February - March, 2007

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February 2. Microsoft made Vista intentionally bloated! The idea is, unless operating systems gobble up more and more resources, most people have no reason to buy new computers. Knowing this, Microsoft knew all they had to do was make an operating system that demanded new hardware, and manufacturers would embrace it even if it totally sucked.

February 6. Space junk apocalypse near:

For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens.

February 6-9. Joy sends a piece by motivational guru Steve Pavlina with some great stuff about consciousness and reality:

I see the world as a collective co-creation by conscious beings. The world remains relatively stable (seemingly objective) because we keep recreating it in the same pattern. But if every human being were to shift their beliefs about reality, then I suspect reality would change to accommodate our beliefs.

Furthermore, I suspect there is in fact only one consciousness, and we all share it. We have separate minds and bodies, and therefore our own individual thoughts, but consciousness itself is an underlying field that we're all connected to. One of the freaky things I did a few months ago was to shift my identification of self away from my own body-mind and into this field. Imagine regarding your self identity not as an individual person but rather as all of consciousness itself. Then from that vantage point, you regard your body and your mind merely as parts of you but not the whole you. Your body and mind are merely limbs in a larger body.

That part I agree with. But above it, what Pavlina calls "the scientific method" is what I would call the mechanistic paradigm. The scientific method is just a process of telling a story, testing it with experiments, revising the story, and so on. You could easily apply that method to a paradigm where mind is the root of matter, if you changed a few things. For example, you would expect that the beliefs of the experimenters, and of the people who later hear about the experiment, would effect the results. So if you wanted to explore something that most people wouldn't accept, you'd have to plan from the beginning to limit your audience. Patricia comments: immediately reminded me of those games that kids play, like "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board," and other freaky shit that seems to happen to groups of youngsters when they are away from the adults for a while. You grow up and think it was all in your imagination... well, it was, but then, so is everything else. It's just that when you are eleven years old, you and six friends can create your own temporary reality bubbles without even trying.

Then as you grow up, you get sucked into objective mechanistic thinking and lose your powers, because you're subconsciously creating whatever everyone else is creating, because otherwise you'd be "crazy." But what if, instead, you kept increasing your powers. Pavlina continues:

Maybe the physical objects and other people around me aren't separate from me after all. I'm gradually trying to identify those other parts and figure out how to move them. I don't see my inability to move them right away as evidence that the model is incorrect -- it could just be that I haven't figured out how to do it, like a newborn baby flailing about... When you feel that larger body jerk and you know you made it happen, it's quite an amazing experience.

In Cause-Effect vs. Intention-Manifestation he goes into more technical detail about how manifestation works. And then he blows it with his million dollar experiment. Sure, it's possible to manifest money. But when you do so, the larger consciousness you're joining is an evil one, built with connections of power-over not power-with. Money is meaningless unless there's someone you can command with it, someone who needs money because they're in an artificial social position where they can't get their deeper needs met without it. Or think of it this way: If everyone manifested a million dollars, we'd have hyperinflation and it would cancel out. So Pavlina is asking for a world in which some people manifest more money and use the difference to command the others.

The way to build a good mass-consciousness is to manifest not needing money, and work toward a society where everyone has their needs met unconditionally so no one has leverage to command. (A good step on that path would be an alternative money system.)

The big question is: What will happen if reality creation techniques become widely known and practiced? Here's an interesting speculation from Andy:

It is unwise to use magick during periods of stability, because reality manipulation is an inherently destabilizing process. Also, there are always unintended consequences. Therefore, a large part of any responsible magickal training should involve developing an ability to discern the ecology of your problem. The current trend in popular magick completely ignores these points. The more people who are practicing magick on a regular basis, the more unstable reality will become.

Even if we don't get a Magick Apocalypse, I don't think we'll create paradise, because we all have different visions of paradise, and the strongest reality-creators would create their own paradises at the expense of others. Like they do now! And anyone whose power exceeded their perception, even if they meant well, would tend to create heaven inside their perception while creating hell outside it, like they do now!

I think the default condition of the universe is like Wikipedia. Everyone can make edits, and there are flaws and mistakes, but generally it works well. But then some administrators became corrupt and started grabbing more and more power for themselves. They discovered ways to control or deny the editing power of ordinary people, and to leverage that control into greater control. But control is vastly inefficient -- it's much easier to build a system based on everybody doing what they love, than to spend energy forcing people to do what they hate. The prison is crumbling, and ordinary people will get back their editing powers, and this reality will get messier and unimaginably more alive. The question is, how long will that last before the administrators become corrupt again? Are we doomed to cycle through empire and collapse forever, or is there a cure?

February 14-15. Paul Levy's essay on evil makes some good points, but doesn't satisfy me because he never defines evil, explains how evil works, or asks why evil doesn't work when we're conscious of it. So I took a stab at it:

My definition of evil is a compulsive withdrawal or reversal of empathy. Empathy is simply the extension of the sense of "self." The root of evil is in the original splitting of the One Mind into many perspectives, which, I'm guessing, was done to create free will and surprise. So, when you have the option to move back toward the One, to expand your sense of "self" from, say, your material wealth to your body, or from your body to the bodies and feelings of the people around you, and you refuse, and that refusal becomes compulsive, that's what we call evil.

Any creature's capacity for evil is equal to its capacity to expand its being. A hawk that kills a mouse is not evil, because it lacks the option to "be the mouse" (or it already is the mouse because they're both part of the consciousness of Gaia). But humans have the option to expand or contract, what the Bible calls "knowledge of good and evil."

Civilization has enabled a great flowering of evil in two ways. It has greatly expanded our view of the world, and thus our capacity to expand our being, to be good. And at the same time, it has given us tools that are locally helpful and distantly harmful, which gives us an incentive to be evil, to continue to see distant creatures as other, because if we see them as part of ourselves, we will have to give up our local benefits. Never has there been such a gap between what we are and what we could be.

It is possible to think "I am evil", but it's unstable. I know this first hand. Once you become aware that you're withholding or reversing empathy, you become aware of your power to extend empathy, and inevitably you try it, and discover how much better expansion feels than contraction. It's hard to explain in words, but Thaddeus Golas said it well in The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment: "Love is the action of being in the same space with other beings."

This almost unreadable Michael Topper piece has some good ideas: That the identifying feature of evil is that "the failure to exact obedience bears punishable consequence." And that anti-love is merely one of evil's methods, in service of its defining goal: to capture all creative energy in a control system, and ultimately to destroy it.

Topper's most radical statement is that the idea of "oneness", merging with the Universal, serves evil. That seems to directly contradict my definition of evil. How can the goal to merge with the Universal serve the habit of staying isolated from it? Actually, it's not that hard. Here's a chapter from the book The Guru Papers, The Holistic Path, arguing that the mystical experience of Oneness, and the goal to feel it, is typically corrupted into an ideology that Oneness is superior to divided reality, which is then used by religious leaders to control people!

I don't think that returning to the One is an absolute good, but a conditional good. The division of consciousness enables mistakes, but it is not itself a mistake. Maybe we came in here to have a good time, and "enlightenment" is a safety valve that gets people out of crappy sub-worlds. Or maybe we came in here to learn something, and evil wants us to quit before we're finished. Maybe what we're learning is mastery of expansion and contraction! So the ideology, "expansion is an absolute good," blocks this learning just as much as the compulsion to contract. We need to explore when to do which, and how.

February 24. In a post on college debt, I mentioned that the main thing you learn in college is not the content of the classes, but how to think and act like an "educated" person, and therefore that the experience is much more valuable for lower class people. This goes much deeper than social skills and networking, into stuff like how you hold your shoulders and how you pronounce certain words. America has a somewhat rigid class system defined by subtleties of culture and language and body language that are learned in early childhood and almost impossible to imitate. If I hung out in the trailer park, or among the top elite, even if I had the same income as them and tried to fit in, it would be obvious that I wasn't one of them. But college goes a long way toward moving someone from the lower middle to the upper middle class.

For more about the American class system, check out Paul Fussell's 1980 book Class. And for more about how college changes people, Aaron recommends the book Disciplined Minds.

March 5. Lately I've been reading DM of the Rings, which uses screen captures from the Lord of the Rings movies to illustrate the premise that a group of gamers who have never heard of LOTR are playing it as a D&D campaign -- and ruining Tolkien's world in funny ways.

Last Friday's strip, The Needs of the Many, covers a scourge of gaming, metagame thinking: Instead of thinking, "I am Grunch, the half-orc barbarian, seeking the Hammer of Disjunction to free my lands from the evil wizard," you think, "I'm playing a game, and if I want to get up to sixth level in this dungeon, I'd better kill everything."

Metagame thinking is seductive because it's a higher (wider) level of consciousness which gives you advantages on the lower (narrower) level. But it's a perfect example of why expanding your consciousness is not necessarily good: because in the narrow consciousness, you're living a great story, and in the wide consciousness, you're thinking selfishly and mechanically.

In this light, "magick" and "reality creation" are sounding even scarier. It's bad enough that we already live in a culture where the purpose of life is to figure out what the rules are so we can take advantage of them. Now, on top of that, people are talking about how to exploit metaphysical rules, how to see reality itself as a game to be hacked.

I wonder: are movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show really liberating us, or are they ruining our world by teaching us metagame thinking? But then, metagame thinking would not be so seductive if the game was any good. I suspect that the movement for "awakening" and "transcendence" is a safety mechanism, which comes into play when we're already thinking selfishly and mechanically, to break us out of the game we've ruined -- probably into a better game. I'm thinking that there's no absolute value in being awake vs dreaming, expanding vs contracting, seeing more vs seeing less. The only value is in living a good story.

March 12-13. Via this article in Wired, Robert Lanza's biocentric theory of the universe brilliantly ties together quantum physics and consciousness through biology. Some excerpts:

Space and time fall into the province of biology -- of animal sense perception -- not of physics. They are properties of the mind, of the language by which we human beings and animals represent things to ourselves. Physicists venture beyond the scope of their science when they try to assign physical, mathematical, or other qualities to space and time.
Science has essentially conceded that quantum physics is incomprehensible outside of complex mathematics. How can quantum physics be so impervious to metaphor, visualization, and language? If we accept a life-created reality at face value, it becomes simple to understand.
The trees and snow evaporate when we're sleeping. The kitchen disappears when we're in the bathroom. When you turn from one room to the next, when your animal senses no longer perceive the sounds of the dishwasher, the ticking clock, the smell of a chicken roasting -- the kitchen and all its seemingly discrete bits dissolve into nothingness -- or into waves of probability. The universe bursts into existence from life, not the other way around.

Lanza explains time as the movement of a needle over a record, or a laser over a DVD, on which all "past" and "future" moments eternally exist while our brain puts them together as a narrative with motion and sound. If you want to go a step further, suppose the DVD itself is constantly under revision! Rudy Rucker suggested something like this in his Reality Is A Novel theory.

On almost the same subject, here's an excellent Amit Goswami interview. Goswami is a physicist who basically solved the paradoxes of quantum physics by assuming that "consciousness is the ground of being." He seems to understand this point better than previous science-and-spirituality authors, but he's still too human-centric. He completely fails to convince me that we need "evolutionary stages," or a special place for humans, to have a transcendent dimension and a creative universe.

March 14. Reclaiming What Makes Us Human is a new Barbara Ehrenreich essay about bringing back festivals and rituals of collective joy. It's great to see someone of Ehrenreich's prominence writing about merging the best of the primitive and civilized. But Robert points out that she misses the best example of the modern revival of group ecstatic rituals, the rave, and he sends this excellent academic article, Technoshamanism: Spiritual Healing in the Rave Subculture.

March 15. South Carolina may cut jail time for organ donors. Larry Niven was on this 40 years ago in his story The Jigsaw Man.

March 17-19. From Superstimuli and the Collapse of Western Civilization:

A candy bar is a superstimulus: it contains more concentrated sugar, salt, and fat than anything that exists in the ancestral environment... Tastiness, formerly representing the evolutionarily identified correlates of healthiness, has been reverse-engineered and perfectly matched with an artificial substance.
And likewise, a video game can be so much more engaging than mere reality, even through a simple computer monitor, that someone will play it without food or sleep until they literally die.

That's a great metaphor that never occurred to me: video games are junk food for the soul! But they don't have to be. Just as it's possible to invent new foods that taste good and are good for us, it should be possible to design virtual worlds that are fun and that also teach us things that more than repay the investment in building them. For example, a game could teach urban people to identify wild plants, or a flight simulator could teach flying more cheaply and safely than an actual plane.

As a general rule: Any sub-world must justify itself in terms of the world that contains it.

If we apply this rule to metaphysics, then it explains why life is so painful and difficult, why we can't all just eat and have sex all the time: because there is a transcendent reality that is served by our experience in this world. We're here to learn something, and failure and suffering are simply the mechanisms that steer us toward that learning. (Of course, we could be in a game that's benevolently designed to teach us, but that's badly made and full of bugs!)

And if we apply the rule to our own video games, we have to remember that there are several "larger" worlds that contradict each other. As long as a video game is fun and makes money, it justifies itself in terms of industrial capitalism. But industrial capitalism fails to justify itself in terms of the Earth and human nature, and when it falls, it will take most or all video games with it. If we ever again have a society that is stable (zero growth) and sustainable (gives as much as it takes), then it will demand games that teach those values.

We're not even close! Almost all strategy games and role-playing games are built on a foundation of "growth" (irreversible increase), conquest, and winning. Winning is what enables the lie of growth. Without it, the numbers would just get higher and higher until the computer crashed or the human player got bored. The real world is pretty much the same. The singularity is basically an attempt to project game-style winning on the real world, to imagine that "progress" will lead to a feel-good exit from the game, instead of leaving us stuck in this world to clean up the mess. The various apocalypse myths serve exactly the same function.

What we need is a world-simulating strategy game where the goal is not to win but to keep playing. The goal in Sim City is to keep playing, so there's a precedent, but I'm thinking of something much deeper than Sim Earth or even Spore -- all those games are Sim Rise when what we need is Sim Fall, a game with honest simulations of the ecological costs of technologies, the inefficiency of central control, human malaise, and other reasons that every empire falls. Most important, we need something that no strategy game has ever had: all increase must be reversible. Buildings, roads, and military units decay over time, and have to be maintained or rebuilt at great expense. Even technologies are forgotten. Even space empires will collapse. There could still be invention and conquest and radical change, but without the possibility of winning, or permanent empire, all the usual strategy game elements would have a whole different meaning.

For more deep game philosophy, check out James Carse's classic book Finite and Infinite Games, or this summary.

March 21. Last week my sister was in the hospital with MRSA, one of those flesh infections that are becoming more and more common as humans drive the evolution of bacteria with our poisons. Also, at the best hospital in the Northwest, she showed up in the emergency room with full diagnosis and prescription and it took them four hours to get her on intravenous antibiotics. We all agreed that if there's a big disaster, the hospital is the last place you want to be.

Two good books on disaster medicine are Where There Is No Doctor and Ditch Medicine. And for a flesh infection, Wendy sends this article about using honey! But I wouldn't run around getting infections and counting on honey to save me. Tim comments that the best defense is awareness -- you don't have to fight if you can run away, and you don't have to run if you can keep your distance in the first place.

I get a lot of little cuts up on my land, and I know that a single hospital visit would put me in debt for life, so I pay attention to my body, and if a cut continues to hurt, or feels hot, I clean it well, keep it dry and exposed to the air, and several times a day I squeeze it until it bleeds. If that doesn't work, I'll soak it in water as hot as I can stand. I think it also helps that I do little things to strengthen my immune system, like avoiding refined sugar, walking barefoot in the grass, and making big decisions to minimize stress.

The problem is not that I don't have health insurance -- the problem is there is such a thing as health insurance! Andy explains:

The original genius of insurance was pooling risk of rare but catastrophic events. If everybody pays a little bit into the pool, then the few unlucky souls who experience the catastrophe can weather it using the pooled funds. This is a good cooperative arrangement in that the collective public welfare is enhanced, both by protecting the vulnerable and by an increased feeling of security.

But the insurance paradigm breaks down under two conditions: 1) the use of pooled funds to drive profit, either by making it the product of a for-profit company or by making it an object of investment; 2) use of pooled funds to cover high-probability events.

Of course, health insurance is a perfect example of both! Everybody gets sick and hurt, and there are enormous profits riding on the expenses of treatment.

Health care is a necessity, and all necessities should be cheap enough to pay for out of pocket. If we had clothing insurance, a t-shirt would cost $1000, thrift stores would be illegal, and liberals would support a trillion dollar program to provide $50,000 outfits to everyone.

March 22. Nice article about eating from the garbage in Manhattan. You might wonder how the word "freegan," which is derived from "vegan," came to be used for dumpster divers. I can answer that, because I had friends in the west coast anarchist community that coined the word in the late 90's. A vegan is someone who doesn't eat animal products, but if your reasons are purely political/economic, and not nutritional, then it follows that it's OK to eat animal products if you can get them without feeding the animal product economy. For a while, this was just another interpretation of "vegan." Then someone came up with "freegan," which originally meant a vegan who makes an exception when the food is free. For the people who used the word, the usual way to get free food was from the dumpster. Then somehow the word mutated, from just being about animal-based food to being about everything. Related: Dumpster diving FAQ.

March 28. Hakim sends this wildly optimistic page about how densely food can be grown. This guy claims to have grown enough to feed 300 people on two acres, which works out to almost 100,000 people per square mile, denser than Manhattan. I think that's out of reach for ordinary humans, but if we can manage a tenth of that, we'll be in great shape. Also the page has other good bits:

In the 1850's, prior to refrigerated transport, New York City supplied all its food for a population of over a million from within seven miles of the borders of the city.
The reason why monocultures are favored by corporations even though they are the least efficient way of producing food is that it can be done with the least amount of labor. Even though the increased labor would be totally justified by the increased profit, corporations are totally allergic to dealing with labor.

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