Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Horror for the Codes of Creation

Optimists and pessimists about the Digital Age are usually practical in their praises and fears of computers and the internet. We’re looking at either the potential for more technological wonders, for more creative endeavours and for greater control over our lives or else an emerging apocalypse, the end of life as we’ve known it and perhaps the conquering of our kind by our machines and totalitarian systems. There’s much to be said about the benefits and risks of digital technology, but we should also consider the existential revulsion for our virtual worlds. We’re amazed at the preliminary stages towards what many hope will be the Star Trek holodeck, these stages including computer animation, 3D movies, holograms, and virtual reality, and we’re addicted to the internet and to our handheld devices with their thousands of apps for every conceivable whim.

And yet there’s a philosophical cost of knowing that computers exist. During the Industrial Revolution, mass production already humiliated artists and craftsmen and depersonalized their creations, since not only did machines take over the role of production, if not yet that of design, but they showed that art and handiwork can be systematically copied, leaving only negligible differences between the copies. Implicit in mass production was the seed of digitization: the algorithm or recipe for generating inevitable effects by the taking of simple steps. (Rube Goldberg famously depicted the logic of mass production in cartoon form.) To live in the virtual world, then, the fruits of our imagination must be digitized, which means our pictures, songs, games, novels, and other such creations must be converted into the binary code of ones and zeroes. This is like saying that the price of entering heaven is that first you’ve got to be dead. Most people aren’t properly horrified by this conversion because of the magical aura surrounding high technology which steeps its users in blissful ignorance.

The revelation that’s nevertheless becoming harder to deny has crept up on us over millennia, ever since our ancestors indulged in artistic reproductions. There were warnings, as in Plato’s Republic, which condemns the falseness of art and the folly of producing mere copies within material copies of abstract reality. There are the legends that native cultures believe that a photograph of a person steals the person’s soul. But from the ancient cave paintings of animals and sculptures of voluptuous women, to the orally recited poems and mythical tales, to the written word and the Renaissance flowering of art in Europe, artists have nevertheless translated experience into other forms. The animals which our nomadic ancestors hunted became smudges of charcoal and of other pigments on a dark cave wall. The outpouring of the gods’ wrath in thunderstorms or diseases became tales of woe which were both venerated as scriptures but which also robbed the gods of some of their power, by allowing worshippers to manipulate the texts and the prayers like voodoo dolls. The essence of the gods itself was thought to be captured in a shrine or a statue which likewise trapped the dread supernatural forces and empowered the elders who knew the incantations to mesmerize them. As paintings became more and more realistic, the illusion of reality in the artistic rendering was uncanny long before computers, because you could always walk up to the painting and marvel at the brush strokes that somehow added up to the image of a building, a tree, or a person.

Codes of Creation

But the binary code is all the more fearsome for its universality and for the starkness of its implicit message. The images captured in paint strokes can only be seen, just as the sounds made by plucking a string instrument can only be heard, but seemingly everything can be digitized—not just pictures, music, and texts, but now three-dimensional fabrications like guns, sculptures, and jewelry, thanks to 3D printing. The world’s greatest artistic masterpieces can be photographed or otherwise sampled and stored on a computer in the form of a long series of ones and zeroes. The New Testament, once available only to Christian elites, was translated for the masses, from Greek into German, by Martin Luther, but now everyone with access to the internet can read any part of the Bible in any language, aided by all manner of concordances and commentaries. That which was once revered as the holy Word of God, which itself was already an idol, became bastardized yet further by that final translation of Judeo-Christian scripture into the binary code. So first God was held prisoner by his revealed instructions, which priests could finesse like lawyers, as they thumbed through the papyri, and now God is at the mercy of our highest technological manipulations.

What, then, is the horror of the world’s digitization? Just this: digital encodings prove the ephemerality and absurdity of our values. Our humiliation at the hands of technology which began centuries ago is nearly complete, thanks to our world’s digitization. How so? Well, we prefer our creations to be unique so that we can anthropomorphize and feel at home amongst them. After all, a unique artwork in analogue form—a painting, a concert, or the playing of a game—commands our admiration or at any rate some emotional response, since we’re consummate personalizers and socializers; we relate to the products of our imagination as though they were our friends, neighbours, or servants. Thus, we value a painting, song, or even a written story as long as the story is encoded in a humble form, like that of a book, which allows us to personify it.

But we cannot feel for a message written in binary code, because the raw form of a digital work surpasses our capacity for anthropomorphism. For one thing, the code is usually hidden from view. For another, a binary message is preposterously verbose so that only a computer has the memory and the patience to encompass it. Moreover, binary instructions are unfathomably fickle, as it were; what looks to most eyes as a random series of millions of ones and zeroes can encode either an image of the Mona Lisa, a Beyonce song, or Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Thus, we can’t know how to feel about the essence of the digital version of something, because we can’t decipher it. Nevertheless, we know that all our cultural treasures either are currently digitized or could be so. Our admiration for our favourite bits of pop culture, then, is trivialized by the fact that culture can be reduced to a form about which we’re incapable of caring. Imagine your parent, child, pet, or some other treasure were to stand beside you one minute and then in a puff of smoke were turned into a rock that lies next to countless millions of other seemingly identical rocks. And you’re told that that treasure which aroused strong emotions in you is contained in that rock form. The horror, then, is that we might begin to question the point of our emotions in the first place. Can something really be a treasure at all if it can be transformed into something so dull and seemingly vapid?

And yet digitization is only one such humiliating sort of translation. Take those firsthand experiences which even low technologies (speaking and painting) mocked millennia ago. Take the sights and sounds that make up the “real” world in which you live. The objects you perceive are represented in your brain, expressed in a neural code that’s just as inscrutable as the binary one. The brain and the sense organs transduce information, captured by light and sonic waves, into neurochemical impulses, and the “real” objects that are the subjects of our thoughts and feelings are actually the ones we represent and that live in our minds. So when you look out your window at the trees on a summer day and you listen to the birds sing, you’re not beholding the trees or the birdsongs directly; instead, you’re sensing how those sources are translated by someone with sensory equipment like that which pokes out of your head. Again, can we continue to feel so strongly about the so-called beauty of nature if the beauties are actually hidden from us except when we think of them noumenally, in abstract terms? Can we still approve of what we perceive when we appreciate that the world must first be captured and processed by our horrendous neural code? We speak of the miracle of the human brain, because it’s the most complex known thing in the universe. Nevertheless, were the windows on the brain any larger than the black pupils, so that we could see the whole squiggly mass of gooey nonsense as it squirts its juices whenever we’d attempt to interact, not only would all personal relationships be impossible, but we’d run screaming from each other so that our species would come to a screeching halt.

Then there’s the DNA code which again is a veritable Philosopher’s Stone, a seemingly random and tediously long jumble of key molecules (guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine, in addition to sugar and phosphate backbones), which nonetheless codes for the building of all life forms. Indeed, adding insult to injury, the entire code is found not just in every organism but in nearly every cell of every organism, and is also found twice in each cell, because of DNA’s redundant, helical structure. And like the godawful folds of the brain, DNA strands are tightly coiled squiggly messes that are so fiendishly complex they can’t be read by the mind. So again, on the one hand, we have ourselves, our friends, relatives, and pets, and the animals and plants we consume, as well as the astounding variety of all life, but on the other, there’s the monotony of DNA’s algorithmic instructions for the building of all of those bodies.

Of course, the humiliating reductions don’t end with biology. In physics, we learn from the Standard Model that with just a dozen elementary particle types called fermions (divided into quarks and leptons), four fundamental forces (weak, strong, electromagnetism, and gravity), and four force-carrying particle types (gluons, bosons, gravitons, and photons), we get everything in the universe, including DNA, the brain, the binary code, and all the stars and galaxies. Now, the relationship between, say, a human body and the quadrillions of atoms that equal that body isn’t exactly one of translation, since the atoms don’t encode the person; rather, things are made up of their atoms. Still, there’s an equation here and also a translation at the level of theories for understanding things. You can think in commonsense terms of the familiar items from our daily experience or you can think of masses of elementary particles and their interactions. The two are identical, although there are emergent phenomena and inherent uncertainties in fundamental physics, so that higher levels of explanation are needed as well as being convenient. Once again, then, there’s infinite variety on the one hand and a relatively paltry basis of that variety on the other.

Or take the phenomenon of language. Think of the rich variety of utterances, the galaxy of stories, rumours, poems, arguments, and explanations that have ever been spoken or written. Each of those series of words is made up of only a relatively small number of letters in each language. Just as ones and zeroes can be shuffled to code for trillions of different artifacts, so too just the 26 letters of the alphabet are combined to form the thousands of English words and thus all of the messages they in turn can form. Luckily, the English symbols have some character, although their shapes have no inherent meaning, so they’re not as humdrum as the binary code and thus there’s less horror in the realization that even religious scriptures are nothing but combinations of the very same letters that could just as easily produce profane utterances and iterations of toilet humour. Just as everything is made up of particles interacting by means of forces and force-carriers, so too everything in the linguistic world is made up of combinations of a relatively small number of phonemes or morphemes (the minimal units of speech sound or of grammatically significant symbols that make up words).

The Horror of the Codes

To be sure, there are differences between these systems and I’ve simplified the process of coding. Neither a genome nor a binary string alone would make for an organism or for, say, a computer game. DNA contains only instructions that have to be followed, as it were, by an assembly line of proteins which builds cells and larger structures; moreover, the environment also affects behavior. And of course a computer program has to be implemented by a computer attached to its peripherals to produce a playable game. So a person isn’t entirely replaceable by her DNA, for example. Moreover, on the scientific view the world we perceive isn’t contained in the symbols we use to think of it, if only because the world can be perceived in different ways by different sorts of creatures and we explain perception by positing independent material objects like the brain. Still, what these systems have in common is a rough and uncanny identity between things, which threatens our commonplace evaluations. In each case, we’re shown to be prejudiced in our emotional attachments and that ought to embarrass us.

To see what I mean, consider this scenario that’s familiar from pop culture. A husband is forced to live in a wheelchair after having a car accident and his wife leaves him, proving that the physical difference between his able-bodied self and handicapped one is important to her, that she didn’t love his inner self, which remains unaffected by the accident. In the movies, the person who shows she’s so superficial comes in for criticism, because of the romantic idea that love is somehow spiritual or supernatural and that mere physical differences shouldn’t count. In any case, my point is that when the difference between two things or two states of the same thing does matter to us, that different ought to be reflected in our behaviour. So if the husband loses only a single hair on his head, instead of the use of his legs, his wife’s feelings will be unchanged (except that she might worry about his driving skills or about the near miss, and so forth). But this isn’t the case with respect to the above natural transformations. Again, there are differences between, say, hearing a song played live at a concert and looking at a printout of the binary script that codes for the digitized version of the song. The song doesn’t equal the code, since the code contains only the instructions for the computer to play the recording. Still, a virtually indistinguishable copy of the song is contained potentially in the code. And yet liking the song is no guarantee of liking the code; indeed, we can’t feel for the code because we can’t read it.  

But the horror I’m speaking of is more than just a matter of our partiality to certain forms. The problem is also that we become attached to unique things even though their uniqueness is undermined by the universality of their elements. Take, for example, the traumas currently suffered by the culture industries. As most people know, most illustrators, musicians, novelists, and other artists are having great difficulty making a living, despite the promise of the internet. The old business models no longer apply and so the intermediary businesses are losing money and the artists are forced to market as well as produce their work. The internet cuts out the middlemen and allows many more would-be artists to start selling their wares, and yet the medium of the internet also devalues their work, so that most art is offered for free or is pirated. This is because of digitization. Whereas before computers and the printing press, artworks could stand as monuments of unparalleled genius, so that you’d have to travel to the physical location of the cathedral or other home of the masterpiece to bask in its greatness, now most works are easily converted into digital form whereupon they can be copied millions of times. As a result, not only have customers lost respect for art, but artists have lost their inspiration, having been repulsed by the digital shell into which their art will inevitably mutate. To be sure, there are still genuine artists and fans left. Artists make money from live events or with enormous or unwieldy installation pieces or performances that can’t be digitized, and fans meet at comic conventions, chat rooms, and the like. But the writing is on the wall and even if art survives the Digital Age, aesthetic values will have to accommodate the fact that the more high-tech machines are involved in the production and presentation of culture, the more trivial culture becomes.

In the case of DNA, there’s the similar phenomenon of cloning. We value ourselves as individuals, but potentially we can all be cloned. The minds inside the clones will differ because of the bodies’ different interactions with their environment, but we’re nevertheless faced with the questions that are often posed in science fiction, as to whether clones have the same value as the original and whether the original can be special in the first place, given that it can be cloned. Again, at the deeper level of physics we find repeatability in the multiverse that might result from quantum fluctuations or from the infinitude of space which allows for endless cycles of evolution and complexification. Nietzsche posed the question of whether our will would be sufficiently strong to affirm an event despite our knowing that that event happens over and over again in an eternal recurrence of the same. On the contrary, we feel that the rarer an item, the more valuable it should be. And indeed, there are many rare and unique items on our planet. Even if there are duplicates of us in other universes or in iterations of this one, we can never reach them, so we’re scarce resources alright. Nevertheless, our uniqueness is mocked by the potential for our infinite repeatability, contained in our elementary forms, in our DNA and our subatomic basis, just as culture loses its sacredness thanks to its digitization.

In the Digital Age, the real world tends to be substituted by simulations, and a virtual habitat is bound to change our character. Will we become disenchanted with digital culture, having come to despise the real world for including the seed of its infinite repetitions and thus of its trivialization, so that commerce and civilization at large can continue only with totalitarian controls? Will we lose respect for creativity in general and thus for all creators, including our gods? If creation isn’t fundamentally a unique work of genius, but a trivial and tedious shuffling of the units of the neural or genetic code which eventually spits out all possible configurations of outputs, what’s the point of further development? Will we come to understand that the universe is decaying rather than growing? That at the heart of existence wasn’t perfection but a horror that had to be erased? That the codes behind neurally-mediated experience, the evolution of life, and the digital simulation of reality are so disheartening because they are themselves echoes of the ultimate transformation which is intuited but garbled in most of the religions’ Creation tales? That we’re bound to turn nature into virtual worlds that have been drained of any worth, because we’re instruments of a cosmic process of dissolution, of the decay of God’s corpse which is the universe? What heroism could we muster to make the best of that grotesque state of affairs?


  1. The only one--the inevitable conclusions to nihilistic materialism--is rebellion against existence, e.g. evil. Listening to your old Nirvana tapes and baring your feelings of rejection to other philosophers is (no matter how honest you are with each other) as much of a facet of the system, reducible to an infantile need to find meaning in the meaningless, as anything else (including believing in the system and trying to pay off your mortgage).

    Which is why there is no heroism, or good, in your world. You were sent here to steal hope from those who might otherwise find it.

    1. Remember, High Arka, by condemning the sort of solution to our existential predicament that I'm exploring, you're also condemning Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and all the other esoteric ascetic traditions in the world's religions, since my solution only modifies them (to make them more plausible and consistent, I think).

      What, then, is your solution, I wonder? Trust in natural Life rather than Death? What do you hope for?

    2. Who sent Benjamin here, Arka? :)

      Is the entire material world is corrupt and irredeemably flawed? Is Benjamin an emissary of the Demiurge? Or even better yet, an emissary of the true, transcendent godhood beyond the physical universe? Which would in fact make him a force for GOOD, not evil.

      Have to admit I find some Gnosticisms interesting takes on theology!

    3. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism all provide for the existence of something greater than materialism--some form of truth or enlightenment. The ascetic traditions they preach are in the interest of a greater, enduring good. The superficial similarities between your philosophy and theirs is that you both reject a lot of stupid modern practices.

      ...but then, so do the Amish, evangelical Baptists, or Muslim terrorists. In fact, you are the opposite of ascetic religions, because you encourage us to wallow in materialism, rather than to reject it. Jains may purify the soul of karma in hopes of becoming enlightened, and in so doing, not froth at the mouth over the chance to buy the latest model of iPhone. By contrast, you reject the latest model of iPhone, but only because you find other material acts more worthwhile--not because you believe there is something greater or higher we can attain.

      That is common of most western takes on eastern religions (such as the mess created by George Lucas' team of assistants). Westerners become so dominated by materialism that they believe a firm rejection of it will make them similar to eastern ascetics. In fact, you've so strongly rejected materials that you are being controlled by them; your attempt to "not be materialistic" is really just you making different choices about what type of music, books, magazines, condos, and travel packages to buy.

      Brian, did you throw an extra "is" into your middle paragraph, or was one of those supposed to be an "if"?

      As to your first question, there's a metaphysical argument to be made that Benjamin "sent" himself. Looking at only part of the picture, too, there's a plausible claim that he's "merely" a manifestation of an early consciousness disease. He fills a necessary role in what we're all doing here, by reducing to absurdity the elite postulates that inform our major worldviews.

    4. Sorry, High Arka, but you’re misrepresenting my view. The biggest differences between the philosophy I’m working out here and Eastern traditions are metaphysical. Jainism is naturalistic, as I understand it, as are certain kinds of Buddhism, but Hinduism can be idealistic in that it personifies ultimate reality by identifying the substance of matter with the inner personal substance of the self. In any case, the so-called higher-than-materialism-state you think Easterners hold out isn’t really so high; on the contrary, it’s vacuous. When we escape from the cycle of rebirth, we escape to nowhere, because our individual identity is destroyed and we become one with everything. A naturalistic atheist could say much the same thing: when our brain dies, our atoms become entangled with the rest of matter.

      The greater, enduring good for Eastern religions shouldn’t be Westernized or thought of in exoteric theistic terms. Their highest good is the extinction of all personality, including God’s, as well as all life (rebirth). Our goal is to learn to affirm that higher good, by extinguishing our individual identity in rebellious acts against nature, such as in meditation, vegetarianism, asexuality, or altruism, which acts go against our instincts or social norms.

      In any case, I deny that the similarities between our views are only superficial. I too hold out a higher good and a higher state of being. I’m not sure how you’re using the word “materialistic,” but we’ve got to distinguish between the metaphysical and the cultural meanings. Culturally, I’m no materialist, meaning that I don’t hold material objects as sacred. If you’re talking about metaphysical materialism/naturalism, that leaves quite a lot of leeway. As I say in my critique of Jerry Coyne’s view, I’m not a reductive naturalist, although Codes of Creation goes as far as I can in that direction. But even in this article I point out that there are emergent properties and inherent limits on explanatory reduction. So the point is that even a naturalist can talk of higher levels of reality, such as the biological, psychological, and perhaps technological or posthuman levels. They’re all natural, because they have an atomic basis, but each level is understood by an autonomous level of explanation.

    5. Also, like Nietzsche, I construe moral and religious values as being aesthetic. So the higher good for me is twofold: recognize reality so you can be existentially authentic rather than living in gross delusion, and create artistically inspiring responses to that reality. Those responses can be big or small, individual or social. They require originality, which means conformity is bad. That’s why we’ve got to detach from some social conventions, to see through them so we don’t become pawns in someone else’s game. When you say that my attempt to not be materialistic amounts to just a different choice of things to buy, you’re forgetting my articles against sexuality, politics, and mental health interpreted as happiness, for example. I say that psychological detachment from conventional goods is usually good, since it allows us to be more creative/original. This means not that we have to live in a cave, but that we shouldn’t identify unreservedly with those goods; we should objectively assess them and make an existential choice about what to value. Our values should flow not from our instincts, but from our creativity. For example, if we’ve created a worldview, that might dictate our values.

      So I do say there’s something higher we can obtain. This higher state isn’t supernatural or theistic, but nature does allow for levels, as I’ve said. Our higher state is a tragic heroism, because it’s doomed to not matter much in the ultimate scheme of things. Nevertheless, I distinguish often between the exoteric and the esoteric lifestyles. The masses are slaves to their bodily impulses, as everyone from Plato to the Eastern religions say, whereas the elite are cursed by their reason and by their resulting horror to be at best peaceful rather than happy. Happiness is for the sheep, but the elite know too much to be content; they must wrestle with angst and learn to laugh off their disgust and their sorrow. Enlightenment for both my view and for the Eastern traditions is a blinding, ego-destroying affair. The light of truth destroys our delusions and makes us alienated outsiders in our foolish societies. Whereas most people are overtly biological in their behaviour, the elite are unique, idiosyncratic and creative in their tastes. They rebel against nature and live in their minds, like artists or introverts. They master their impulses, pity those who suffer because of their natural enslavement, and help where they can, although they’re usually impoverished.

    6. "In any case, the so-called higher-than-materialism-state you think Easterners hold out isn’t really so high; on the contrary, it’s vacuous. When we escape from the cycle of rebirth, we escape to nowhere, because our individual identity is destroyed and we become one with everything."

      That is a poor interpretation of a connected consciousness. You might also call it a "western misinterpretation," but plenty of imperial consumerism has seeped into those eastern religions, and would make many professed easterners claim the same thing you did.

      If you cherish the idea of Chinese walls (sic!) between "you" and other parts of reality, then you might view a recognition of interconnectedness as the loss of you. There's nothing to be frightened of, though. Take this form of network we call "the internet"--computers can be constantly connected to the network, and become part of something greater, able to access the whole, while still maintaining separate identities. This doesn't need to be looked at like the false dichotomy between "Red China" and the "Free World." The proper concept of "individual" is both part of the whole and a separate whole. It's one of the existential paradoxes that demonstrate that this system, and our perception thereof, is necessarily an illusion, and that while we cannot perceive all the details of what is beyond the illusion using these brains, we can perceive that this is an illusion, sustainable only by self-contradicting thought.

      In light of that, this one would remind you to consider anew this one's occasional avoidance of the first-person singular pronoun, and the greater accuracy of being "this one" rather than something that I would refer to as "me."

      Let us return to enlightenment: traditions which advocate improving the self during visits here do not "wipe out" the self, but improve it, so that it is able to realize the rest of creation. If a cell realizes that it is part of an organ, it does not cease being a cell. It understands more of the purpose behind its functions; it understands its relationship to other things; it grows closer to understanding that there are other organs, and eventually, an entire body (and then, other bodies, and a verse).

    7. It does not, though, destroy the cell. Recognizing that your room is connected to other rooms does not mean your room vanishes (although you may find yourself spending less time there).

      That is the error with likening a "materialistic" argument to those eastern religions: if one's consciousness does not endure as part of something greater after the alteration of associated matter, but instead vanishes, then "material" is all that exists and all that "matters." The religions you discussed offer a unification of form that goes beyond that.

      The "extinction of personality" that you refer to is another westernized interpretation, both a callous linguistic and cultural mistake, as well as a quite-literal problem with how western languages refer to "self." If you tell a person to stop being selfish, are you telling that person to stop existing? To completely disregard their own needs and wants? No, of course not. What you're saying is to consider the wants of others, also.

      To westerners--particularly the greedy, colonialist, raping-and-pillaging mercantilists who came up with Market-Style Evolution and Big Bang Cosmology--the mistranslation of "extinction of self" sounds like some terrible "the Borg are coming!" destruction of existence. It's not meant that way, though. To cease becoming terribly selfish, and to join in the desires and pleasures of others, is to become less selfish in the pejorative way, and more selfish in the positive way. Unifying your desires with others increases your "own" pleasure as much as it does others.

    8. Love and awareness grow exponentially. They are not the zero-sum games of the deathlusters.

      When antilife plagues eastern religions, it results in deathlust of a different color. Japanese fascists, for example, twisted Zen Buddhism into the service of the imperial state. There is a history of terrible acts and ideas in the eastern religions, alongside the history of wonderful acts and ideas, just as there is in the western religions. The western invaders seized upon the bad parts of eastern religions, orientalizing those as the real thing, just as American evangelical megachurches now express the worst parts of Christianity.

      Your higher reality is deceitful. When you say "recognize reality," what you mean is "recognize matter." You see reality only in material things. Whether they are atoms or the latest iPhone is irrelevant--they're still matter. Your response to that soulless view, however artistic, is no more or less worthwhile than that of a person whose response to the dilemma of life is to drink a keg and watch Canucks reruns. To that person, that's the most worthwhile thing. It's more true, and real, than your far-fetched philosophical schemes. You can claim that they're slaves to their impulses, but they could claim that you were a slave to your own impulses, and that you just weren't able to afford a bigscreen TV and enough beer. (Or, that you were not insightful enough to appreciate the nuances of the game; the emotional intensity of the players' heroic achievements, etc.)

      As far as pawns in someone else's game, that is what you are, my friend. Your rebellion is predetermined; it is not a rebellion at all, but exactly what they wanted you to do. By dwelling only in matter--in material pursuits--you are acting like yet another mindless consumer. You just have different purchasing preferences (internet accounts, philosophy books, acoustic guitars, and science fiction DVDs).

      Are you "more creative" than, say, a functionary like James Cameron? Yes, which is why this one is willing to be harder on you. You have more refined bodily impulses in some ways, though they have been directed to destructive activities; to philosophies that are meant to cause you to regress, and to lay the metaphysical groundwork for slowing or reversing the progress of others beneath you.

      You are a tool in the service of those who want to promote detached, soulless materialism. As a paladin of antilife, you fight to tell us that we are not connected, and that nothing we can do matters, so we might as well try to be merely "original" in our doomed quests. You tell us that there is no hope.

      You are wrong, and you will fail, and we will rescue you afterward. We are connected. There is hope, growth, and more than atoms. Those you cause to despair will be set back, and it is sad. You are one of those you have caused to despair, dazzled by the magicians into believing that their bouncing quarks are the sum of reality. This one whispers to you that there is more, while the magicians insist that it is only rational to watch their hand very closely.

    9. I understand the root of your objection to RWUG. You think my attempt to spiritualize naturalism may attract naturalists who would otherwise jump ship to true spiritualism, which requires faith in the supernatural. That’s our fundamental disagreement, I think. I say we should make the best of naturalism (science-centered, rational philosophy), by finding a way to be spiritual naturalists. I use existentialism and aesthetics to talk about spiritual and moral matters. But you think this is a sham because the science-centered conception of nature can’t be spiritualized. On the contrary, you think this conception is literally manufactured by evil forces who seek to enslave us, and so-called spiritual naturalists are deceiving themselves. But worse than that, we’re holding out false hope, whereas spiritual persons need to escape the prison of nature altogether and seek a transcendent reality.

      I’m not opposed to supernaturalism, as such. I too dabble in religious myths. I explore the psychologically most plausible version of monotheism, which holds that Creation was God’s suicide. But I consider tales of the supernatural to be fictions which can nevertheless have artistic power. My problem is with theistic religions which are mistaken for sciences or with theists who speak of God or higher dimensions as though they were facts. For me, it’s perfectly natural to tell stories about the supernatural. My advice is just that we should do so with integrity; thus, we shouldn’t pretend that we know more than we do and we shouldn’t let our stories delude us. They’re artworks that can inspire our imagination and stir our emotions, nothing more. We seek refuge in their fantasies, because nature is a horrible place, by and large. So let’s enjoy our art while keeping one eye on the reality of nature. Certainly, let’s not become fanatical about our religions like the utterly deluded fundamentalists.

      As for the spiritual naturalist, I don’t see any force behind your charge that such a person must be “materialistic,” after all. In fact, this charge is archaic. Your point is supposed to be platonic, relying on the dualism between chunks of matter and abstract higher reality. But this chunk view of matter is obsolete. The essence of matter now is defined by abstract math, so that some naturalists are leaning towards metaphysical structuralism, the view that matter is really just mathematical structure. That’s how ethereal matter has gotten, after Einstein and quantum mechanics. If you’re looking for an ethereal plane, look no further than the natural heavens.

    10. Is my blog “a tool in the service of those who want to promote detached, soulless materialism”? I agree that advertisers are adept at co-opting all manner of noble ideas, including spiritual ones, for vulgar and cynical purposes. Coca-Cola ads, for example, spiritualize sugar water, as though Coke were literally magical. So mass consumerism is already a religion. I’m against that religion on aesthetic grounds, not because I’m opposed to the wealth needed to buy all the products to be happy, but because I think most consumers ignore the dark side of nature even though their effective religion isn’t Christianity but is this-worldly cultural materialism, consumerism, hedonism, etc. Thus, those folks are existentially inauthentic; they’re deluded by the ads, living in denial about what they hold to be sacred.

      Can my cosmicist pantheism be similarly exploited? No, precisely because I celebrate existential authenticity, which is really just critical thinking and rigorous honesty in dealing with philosophical questions. There’s no chance such a critical thinker will fall for capitalistic hype or materialistic dreams about happiness through consumption of goods. Critical thinkers know what’s really going on. We know about all the suffering of the manufacturers of our goods, the destruction of the ecosystems, and the obligation to confront our existential predicament (the dark, underlying facts of life, such as our mortality, inherent irrationality, biomechanical nature, and so on). There’s a reason you don’t hear much about existentialism these days. Existentialism is bad for business. Granted, existentialism was once a fad and I’m sure many black berets were sold when hipsters paid homage to Sartre. But there’s not much money to be made in recommending that people think hard about the dark facts of life so that they can live with minimal delusions. On the contrary, the consumer’s ideal of materialistic happiness uses material products as distractions from thinking and thus depends on delusions.

      I’m far from being an expert on Eastern religions, but I believe moksha is freedom from individuality, from being reincarnated and thus from the suffering that comes with the self-centered delusions individuals tend to have. The individual self is nothing and enlightenment is the realization of that fact. Buddhists call this the doctrine of anatman, of no-self, in contrast to Hindus who say ultimate reality is Atman, a universal self who is somehow also the essence of material reality, Brahman (although some Buddhists follow Hinduism on this point). The goal for Buddhists is nirvana which is ineffable and thus the same as nothing, except that in meditation you can directly experience the loss of individual identity and the merging with the interconnected whole. In Buddhism, you achieve nirvana by extinguishing your desires that distinguish you as a character, so that the enlightened person feels the peace of realizing that he has no individual self to worry about. This is in contrast to Western religions like Christianity and Islam which say that heaven is experienced by resurrected individuals with “spiritual bodies.” Anyway, the naturalistic religion I’d like to see shares the antinatural aspects of the Eastern religions. Extinguishing your ego for moksha is quite the rebellion against the genes and other natural forces.

    11. The science-centered conception of nature is spiritual; however, the faith-based approach of elite scientists now is not. This one understands that, when you say "science-centered conception," you accept the claims of the elite corporations, governments, and other associations, and so be it. We may argue about what is "science" elsewhere; when you use "science" here, let us accept that you mean "what today's powerful companies and governments call 'science.'"

      When you accept that science-centered, materialistic worldview, you have rejected spirituality, because that worldview requires, as its most fundamental premise, that existence is the random movement of matter and energy. When you say that you want to "spiritualize" naturalism, and make the best of believing in elite narratives, you are advocating myths--lies, however nice ones--that can allow people to pretend that existence is something other than pointless. This pretense, you believe, will provide meaning, art, and rebellion, even though the myth's creators and adherents will be aware that it is a lie.

      You may find real pleasure in your artistic rebellion. "Real" pleasure can be had in both good and terrible ways. Say, Obama enjoys a slice of very good birthday cake after reviewing his Tuesday morning kill list. His pleasure is real, whether or not he and his acts are abominations.

      When you say that "spiritual persons" are escaping the prison of nature, and seeking a transcendent reality, you are trivializing reality and science. Real, observable evidence exists, and will continue to be observed, that will overthrow the Big Bang and Market-Style Evolution, just as Ptolemy's Dark Watchmaker was overthrown. It will take a corresponding social change, of people who are ready to live without absolute tyrants, and to return to themselves the ability to learn and analyze, rather than deferring to the theoretical musings of faraway experts.

      Benjamin: "My advice is just that we should do so with integrity; thus, we shouldn’t pretend that we know more than we do and we shouldn’t let our stories delude us. They’re artworks that can inspire our imagination and stir our emotions, nothing more."

      To which this one says, "Cosmic strings." "Black holes." "Al Qaeda." "No hidden fees!"

      You are living in such a fantasy, and no amount of telling campfire stories while inside of it will bring your followers into the real world. But we're going in circles again; that has taken us back to the question of science, and deduction v. induction.

      Let us return, instead, to your self-contradicting metaphysics.

    12. Cain's Postulate 1: Existence is an explosion of randomly moving matter.

      Cain's Postulate 2: Plutocrats and the ignorant masses try to distract themselves from the horror of existence by believing that there is a higher meaning to their sex, consumerism, and happiness, when in fact, they are deluding themselves by assigning a supernatural boon to activities they are actually carrying out as slaves of the genetic imperative to reproduce.

      Cain's Postulate 3: The best we can do inside the horror of existence is to withdraw from the mainstream myths and construct our own better, more-artistic myths that recognize the horror, rather than blinding ourselves to it. This is superior to following other myths because it is closer to the truth about nature's horror.

      The problem with Postulate 1 would take us back to science, so let's avoid it for now. Postulate 2 is incorrect, but it would lead us similarly back to science.

      Where we can find real fun is Postulate 3: there, you have taken the step that is always taken in order to create the situation that you lament in Postulate 2. Your creation of an artistic myth to motivate people in a terrible world is factually flawed in that it relies upon the terrible world from Postulate 1 (but again, we steer away from science!), but it contradicts itself internally, such that, even if elite science were accurate, Postulate 3 would be wrong.

      Here's why:

      1) If the natural world is horrible, then withdrawing from it so wholly as to believe in a myth is even more of a victory than creating a myth that you know to be false. An Elvis Presley fan who finds ecstasy in believing that Elvis has appeared in her dish of ice cream has escaped reality much more fully and completely than your “knowing myth” can.

      2) If the natural world is horrible, then it is more artistic and creative to become lost in a myth, like a true artist, than to build a myth like an engineer, knowing that it is a machine without heart.

      3) If plutocrats are knowingly manipulating the masses in order to achieve personal power, then their myths would be superior. And, in fact, their myths are superior. They already have created those myths, and gotten billions of people to live their day-to-day lives under the strictures of those myths.

      The tyrants who run today’s hegemons are descendants of Leo Strauss (who is himself a descendant of tyrant liars millennia old), and they have knowingly constructed myths about a “clash of civilizations” between “the Democratic west” and “the Muslim world” in order to motivate the masses to war. Their myth gives people something to believe in; to live and die for; and, their myth alleviates their personal hardships, allowing them to become fabulously wealthy and powerful.

    13. The most interesting thing about you actually believing in your arguments (assuming you do) is that, in watching you draw such intelligent conclusions based upon elite science, all you are doing is coming to the same unoriginal conclusions that the plutocrats’ descendants did, so many hundreds of years ago, when they decided to lie to the masses about God in order to extract labor and natural resources at the expense of others.

      A looming irony here (again, assuming that you believe what you are saying) is that the horror of the natural world is caused by your arguments. Your arguments justify themselves. The way that elites rationalize impoverishing workers, letting children starve, starting wars to slaughter millions, and building up cultures based around ridiculous lies, is by telling themselves the same things you have told yourself: the world is a terrible place, so it is my duty to lie to people to make them happy.

      (There is no dualism between matter and "higher" reality; Plato created his dualism in order to lay the groundwork for the scorn of the living world. In that sense, you are one of his modern successors, believing that you are rebelling against his trend while actually doing just what he wanted you to.)

      “The essence of matter now is defined by abstract math...”

      That is exactly how ridiculous the false “science” of today’s elite institutions has become. No longer is observation of the real world, and testable experiments, how theories are created. Instead, numerologists conjure absurd circular equations, then declare that their equations demand the existence of physical properties that no one has ever, will ever, or even can ever observe.

      If you are a true philosopher, this is your time to begin realizing that you can no longer accept without question the illogical, self-serving fantasies of the priestly class. Assess the claims of elite science with critical thinking, and ask, “Since the beginning of what we call science, observable, disprovable events formed the basis of drawing responsible conclusions about the real world. How can untestable theories be at all reliable?”

      One of the great failures of modern philosophy is that there is no modern philosophy. Philosophy had to be shelved in order to make way for the utterly illogical pipe-dreams that justify clusterfuck consumerism and endless war.

    14. High Arka:

      You are making a lot of claims about the nature of reality based on...what...exactly?

      A warm feeling that there has to be more? Mereley stating that "science" will "prove" that the myths you dislike are untrue does not make it so.

      Given the observed reality of existence, why is your warm and fuzzy version of transcendent reality superior? Even if there is a Gaia or something that makes it all better (how similar to "God's ways are mysterious but always good) that doesn't ameliorate the suffering in the here and now (and forever).

      I'm sure your own writings elucidate these thoughts better, but I already read too much on the web, so forgive me.

    15. The history of matter/energy organization (and "life"), based in large part upon particle physics, plasma physics, and astronomy, suggests and supports an infinite universe, e.g., one without beginning or end. The history of matter/energy organization on Earth, based in large part upon carbon dating (particle physics), chemistry, geology, and archaeology, suggests and supports an interdependent relationship between matter and energy that produces increasing refinement in the production of smaller and more sophisticated electromagnetic field generators ("consciousness" or "conscious life").

      Further observation and greater technology will chart more of this, but even in 2013, actual observational science has supported these theories and disproved the currently popular elite ones. The "warm, fuzzy feelings" you're looking for (in the pejorative sense, presumably!) are the wishful thinking of theoretical physicists and biologists, who conclude without evidence--and in the face of evidence to the contrary--that Big Bangs and Market-Style Evolution have to be true because they have to be true.

      You don't have to believe everything, or anything, that this one says. If you can watch Colin Powell lying to the U.N. about weapons of mass destruction, and understand the rhetorical tricks and lack of evidence he uses, then you possess the necessary analytical tools. You can then, on your own, do extensive reading on "cosmic strings" and the "missing links" in the fossil record, and perceive the same rhetorical ploys and lack of evidence in current elite belief-systems.

      There is a staggering similarity between the evangelical Christian's insane faith in the Invisible Cloud Man, and the tenured astrophysics professor's insane faith in Dark Matter. Whenever you see it, it will be a series of slow epiphanies comparable to the way you learned that the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties were really both the Imperial War & Money Party.

      (This one is happy to point you to more specific scientific literature, if you prefer.)

    16. High Arka, you keep saying that nature is random, but this isn’t quite right. For the naturalist, explanation has to proceed with minimal presuppositions of order or complexity. Thus, the whole universe is thought to emerge from chaotic quantum fluctuations. So randomness is the starting point, but natural order evolves from the chaos. Nanoseconds after the Big Bang, quantum mechanics kicked in and the universe was already then an ordered rather than a random place. In a sense, everything that happens in nature is accidental, because there’s no cosmic mind behind it, but to say it’s all random for the naturalist is to miss the point that nature is undead, as I put it. As a character in the movie Cloud Atlas says, “There is a natural order of things and those who try to upend it do not fare well.” But why does order come about in nature? Is there a meta-explanation of natural laws? Science doesn’t seem well-suited to answering those philosophical questions. That’s why nature is a monstrous place; its patterns are fundamentally inexplicable and thus effectively magical. Natural evolutions and complexifications are the stumbling steps of an undead monster. This is much more horrible than randomness. If everything in nature were simply random, there would be no order and we wouldn’t be here to talk about it or to suffer (in the sense of dukkha).

      You make the interesting point that on the aesthetic view of religion and morality, myths are “lies,” since we know that nature is fundamentally absurd. So is existential cosmicism unstable? How could anyone fool himself into taking a fiction seriously if he knew that it’s a fiction? This is why in The Matrix, Cypher needs his memory wiped so he can enjoy the illusion of the matrix. A myth can’t satisfy if we believe that it’s merely a fiction, so self-deception makes for a poor starting point of a philosophy or a religion.

      But you’ve oversimplified the aesthetic interpretation of values. Artworks are not simply lies--not paintings, songs, poems, novels, or ideologies (understood as fictions). Artworks are interpretations of reality that we neither take so seriously as to confuse them with scientific theories, nor so idle as to confuse them with trivial games. If we read the Garden of Eden story as a fictional myth, does that mean we know the myth is false, in which case to take the story seriously requires that we lie to ourselves? Well, the story is certainly false if read literally, but that’s irrelevant because the story shouldn’t be read as an attempt to get the facts straight. What the story’s doing is putting a human face on reality, to situate human projects and to inspire us to carry on despite the objective, more neutral perspective on reality which we’re also cursed to have. The myth expresses the feeling that existence for us is a curse, and it uses personification as a literary technique.

    17. You distinguish between getting lost in a myth and knowing the myth is fictional, and you challenge me to explain how the latter can be ethically or aesthetically preferable to the former. It’s just a matter of integrity. By an existential evaluation, a hero doesn’t deceive herself. Artists can get lost in their art and the modern legacy in art is indeed the idea of self-discovery: artists explore the frontiers of artistic media, but these facts uncovered by artists are facts about us and how we see the world. Artists tend not to go insane and mistake their fictions for mind-independent reality.

      Anyway, the goal for me isn’t just to be an artist. Art has a function in the existential scheme of things: we need art to compensate for the curse of reason. Art is the sugar that makes the poisoned fruit of reason easier to swallow. But art shouldn’t overcome reason, which is what it does for the deluded masses that have too much faith in their fairytales. Reason must speak its piece as well, which means those with integrity, who are part artists and part rationalists, are doomed to suffer and won’t be able to escape entirely into their daydreams. Their reason will prevent them from doing so, as a matter of fact. Art helps us get by, but that’s it. The best of us are condemned merely to get by, not to be happy or mesmerized by our fictions. Suffering becomes us, because of our existential situation, because so many others are forced to suffer, which ought to make anyone’s happiness in that context an embarrassing secret, and because nature is a horrible, undead monster.

      I agree that the power elites have both their self-serving myths and some mighty powerful megaphones to broadcast them. I look at phenomena like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street, and wonder whether a more existentially authentic, grassroots movement is being made possible by communications technologies. I’m not optimistic about this, mind you. But if people are spiritually hungry, as Christian evangelists often say, it stands to reason that the existential elites (those who are scrupulous about not lying to themselves) will prefer something like the two-sided view I’m laying out here. There will be esoteric and exoteric paths, because most people will indeed prefer to live like Cypher. They’ll let art overcome their reason and they’ll sacrifice their existential authenticity. A minority won’t permit themselves that escape.

      I agree with you also that there may indeed be a big problem with modern physics. I’ve read Lee Smolin’s new book on time, and he, Penrose, and others are big critics of string theory and the mathematization of physics. They also think much of physics now is unfalsifiable theology. I’m open to this being so and I don’t presuppose any particular theory of nature. You seem particularly concerned with the Big Bang theory and with something you call market-style evolution. The principles of my philosophy aren’t really tied to any such theory, although I’ve certainly expressed them in terms of what I take to be the consensus science of our day. But precisely because I’m doing philosophy and theology here rather than science, I’ve got an artist’s leeway when it comes to interpreting the world and making it up as I go along. But because I also try to be rational, I can’t abide lying to myself, so I won’t let my fictions contradict what I understand to be factual. That’s the existential predicament.

  2. I would argue that "things" are not as simple as you claim. We are not "merely" the "product of our DNA code", that taking the DNA from your cell and reporducing it would not result in you.

    More fundamentlly, modern physics is not nearly as reducible as you claim here, either. Physicists are in fact discovering that "reality" is a lot more complicated than the recipe of particles and forces you discuss. I know you are summarizing, but the reality is so much more mind blowing that it belies your very conclusions. In fact, there may not even be such as thing as "a" "reality" which can be apprehended by our finite minds. String theory includes five different string theories, which conflict, while overlapping, working in some cases and not others. Which is "real"? This is ignoring developing modern conceptions of a multiverse so complex and vast and incomprehensible that it is almost risible to claim that it is simple can be reduced to a code.

    In other words, I am not following you down this path, Benjamin! But it is an interesting path, nonetheless.

    1. I know I'm oversimplifying in this article, but I think the main points stand. Also, I don't think I simplify as much as you say I do. For example, I say "the relationship between, say, a human body and the quadrillions of atoms that equal that body isn’t exactly one of translation, since the atoms don’t encode the person; rather, things are made up of their atoms." That is, I grant there's a distinction between codes and mereology, or the relation between parts and wholes. Also, I say that "Neither a genome nor a binary string alone would make for an organism or for, say, a computer game," and that the environment too affects our behaviour.

      Nevertheless, I do assume metaphysical realism, whereas you might be more of an antirealist or a structural realist. The point, though, is that if you assume the Standard Model, our elements are much more universal and repeatable than are our unique bodies, and the potential for all complex particulars is contained in those elements. Do you agree with that, at least, or do you think we're not made up of material elements?

  3. I would certainly agree that we are made of material elements, but would merely??? claim that said elements are so overwhelmingly complex and undefinable at the core that I cannot see the horror or limitation.

    Am I an antirealist? I am not sure. I am no physicist, but the popularized articles I enjoy struggling through (The "Extreme Physics" issue of Scientific American was fascinating to me) would seem to indicate a consensus that these material elements are so contingent, so complex, that "universal and repeatable" may not be an accurate description. Except at the cruder classical physics end of things.

    1. I see your point and I agree that it would be crude beyond belief to think of these elements literally as chunks of stuff. In string theory, there's only highly abstract mathematical conceptions of the essence of matter.

      But notice that we should still expect these elements to be universal and repeatable, because the scientific theory that explains them will be judged by its simplicity and reductive power. The closer a theory in physics comes to being a theory of everything, the more common the fundamental constituents will have to be, because the theory will have to explain a multiplicity in terms of simpler entities.

      As for the horror, I try to make my point using an analogy: "Imagine your parent, child, pet, or some other treasure were to stand beside you one minute and then in a puff of smoke were turned into a rock that lies next to countless millions of other seemingly identical rocks. And you’re told that that treasure which aroused strong emotions in you is contained in that rock form."

      Granted, a subatomic particle is much less concrete than a rock, but the point about the asymmetry between everyday objects and their material constituents remains.

  4. I wonder if you are conflating the cause of the suffering with the delivery mechanism. Are experiences/art devalued because they are digital or merely because of novelty fatigue?

    In essence, the core dukkha you describe can be alleviated through the delusion that there is something, somewhere, that will be satisfactory. Yet the modern age seems to be all things, all places and shines an eternal light on this fact.

    It is absolutely true that digitalization enables globalization to explode, but the global trade pipeline's insistence on instant access to all options has greatly devalued pure physical reality as well.

    For me, the essay is predicated on passivity and outcome, instead of action and path. I saw the Dali Lama speak a month ago and he said, "Karma is simply action," the moral equivalent of Newton's third law.

    I was strongly affected by Nietzsche's idea of eternal return (well I actually came across it originally in eastern philosophies) a few years ago and felt the crippling horror you state. However, the Bhagavad Gita offers a nice middle way between Nirvana and delusion: we may be not be unique but we are actors in a cosmic play and somebody has to play the part.

    If your treasure turned into a rock beside countless millions of others, would you despair that you had lost something you thought of real, or rejoice that you provided the now rock companionship when it was differentiated? Perhaps your treasuring allowed it to reach Nirvana.

    1. You're right that the Digital Age presents us with numerous problems besides the basic one of culture's digitization, such as the shortening of our attention span and the folly of our trying to compete with computers in the area of multitasking.

      I prefer Eastern religions to Western ones, but Eastern ones aren't wholly satisfying to me, at least as far as I currently understand them. I've written about Buddhism in a couple of places on this blog:



  5. Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

    Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no relaization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

    Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

    "If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

    1. This is like the famous story of how Samuel Johnson thought he refuted George Berkeley's metaphysical idealism. Berkeley said that on strictly empirical grounds, we should think that only minds and their ideas exist, since those are all we have direct contact with. There are no material bodies. Johnson kicked a rock and said "Thus I refute Berkeley."

      But these sorts of refutations may miss the point.

    2. When I read this blog my head hurts. The more I read the less I understand. It just becomes meaningless to me. I'll keep reading.

    3. Thanks for your interest and sorry for making your head hurt!

      Have you tried reading the writings in the Summary section of the Map of the Rants, especially the one called "The Rant Within the Undead God"? Also, I've been summarizing some of my view in my responses to High Arka just above in the comments on this article, beginning with my Aug 2 response. But maybe I should write some more summaries, to explain how I see the different parts of the worldview interconnecting (the politics, the religion, the aesthetic morality, the stuff on mental health, and so on).

      If you have specific questions I could try to answer them here. What do you find to be the most confusing or empty aspect of the blog? This particular article, Horror of the Codes of Creation, is just about one particular way of fleshing out what I call our existential predicament, which is that nature comes across as horrible when looked at objectively. This article's about the asymmetry between the things we find valuable because of their uniqueness or rarity, and the high repeatability of the elements that give rise to those things, by complexification. For example, atoms bond and form molecules, which form stars, which in turn form planets and living things.

      Also, you should take seriously the reminder that this blog is full of philosophical rants, and I regard philosophy as both artistic and quasi-scientific. So while there are arguments in these writings, there are also some attempts at prose poetry. Poetry can make your head hurt if you expect it simply to make sense. Art is also meant to inspire or to provoke some other emotional reaction.

    4. Thanks Ben. I think the difficulty I have with your philosophy is the effect it has on my anxiety. I am more familiar with eastern philosophy. Daoism, the Yi Jing, Zen and recently,Christian Gnosticism. I'm fully aware of the horror of existence. I am not a God believer or a practicing Buddhist. I think for any human being the question is 'What am I going to do while I'm alive?' Is my suffering rational? How much am I conditioned by my culture?. I have been asking myself these questions for years. The more I acquire knowledge the more confused I become. My seeking has led me to become physically ill. This relentless pursuit of the truth is tiring. I'm tired of debates and philosophies. I'm tired of all the rights and wrongs. What I have to come to understand and admit to myself is that I want to share my appreciation for life with other people. I want them to see that life isn't as ugly as we think it is. I think we need our spirits lifted. We know life is ugly and miserable and hopeless. We see it everyday. I like your blog a lot. It's one of the most fascinating I have ever read. But right now it's not for me. I'm not trying to dodge reality and make up some kind fantasy to make me feel better about myself. If I happen to be in a more stable state of mind I will come back here and read through your rants. As I said this predicament we are in is complicated.But I need to live and appreciate the present moment or I'll surely lose my mind. Good luck. I'll leave you with a Haiku.

      Leaves falling,
      Lie on one another;
      The rain beats on the rain.

    5. Dazzled by the display of wordsmanship, and convinced that the man was far wiser than he, Haru walked into the colorful tent with his eyes closed and arms extended.

    6. Yeah, I didn't mean for this blog to be entirely negative. I sketched out some of my positive values in "Inkling of an Unembarrassing Postmodern Religion." Maybe I should get back to the uplifting themes. Because my view isn't that we ought to feel permanently angst-ridden. I think angst is only Phase One of existential authenticity. I feel uplifted by great stories and I plan to write my own four volume series of novels, beginning with a zombie apocalypse novel that should be coming out on Amazon next month. I should also try writing some more comedic and satirical entries here.

      Anyway, Anon, take care and thanks for the words of wisdom. I'm glad you stopped by, at least.

  6. High Arka:

    You critique scientists as blinded by "elite" ideology, yet you yourself exemplify BEGINNING with ideology and let's be honest, theology. You WANT the universe to be a certain way (purposeful, leading to a higher state, some kind of universal consciousness) so you pick and choose aspects of the new physics that appear, on the surface and to a layman's eyes (because unless you are a physicist, you, like I, are amateurs)

    Modern science is not "clinging" to dark matter, it's one of many explanations for serious observational anomalies. The multiverse is not contrary to mainstream scientific thought, it is one of the major themes. I can't think of anyone more "mainstream" than Stephen Hawking, who co-wrote a book which certainly does not advocate a simplistic view of the Big Bang Theory (Benjamin might be interested to note that Hawking appears to be moving towards an anti-realist view of the fundamental underlying structure of the universe, or at least our ability as fallible apes to understand the complexities of existence).

    Fundamentally, I reject your "purposeful" universe because to me, at least, such a universe is far crueler and, yes, more evil, than a random universe. Even if your view were correct, what does that mean for us as conscious beings? Rebellion is the best approach, because your Gaia is incomprehensible, cruel, capricious, and, yes, evil. Better to just recognize that "what is, is" rather than using our pattern making primate brains to derive "purpose".

    1. Brian: "You critique scientists as blinded by "elite" ideology, yet you yourself exemplify BEGINNING with ideology and let's be honest, theology."

      1) You've placed scare quotes around "elite," as though the ideologies this one mentioned are not elite. This, though, is probably something we can easily agree upon. When Harvard, the Vatican, the directors of the IMF and the U.S. Federal Reserve, and the RAND Corporation all agree on something, wouldn't you say it's fair to characterize that something as "elite"?

      2) "Theology" is the study of a religious faith. The distinction between "faith"--an unproven belief--and my "ideology" is that my ideology is that we can learn things about existence through observation. E.g., my ideology is the polar opposite of faith.

      I don't want you to believe me because I'm right, because I have experience, or because I've made the observations; I want you to believe yourself because you've made the observations, too. What made Renaissance science different than church control, so briefly, was that it relied on independent verifiability. It encouraged people to review evidence for themselves, instead of accepting as true whatever the great learned men of the age told them was true.

      In your case, you can easily cast doubt on Big Bang cosmology or Market-Style Evolution by observing the available evidence and drawing conclusions about it. It takes wishful thinking, along with billions of dollars, and an international network of state-imposed curriculae and Wise Men, to develop a popular faith in things that have never been observed.

      The aspects of physics that this one has "picked and chosen" are the observable, verifiable, scientifically testable aspects. The aspects that this one has disregarded are the theoretical, make-believe, completely-unsupported hypotheses promulgated to explain the mandatory narratives of the imperial states: e.g., instantaneous genesis and free trade.

      Please permit me to again encourage you to look into plasma physics more closely. The only observations that could be said to support Big Bang theory are the Hubble Redshift and the universal constant (something of a misnomer, but referring to background radiation levels). Supercluster observations contradict the expansion rate calculated by observable redshift, suggesting that the rippling movement of some stars and galaxies away from Earth was caused by an explosion other than one in which the universe was created in a single instant, since gravitation would not permit the superclusters to form in even ten times the universal life allowed by the Big Bang (calculated as generously as possible via the Hubble Redshift).

      You could begin your search into a science based upon independent verifiability with the work of Hannes Alfvén. Over the course of half a century, U.S. "scientific" journals consistently rejected laboratory-verifiable plasma observations that did not support the Roman Catholic Priest's (Georges Lemaître) Book of Genesis-derived creation story.

      We are locked in a battle between (1) independently-verifiable observation-based research and (2) non-critical deference to the unverifiable theories of powerful men and institutions. I beg of you, understand that (1) is a far more reasonable way to approach the world, for (2) tends to lead to tyrants and war.

    2. Brian: "Fundamentally, I reject your "purposeful" universe because to me, at least, such a universe is far crueler and, yes, more evil, than a random universe."

      Do you see what you did there? You did what, at the beginning of that very post, you accused me of doing: you said that you believed in something because you felt it was "less cruel" than the alternative.

      That is the wishful thinking of many among the masses who follow the conclusions of Big Man Science. In fright and despair at the evils of the world, they conclude that purposelessness is better than evil purpose.

      This one encourages you to, instead, draw conclusions about the nature of reality based on evidence. Allow observation, rather than preference, to guide what you believe.

      Now, then, this one has not said there is a "purpose" in the universe. Consider my article Molecular Hugging, where I say that the tendency of energy and matter to form more complex structures does not need to be emotionalized or personified.

      If you spill a glass of water, do you believe that the spilled water has "purpose" by "hugging" the floor? Or do you, merely, believe in gravitation?

      In the case of Lightform Evolution, we do not need to become emotional, pious, or weepy at the conclusion that matter and energy evolve more complex arrangements over time. The geological and fossil records can show us that. It is up to us, for the next step, to decide if we want to become misty in the eyes at that evidence, or if we would prefer not.

      Notice that your use of "cruel, capricious...evil" is the personification (and, indeed, faith) here. The question to put to you is, why should the verse's lightforms care that you find their organization "cruel" or "capricious"? If a boulder is rolling toward you, and you refuse to move, instead crossing your arms and hating the boulder for being "cruel," you will probably be done more injury than if you observe the boulder's path and step aside.


  7. 5:23 is an interesting and thought-provoking response which perhaps clarifies that you are not personalizing the universe or "purpose". So I may have been misinterpreting your positions. So...mea culpa "Lightforms"? Sure. Why not. You again seem to be assuming that THE UNIVERSE is evolving these higher light forms. We don't KNOW that, except for a single case study. Given the hostility of the physical universe to life as we know it, I'm not sure I would agree that this evolution is universal or at best it is very tentatitive. Or that we can come to any moral conclusions about the universe and its processes. So...we have to take this on, yes, FAITH.

    re: 5:10. I remain highly skeptical. You claim that you or your school somehow observe and discover THE TRUTH and a conspiracy of BIG MEN is to blame for accepted scientific theories. Your claim also implies that mere observation a la Renaissance Man (or Woman) is enough to overturn the perjorative "Big Science" models. Hmmmm. That's a pretty bold claim. For every major outside-the-box discovery, there is the Crank who claims scientific theories are propagated by The Greys to enslave humanity. Not all outsiders are "right". Not all "conventional" (if one can even call the bizare theories of modern physics "conventional") wisdom is wrong.

    1. This one could, fairly, either personalize or not personalize the universe; whether or not this one cares to should be irrelevant as to any scientific analysis.

      Is "the universe" responsible for Lightforms? Only inasmuch as "the universe" is responsible for, say, George W. Bush. (As evidence accumulates that everything is "conscious" to some degree (however incredibly miniscule, such that it bears ignoring at this stage, or however colossal, such that it bears ignoring at this stage), it will become more plausible for this one to say that the universe is responsible in the way you are suggesting, e.g., in the sense of any end result being an interconnected choice. Now is neither the time nor the place, though, so we don't need to concern ourselves with that.)

      It seems a bit selfish to accuse the universe of being hostile to life. After all, without the universe, would there be life? Without existence, would there be existence? If an infant falls off a stool in a nursery, and onto a fluffy pillow, she may yet be upset by the short drop and the sudden stop, and cry, believing that the world is a cruel place designed to punish her (or, at least, a random place where bad things happen and everything generally sucks). However, from a different perspective, we might understand that she's going to be all right, and that the nursery is actually a pretty safe place.

      Think of the saying "beggars can't be choosers." To get to, say, symphonies, we need to also experience other stages of matter-energy organizations, among them, say, imperial warfare. Whether or not that's "fair" or "good" is a separate issue from an observational method. As philosophers, we could argue about whether the suffering is fair, or whether or not it's "worth it." As scientists, though, we should concern ourselves solely with what's happening. And, as far as life goes, the universe is nurturing it, allowing it to thrive, expand, and grow increasingly more intelligent.

      You're right in your guess that this one would argue that it is worth it, if we were having that argument. We're not, though! However much we've been trained to accuse scientific contrarians as either (1) ignorant pollyannas or (2) ignorant fundamentalist wackos, there actually is a larger world outside the false dichotomy. And this one really does want to stick with observation and evidence rather than emotion.

    2. We know that there doesn't need to be a "conspiracy" involving men with top hats and curled mustaches, who meet in a conference room orbiting the storms of Titan, in order for an organized system of mistruth to exist. Every urban American DLC "get out the vote" organizer is not, for example, receiving secret payments from Goldman Sachs. And yet, something systematic is occurring which causes a network of dozens of millions of people, across thousands of miles, to keep supporting America's torturing child-assassin.

      ...and this happens when they can go on Google at a free computer at the public library, and find endless pictures of shredded children, thousands of pages of analysis from legal and medical experts across the world about force-feeding and collateral damage, and even communities of bloggers who spend every day dissecting the financial relationships between political campaigns and imperial war.

      How? Is it the men orbiting Saturn's satellite? Or something else?

      The same thing has happened in cosmology, as over a period of decades, a Catholic Priest's theory about how the Book of Genesis could be verified by science became remarkably good at justifying grant applications and the construction of phenomenally expensive particle accelerators.

      Consider my old satire of the press releases put out by the scientists who celebrated that they were not able to find the Higgs boson in summer of 2012: The God Image Does Exist. What the essay is meant to illuminate is that, despite all the pomp and circumstance, the Emperor did not actually have any clothes on. The decades-long search was for a subatomic particle (the Higgs boson) that was supposed to exist because it was needed to fill in the gaps in some equations that had been made up to explain other equations with gaps in them. After all those years, and yet another massive expenditure of public money on particle accelerators, the scientists announced that they had found the Higgs boson even though they had not found the Higgs boson.

      It was that bluntly, literally untrue. When the particle accelerator collisions failed to reveal the Higgs boson, or even pieces of the Higgs boson, the scientists concluded that their years of work had not been wasted, because the position of other particles after the collision must've happened because those particles had been affected by Higgs bosons.

      Take your opening shot on a pool table--you're playing eight ball. Hit the cue ball at the other balls, wait for everything to stop moving, and then gasp in delight! The position of the eight ball proves that an invisible "Brian M Basketball" was on the pool table when you started the game. The eight ball must've bounced off that invisible Basketball when no one was looking (except for years worth of highly trained researchers constantly scrutinizing the pool table using some of the most expensive computers in the world).

      That is how ridiculous; how truly clownish cosmology and particle physics has become. Evidence is no longer required; in fact, the absence of evidence is used to prove favorite hypotheses. Elegant, lengthy equations can no longer describe anything about the real world--they are equations that only work out when you insert enough dark matter, dark energy, and black holes into any errors, eliminating remainders and making it look like the equation has any purpose.

      That's why the theories of modern physics are so bizarre--they are fantasy and speculation, no longer grounded in the requirement that evidence, or a lack of evidence, is grounds for supporting or disproving someone's claim.

    3. High Arka, I agree that Big Bang cosmology is largely speculative, but I think this is because cosmology itself is a relatively speculative field. There's simply not that much evidence available to give us scientific reasons to favour one mathematical abstraction over another regarding the universe's formation. But string theorists used their prestige to build the CERN particle accelerator to obtain their empirical evidence. If the evidence turns out to be ambiguous rather than decisive, that might have been the biggest waste of money of all time.

      What's the crux of your disagreement with what you call market-style evolution? Is it that you think life evolves in a regulated way, so that creatures become more and more complex, in which case our environments aren't like free markets in which failure is just as likely as success? I too like to think of complexification as a natural tendency throughout the universe.

      But how do you think the universe will end? Is this the root of your objection to Big Bang cosmology? That it predicts that the universe will end badly for life, whereas you think life is more central to nature, that entropy and other processes don't show that the universe is indifferent to the systems that happen to evolve? Putting aside the question of theism, is your view of nature anthropocentric, whereas you think the so-called naturalistic one is supposedly neutral on the question of life's purpose, but that because this latter philosophy entails life's destruction, this is an antilife position?

    4. Regarding the Big Bang, here - You Are Alone.

      My disagreement with Market-Style Evolution is that random mutations could not have produced, in only four billion years, the case-specific refinement of Earth and Earth's creatures. We don't need to romanticize the process; of course atomic networks are transmitting signals to each other to provide an outlet for the swell of energy.

      The root of my objection to Big Bang cosmology is that it has been disproved by the observation of light lensing around galaxies, and the presence of superclusters too large to have formed since the Big Bang. (The galactic lensing effect, incidentally, is why dark matter is necessary for saving Big Bang theory--galaxies are bending light more than they "should be," so to save the theory, we have to pretend that galaxies include 95% more matter. This matter is like no other matter in existence, because it cannot be observed, but we know it exists because, if it didn't exist, our favorite theories would be wrong.

      The universe will probably not end. Scientifically speaking, there has never been any observational evidence that it will end, or that it is finite. It takes priests threatening Ragnarok to come up with ideas like that--make-believe maps where the ocean simply drops off the edge of the world, where there are no new horizons, and where Jesus the Primal Singularity is returning soon to burn away this sinful world.

    5. So you don't think the universe is uniformly expanding, which means the distant future will be very different from the past or the present? What's your explanation of Hubble's Law or of the cosmic background radiation? Wouldn't entropy alone mean there will eventually come an end of the universe due to the reaching of a state of thermodynamic equilibrium?

    6. There are regular explosions and other movements of matter in the verse, with effects that last for a long time, relative to the lifespan of a human or a planet. There are many potential reasons why objects observed from Earth appear to be moving away at varying rates (the least probable of which is that all matter originated from a singularity). A more reasonable one is that matter-antimatter explosions occur frequently enough that it is not uncommon, on a universal scale, for sets of galaxies to be still rippling from the initial blast wave of one that occurred a few billion years ago.

      When you're considering CBR, remember that you're dealing with the same set of scientists who took the lack of observable Higgs bosons' as proof that Higgs bosons existed. When the 1992 observations were made, the model that was supposed to verify the Big Bang included seven adjustable parameters, which cosmologists could change in order to make the model conform to observations, and appear to be validated thereby. Even one "adjustable" parameter should have thrown out the model, but such is the power of the Big Bang.

      Many, many stars have burned, died, and been reborn in the verse, ergo over a long time, their energy has "smoothed," somewhat, across a lot of vacuum. Think of it this way--if you walk into a cabin on a snowy mountaintop, and that air is a little bit warm, it doesn't mean that Jesus recently passed through the cabin, and that the air molecules all adapted to his awesome presence. Rather, it means that another explorer was using the fireplace an hour ago, and the heat has begun to settle into the walls and floorboards.

    7. (Oh, a caveat--the other traveler could have been Jesus and/or Shiva, if you must, but the heat was still caused by the combustion of wood, rather than some transcendent characteristic of the explorer himself.)