The Amateur's Guide To Life

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And Now For Something Like The End

This chapter of TAGTL is finished. Like everything else, it will return in some other form, at some other time. As a final post, I will leave you with this:

"We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse 'negative capability.' He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had 'the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.' Keats realized that just because something can't be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn't mean it isn't real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.

But before we can get a fourth culture, our two existing cultures must modify their habits. First of all, the humanities must sincerely engage with the sciences. Henry James defined the writer as someone on whom nothing is lost; artists must heed his call and not ignore science's inspiring descriptions of reality. Every humanist should read Nature.

At the same time, the sciences must recognize that their truths are not the only truths. No knowledge has a monopoly on knowledge. That simple idea will be the starting premise of any fourth culture. As Karl Popper, an eminent defender of science, wrote, 'It is imperative that we give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach. There is no authority beyond the reach of criticism.""

Creating a "Fourth Culture" of Knowledge: Jonah Lehrer on Why Science and Art Need Each Other | Brain Pickings

Jonah Lehrer. via Brainpicker via Wired via Fresser

In related news, Moebius died today. Thank you for a life full of mystery.

Posted: 03-10-12
And Now For Something Like The End

This chapter of TAGTL is finished. Like everything else, it will return in some other form, at some other time. As a final post, I will leave you with this:

"We now know enough to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art: it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse 'negative capability.' He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had 'the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.' Keats realized that just because something can't be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn't mean it isn't real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.

But before we can get a fourth culture, our two existing cultures must modify their habits. First of all, the humanities must sincerely engage with the sciences. Henry James defined the writer as someone on whom nothing is lost; artists must heed his call and not ignore science's inspiring descriptions of reality. Every humanist should read Nature.

At the same time, the sciences must recognize that their truths are not the only truths. No knowledge has a monopoly on knowledge. That simple idea will be the starting premise of any fourth culture. As Karl Popper, an eminent defender of science, wrote, 'It is imperative that we give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach. There is no authority beyond the reach of criticism.""

Creating a "Fourth Culture" of Knowledge: Jonah Lehrer on Why Science and Art Need Each Other | Brain Pickings

Jonah Lehrer. via Brainpicker via Wired via Fresser

In related news, Moebius died today. Thank you for a life full of mystery.

Posted: 03-10-12
The Information

Trying to catch up on my reading these days. Two excellent articles I highly recommend.

Steve Volk, author of the outstanding book, "Fringeology" wrote a guest blog over at The Daily Grail about Carl Sagan and skepticism:

http://dailygrail.com/blogs/Steve-Volk/2011/7/Sagan-and-True-Fringe-ology-Part-II

It is, at least, possible. There could be something in the NDE that we can use, regardless of our beliefs about it. But that isn't a conversation we're close to having because we're so caught up in debating the source of the experience. This is, to some extent, understandable. After all, whether or not life continues past the point of physical death is of primary concern. But it seems to me that skeptics and believers might find more common ground with one another if we stopped focusing so much on the questions to which we lack the answers - a UFO, for instance, is by definition unidentified - and started regarding these mysteries as opportunities.

This same site also led me over to the always informative and entertaining Reality Sandwich web site which has an insightful review of Simon Powell's new book, "The Psilocybin Solution, The Role of Sacred Mushrooms in the Quest for Meaning".

http://www.realitysandwich.com/mushroom_gnosis

"Whether it be a vivid dream or an entheogenic vision, the normal perception of an object or a psychedelic perception, the underlying structure of such experiences can now be discerned. The common mediating factor is information, and the way that information is transmitted, organized, and substantiated by the neuronal firing activity of the brain. Information, the "currency" of the brain, emerges as the key concept in explaining the normal conscious mind, the entheogenic mind, and the dreaming mind."

Posted: 11-29-11
Essential Viewing

You'd think with the glacial pace that this area gets updated, I'm not thinking about much. In fact, the opposite is true, I'm thinking about so much, its very difficult to stop and transcribe some of it.

So here are a few quick hits.

The 'Everything Is A Remix' take on 'The Matrix' is essential viewing. These guys do an incredible job of showing how ideas grow on top of ideas.

Everything Is A Remix: THE MATRIX

Which led me to this video. Incidentally I haven't finished the small clip of Phillip K. Dick yet because its like being served the best piece of pie you've ever had. You need to take the tiniest bites possible in order to savor the whole experience.

Did Philip K. Dick disclose the real Matrix in 1977?

And if that isn't enough, then here are two more:

Inside the Russian Short Wave Radio Enigma

Kim Nobles Judy switches personalities at dinner

Posted: 10-06-11
The Trust Spray

For those of you who listened to our last program with Andrew Zink, the Liquid Trust Spray he was referring can be found here:

Vero Labs Liquid Trust Spray

Liquid Trust Enhanced has been specially designed to give a boost to the dating and relationship area of your life. This upgraded formula still contains the same great Oxytocin formula, but now includes the powerful pheromones Androstenone and Androsterone.

For the first time, you can create a TRUSTING and PASSIONATE atmosphere...It all starts with Trust.

If anyone actually tries this product, please drop me a line and let me know what happens.

Posted: 09-21-11
You Just Get More Monkeys

I found this interesting article on quantum computing and copyright this morning which spun my head around a bit.

Could Quantum Computing Kill Copyright?

Long ago I had a discussion with a very bright computer programmer about the idea that you could create every song ever made (that would fit on a CD). Basically you find a computer fast enough to render every possible permutation of a 'song' that would fit on a CD.

The article above outlines a similar approach, but with images instead of songs.

As it stands in US law (and remember, US law rules throughout the world, even if it's legal, or you've not been there in decades) the creator of a picture is the copyright holder. Even if you drop the resolution, or reduce the number of colours to simpler shades, it is still considered by many to be under the original copyright.

So, what if you could create every possible picture? What if you took a fairly low resolution (say 500x500) and a reasonably low colour mix (say 256 colours) and tried to create every single image? What then would be the state of copyright? It's the visual equivalent of the infinite monkey theorem.

If you could do it, then the project would own all the copyrights, to every image not already copyrighted. Furthermore, since it's an independent creation with no outside reference to draw upon, works and images similar to those already copyrighted are not infringing.

Given what is happening with the copyright trolling right now, this scenario, assuming the technology pans out, is not that far out in the future. That basically one individual or corporation could own copyright for every image that could be ever created. Which would mean that every time you picked up a pen and sketched something, you didn't own that image. Scary stuff.

Posted: 08-02-11
The Last Wave

Last year Andy Irons, arguably one of the best surfers ever, died a tragic death alone in a hotel room in Texas. A year later his brother and best friend, Bruce Irons, gave an interview this week talking about his brother and how he has been coping with the fallout. It is some heavy stuff, but what stuck out most was this story that Bruce told about Andy:

Anyway, on his 21st birthday, he was with Archy (Matt Archbold) and Nathan Fletcher. Fuck, he drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniels on his own. Nathan wasn't drinking and he was sleeping in the same room as Nathan. Nathan was hearing all these growly snorts, then he didn't hear it for a long time and after a little while, he looked over and my brother was white with purple lips. Then Nathan slapped him, slapped him really hard. Then he got Kasey Curtis (also on the trip), cause he's a fireman. Then they took him to the shower naked, slapping him, he was purple in the shower. Long story short, he was unconscious and then they followed the ambulance to the hospital. He was on oxygen in the ambulance and he'd slip into these comas. His lung had collapsed. Then he flatlined. He was dead for six minutes. He was dead. My brother told me this story and he'd never told anyone else. My brother said, "Bruce, that white light, it's all totally real. When I died I went into this white light. I was warm and I looked down and I saw my dead body with all these tubes and all these people working on me. I was in that place. And, to tell the truth, I didn't want to come back. I was looking at my body, sitting on the table, dead." And he really liked it.

This is completely out of the blue, unsolicited. It sort of blew my mind. Andy Irons is not the sort of person who would make such a thing up, or talk about it (as Bruce says in the interview, he was the only one that knew this about Andy).

Posted: 07-21-11
A Vast Black River Of Type

I have a stack of New Yorker's that sit on my desk waiting to be cataloged. Sometimes I get to them, most often, I don't. One article that has been floating around in my piles for a long time is a profile of Laszlo Krasznahorkai entitled, "Madness and Civilization". The first sentence starts with, "Reality examined to the point of madness", which immediately caught my attention and reminded me of Seinfeld. More then that though, it intimidated me because whenever I feel that I think a lot about 'life' and 'meaning', I'll stumble upon on Eastern European writer or philosopher who reminds me how amateur I am in my pursuits. Here is an excerpt from Krasnhahorkai's "War and War":

because he didn't feel like going home to an empty apartment on his birthday, and it really was extremely sudden, the way it struck him that, good heavens, he understood nothing, nothing at all about anything, for Christ's sake, nothing at all about the world, which was a most terrifying realization, he said, especially in the way it came to him in all its banality, vulgarity, at a sickeningly ridiculous level, but this was the point, he said, the way that he, at the age of forty-four, had become aware of how utterly stupid he seemed to himself, how empty, how utterly block-headed he had been in his understanding of the world these last forty-four years, for, as he realized by the river, he had not only misunderstood it, but had not understood anything about anything, the worst part being that for forty-four years he thought he had understood it, while in reality he had failed to do so; and this in fact was the worst thing of all that night of his birthday when he sat alone by the river, the worst because the fact that he now realized that he had not understood it did not mean that he understand it now, because being aware of his lack of knowledge was not in itself some new form of knowledge for which an older one could be traded in, but one that presented itself as a terrifying puzzle the moment he thought about the world, as he most furiously did that evening, all but torturing himself in the effort to understand it and failing, because the puzzle seemed ever more complex and he had begun to feel that this world-puzzle that he was so desperate to understand, that he was torturing himself trying to understand was really the puzzle of himself and the world at once, that they were in effect one and the same thing, which was the conclusion he had so far reached, and he had not yet given up on it, when, after a couple of days, he noticed that there was something the matter with his head.

This is serious stuff. Its an excellent profile and if I had more time in my life, I'd read his books.

The New Yorker Profile, "Madness And Civilization, The strange fiction of Laszlo Krasznahorkai"

The full text of Krasnahorkai's "War And War"

Posted: 07-18-11
Food For Your Brain

Here are three podcasts that are essential listening:

Brian Greene on Fresh Air

On the radio show, I played a clip from Brian Greene on The Colbert Report. If you're unfamiliar with Greene, he is a very charismatic and articulate physicist who presents ideas like string theory and multiple universes in a very easy to understand, "sure why not" kind of way. When I listen to Greene talk, it makes me want to hear what the 'get over it' crew would have to say about his ideas, particularly these two curmudgeons.

David Eagleman on Fresh Air

Another very charismatic and articulate neuroscientist (must be a trend in Science these days). I've also played clips from Eagleman where he discusses his approach to science called 'possibilianism'. In this interview with Terry Gross, he talks about his experiments with the subjectivity of time (also covered in this New Yorker article) and ways in which we are profoundly influenced by our subconscious mind.

Radio Lab: Talking To Machines

There really isn't a bad Radio Lab podcast, its just that some are great, and others are amazing. This one I had low expectations for and ended up being an amazing one. As the ability for computers to mimic human behavior (and I specifically did not say "become conscious"), the world is going to become a stranger and stranger place. (As a follow up, check out this article on 'chatbots'). Even more intriguing is the piece on the Ferby creator, this isn't just about a successful toy, its a warning about how easy humans are to manipulate if you know the right levers to push.

Posted: 06-17-11
You're Not Really Here!

And in the great 'something or nothing' war, there was an excellent dust up that took place on the interwebs recently. Adam Frank wrote a piece about agnosticism which was quickly countered by physicist Sean Carroll. The typical folks scrambled to their typical battle stations.

You can find Adam Frank's piece on NPR here: You And Your Brain. On Agnosticism And Consciousness.

You can find Sean Carroll's response here: Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

The comments from both articles make for great reading. This one in particular caught my eye (I'm going to assume he's serious):

STFU people, your words are like turds piling higher and higher. You are going to die and be forgotten, get over it. The human condition is one of perpetual delusion, our eyes we look out from tell each us that we are the center of the universe when of course we are not. Face your actual insignificance, get over it. Wander too far from the shadow of experimentalism and our speculations descend into the quagmire of barroom philosophy, get over it.

It is a grand time to be alive. Science is growing like a well fed amoeba into the fog of the unknown. We don't need no stinkin beliefs that sooth our fears. Get humble, we are just extra smart monkeys, stop settling for deep meaning concentrated, a child like sense of wonder that never grows old is plenty good enough for me.

Any rant that beings with "STFU" you know is going to bring it.

Along these lines, Grayson texted me this morning that one of my favorites, David Eaglemen, was on 'Fresh Air' with Terry Gross, you can find the story and audio here. Persaonllly, I figured Eagleman was pretty middle of the ground, but apparently that didn't stop the 'get over it' haters from trolling the comment sections (First! no less). Who are these people? My next project will be putting together a compilation of these type of rants:

What nonsense... because a fiction writer can imagine Santa Claus living in the 324th dimension, that 'means that the existence of Santa is as likely as his non-existence'. That is the impression we got... "my Rabbi told me that God might be real, therefore, we can make no educated guess about the Jewish God" or Zeus, or Thor, or Allah... afterall, 'the Rabbi & the fiction writer say the boogie man might live in the 82nd dimension, so who are we to say, "the evidence suggests God & other supernatural things like the afterlife are fiction" anyway?' The guy's talk was embarrassing. Enough evidence suggests consciousness is a product of the CNS & that thus the afterlife is most certainly not real & lots of evidence suggests the afterlife & Gods are common delusions relating to respect for authority & wishful thinking.

What?

Posted: 05-30-11
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