away from it by replacing more and more coerced actions with actions that are freely chosen.

How much order and complexity can we hold onto while giving up domination, and how do we do it? I'll just say that if it's possible to have trains without domination, there's no reason the trains couldn't run on time. I think they would even be more likely to run on time, because the train workers would all be doing their work because they enjoyed it and cared about it, so they would be motivated to do work of higher quality.

February 23. I've been thinking more about New Age health advice. I've been sick all winter, and nobody went so far as to say that I must have chosen it, but in the right context, that wouldn't bother me -- I'm open to the possibility that on some level we all choose everything that happens to us. What bothers me is the unspoken implication that only a fool would choose pain when you could just choose pleasure all the time.

It occurs to me that one of the core "New" Age ideas was present more than 400 years ago in Calvinism: that healthier, happier, richer, more conventionally successful people are showing evidence of their more exalted souls. More likely it's the other way around: the more courageous and skilled players choose a higher difficulty level.

February 25-26. I'm back in Seattle, and my tour is officially over. I was aiming for three months and almost made it despite getting sick. Thanks Bil, Chuck, Carolyn, David, Pam, Sarah, A.J., Dwight and Jessica, Dan, Jack, Aja and Sky, Simba and Deb, Joel and Charity, Allen and James, Andrew and Miranda, Carey and Don, Rob and Jenny, Rosemoon and family, Talia and Wildroots, Aaron, Keith, Stephen and Rebekah, Jill, Emily, Rob, Lindsay, Andy, Ben, Brian and Lindsay, Tiffany, Todd and Christine, and Crystal. Thanks also to the household members I didn't name, the people who came to dinners, and everyone who invited me and who I was not able to visit.

I highly recommend a "blog tour" to other bloggers. It was not easy, and not exactly fun, but it was a valuable experience, and relatively cheap. Transportation costs, including bus and train fare, sharing gas for rides, and local public transit, came to $823. I think I spent more than usual on food, even though so many hosts fed me for free, because I was also eating out a lot and leaving behind food too difficult to travel with. So I'm going to estimate my total tour costs at $900-1000.

February 27. I read this bit from the Huck Finn on Estradiol blog on my tour, and now I think of it every time I encounter an escalator:

You can't take a wheelchair on an escalator, or even a walker. You have to be somewhat agile to get on and off, too, which makes depending on a cane, or even a recent prosthesis somewhat dicey. You can't carry any more luggage on an escalator than you can on the stairs. Basically, escalators are for people who can walk but choose not to.

February 28. Human evolution is accelerating, and even in the age of race-mixing and global travel, we seem to be diverging. Scientists have offered several explanations, and I like this one: "If you're a human, what is your environment but culture? The faster our ingenuity alters our habitat, the quicker we have to adapt in response."

Adaptations mentioned in the article include pale skin to get more vitamin D at high latitudes, the ability of adults to digest milk, resistance to diseases that are spread by dense populations, a "migratory gene" linked to ADHD, and apparently an increase in quantitative thinking skills among Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews, who had cultures that rewarded that kind of intelligence.

The big question is: which of these changes in human culture will remain stable, which ones will spark new changes we have to adapt to, and which ones are dead ends, from which we will have to adapt back to our old biology?

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