Solve Everything-Season 1, Episode 7: A Simulated Dream of Simulation

 

Brain in a vat jar

Apologies for the delay. Some (minor) health issues conspired to slow things down.  That, and I seem to still be finding the correct length and rhythm for my new productions.

In any event, this new one is long and challenging and crazy on perhaps a whole new level for me (or you, as the case may be). But you can listen to it as many times as you need to, to digest it. It’s free! You can also ask me to clarify, if need be.

This time around we’re taking about the philosophical conundrum of external world scepticism in general, and Nick Bostrom’s formulation of it as the simulation hypothesis in particular.  We also tip our hat to some contemporary stories about Elon Musk and his ilk preparing to throw money that could be keeping people alive away on existential anxiety.

How do you know you aren’t dreaming, or a brain in a vat, or a conscious computer program character? If you don’t (or can’t) know those things, then how can you trust anything your senses tell you? And if you’re some sociopathic banker or oligarch, and you don’t (or can’t) know if any of this is really real, why care about any of these pesky social issues, if you don’t feel like it?

Direct download: SE1.7.mp3

Podcast page here

Perihelion

Image result for close to the sun

Everything comes back around, sooner or later.

In the summer, I first started contemplating starting my podcast up again for real, and one of the first things I wanted to talk about was Trump. At the time I was envisioning a sort of esoteric media analysis which, even though he clearly couldn’t win, would take apart why and how he got to the stage he was, of nearly (at that point) winning the Republican primary. But every time I started to firm up an idea, I had this creeping feeling that it was premature. I felt like I didn’t really understand what was going on.

And that pattern kept repeating for another four or so months, and that podcast kept on not starting. And now here we are. Turns out I was more right than I knew to hold back a final judgement of Trump’s prospects, even if I couldn’t admit to myself at the time what it meant. That’s the thing about blind spots, though, isn’t it? In retrospect, part of me knew the crisis narrative that Obama inherited couldn’t possibly end well. And now it has ended, and not well. So it goes.

It would be narcissistic, even solipsistic, to imagine my contributions could have made any difference to where we’ve seemingly ended up over the last few years.  Still, what is true of  the one is not true of the many, of which the one is a part. It is completely clear now that an awful lot of people have misplaced their priorities rather badly for a long time, or else we wouldn’t be in this predicament now, and it would be a little too easy to let myself off the hook, just because I happened to be a typically overwhelmed student. I was content to pretend for quite a while that the winds of history were more or less at all of our backs, I suppose. But things rarely move in straight lines, and that bit of pretending is clearly over now.

The Bad Old Days are here again. Time to get off the bench.

What to expect:

My aim is to do at least 2 podcasts a month, indefinitely, sometimes more when I feel like it, or support/demand justifies it. I have a new patreon page up and running, so if you feel moved to support what I’m doing with a few coins a month, in whatever fashion, that would be excellent. Spreading the word to others would also be excellent. I will, as ever, strive to make it worth your while.

I have four episodes of the new program, which I have titled Solve Everything, in the can already and  the first of those will come out probably by the end of the week. Some of it is just working out the trauma of the election at first, but we quickly transition into more interesting philosophical territory, like Platonic theories of knowledge as applied to contemporary democracies, and meta-ethical treatments of things like genocide. I’m hoping to lay something down in the next week or so that is a McLuhan-esque analysis of political  regimes as forms of media. Should be a good head-scratcher.I have a very long game in mind for all this, and Solve Everything will be centrepiece. It won’t be totally obvious what it is at first, but those of you who have been around for a long time will have some inkling of what I’m about.

I’m also working on finishing my first novel. I will be making it available online  in the first half of this year. Those of you who have been around for awhile might find it in keeping with the slightly unhinged satirical tone of some of my more bad-mood-ish writing. In my more whimsical moments I think of it as a cross between Catcher in the Rye, Fight Club, and some really unhinged japanese anime like Ninja Scroll or Neon Genesis Evangelion.

It is an unending source of gratification that many of my original audience have done well and in many cases gone on to do interesting thinks of your own. My thanks to everyone who threw kind words and encouragement my way during the Great Academic Hiatus.  My brain simply wasn’t set up to do this and that at the same time. But  that is done, at least for the time being, so now it’s time for this, again.

I have changed in many ways, but the thing at the core is beyond changing. It does what it wants with me, always–when I’m not too messed up to pay attention, that is, which is rather often, alas.  Sometimes I feel like my entire life is one long shamanic ordeal. I can only hope it’s all for a good reason, which is just another way of saying I hope I eventually succeed at giving it all a good reason.  I’d like to think the intervening years have left me improved and not diminished, at least not very much, so I must be doing something right. For now I’m back, I’m healthy, and feeling strong.

The sun goes down and always comes back up again. Someday we all go to live outside of time, where there will be no more sunrises, but  that day is not today, at least not for me.

…and so, to the Work.

 

 

broken links II

 

so, continuing the theme of wayward links and sundry fellow travellers, it’s good to consider the dimension which we might call ‘spiritual’, which I increasingly think is an obscurantist and unhelpful term and perspective, or the meditative/cognitive, which is not tremendously better, but at least more clear. As a ridiculously quick yet at least somewhat cogent aside, the more I study western philosophy, the more I get the horrible sensation that a lot of the western discourse on enlightenment, as imported in the form of buddhism or vedanta, is badly recapitulating the work of early modern philosophers like david hume, and getting utterly mired in the ditch of metaphysics and cognitively meaningless gibberish. I defy anyone to read something like hume’s treatise of human nature alongside almost any enlightenment text you care to name, and see which one describes our moment to moment experience more clearly. Much of what’s being peddled out there, is the would-be enlightened getting lost in the weeds of what are known as the corruptions of insight. From Plato on down, western culture has been grappling with questions more devastatingly real and obvious than most gurus or teachers would dare tell you, we just don’t do it consciously that much.

Which I suppose actually leads me back on track, because what I wanted to talk about was the toll taken in the form of what I will call ‘insight casualties’ to coin another category to go with our ‘doomer fatigue’ from last time. In some ways they are actually sides of the same coin. If they are not the same thing, they are at least closely related. Insight casualties are more from introspection than outward premonitions of doom, and tend to follow a characterstic pattern best described in the stages of insight of vipassana, but appear in similar forms in many traditions, even something as banal as kubler-ross’s stages of grieving. It’s about how the mind processes and eventually transcends identification and loss of identification with its own contents, or all of our experience basically. The doomer tends to experience this as outward instability and the insight casualty as inward destabilization of the sense of self. One can easily see how these can go together and often do. The main difference is that doomers are often at least partly grounded in a hard analysis of objective facts, and this is what brings on the distress, while the insight afflicted get into trouble from a reflective self-observation that many doomers will simply lack.

The other main difference with the insight casualty is that there is an explicit exit to this situation, or at least, periodic exits that come from fruitions, paths, or peak enlightenment experiences. That is, if your practice is well-articulated enough for you to find the exit, which it frequently isn’t, often for the reasons I’ve described above. I cannot tell you how many chronic dark night meditators are wandering down blind alleys of impenetrable bullshit and deepening in the identity of spiritual basket case, or even worse, projecting their inner disorientation and distress onto the world, but it’s a lot. There is the odd person who manages to find their way out of this rat maze and if their internet presence was tied into their period of rat-mazery, one can easily see why these folks would just as soon drop that shit and move on. So whether you’re up and out or down in the ditch and simply non functional, I’m willing to bet this accounts for more than a couple missing voices. Since some of these I would consider my friends and collaborators, I will tactfully not name names, but you know who you are, and you probably even know which category you’re in, better than I do, anyway.

Personal Organismic Resiliency: -or how to stay healthy while the world goes to hell -Part 3

pretty cursory overview, then we’ll wrap up with psychology next time-

Hygene:

This is a blanket heading that deals with a number of things that can loosely be described as ‘pathogenic’ in your environment. Toxic chemicals, bacteria and fungi, and some of the side effects of same.

We are in constant battle with microorganisms. They live on our skin, on surfaces, in our bodies, in our food and water, in the nooks and crannies of our homes, and we maintain a very delicate balance with these things that is very easy to upset, and would have dire consequences, if not for the huge infrastructure and weight of consumer products designed to protect us from things like giardia, toxoplasmosis, ringworm, hanta virus, dental carries, or simple infection of trivial wounds, which in prior ages often led to septicemia, gangrene and death. It is water purification, penicillin, bathing with soap, ammonia and bleach, doing laundry, flushing toilets, and brushing with fluoride toothpaste that keeps most of this at bay. Don’t take it for granted, because it may not always be there. It’d be pretty stupid to have your stored food and your community support group in place during an economic collapse, then die from stepping on a nail, or an abscessed tooth that closes off your windpipe, or contracting some hideous parasite from your ‘organic’ vegetables.

Half the solution is making sure you have the simple and cheap amenities to manage these problems. The other half is USING them, which a lot of you don’t even do now. If things get out of hand now, it’s easy to thump the difficulty with some prescription or a visit to a professional and consider yourself chastened. Not so when life gets turned upside down and you don’t have a job, the shelves aren’t being stocked, the care delivery infrastructure isn’t being funded anymore,  or the whole shebang is just being overloaded by sudden catastrophe.

So: things you need to be doing now-

Brush your teeth. At least twice a day. I carry a kit with me to school and do it during the day. At the very least, rinse your mouth out with water after eating or drinking something with sugar in it. Floss daily as well. These little jobbies are cheap, durable, and quite easy to use. 

 

You can even re-use them for a while if you absolutely need to. Invest in any deferred dental care you might have piled up. It may be scary and expensive, but not as scary as it will be when the dude next door is yanking your wisdom teeth with a leatherman and nothing but an icepack for anesthetic.  Untended teeth are basically ticking time bombs in your head if things break down in society, and while it’s easy to save toothpaste and floss, dental surgeons aren’t likely to be readily available.

Keep your skin and hair and clothes clean. I assume most of you shower or bathe or do laundry on something like a regular basis, but it can’t hurt to emphasize that bad things multiply on your body if you don’t keep it relatively clean. Things like scabies mites or head lice are an absolute nightmare, and they multiply rapidly in groups of people with bad hygiene. Bacteria and viruses spread in large part from people who fail to wash their hands regularly. Do your part to keep them under control. At a bare minimum, if you lose access to running water or soap, you can trim your hair as short as possible, keep your hands relatively clean with soap substitutes, or just wear gloves, and air out your clothes, rinse them in running water or partially disinfect them with UV light on sunny days. You only need to contract a fungal infection on your skin once to understand the importance of staying somewhat clean and dry. This will also reduce the risk of infected wounds from just being generally dirty.

As far as toxins go, this is mostly a matter of education and prevention. The body is pretty good at handling low levels of poisoning as long as it isn’t overtaxed. A cleansing fast or some herbs like milk thistle to clean your liver will shore you up in this area. Long term low level toxicity from food additives usually shows up in autoimmune disorders like allergies, food sensitivites, or in general lethargy. In my experience, dark circles under the eyes are a good indicator that your liver and kidneys are being overtaxed in some way. Water intake will help, as well as herbs, cleansing and elimination of problem items from the diet. If you really screw up and have to cope with heavy metal poisoning or major toxic exposure, and there’s no help in sight, eating activated carbon, milk thistle, or bentontie clay is about all you can do to mop these things up, or draw them out of the body.

Wash things that grow in and on the ground before you eat them. Fruits and veggies that flower more than a couple feet up are okay, but anything else needs to be washed in the sink, with a few drops of plain chlorine bleach ( the same kind you would use to disinfect drinking water) or some food grade hydrogen peroxide. There’s just too many things in the dirt, or in animal droppings ( especially urban cats or raccoons ) to take the chance. You do not want flukes, worms, amoebas, nematodes, bacteria or viruses taking up residence in your body by way of your organic garden. There are actually some good points to industrial agriculture and pesticide spraying. Saves us having to worm ourselves a couple times a year, for instance. Never mind the odd chance of brain abscesses from toxoplasmosis. An ounce of prevention and all that…

Personal Organismic Resiliency: -or how to stay healthy while the world goes to hell -Part 2

POSTURE AND MOVEMENT

In all the years I have been educated in this area, I have yet to meet someone who was not suffering some of the negative side effects of bad posture and movement habits. This can run the gamut from annoying, all the way to crippling, and is completely in your power to alleviate, avoid or even reverse in its early stages, so pay attention.

Misalignment of the skeleton and the damage it does to your soft tissue is classifiable as a kind of trauma. You are HURTING yourself by not being mindful of how you sit, walk, sleep, and work. Bad movement makes the dozens of bones in your body grind around in ways they aren’t made to do, which wears away on your joints and nerve fibers, constricts blood flow, and trains abberant patterns of muscle tension into your body. You are probably experiencing this as some kind of ‘stiffness’, soreness, tingling sensations, aches in your muscles/joints ( particularly the neck, shoulders and lower back ), outright headaches that can go all the way to migrane intensity or nausea from impinging nerves at the top of your spine, distortion of your appearance from not standing up or walking fully erect, and of course the dreaded ‘repetitive use injury’.

Depending how far down this road you have gone, it can be an easy fix, or an involved one. They both require you to look at the way you hold yourself, and be MINDFUL of it. ALL THE TIME.  Once you’re back in a healthy pattern of balance and tension, you’ll have more leeway to think about other things, but it is always a pain in the ass at first. By the time I stopped doing this professionally, I had seen a large number of high school kids evidencing problems that don’t generally appear till the onset of middle age, like sciatica, early-stage kyphosis, back spasms and loss of lumbar curvature, or chronic tension headaches.  Computer culture and desk work, I guess.

-The first thing to know is that your skeleton is made to balance without effort. There is a line that runs up the center of the body that connects the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, and ear/top of the the spine, and crown of the the head. When standing, if you are in this spot, there should be almost no muscular effort needed to maintain it.

-The quickest way to adjust this when standing, is imagine a string attached to the crown of your head, at the point in the image above, and try to follow that string upwards to touch the ceiling with your crown. This will lengthen your spine and tilt everything at approximately the right angles. Then go to a mirror, and try to adjust things laterally, like the tilt of the shoulders, ears, the set of the head in relation to your center line. DON’T strain or exert muscular tension on this. It is really really really important not to force yourself into what feels like the right place. That will only make it worse. The trick is to look at yourself in a mirror so you can do subtle adjustments by sight, to feel the relaxed balance in your body, and let your bones do the work.

Be especially mindful of the angle of the chin, the rib cage, and the set of the eyes. This ties in with a lot of emotional and self image issues with people, but you just need to get over it. Stand up straight, look people in the eye, relax your shoulders back and down, tilt your ribs back and your solar plexus out. Be fully erect, and fully engaged with the world, in a relaxed and balance posture.

-When sitting, this holds from the hip level upwards. No slouching at your desk, compressing your neck and lower back and shoulders. BAD. You know it’s bad. Quit doing it.

In general, avoid allowing your curve in your lower back to flatten or go outwards. This is a recipe for misery if you let it go too far. Most chairs and couches don’t support the lower back at all. Get an ergonomic chair, or roll up a thick towel and put it in your lower back or get a firm sausage shaped pillow to put in there. Preferably, just get an ergonomic chair, or demand one from your employer. Stop letting your head hang forward or down, as this will un-stack the vertebrae in your neck and trigger all kinds of tension in the muscle bands in your neck and shoulders. If you need to have your face closer to the screen, sit up straight and sit closer. If you must sit on a couch, make sure you’re bridging your lower back in a way that protects the curve. It’s quite easy with some practice.

-When walking, the main thing to know is that you need to protect your knees and ankles. The way to do that is to make sure that 1) your body mass is always moving in the same direction your knee is pointing ( which ever knee is planted, that is) and 2) your knees should always be pointing in roughly the same direction as your big toes. Knees don’t flex side to side, so any lateral forces on them will stretch out your ligaments, wear on the bursa and meniscus, and eventually tear, inflame or otherwise blow out.

The easiest way to align your knees is to stand in a relaxed position, feet shoulder width apart, and scrunch up your toes, then relax them. As your relax, your knees should settle into approximately the right spot relative to your feet. Preserve that as you move, as much as possible.

-That old saying about ‘lift with your knees, not your back’ is true. As long as your alignment is good, your legs are much stronger and much more able to extend under heavy loads than your back. Get lower and use your legs.

-If you’re really messed up, shop around for a good massage therapist. Preferably one that also does bone adjustments. A good chiropractor will do in a pinch, but be careful to avoid lunatics who just want to crack you and shove you out the door. It’s important to have the soft-tissue therapy at the same time as the skeletal manipulation. If you can find one that does both, so much the better.

-For lesser problems, take up some remedial yoga, tai chi, feldenkrais, or some other kind of movement based therapy or methodology. The three I mentioned have the highest recommendation. Once you internalize the feeling of relaxed balanced movement, it will stay with you forever. Good investment, one would think. Plus you will learn practices that can keep your going when there’s no doctor, no painkillers, and no option to sit around and do nothing until it stops hurting.

BREATHING

The good news is, if you fixed your posture and movement, you are 90% there in fixing your breathing as well. So much of it has to do with holding your body so as to let you inflate your lungs to full capacity. If you don’t deal with one, you’ll have a hard time with the other.

I probably don’t need to tell you air is important. But, the degree to which you oxygenate your body, and how you do it, makes a difference. Your breathing pattern regulates the acidity of your blood, brain activity, endocrine function, nervous system activation, both sympathetic and parasympathetic, and the movement of your lymph system.

There is much I could say about this, but I’ve no room for a pranayama text. The basic guidelines  are breathe SLOWER, FULLER, and SMOOTHER. Take some time to look at how other people breathe. Mostly pretty shallow, pretty fast, and usually not to full capacity due to how they are holding their chests.

Take a watch that registers seconds and figure out how many breaths you take each minute, in a relaxed state. Now, sit up straight, look slightly up at the ceiling, just to make sure your chest is open, and breathe by relaxing your stomach outwards. Place one hand just below your belly button; you should feel this press outwards as you inhale, then pull it in as your exhale. Do it as slowly as you can without feeling like you’re holding your breath or straining at all. With a bit of practice, you should be able to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe, which is what you should be doing all the time, but a lot of people actually don’t. It probably won’t be too hard to slow your breathing down to about half of what it was per minute, or even less, with no loss of ‘wind’. You should actually feel at least a little bit calmer and clearer, since you are getting the same amount or air, or more, but activating your stress mechanisms much less to do it, and flushing your body of CO2 and lymph more effectively.

The range you can change this in is pretty incredible. Most people are in the 13-16 breaths per minute or more range. With a bit of practice you can get this down to 4 sitting around, or even 1 laying down or meditating.

This is another thing to be mindful of all the time, but much easier to practice, and much quicker to pay off. Just remember;  SLOWER DEEPER SMOOTHER. If need be, doing a bit of cardio like running or bike riding will help keep your breathing pattern from getting too weird and dysfunctional. Other than that, have fun and watch the good effects roll in.

NEXT: Hygiene, Exercise, Psychology.

The Philosopher’s Stone: part 1/8- Solve Everything

Welcome back, friends, to my audio rantings. This time around, we’re doing something fairly small and modest ie; solving all the problems of humanity through philosophical contemplation.

Our first step is slower and smaller, as I explain what I’m doing and what I’ve been doing, but they’ll get faster, bigger, deeper, and weirder, in short order.

podcast page here

Direct download: tps1.SolveEV.mp3

and since we’re talking about him a little bit, here is pierre grimes lecturing on  a style of buddhist contemplation that mirrors some of what I’m using.

I’ve also got a new, streamlined, tip jar up in the top left corner, as well as the usual one on my podcast page. If anyone is feeling generous, baby jesus will give you merit badges, and deck chairs next to the lake of fire.

the Idea of the Good

okay. I said I would do this before the end of the month, so i better get on it.

my plans for the next four months are as follows:

first and foremost, I’m going to release eight new podcasts, constructed as a series and revolving around the basic idea of solving all the world’s 8 major problems, at least conceptually. I’ll give it my best thinking and put it out there and maybe someone somewhere will be inspired to go further with some things. This series will be called ‘the philosopher’s stone’ unless I think of a better title. one alternate title might be ‘solve everything’, but I probably won’t use it. I’ll try and edit and parse it down so all eight can be burned on a couple of cd’s and passed around easily. expect the first of the these in a couple weeks, and each one about two weeks apart.

secondarily, I’m looking to do a long exploration of philosophical contemplation as a kind of mind yoga that can produce the same kind of benefits as vipassana and shamatha or other schools of eastern spiritual discipline. The western tradition, basically, without the obscurantism and circular rhetoric that occultism frequently falls prey to. this will be written, but I may not get as far with it as I hope to. we’ll see.

lastly I’m doing another long fast, probably straight water, but i may alternate with juice if it gets too rough. I won’t get into the gory details, like i did last time, but you’re bound to see me carrying on about it on twitter, or as my usual elliptical asides.