Sunday, March 26, 2017

Life as a Dream: The Secular Myth of Objective Truth

Art by Erik Johansson
Is life is but a dream, as the nineteenth century nursery rhyme assures us? Liberals, humanists, and naturalists insist that now more than ever, with the rise of fascism in Europe, Russia, and America; with the strange convergence of alt-right grievances with postmodern cynicism; and while demagogues, charlatans, and agnotologists in politics, advertising, and the corporate media are spreading doubt, spin, and propaganda, we should stand up for truth. However, this conflict between so-called rationalists or critical thinkers, on the one hand, and hillbillies and con artists, on the other, is a tempest in a teapot. Those who take the long view are invited to understand how truth died with God shortly after the Scientific Revolution, several centuries ago.

The concept of truth had already been suspect for millennia, when divine reality was thought to transcend human comprehension. What we took to be mundane, worldly truths, such as that the desert is hot during the day or that a normal human face has two eyes, a nose and a mouth, were mere illusions compared to mystical “truth,” the latter being ineffable and at best experienced as awe in moments of heightened awareness. Gods were only posited by our imagination, based on a lack of data (and on a noble lie developed by psychopathic power elites for the sake of pacifying the human herd of betas). Scientists collected the data, thanks to advances in technology, mathematics, and epistemology, and the gods were accordingly replaced with atoms and physical forces. Natural reality is measurable whereas the gods weren’t, but atoms and forces are likewise beyond our understanding in that they’re wildly counterintuitive.

The only thing we can fully understand is ourselves. Everything else must be simplified in the telling of them with concepts and models which idealize and which rest on falsifying metaphors that would humanize the inhuman. The proper subjects of knowledge are us and our societies; reason evolved to enable us to understand only minds and cultures with which we’re intimately familiar since we identify with them. The stories we tell about ourselves aren’t simplifications, since we’re identical with the subjects of those narratives, not with our brains as such. When we seek to understand the wider world, however, we either project human categories onto nature, as occurs in theistic religions and in folk conceptions, or else we effectively exchange the pursuit of truth with that of power.

In the epistemic context, anthropomorphism is philosophically unforgivable, however socially useful might be the gratuitous shrinking of outer reality so that it seems to fit within the human scale. Socrates sacrificed his life for the principle that truth matters more than our comfort. Instead of flattering ourselves with delusions that hold society together at the cost of confining us to an animal mode of life, we should search for a higher calling according to our position in the ultimate, metaphysical scheme. Unfortunately, Plato’s teleological picture of nature is a rehashing of the folk prejudices, losing the human interest of the transparent personifications in popular religion, in exchange for pseudoscientific respectability afforded by the philosophical discourse. Instead of angelic or monstrous spirits flitting about and deciding how events unfold, there are supposedly levels of being, including Forms and their material copies. In any case, scientific naturalism renders such interim philosophical tales obsolete. What isn’t well-appreciated, though, is that the very notion of truth is also outdated. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Eldritch Revelations: The Mystery of Consciousness and the Fear of Death

[In his published monograph, Eldritch Revelations (One, Two, Three), the psychiatrist of the infamous thinker Jurgen Schulz wrote that only short fragments of Schulz’s philosophical journal survived his escape from Borsa Castle. But following the psychiatrist’s mysterious death shortly after publication, longer fragments were discovered in his office, locked in a drawer. The publisher of ER herewith appends these longer fragments as they’re made available by the translator, beginning with this passage on the problem of consciousness.] 
                                                                 * * *
Perhaps the oldest fiction is that there are two worlds instead of one, the timeless, invisible, spiritual heaven that directs the material realm in which things come and go. And our unique dignity as enlightened beings is supposed to lie in our having a foothold in both worlds. Our consciousness belongs to the unseen utopia, to the hidden source of truth and beauty, while our body is plainly a physical object that emerges, evolves, and decays along with everything else in nature. But as physiologists learned how the body operates, the mystery deepened as to how ethereal consciousness, which used to be known as the spirit, could arise from matter. Our inner domain which seems like a sliver of supernature is full of mental contents, including tastes, smells, emotions, and thoughts, which are utterly unlike the stuff in which our body, including our brain consists. When you taste an exquisite dessert, you wouldn’t thereby be tempted to eat the neurons that are associated with that sensation, since the two tastes would be altogether different. There’s a philosophical mystery of consciousness, then, because there’s a mental blockage in our attempt to conceive of how a physical thing could have an interior point of view, a private world of meaningful mental states.

Less well known is that this problem of the apparent duality of matter and mind has two equivalent formulations, one of which proves more enlightening than the other. The common formulation is the evolutionary one, according to which we have difficulty explaining how mind emerges from matter. Notice, though, that the explanatory relationship can be reversed, in which case we might wonder how mind can be dissolved into matter. This latter formulation is just an abstract statement of the problem of death, as opposed to the question of how consciousness is created in the first place. How material compounds can cohere in such a way that they take on a conscious viewpoint which allows the material aggregate to act knowingly and creatively in what is mostly a lifeless void is one mystery. An equivalent mystery begins with the datum of consciousness and proceeds to the question of how consciousness fades away with the body’s eventual demise.

The second way of putting the problem shows why both mysteries appear to have no solution. The heart of the conundrum isn’t intellectual, but emotional. It’s not that we lack the brainpower to conceive of how mind can be merged with a material body; rather, we can’t bear to pursue the issue forthrightly, because we’re innately horrified by the inevitability of our personal death. Indeed, we’d prefer to live forever, but are confronted by the impermanence of all natural things. Thus, we’re blocked from understanding how a material thing can be conscious, because we’re disgusted by our future in which we’ll be no more, as our body deteriorates and expires. Were we presented with a theory that specifies the mechanics of how consciousness interacts with or inheres in matter, we would refuse to accept the implications as long as we still feared death.

That fear is in turn a consequence of our love of life. Every cell of our being drives us to live more and better, which is why the contemplation of death is morbid and taboo. To ponder what your death will be like is to betray the genetic compulsion and hormones and cultural conditioning that establish the norm of living with blinders to certain dark realities. Biologically, we perceive only that fraction of the universe which is useful to our survival, although science has entered us into the infamous Faustian bargain in which we dare to see further than is recommended to maintain our sanity. Death is despicable because we’re naturally driven to prolong our life at all costs, and this instinct is at least a precondition of the mind-body problem. Of course, the theoretical problem is agonized over by living creatures, by clever animals that figured out not just how to be self-aware, but that the self will apparently be extinguished at the end of a process of material dying. The certainty of death is apparent only to highly intelligent creatures that have learned to wrestle with complexities and abstractions that are unknown to lesser organisms. Nevertheless, the will to survive is universal in the animal kingdom and thus the terror of death persists even in the philosopher.

True, we can be depressive and suicidal, but even should we relinquish the zest for life and embark upon a plot to kill ourselves, we can experience only the act of dying, never the end of death. As long as we live, we live in bodies that evolved to protect themselves, to preserve and to transmit their genetic code. Once we die, the emotional component of the problem of how mind relates to the body is of course undone, since we then no longer exist and thus can no longer fear death or be compelled to endure. Suppose, though, that someone were somehow to have no fear of death and thus no love of life. Such a being would contemplate the prospect of dying with perfect neutrality. Were she biologically programmed to defend her life, she would be alienated from her body, since by hypothesis she would have no emotional attachment to her life. At most she would observe herself going through the motions of breathing, eating, and generally of preserving her life, say, by checking that the way is clear before she crosses the street, but she wouldn’t care about the outcome. However, these life-preserving instincts would be less effective without their emotive component. So such a being would more likely act neither for nor against her benefit. She would be as indifferent towards her life as would be the rest of the universe. To that extent, she would be an object rather than a living thing. What this indicates is that the mind-body problem arises only for a creature that’s at least minimally self-interested, who prefers to live and who thus loathes the thought of her passing into nothingness.

Fear of death isn’t just a precondition of the mystery of how a material body can be conscious; rather, that fear is what renders that identity a problem. Again, the problem isn’t that we can’t understand how material things can come together to form a subject, since at the subatomic level matter itself is as ethereal as any ghost. No, the problem is that we don’t want to be bodies that face the certainty of losing everything we once had. We refuse to dwell on this agonizing certainty, because we’re intrinsically disgusted by it, and so we’re mentally blocked from picking up the problem from the other end, from imagining how a material thing can become conscious, since the two statements of the problem are philosophically equivalent. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

American Voter Turnout shrinks to Six People in 2028

In the year 2028, voter turnout fell in the United States to such an extent that only six people voted in that year’s presidential election.

The winner, Republican Lee Dumbluck, received three of the six votes, while the Democrat received two and the sixth went to a third party candidate.

Most Americans still consider their country democratic, because most Americans have the opportunity to vote.

However, some political pseudoscientists believe there’s another reason why Americans continue to accept the result of their elections in which the winner receives a share of the votes that reflects the will of only a small minority of the total population.

Billy Wallaby, researcher at the Machiavelli Institute, maintains that after each election, the hundreds of millions of Americans who didn’t vote in 2028 were rendered invisible to the mass media, due to an electrochemical effect in the journalists’ brains.

According to Wallaby, “Most Americans can still call their president the leader of the free world, without falling to the floor and laughing for an uncomfortably long period of time, because the horde of nonvoters gets forgotten. Somehow, journalists literally can’t see the nonvoters, so they can’t report on the phenomenon. All that matters is counting the precious votes that are actually cast, so if only six votes are cast, those six voters are all that matter. The rest of the country might as well be living on Mars.

“If only we could pinpoint the neural effect at work, perhaps the blinders might be lifted and journalists could begin to do the elementary math needed to understand that our elections are jokes. Once that happens, Americans might find themselves reading in the news that if ‘democracy’ means rule by the majority, and only a minority of people show up to vote, the winner democratically represents only that small slice of the population, not the whole country, state, or county.

“If a large majority of the eligible voters vote, as happens in most democratic countries, the nonvoters can be written off, but when half the population or more doesn’t vote and yet the election result is heralded as a model for democracies everywhere, something’s rotten in Denmark.”

Marsha Thickglasses, historian at Harvard, has written extensively about American elections. “For many decades,” she said, “voter turnout in the US has been shockingly low. After 1908, turnout in midterm elections has always been below 50 percent of eligible voters, and often below 40 percent. That means the winning senator or congressperson might have garnered a voting share of less than a quarter of the total population of eligible voters in that part of the country. In the twentieth century, turnout in presidential elections has usually been around 55 percent, so again the winner is democratically supported by little more than a quarter of eligible voters, because the vote is often evenly split in the two-party system.”

Professor Thickglasses pointed out that after the Trump debacle, when Americans lost all hope and faith in their founding myths, voter turnout “dropped off a cliff.” “Now in 2028, when only a handful of persons bothered to show up to vote, you’d think that the thundering silence from the nonvoters would itself have some sort of political impact. Specifically, you’d figure it would discredit the result of the bogus election. But that never happens here.”

In European countries that have numerous political parties which split the vote, the winners share power proportionally with those who received smaller shares of the votes. But in the United States, the winner takes all. According to the professor, “That quantum leap from receiving perhaps only 20 percent of the vote from eligible voters, to going on to hold political power over both the rival voters and the many nonvoters is obviously undemocratic.”

One nonvoter, Marcus Appleby, would prefer for the nation to pay less attention to the American government. “Remember in high school,” he said, “when there was a silly students council, and the most popular, go-getting, good-looking kids ran in a farcical ‘election’ to be student representative, and only their eight or nine closest friends voted? And then nobody heard about the student council afterward until the next year’s phony election, but that popular kid got to add a line to his or her resume, and that was the end of it?

“Why can’t American elections be more like that? If our government’s a fraud, why can’t we at least keep it out of sight and mind? That’s what we nonvoters try to do, but the media insist on smothering us with stories about those spoiled, busy-body joiners, the politicians who need to flatter themselves and puff up their self-esteem with the illusion that the majority approves of them, when in fact most people couldn’t care less.”

A shrewd American nonvoter, Gong Li, has started the Nonvoters Party. “Our goal,” he said, “is to represent the nonvoters and to change the Constitution to account for our constituency. So if the Democratic and Republican candidates each get around 25 percent support from the eligible voters, and our candidate implicitly gets closer to 50 percent from the nonvoters, the Nonvoters Party should win. Our sole use of that democratic power then would be to declare the election null and void, in addition to being a sham. And Americans would be back at square one.”

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Russian Intelligence Operative reveals why Putin helped Elect Donald Trump

Dateline: MOSCOW—Russian intelligence operative admitted to meeting with Donald Trump and with members of his inner circle during the 2016 presidential campaign, to explain to the Americans that Putin wanted Trump to beat Hillary Clinton because Trump is a colossal fuckup and would surely sink the United States.

In a candid interview with CNN’s Jenny Manjaws, Russian intelligence officer Sergei Waxonandov conceded that during the campaign he secretly met with Trump, Sessions, Flynn, Kushner, and with others who worked for the candidate.

But Waxonandov denied there was any quid pro quo. Said Waxonandov, “Putin doesn’t expect Trump will intentionally return the favour of our helping to get him elected by releasing the emails we stole from the DNC. The favour will be returned, though, unintentionally, because Trump will mire his country in ignorance and in chaos so that regardless of Trump’s plans, America will be unable to coherently affect world affairs.

“We told this directly to Trump’s entourage,” continued Waxonandov. “I told Kushner, ‘You know and I know that Trump is a farce as a human being—just a complete, cartoonish farce. And that’s why we want him to be president. We don’t want a competent, rational foe like another Clinton to prevent Russia from regaining its imperial power. We want Trump to discredit democracy, the free market, materialism, and all liberal, Western values. We want the rest of the world to look up to Russia, not the United States, to associate America with the vulgar, blustering ignoramus who is your father-in-law. We want Trump to humiliate the US so that Americans will lose faith in their culture and institutions, so that the shell of their society will crumble like the Soviet Union’s did. We want revenge against America, to reduce that country to ashes without our having to fire a single shot on American soil. Trump is our man, because he’s nothing more than an agent of destruction.’”

According to Waxonandov, Jared Kusher replied, “I’m fine with that.”

Waxonandov revealed that he met also with Ivanka Trump and told her, “Russia will do everything in its power to help your father win the presidency. Donald Trump is a blessing to enemies of America everywhere. All he can be counted on doing is to destroy his country the way he bankrupted his companies, or to turn American culture into a vulgar comedy like his brand and his television show.”

Ivanka Trump replied, “Sounds super-awesome. I’m all on board with that. Where do I sign?”

The forthright Russian intelligence operative told Trump to his face, “We thank God that you decided to run, Mr. Trump. When you embarrass your nation with scandal after scandal, when Bannon’s juvenile policies sap the strength of your nation’s economy, when your manifest psychopathy taints the American Dream for all time, be assured that we’ll honour you in the halls of the Kremlin. You’re welcome to drink vodka with Putin anytime, day or night. We wish you Godspeed in ravaging your motherland.” 

Trump, who would go on to become president, replied, “I’m humbled by your confidence in my abilities.”

Some Democrats have evinced skepticism that Trump would have been thankful for Russia’s involvement in the US election, if Waxonandov laid out the reasons for that meddling only by savaging Trump’s character. “Putin must have flattered Trump instead,” said one Democratic senator, “and Trump must have promised to aid Russia in return. Or else Russia blackmailed Trump.”

But Waxonandov rejected those interpretations. “We could indeed have blackmailed Trump, but to what end? Trump will make a fortune after he leaves office, regardless of whether his presidency benefits or wrecks his country. That’s just the natural order of things over there: Trump will capitalize on his increased brand recognition. So the facts that Russian oligarchs loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars over the last couple of decades, and Putin could forgive that debt, hold no leverage over Trump.

“And while the narcissist Trump obviously loves to be flattered, Putin isn’t one for sucking up to anyone.

“No, the only reason we would have met with Trump and his team, to discuss how we colluded to hand him victory over Clinton, was to boast that with Trump as president, Russia would come out on top, no matter what Trump tries to do as president.”

Saturday, March 4, 2017

United States Successfully Imprisons All its Citizens

In the year 2024, the United States perfected its prison industry by imprisoning all of its citizens, including the judges, lawyers, and police.

Trials thereafter occurred within prison cells, as did all other business and family matters.

Judge Leo Flaherty recalled rendering a guilty verdict while sitting on the top bunk, dressed in his orange prison uniform. He used a plastic ruler as a gavel, and the prosecutors and defense lawyers had to shout to be heard from an adjacent cell.

Flaherty was later interviewed by a journalist across the hall, who took notes while questioning the judge from behind bars.

When asked whether the American judicial system is perhaps overzealous in locking up American citizens, Flaherty said, “Nonsense! We’re a nation of laws, and criminals belong behind bars. Some decades ago, loopholes were added to the law by special interests to avoid being found guilty of white collar crimes. While those loopholes may have been eliminated because the prison industry lobbied Washington out of self-interest, the result is an unintentional triumph for morality. And we have the invisible hand of the market to thank for that.

“After all, there can be no doubt now that Americans have regained the moral high ground in the global context, because we can hardly be accused of being soft on wrongdoing. True, we’re all in prison, but there’s always the hope that when released, an American will last more than five minutes on the outside without committing a crime in this, one of the world’s most litigious and Puritanical societies. Now, with marijuana, financial fraud, mental disorders, and coarse language illegal around these parts, no one is safe, not even children.”

Foreigners wonder how a country can function when all of its citizens operate behind bars. A Frenchman asks, “How do they catch criminals on the outside when the rest are all in prison?” The answer is that robots patrol the mostly empty neighborhoods on behalf of the prison industry.

An Australian asks why the shareholders of prison companies would lobby for such a stringent judicial system, when they too would likely be found guilty of something. “What’s the point of making millions when you have to spend it in a prison cell?”

Jeannette Claudette, CEO of Prisons R Us, a large company that runs dozens of prisons across the United States, says she has no regrets. Lying on her cot while being raped by her cellmate, her silk uniform having been torn to shreds, she was interviewed by a robot jailer.

“I merely followed capitalistic logic,” she said while sobbing, “to maximize profit. If the market dictates that by rewriting the laws and pressuring the enforcement agencies to automate themselves and show no leniency, thus enriching my company, I too was bound to wind up in prison, so be it. The free market is infallible. In fact, the market is now the only free thing remaining in this country.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Gods are our Imaginary Friends

What are gods, assuming they don’t exist? They have many social functions as well as aesthetic values. They're tools for subjugating gullible hordes of uncritical thinkers; mirrors reflecting our vanity or perhaps harbingers of what we expect to become; fictions that inure us to the inevitability of our bodily demise. One aspect of the gods, though, that should be better understood follows when we reflect on two unsettling facts.

The High Likelihood of our Cosmic Aloneness

The first is that the probability is extremely low that any human will encounter intelligent extraterrestrial life, and that’s so even if the universe is teeming with life beyond the solar system. This is because the universe is so mind-bogglingly vast that the time needed to travel between galaxies or stars would make even a light speed journey unfeasible. Some parts of the universe are more star-dense than others, such as the areas closer to the center of a spiral galaxy, but our solar system happens not to be in such an area. The nearest stars to the sun are in the Alpha Centauri system and are about 4.3 light years away. Travel there by conventional rocket would take tens of thousands of years, and unconventional means such as warp drive are highly speculative. Moreover, by the time aliens could travel here or we could reach them, both their civilization and ours would likely have become extinct. That is, technologically-advanced civilizations likely don’t survive for the tens or hundreds of thousands of years needed to travel between stars, because power is naturally corrupting, corruption detaches the powerful from reality, but reality always has the last word and so the deluded are effectively punished by their downfall. Thus, just as creatures throughout the universe would be separated in space, they would also be divided by time: the chance that two species originating from different stars would be near enough that they could reach each other, while also evolving at roughly the same time is extremely remote, because the natural duration of each species must be infinitesimal compared to the life of each star. That is, a star lasts hundreds of millions or billions of years, while a technologically-advanced species probably lasts no more than some thousands of years, so species from planets orbiting different stars will more likely evolve before or after each other rather than in the same era.

In summary, we may be the only intelligent creatures to have evolved in any part of the universe that we could realistically reach throughout the lifespan of our species. But even if there are others, we will likely never communicate with them, both because of the vast distances between stars and the barrier of light speed, and because of the self-destructiveness of the technologically-advanced societies needed to undertake the venture of interstellar travel in the first place, which makes for the relative narrowness of the window of opportunity for communicating with alien life.

The second curious fact is that the average human brain prefers social contact to total isolation, and copes with solitary confinement by undergoing forms of mental derangement rather than suffering outright anxiety and despair. Mountaineers, solo explorers, marooned sailors, and prisoners who are isolated for most of the day in a maximum security facility cope by hallucinating, anthropomorphizing their indifferent environment, or by devising obscure problems to occupy the rational side of their mind; otherwise, they can succumb to psychosis. “Without social interaction, supermax prisoners have no way to test the appropriateness of their emotions or their fantastical thinking,” and so their interpretations become distorted. Lone adventurers attempt to transcend their situation by treating the natural environment itself as a surrogate for a companion, wondering at its grandeur instead of dwelling on their preference for social interaction. “A similar psychological mechanism could explain why shipwrecked mariners marooned on islands have been known to anthropomorphise inanimate objects, in some cases creating a cabal of imaginary companions with whom to share the solitude.”