TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

TEETH, FEET & FINGERS

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: theirvision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has…

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TWENTY SIXTEEN: IN REVIEW

Author’s Note: The provenance of the phrase history is written by the victorious is disputed.  But what can attribution achieve in this instance?  The sentence (or sentiment) must surely have been uttered or thought by many prior to the origin we seek, and also ex post facto by many unaware of their plagiarism.  The point remains that the marginalised have, historically, been denied a voice.  When you are dead or imprisoned, uneducated or denied access, putting forward your version of events becomes problematic.  Once something has been destroyed, only those left standing can rebuild, and do so with the only tools available to them: their vision.

It could be said that, to some extent, in the real-time networked world we have awoken in this side of the millennium, more people than ever have the ability to make themselves heard.  But what do we find now that the curtain has not just been pulled back, but entirely torn from the frame?  A cacophony of bewilderment and confusion.  Given the ability to connect, we find the opposite: rival factions forming even within so-called liberal and humanitarian endeavours.  True, beneath the media hype circus and informing every echo-chamber is a series of seemingly incomprehensible yet profound events.  To make sense of these events we cling to the narrative structures that reinforce our own belief systems (even those who claim to be free of them entirely).  But what we see is that these narratives, constructed in a context of individualism, serve to divide us further.

As well as the political and global turmoil, twenty-sixteen has, for various reasons, been a trying year for me personally and those around me with whom I am lucky enough to share a more intimate relationship.  It is not my intention to emphasise either a positive or negative interpretation of trying.  About midway through the year I discovered the writings of Charles Eisenstein whose philosophy has subsequently resonated with me profoundly: pulling together various paths of thought that I had been unable to do so alone.  All ideology is narrative.  Humanity has been driven by a story of separation, the self as a discrete entity.  Science, politics, art, education, religion, economics &c. are all ideologies constructed to make sense of the world.  All of these ideologies have failed because they are predicated on a falsehood (the story of separation).

What follows is my review of the past twelve months.  It is necessarily my own perspective.  A chronologically driven (linear and cyclical) second-person narrative, this story is one-part diary (personal and political), one-part consumption (books and music) and one-part philosophical exegesis (bildungsroman).  Depending on your proximity: in jokes, pop-philosophy, bad puns, scholarly intent, juvenilia, paradox, pretension and/or pith.  Anything underlined is hyperlinked to the source of the reference (music, words, obituaries &c.).  Direct quotes are underlined and the reference is hyperlinked from the (Author, Date) notation to where the quote exists in its full context elsewhere on my blog.  Before writing I set myself the following rules: Each entry must a) refer to the events of that month, both internal and external b) include a quote from every book I read that month that can be as seamlessly as possible woven into the overarching narrative c) contain a reference to some music I had on repeat that month, and d) reflect the nature and personal development of my philosophical enquiry.  There follows a full bibliography and an appendix.  Ma gavte la nata.

Adam John Miller
20th December, 2016

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TIGER TIGER

Fifty thousand years ago there were these three guys spread out across the plain, and they each heard something rustling in the grass. The first one thought it was a tiger, and he ran like hell, and it was a tiger but the guy got away. The second one thought the rustling was a tiger, and he ran like hell, but it was only the wind and his friends all laughed at him for being such a chickenshit. But the third guy, he thought it was only the wind, so he shrugged it off and a tiger had him for dinner. And the same thing happened a million times across ten thousand generations—and after a while everyone was seeing tigers in the grass even when there weren’t any tigers, because even chickenshits have more kids than corpses do. And from those humble beginnings we learned to see faces in the clouds and portents in the stars, to see agency in randomness, because natural selection favors the paranoid. Even here in the twenty-first century you can make people more honest just by scribbling a pair of eyes on the wall with a Sharpie. Even now, we are wired to believe that unseen things are watching us. And it came to pass that certain people figured out how to use that.

Peter Watts, Echopraxia.

THE BICAMERAL ORDER

How had Moore put it?  Cognitive subspecies.  But the Colonel didn’t get it.  Neither did Lianna; she’d shared her enthusiastic blindness with Brüks over breakfast that very morning, ticked off in hushed and reverent tones the snips and splices that had so improved her masters: No TPN suppression, no Semmelweis reflex.  They’re immune to inattentional blindness and hyperbolic discounting, and, Oldschool, that synesthesia of theirs – they reset millions of years of sensory biases with that trick.  Randomized all the errors, just like that.  And it’s not just the mundane sensory stuff, it’s not just feeling color and tasting sounds.  They can literally see time . . .

As if those were good things.

In a way, of course, they were.  All those gut feelings, right or wrong, that had kept the breed alive on the Pleistocene savanna – and they were wrong, so much of the time.  False negatives, false positives, the moral algebra of fat men pushed in front of onrushing trolleys.  The strident emotional belief that children made you happy, even when all the data pointed to misery.  The high-amplitude fear of sharks and dark-skinned snipers who would never kill you; indifference to all the toxins and pesticides that could.  The mind so rotten with misrepresentation that in some cases it literally had to be damaged before it could make a truely rational decision – and should some brain-lesioned mother abandon her baby in a burning house in order to save two strangers from the same fire, the rest of the world would be more likely to call her a monster than laud the rationality of her lifeboat ethics.  Hell, rationality itself – the exalted Human ability to reason – hadn’t evolved in the pursuit of truth but simply to win arguments, to gain control: to bend others, by means logical or sophistic, to your will.

Truth had never been a priority.  If believing a lie kept the genes proliferating, the system would believe that lie with all its heart.

Fossil feelings.  better off without them, once you’d outgrown the savanna and decided that Truth mattered after all.  But Humanity wasn’t defined by arms and legs and upright posture.  Humanity had evolved at the synapse as well as the opposable thumb – and those misleading gut feelings were the very ground-work on which the whole damn clade had been built.  Capuchins felt empathy.  Chimps had an innate sense of fair play.  You could look into the eyes of any cat or dog and see a connection there, a legacy of common subroutines and shared emotions.

The Bicamerals had cut away all that kinship in the name of something their stunted progenitors called Truth, and replaced it with – something else.  They might look human.  Their cellular metabolism might lie dead on the Kleiber curve.  But to merely call them a cognitive subspecies was denial to the point of delusion.  The wiring in those skulls wasn’t even mammalian anymore.

Peter Watts, Echopraxia.

I

You invest so much in it, don’t you? It’s what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it’s what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it’s for?

Maybe you think it gives you free will. Maybe you’ve forgotten that sleepwalkers converse, drive vehicles, commit crimes and clean up afterwards, unconscious the whole time. Maybe nobody’s told you that even waking souls are only slaves in denial. Make a conscious choice. Decide to move your index finger. Too late! The electricity’s already halfway down your arm. Your body began to act a full half-second before your conscious self ‘chose’ to, for the self chose nothing; something else set your body in motion, sent an executive summary—almost an afterthought—to the homunculus behind your eyes. That little man, that arrogant subroutine that thinks of itself as the person, mistakes correlation for causality: it reads the summary and it sees the hand move, and it thinks that one drove the other. But it’s not in charge. You’re not in charge. If free will even exists, it doesn’t share living space with the likes of you.

Insight, then. Wisdom. The quest for knowledge, the derivation of theorems, science and technology and all those exclusively human pursuits that must surely rest on a conscious foundation. Maybe that’s what sentience would be for— if scientific breakthroughs didn’t spring fully-formed from the subconscious mind, manifest themselves in dreams, as full-blown insights after a deep night’s sleep. It’s the most basic rule of the stymied researcher: stop thinking about the problem. Do something else. It will come to you if you just stop being conscious of it. Every concert pianist knows that the surest way to ruin a performance is to be aware of what the fingers are doing. Every dancer and acrobat knows enough to let the mind go, let the body run itself. Every driver of any manual vehicle arrives at destinations with no recollection of the stops and turns and roads traveled in getting there. You are all sleepwalkers, whether climbing creative peaks or slogging through some mundane routine for the thousandth time. You are all sleepwalkers.

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BLINDSIGHT

“Let me give you the gift of happiness,” she said.
“I’m already pretty happy.”
“I’ll make you happier. A TAT, on me.”
“Tat?”
“Transient Attitudinal Twaeak. I’ve still got privileges at Sax.”
“I’ve been tweaked plenty. Change one more synapse and I might turn into someone else.”
“That’s ridiculous and you know it. Or every experience you had would turn you into a different person.”
I thought about that. “Maybe it does.”

But she wouldn’t let it go, and even the strongest anti-happiness argument was bound to be an uphill proposition; so one afternoon Chelsea fished around in her cupboards and dredged up a hair-net studded with greasy gray washers. The net was a superconducting spiderweb, fine as mist, that mapped the fields of merest thought. The washers were ceramic magnets that bathed the brain in fields of their own. Chelsea’s inlays linked to a base station that played with the interference patterns between the two.

“So we’re fishing for what, exactly? Repressed memories?”
“No such thing.” She grinned in toothy reassurance. “There are only memories we choose to ignore, or kinda think around, if you know what I mean.”
“I thought this was the gift of happiness. Why—”
She laid a fingertip across my lips.
“Believe it or not, Cyggers, people sometimes choose to ignore even good memories. Like, say, if they enjoyed something they didn’t think they should. Or—” she kissed my forehead— “if they don’t think they deserve to be happy.”

Peter Watts, Blindsight.