September 11. Eleven days ago in this post, I argued that the universe is fundamentally subjective -- that it's built into reality itself that we all see things differently, and science is on a doomed quest to nail the world down, by drawing our attention to a narrow sub-world of repeatable experiments where we all see things the same. Now it occurs to me that the 9/11 spectacle is a great example of this. With researchers focused either on propping up the official story or knocking it down, few people have stepped back far enough to see the deep unsolvability at the heart of the event. Every theory, from "the very lucky lone nuts" to "the planes were holograms," looks good from one angle and falls apart under scrutiny. There's a part of us that wants to pick a theory and exclude what doesn't fit, but if you resist that, if you take off all your filters and look widely and deeply, you don't find "the truth" -- you find more and more contradiction and strangeness.
We think there's only a tiny sliver at the edge of reality that's beyond proof, but really it's almost all beyond proof. Even tightly controlled experiments give varying results for mysterious reasons. And what we call the "paranormal" is stuff that draws our attention to the strangeness and unprovability of experience, through outrageous coincidences, unresolvable differences in perception, and shocking events.
By that definition, the 9/11 spectacle was paranormal -- a sighting! It actively defies any attempt to say "what really happened", and can only be resolved by abandoning the concept of objective truth.
September 12. Today I'm going deeper into woo-woo stuff, but it's all perfectly normal. Our sense of "weirdness" or "trippiness" does not come from the phenomena themselves, but from the inadequacy of the objective model of reality. Once we abandon the idea that "there is" a truth independent of observers, all the paradoxes melt away.
That's very hard to do! A good start is to put all statements in terms of experience: instead of saying, "The car was green but a third of witnesses mistakenly saw it as blue," say, "Two thirds of witnesses saw a green car, one third saw a blue car, and all the researchers who later looked at a photograph saw a green car." And leave it at that.
But we also notice regularities in our experience. Experience is persistent -- our world tends to stay the same over time. Experience is shared -- we tend to see the same things as the people around us. And experience is somewhat chosen -- we tend to see what we're looking for, or expecting.
From those principles, we can derive a model of reality in which groups of us form shared worlds, dependent on belief, and resistant to change. We might call one of these worlds "consensus reality," or "the Matrix." They are like floating islands in a sea of potential experience that is much more variable. And at the edges of the islands, the sea wears the stone away, and sea creatures come to shore, but their influence is barely felt in the center.
When we say "proof," we mean a sea creature conquering the island, an event that will give the same experience to everyone, whether they want it or not. But it doesn't work that way. Experience is chosen, and the few cannot force the choice of the many. You see this all the time with psychic research. Early experiments observed by a few people yield very strong results, but as soon as it's a huge project that would "prove" psychic phenomena to the world, the phenomena disappear. This makes perfect sense! It follows logically from the "laws" that say experience is the fundamental thing, and that it's persistent, shared, and chosen.
Also this leads to some "weird" but totally rational predictions, like if you go monster-hunting without a camera, you're more likely to see a monster. Or as I said in my August 31 post:
As soon as technology gets to the point where we can't tell a real UFO film from a fake UFO film, it will become much easier to film real UFO's, because those films will be easily dismissible and will no longer threaten consensus reality.
I didn't know it, but these ideas were put into practice years ago by a researcher named Ken Batcheldor. Here's a good summary of Batcheldor and psychokinetic experiments, and Rhisiart sends a first-hand account:
I worked with Ken as a visiting occasional member of his last sitter-group, before his death in 1988. This technique, which he'd developed methodically over 25 years, is the most reliable way I've ever encountered during a lifetime of interest in the subject, to persuade 'para'normal events to manifest pretty nearly on request. I saw more, and more spectacular, 'para'normal incidents in Ken's sitter-group sessions than ever before or since.
The Principle can be stated concisely as "Ambiguity of perception promotes paranormal events." The setup in Ken's groups was designed to promote a continuous flow of small, more or less ordinary events, particularly movements of the table round which we sat, whose actual cause was deliberately organised to be as ambiguous as possible: it was always possible for the sitters to get a sudden wave of belief that a particular incident was a genuine psi-event. But it was also always possible to explain it away with a 'normal' explanation, should anyone feel the need. It was this get-out arrangement which seemed to facilitate the steady build up of ever more striking and ambiguous events in the session, until undoubtable, striking psi-incidents started to slip themselves into the event stream.
I spent hours yesterday trying to tie this to the ambiguity around the 9/11 operation -- is Dick Cheney trying to create a terrorist tulpa? Those dots didn't connect, but this is still important stuff. If things get chaotic in a couple years because of economic collapse, it will enable more looseness of reality. If the global economy/culture breaks down into a more local world, the "Matrix" will break up into Submatrices that are more varied and more easily changed, because they'll be smaller.
While this is happening, there's also a growing trend of messing with consensus reality. A reader told me about Ultraculture, an attempt to "apply the Indymedia model to magic," which looks a bit hokey to me, but it seems to be popular among the Burning Man crowd. And check out this article, Brain-to-Game Interface Worries Scientists. What they're talking about is neurofeedback, where a computer can teach you to go quickly into a meditative trance -- or any other brain state. And this powerful technology will be made cheap, compelling, and popular through games.
Honestly I think this is pretty cool, but I also think it's dangerous! I find myself in a sparsely populated middle ground between the camp that says mass consciousness-change is impossible, and the camp that says it's going to bring utopia. If it happens, it's going to bring the same kind of thing that guns and internal combustion brought -- a big mess as humans once again give ourselves power beyond our wisdom.
September 14-15. Great interview, Iain Boal: Specters of Malthus. I've seen a lot of dumb attacks on Thomas Malthus, who popularized the idea that if population keeps increasing, it will outrun food supply and there will be famines. How could that be wrong? Well, as primitivists know, population does not outrun food supply in tribes of forager-hunters or horticulturists. But Iain Boal takes it much farther, and argues that population only outruns food supply when there's non-local control of resources: "Action informed by local knowledge, typically, is not going to cause ecocide." Non-local control of resources has been around for thousands of years, but it really took off around 1800, when Malthus was writing. What he did was take a behavior of Empire culture, especially industrial capitalism, and falsely project it on the whole human species.
Boal goes on to argue that Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" gets it completely backwards and was used to justify a disastrous global privatization movement, and that Darwin's "natural selection" was a projection of Malthus's mistake onto nature.
One more thought: Boal's theory of local control can explain why cities have never worked, and how they could be made to work. More precisely: how can we have a dense population center that does not grow all its own food, but does not deplete the land that its food comes from? The answer is simple: the people in the city must not own the land, or otherwise control it. Even without a city, we could still get scarcity and ecocide if there was even so much as a large landowner commanding workers. It comes down to one rule: The people closest to the land must have the upper hand politically over everyone else, so they are never under any pressure to deplete it. (Also, they probably shouldn't grow grains, or use power tools that would make even the closest people to the land too far from it.)
September 17. Frank asks:
Do you REALLY believe that there is no such thing as what really happened on 9/11, or do you mean this metaphorically?
Yes, that's really what I think, but it's not just the 9/11 event -- I think there's no "what really happened" anywhere, and the 9/11 event merely draws our attention to that quality of reality, by being so spectacular, and so full of contradictions when we look deeply.
If I don't completely believe it, it's just because it's so difficult to get my mind there, because we've been trained in the objective model since birth. The weird thing is, there's no evidence for that model, for the idea that "there is" one reality independent of observers. It's a convenient way of thinking, but ultimately, raw experience is the foundation of any model of reality. If people have contradictory experience, then that's that. If we say some people must be "wrong", then we're reasoning backwards from the objective model, and not forward from the evidence. And if we apply pressure until everything "fits," and then stop, we have not found truth but forced consensus.
So how did we come to have such strong belief in something that's not supported by our own experience? Up above, when I was writing "one reality," I suddenly went back 30 years to Catholic mass, where the priest led us in reciting, "I believe in one God, the father, the almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen..." The objective model must have come out of monotheism, the belief that there's a single all-seeing eye to which all other perspectives must yield. (And God must be a cyclops, because what if his right and left eye see things differently...)
Now even physics, the hardest hard science, wanders into the "paradoxes" of quantum mechanics, and the very piece of metal that defines the kilogram is mysteriously shrinking. I'm tempted to say that reality itself is breaking up, that we're all going to be set free from the one monolithic perspective so we can create a million heavenly sub-universes. But I don't believe it. I think the "opening of the map" is not something absolute that pulls us along, but an experience that is always available to us if we look for it. Also I think it has limits, or we have limits. For some reason we do not have the option of everyone veering off to be God in their own private universe -- maybe just because we know that it wouldn't be good for us. The more we get what we desire, the more we are alone. And the more we're forced to live in the same world, to see things roughly the same as other people, the more we have to learn to work together, to build heaven while sharing. I think on some level that's what we've chosen to learn here, and we're a long way from finished.
And Patricia has an extended comment...
I'm imagining belief as a kind of natural resource. If the Believer is unaware of the value or the purpose of their own Belief (as most Westerners are today) then they will pretty easily hand it over to someone else, right?
How exactly do we hand over our belief, and to whom? She brings up this Ben Mack essay, Magic by Misdirection (since made to disappear from the internet), which argues that the mass media works like a parlor magician, fooling the audience by getting them all to focus narrowly on one thing. And before the industrial age, reality was focused and fixed through big religion. Patricia writes:
What the Catholic Church created was basically a franchise on magic/ritual. You could take their course and then be the "manager" of a "store" that would be almost identical to any other. It was like the McDonald's of Reality Creation. So long as you made the reality in accordance with the corporate manual, you got to play along and have a share in the gain. If you got too creative, you got excommunicated.
With no centralized form of attention-catching (no universal religions, no television) how does One Reality keep on getting re-created in the same form every day? Maybe it doesn't... but lots of un-controlled, amateur belief floating around might be dangerous, you know?
Next she pulls this quote from Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine:
Believers in the shock doctrine are convinced that only a great rupture can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave. It is in these malleable moments, when we are psychologically unmoored and physically uprooted, that these artists of the real plunge in their hands and begin their work of remaking the world.
We've all seen the happy idea that the Empire will lose its grip on reality and we'll build paradise in the ruins. But the forces of Empire see our plans better than we see theirs, and they have more practice than we do, jumping into the ruins of the prison and building an even worse prison while we stand around in a daze. Patricia concludes:
I wonder, if enough individuals are prepared to step in and compete with The Corporate State after it engineers/allows the Big Moment of Shock, what happens then?
September 20. A few loose ends on my critique of the objective model of reality. The model itself is not wrong, or a mistake. It's a useful tool that has enabled us to do all sorts of cool stuff like fly in airplanes and see other worlds on our computer screens. The mistake was turning this tool into Truth, making it exclusive. There are places where it works and places where it doesn't, and when objective-model scientists try to explain the "paranormal", or the "paradoxes" of quantum physics, or the placebo effect, or the anthropic principle, they sound to me like medieval astronomers inventing more and more elaborate mechanisms to explain the motions of the planets without abandoning the Earth-centered model.
I suggest a simpler and more elegant model that makes all that stuff unnecessary: The way reality works in dreams, it works everywhere -- it's just that waking life is much, much stickier. Certain aspects are so sticky that we can invent "laws" that describe them perfectly. But we also have the freedom to travel outside those realms, where experience is more variable and inconsistent.
And we haven't even begun to answer the biggest question: if this is all a dream, who is the Dreamer? Adam comments:
The world I inhabit has a great deal of internal cohesion, cohesion on a level of complexity which in many cases I couldn't possibly have modeled or predicted. And yet at some level -- if I (or we) wholly created this reality as you seem to suggest -- I (or we) must have computed the whole thing, subconsciously. If so, only a small fraction of that computation seems to be devoted to consciousness. Can you speculate any reason why so little of our apparent potential should be devoted to consciousness?
I'm also thinking of the famous PKD quote: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away." Many people have broken bones trying to put their hands through walls on acid trips, or died trying to fly. To phrase Adam's point a little differently, what we call "consciousness" is only a tiny part of the big Consciousness that shapes the dream. I would speculate that the other parts include both non-human consciousness, and the human "subconscious." And both of those, especially the human subconscious, are regions we can explore, and by exploring them, gain more understanding and power.
This is helping me understand "magic." Through friendly exploration of other levels of consciousness, we gain power-with. But there are also entities that seek power-over. They don't want us to meditate, or to lie in a field of grass and listen to the birds -- they want us to stay narrow-focused, typically on money and prestige and shallow pleasures, and give our subconscious power over to them. On the one hand, it helps them if we disbelieve that we are subconsciously creating reality, if we don't know we are powerful. But it also helps them if we adopt dumbed-down "you create your own reality" thinking, where they teach us shortcuts to use our power without understanding.
October 1. There was a good piece on reddit a few months ago about ad hominem arguments. Strictly, "ad hominem" doesn't mean you insult someone, but that you focus on the person and not their argument. In polite circles, I see ad hominem arguments all the time, and they usually go like this: "Those people are making that argument because of an unhealthy emotional motivation, and therefore, even though they might be right, I will go ahead and assume they're wrong without engaging their actual arguments or evidence."
Yesterday I was reminded of a dumb ad hominem argument that is popular among intellectuals who should know better. It goes like this: "People who reject the official story of the 9/11 operation are bigoted -- they just don't want to believe that the brown people have outsmarted the white people, so they believe that white people are secretly behind it."
This is the liberal equivalent of "Iraq must be behind 9/11 because we're attacking Iraq." It's elegant and comforting, but when you look at it closely, it's completely circular: "People doubt the dominant theory because they're racist, and the evidence that they're racist is that they doubt the dominant theory." In fact there is no evidence that 9/11 truthers are racist against Arabs. A few of them show bigotry against Jews -- but those people tend to blame Jews for the operation. The way real bigotry works is that the more you hate a category of people, the more you think them capable of successful crimes. So the foilheads, who hate the secret elites, think the secret elites are practically omnipotent, and if you look at people who show actual evidence of hating Arabs, you find that they accept the official story and use it to justify the ongoing massacres.
But my deeper point is, even if someone has the most loathsome reason for taking a position, that doesn't mean the position is wrong. I can't count how many times I've seen good thinkers reject good ideas because they don't want to be seen associating with self-righteous liberals or raving paranoids or drippy new agers or white guys in suits or whoever. I swear, even at the highest levels of discourse, this whole world is like 7th graders afraid of being unpopular.
October 2/9. Last night I realized something: The stock market has passed from reality into myth: that is, it is no longer an indicator of how well off we are, but a symbol of how well off we are, exactly the same way Bush is not a strong leader but a symbol of a strong leader. When we ask, "are we in a depression yet?" we look to the stock market, because the Myth says "depression = stock market crash."
So I'm going to go out on a limb and say the stock market will never crash. More precisely, the Dow Jones number will never be seen to take a big fall. They won't let it! Because "they" understand the propaganda value of the Dow, they will find a way to keep it rising forever, or until no one cares. One way they'll do it is by companies buying back their stocks, which the oil companies are already doing, thus raising the price by reducing supply. Another way is through inflation, which the Federal Reserve has been working on for years by printing mountains of new money.
Actually, they've already done it! This article, The Real Economy, shows that if you measure the stock market not in dollars but in real stuff, it has fallen an average of 50% since 2000.
So in five or ten more years, when a gallon of milk costs $400, and we're squatting in abandoned suburbs and eating dogs, Fox News and NPR will still recite the hourly magic spell: "Today the Dow Jones hit an all time high of 156,000..." And those who are caught in the spell will think, "The economy is doing better than ever -- if I work even harder I can get a piece of it."
October 7. A reader sends this extremely optimistic article on collective intelligence. The idea is, maybe humans will finally get some and make a tolerable complex society. The article hints, and I agree, that we've always had collective consciousness, but not yet a good one on a large scale. It also gets into some great fringe science, including Sheldrake. I just wish it had some hard evidence that groups are getting smarter, and not just fluffy anecdotal evidence. Sure, a few people are experiencing it, and any person can choose to walk that path. But that's been true for thousands of years, and where are we? When I look at the whole world, I see collective behavior getting more and more stupid and evil. Does a happy gathering of telecom executives really make up for the rape epidemic in Congo, or for 100 million Americans suddenly thinking torture is cool?
Here's a related post from a year ago about species evolving to become cooperative. My position continues to be: this stuff is real, and we will get there, but it's going to take us tens of thousands of years.
I have already done much of what you talk about in your Drop Out essay. Even though I have a masters degree, I take clerical jobs that pay relatively low and work part time so that I can have a life. I am converting most of my yard space into food gardens... in fact I am just finishing up the teaching of a six week gardening class in which the students came to my house and helped me design and create the food garden in the front yard. I put it out there where passersby could see it and be inspired to grow some of their own food. My mission is to teach as many people as I can how to grow their own food and also to encourage a more local and secure food system for our county.
When I lived in the backwoods of Idaho, I split my own wood, hauled my own garbage to the dump, climbed up on my own roof to ream out the stove pipe, banged at the three foot long icicles hanging from my cabin roof till they'd break off... but that all came under the heading of survival and while I enjoyed most of it I wouldn't undertake any of them under the heading of "fun." Fun was lying very still on my tummy on the little promontory that poked out over the creek and watching the creek traffic go by... beavers, and moose, and deer and geese and turtles... or sitting in front of my big window that looked out over a snow-covered landscape and typing stories on my old manual typewriter... or sitting in my neighbors kitchen heated by her wood fired cookstove and smelling the fresh bread bake... or watching the fiddle head ferns unfurl in the spring...
October 14. Parker sends a link to the first chapter of a new book, Gaiome. The author, Kevin Scott Polk, starts off talking about the usual techno-utopian fantasy of conquering and exploiting space, specifically in small manufactured worlds, and then he offers this smart critique:
How odd, then, that O'Neill and his libertarian followers would design their tiny world as a colony: an economic possession of a distant nation or corporation. Like colonial powers throughout history, these owners would have every incentive to secure and control their assets by any means available, including debt bondage and coercive monopolies. About the last thing they would want to do is make the colonies autonomous.
Then he develops a much cooler idea: Space permaculture! Specifically, artificial worlds with self-sufficient wild ecology. And this leads to a new paradigm of human movement into space: not to extract resources to feed a centralized industrial base, but to expand autonomous landbases beyond the Earth.
October 19. The Hidden Life of Garbage is a two year old interview packed with great insights on the politics of waste, including this shocker: When we think about being "green," reducing waste and so on, we almost always think in terms of stuff that we can do as individuals, and we almost never think about regulating manufacturing. Imagine: instead of making 50 million people feel guilty for using disposable cups at Starbucks, we could just pass a law prohibiting the manufacture of disposable cups. The reason we don't is that in 1953 Vermont passed a law that banned disposable bottles, and the forces of Evil formed an organization called Keep America Beautiful, which has been working ever since to block that kind of law, and generally to make us think of waste "as an individual responsibility, and not one connected to the production process."
And the creepiest thing of all... Readers born before 1970 will remember that famous commercial with the Indian who isn't much bothered that Europeans massacred a whole continent full of his people, but cries at the sight of litter. Patricia did some more research and it turns out that Keep America Beautiful made that ad!
October 24. Since the Guardian reported that oil production has peaked, some people are going through the following logic: "The big media, even the Guardian, are ultimately servants of Them, and if They say oil has peaked, then oil hasn't peaked, and They have some sinister reason for lying to us." This is a good instinct, but most of the stuff in the news really is true. The lies are in what they don't say -- the truths they ignore and the big lies they take for granted.
We've all seen those graphs of global oil production. The up slope is all bumpy and erratic, because it's derived from reality. The down slope, because it's derived from imagination, is a classic bell curve sliding smoothly to zero. In reality, of course, the down slope will be bumpy. I think oil production is declining partly because wells really are drying up, and partly because a lot of interests can benefit from the popular perception that the oil is running out. The oil companies can create artificial scarcity, just like the diamond cartel, and make a lot more money. Alternative energy interests, from solar to nuclear, will also get a huge boost. Even you and I will benefit if this leads to less traffic and more local food. Just don't be surprised, in a few years, when production starts increasing again, and the price of the drug comes down to tempt us into getting hooked again.
October 31. For Halloween, here's something that really scares me: President Hillary Clinton. (2011 update: oops! I failed to predict that the same thing would happen under Obama.) She's more pro-corporate, pro-war, and pro-police state than Ronald Reagan, who once rejected his advisers' push for a national ID card by saying, "Why don't we just brand babies?" I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton would support microchipping of babies, and worst-of-both-worlds medical reform that would keep the same system in place but force absolutely everyone to subsidize it. She would be the second most right wing president in American history -- and yet she would symbolically represent the left. As the economy collapsed and the military got humiliated in Asia, the right wing pundits would say "Look what these liberals have got us into," and the liberal pundits would say, "We have to support her because she's a Democrat, and if she's unpopular then we need to compromise even more."
Compromise with what? The candidate who comes closest to the American people on the issues is Dennis Kucinich (dead link), who has been labeled a far-out lefty by the right wing media... yet most of the actual people who work in the media are just as sensible as Kucinich. Americans are sane and moderate, Kucinich and Gravel are sane and moderate, and the leading Democrats are sane and moderate at heart but have to take foaming-at-the-mouth right wing positions to be labeled sane and moderate by sane and moderate reporters. What is going on here?
It's like this: every cell in Ted Bundy's body was good. They were all doing their best to live in harmony with the other cells and all life, but they were part of an evil collective consciousness, and there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. We are part of an evil society, and the evil is not in us, but in the way we're connected, or disconnected. There is something we can do about it, but we can't just turn an evil society into a good one by re-wiring it. It has never worked that way. The way it works is, we disconnect from the old big system, and reconnect to other people and other life on Earth in new little systems, which spread and grow as the old system dies, like grass coming through pavement. And if we don't learn, our new systems grow too far, harden, crack, and the cycle repeats forever.