In Memory of Edward Down

Posted: February 21, 2020 in Autobiographies, Pensees, Stories

Foreword: I am not Edward Down, he never wrote a book.

 

Edward Down wasn’t his name, but that is what we will call him anyway. Ed felt dead already. He wanted to die, but not really. So feeling dead seemed good enough, and nobody was particularly upset.

Ed lay in bed, still awake, almost listening to birds chirp unmusically in the predawn light, but not quite. Thoughts were relentlessly flowing through Ed’s mind. Thoughts he’d almost had before, only almost and not quite in this order.

Ed thought about the world being on fire, how we are the fire. Life and civilization are explosions, non-metaphorically. We all know how explosions end. And so Ed had lost all of the enthusiasm that he’d once had for being part of anything at all.

People would tell Ed to just try to enjoy life and not worry about everything. But to him that was part of the problem. Everyone was just trying to be happy and ignore the cognitive dissonance that would be caused if they realized they were destroying the very environmental foundations that made civilized life possible. The idea of just being happy felt like doing something wrong, and so Ed tried to accept that his life would not be happy.

Ed wasn’t upset or angry at the small people just getting by and trying to be happy, nor at the big people just trying to be rich and powerful. Thought about in terms of chemical reactions and the downhill flow of energy towards entropy, the whole human mess of civilization blowing itself up just looked like the natural and inevitable course of things. No one was to blame because no one could have made a difference anyway. Being sustainable was always less efficient than maximizing the externalized costs, and so what was good failed but progress rolled onward.

Ed thought he had solved some of the mysteries of philosophy, big unanswerable questions that have entertained the greatest minds throughout history. He had studied enough to know such answers were taboo, jokes in serious conversations. His understanding was not in the shape of words, and he struggled to reduce his thoughts into words capable of carrying his understanding to other minds. And so unable to copy and paste his understanding, he was alone with it, looping around and over trying to understand everything.

Ed was vainly aware that his thoughts were new, even though they were composed of old and borrowed ones. How absurd that in the history of mankind, few, if any, brains had been educated in such an information rich environment as he had been. He had remained a student in an institution throughout his first three decades of life. At university he had learnt first chemistry, then anthropology and psychology before settling into philosophy, and then following that up with politics, history and classics. Ed would have been two meters tall if his intelligence had been his height, according to the tests during his ADHD diagnosis. He hadn’t met anyone two meters tall, but he’d been lucky enough to meet and learn from many people smarter and more educated than himself.

Ed wasn’t sure if he was delusional or inspired, but it didn’t really matter because wise or deluded, the thoughts would continue going around and around regardless.  Ed knew his life was meaningless, because he understood what made life meaningful and had tested the theory popperian style. Meaning exists in the connections and mutual cooperation supporting the continued survival and flourishing of unities. He had disconnected himself from society, isolated, at least doing no work to speed up the explosion, but alone.

Identity was out of focus in Ed’s mind, every thing at once being a unity of parts which was itself just a part of numerous other unities. Every thing cooperated with itself. Every thing had a will to persist, though only because any thing which didn’t wasn’t likely to still exist. Nevertheless, from a purely causal world you could expect intentionality and purpose to emerge. The first purpose is to persist, and every unity is driven this way. Secondary purposes arise as parts within unities fulfill the various functional roles necessary for the persistence of the unity.

Ed got out of bed some time after midday, the heat and hunger forcing him quickly awake but leaving him in a morning haze. Walking zombielike around the flat passing time and intermittently distracting himself from his thoughts. Sitting outside in the shade, numbing himself with smoke, ignoring the cacophony of birds, yardwork and traffic, it was hard for Ed not to notice the yellow tinge the smoke gave the sunlight.

Edward escaped back to his thoughts, or was he imprisoned by them, he wasn’t sure. We emerged from and remain thoroughly parts of the causal world. Every thing is causal, in the sense that every thing existing is persisting as a more or less stable causal loop. The question of why there is something rather than nothing is answered if you begin with an active no-thing. There is no-thing in the sense that no more or less stable causal loops exist yet. No-thing is simultaneously an absolute flux and an absolute void, and because it is unstable, patterns begin to emerge as random events just happen to cause themselves, or cause some conditions which in turn cause themselves, or cause some chain of such conditions which lead back to causing themselves. From no-thing emerge causal patterns, which are things that exist. Existence is emergent, contingent, and mortal.

And so all existence is characterised by an almost ordered regularity of patterned cycles and oscillations. Math, as an abstracted pattern representation space, is capable of more or less representing everything that exists. It cannot describe no-thing however, and thus will not be helpful in understanding the fundamental nature of reality. And anyway, math itself is a part of causal reality. It is able to represent every thing that exists because it is like everything that exists. All of this is also true of brains.

Ed walks to the shop two minutes away, the late afternoon sun now glaring with a tinge of orange. One liquid meal, one square meal, and papers for smoke. He doesn’t know the storemans name, but they are on friendly terms. As Ed turns to leave a beautiful woman walks in and waves hello past Ed to the storeman. Ed leaves the store, passing her with a weak smile but with his head hung. Thoughts of saying hello or asking her a question begin to flow wildly through Ed’s mind. He notices her vehicle parked outside, a minivan with the backseat folded down and covered by a messy duvet. His imagination paints a picture of her in his mind, though keenly aware of knowing nothing about who she really was. As he thought of questions that could have begun conversations with her, he walked home and left her and the world behind again.

Ed’s bedroom floor was a sea of clothes, most worn multiple times. Ed had largely given up on self care and was in what he assumed was a repulsive state. He didn’t want to subject others to his depressing conclusions, and so what would he even have had to say to a pretty stranger that was better than leaving her to an apparently happy life.

Ed had been born on an auspicious day; it was Good Friday and awkwardly also Hitler’s birthday, and on an astrological cusp. It was also 420 when he visited the United States, and 1984 for a bonus literary nod. It was hard for Ed to know how to feel about such an absurd birthday.

His highest academic recognition had been early in life when named dux at his primary school, which was itself named for its proximity to the site of the pioneering flight of a local legend. And so a story about being from nowhere not meaning you can’t do something great was put in young Ed’s mind.

Ed had also paid attention to the teachings of Jesus as he grew up. He saw him as an intellectual rebel, critical of the religious and economic power structures shaping his society. The church as official state religion quickly resumed the role Jesus had been critical of, and thus no longer interpreted the teachings as they were intended.

Another tick on the diagnostic criteria for being crazy. But still it all seemed reasonable enough to Ed, and so maybe he was not crazy after all. He tried to not let the question bother him, the answer didn’t make much difference at this point anyway.

Not wanting to participate in society is considered mental illness by society because participation is strongly normalized. And so because Ed was depressed he received almost enough money to survive on, though meals were often skipped to ease the money burden.

It was dark outside as Ed lay in bed thinking, blurry noises in the background. Ed was exhausted, his thoughts becoming blurred with quick irrelevance. Expanding and contracting his lungs, the causal loop of breathing became conscious for a while. Listening to trucks in the distant night near the beginning or end of their journeys, it was impossible to tell.

Ed woke to a calm breeze and a calm day. His thoughts remained a torrential storm, a loud cacophony, relentless. After getting up and showering, he went for a pie for breakfast. He ate it in the sun and followed it up with coffee and a smoke. Having run out of things to do he returned to bed and lay there overwhelmed by the loud incoherent protothoughts bombarding his mind.

Days passed in a blurry while Edward tried not to think unsuccessfully. He wanted someone to talk to, but no one seemed to understand, or even to try to understand. So he returned inside his mind to converse with himself instead.

Things are periodic causal events. Edward’s mind jumped to the unanswerable question; why does anything happen? It was the obvious last question to ask. He ended up at some version of this question as he dug through what he thought he understood enough to answer.

Human understanding emerges from the mirroring of causal patterns in the world by causal patterns in the brain. The fidelity of the representations is refined by causal interactions with the world. The senses are causally acted on by the world and our bodies causally act on the world. Consciousness emerges in the interaction between the brain and its environment. Like causality, it is in a gap. Where causality is in the gap between cause and effect, consciousness is in the gap between the experienced and the experiencer. Language, like our understanding, is always imperfect, because the brain and language are imperfect in their mirroring of the world. They are both shaped by, and in turn shape, the world around us.

The thoughts pour through Edward’s mind even though it is 9:11 am and he hasn’t fallen asleep. Instead of dreaming he remembers the dream he once had where he found himself on the stage in the middle of a play where everyone was reading their lines and acting the part, but he had no idea what his script was and so stood their frozen by conscious awkwardness.

At night Edward found himself staring at the stars. It felt good to be such a small part of everything while thinking about the vastness of the cosmos. As human understanding of it had grown, so too had our estimation of its vastness. If we were to discover that our universe was the creation of some external being, divine or nerdy, it would simply be a continuation of the trend. It didn’t make much difference to Edward because he wanted to understand what it meant to exist, and any theory would equally need to explain the existence of any creators.

Edward went back outside for another smoke, it was overcast and was beginning to gently rain, more heard than felt. He thought about university again. He’d been accepted into a PhD program and more or less offered a scholarship, but unfortunately not at the same time due to bureaucratic stuff. He probably could have made them coincide if he was fully functional and motivated, but like everything else in Edward’s life, he let it slide past.  A PhD would mean needing to fit his thoughts into an academic style only to inevitably get lost in the noise of specialized journals. It was maybe enough to know he’d been accepted, another thing he could have done if he’d wanted to. Dr Edward Down, it sounded like a made up title. The rain grew from a patter into raindrops and so Edward retreated inside again to lay on the couch thinking to himself.

None of the great philosophers he’d studied had PhDs. He pondered on what it meant to be a philosopher, did he count? In the past he’d called himself a student of philosophy, but now he felt he had answers worth consideration, even if they were often just ways of understanding the tensions of philosophical puzzles. He’d admit he knew he could say nothing perfectly true, because truth lay above the world just beyond language’s imperfect grasps to capture and transmit it. The truest morality is expressed not by written laws, but in action.

Staying alive and observing the collapse of civilisation was a gloomy prospect and Edward felt sad in his awareness. As a young student he had watched water boil in a beaker, at twice the speed of his classmates because he was feeding a second Bunsen into the air hole of the first. For a while the convection currents rolled in a stable donut. As the energy put into the system increased that periodic cycle broke down and was replaced by a bubbling boiling turbulence. Edward was often reminded of this observation when thinking about climate change, which he thought would have been more accurately described as climate destabilization.

Edward sometimes hoped that it might be nice to at least find someone to share the sombre task with, and so he would open a couple of dating apps on his phone and simply accept everyone as their faces flew past in a digital blurr. He almost never got a match and the few that did never turned into sustainable conversations. It was a depressing experiment but in painful hope he performed the ritual again while wondering why he continued.

It was not God’s forgiveness that we needed, but each others. The world would become a volatile place and many people would suffer greatly before we all perished, and so Ed prayed to himself that everyone could forgive each other during our decline. It seemed unlikely, society was already full of blame in all directions.

Why do some things continue to exist and how do they fail? Mirroring the blurred identity of parts and wholes, causal persistence fails in two ways. If the internal functioning of the parts become disharmonious and the pattern is sufficiently disrupted then the unity ceases to exist. If the external conditions change and become inhospitable enough to disrupt the pattern then it will cease to exist. The former is like a heart attack, the latter a bullet. Thus, things which produce resilient internal harmony and favorable external conditions, are more likely to persist. The cell wall creates a sheltered internal environment allowing the parts of the cell to continue functioning.

The good of any thing seems to be grounded in its continued survival. It should be understood as a continuum with flourishing at one extreme and extinction at the other. Flourishing is the goal at which everything that exists aims towards. Anything which happened to exist which did not act as if it had a will to survive would soon perish and thus only fleetingly take part in existence. Darwinian natural selection describes this phenomena as it applies to life, but it applies equally to molecules and ideas.

Is to be a philosopher a noble sacrifice of one’s life? Thoughts written in reverse order, how much is already lost? Causality is spontaneous, like consciousness. If the guess that they are the same thing is correct, then there is no conflict between being a free will and tracing out a causal path through the world. Science exists as a set of behaviours which are repeated and shared, which produces a set of measured representations of the world upon which we form an understanding of the world. The behavioral pattern is not universal but is transferable. What is normal is always contextual, a localised average, like boids.

Ed thought about how you could build a conscious AI. Neural networks are an abstract representational space which is refined by an algorithm to match some pattern in the world. A fractal neural network could grow and prune it’s own complexity to match what it is representing. If such an AI was fed a sufficiently rich and real time feed of data from the causal world, and set the task of controlling a body, Ed had no doubt that it would have a conscious experience.

Boredom grips Ed. About a month passes by Edward as he passes the time feeling hungry and napping fitfully. He hears echoes of world news, a president is being impeached, a country is burning. The orange sunlight continued to verify that the world was on fire, non-metaphorically.

Good and bad are always contextual. No one thing is unconditionally good for every thing, except each thing’s own survival is good for itself.  Ed lay in bed feeling restless and alone. He tried to get comfortable but his head hurt. The meaning of life is to be part of something good. Energy flows through time, eddies become things, for a while, before returning into no-thing.

?

Posted: June 21, 2014 in Poems

Silently asking,

a Silent question,

to Silence.

Order

Posted: June 18, 2014 in Pensees

Without chaos there is no emergence.

Once upon a time there were two loops, each loop-dancing through the flux as loops like to do. Both were loops much like any other. But of course they were also unique in their own ways and knew themselves as set apart from the other loops. For many years they looped away, each far away from the other, and yet two loops more similar in shape and spin it would have been hard to find anywhere. Although they begun worlds away, in time they began to gravitate towards each other, who can say why, for it happened unknown to them. In the flux, the ocean of ambiguity beat down on each of those two loops, and each had found their meandering paths had left them drained of over flowing life.

On and on the loops had spun and twisted, writhing through their lives up until that point, the magic moment as they first came into contact with the other’s spin. As their surfaces met the loops took hands, accepting the cosmic invitation to a dance. The dancing harmony of the two loops then is more beautiful than any work of art, for it is beauty made of spinning life itself, not dead rocks or words. When each loop beheld the other in that ecstatic dance of meeting they met their own loop and soul as in a reflection. It was a dance of outside coming inside, going outside again only to come in once more. Like a beating heart they pulsed, in and out, up and down, on and off, together and apart, in and out, pumping the two loops around and around in their whirling embrace along for a time.

But life is fleeting as it rolls through the flux, and the dance of the two loops soon began to tangle. Their loops, each once in it self, fell into a confusion from You and I to Us and We. Where before it hand been a dance of motion, it became a grinding embrace of beating hearts. Hearts beating, beating hard and smashing together. No longer did the two loops go out or up, off or apart, but in and down they settled into one another, lost in the flux, but comfortably lost to the flux. Such a dance is no dance at all, but a long deep loop of pregnant depression.

As the two loops sank further and harder into their isolated bubble of misery, their spins both began to fail, to spiral down towards the nothing. The hearts attack then, the dance dying in a slow decline and finally giving birth all at once to an explosive recoil resolving into their own loops. From so dark a place, so tight and jammed, everything explodes as if from nothing. The embrace of in and down is abandoned in an instance for the receding spiral of out and apart. Each loop lost to itself superimposed and out of focus repels the other loop out of itself so that it may find itself once more. Everything once pulling the two loops into their collapse has now turned around and pushes them apart with every force.

And here we find the two loops as they are now, in this demanding confusion of flux. The dance, long forgotten in the depths of mutual helplessness, for a moment flashes again, and each loop is given its choice. They might let go, escape the gravity of each other’s loop, fling themselves back across the world into the flux, confirming their dance’s heart attack fatal. Or they might choose to hold on to the other’s hand, to be flung out from the other only to hold on and resume a new dance orbiting at arms length. Two loops swinging out into the void, returning in, out and around again in the dance of holding hands and beating hearts.

The Dream Academy

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Stories

Sophia Starbuck woke up.  The sun was already high in the sky and the world had already begun to bustle with business.  Sophia groggily searched her bedside table for her dream diary, clumsily rearranging a mess too messy to get worse before finding it.  She opened it at random and began writing down the dream she had just awoken from, as usual, exactly as she had been trained to do.  It was the same one she’d had last night.  In fact it was the same one she had the nights before that, as long back as she could remember.  “What am I doing?  Why doesn’t my dream make sense?” she asked her ceiling.  Sophia had recently begun talking to herself, though only when she thought she was alone.  When she had finished recording her dream she ripped out the page and threw it at the full rubbish bin.  “This isn’t the way dreams are supposed to be.”  It merely bounced off and rolled to join the rest of her dreams in a pile on the floor.  “Why don’t our teachers ever teach us about this kind of dream?”

“One foot out of bed, two feet out of bed.”  She stumbled in slow motion down to the empty kitchen.  “One coffee, two toast.”  She slowly broke her fast and then stumbled to the bathroom.  “One get naked, two get wet.”  Sophia stood in the shower for a long while, just pondering.  “One get dry, two get dressed.”  When Sophia was eventually dressed and ready she threw her dream diary and lunch into her satchel and left her flat.  “One step, two step.  One, two.  One, two.  One, two.  Repeat until I get to the academy.”  Sophia attended the Dream Academy.  Everyday she would lie and tell her teachers that she had dreamers block. “A dream that only asks questions and answers in riddles is as livable as no dream at all.  I mean, what would be the difference?” she questioned the bush at the end of her street as she walked past.  “I’ll be stuck here forever, probably still pretending to have dreamers block.”

As Sophia sauntered through the mid morning air she lost herself imagining all the things she could say to her teachers and classmates.  “Your dreams all seem perfectly ridiculous to me anyway.  Even if my dream doesn’t make sense, at least it is..” Sophia grasped for the word, but failed and resorted to “interesting.”  She was asking herself why she didn’t just tell her teachers about her dream instead of lying, when, without warning, her awareness was pulled violently back to her immediate surroundings.  A man, completely naked but covered in a thick layer of grime, was laying on his back across the path.  This was different.  He just lay there, staring intently upwards.  He seemed to be studying something perfectly above him.  In her turn Sophia just stood there, looking down at him, but with a concerned expression on her face.  When he noticed her standing there looking alarmed, he perched himself upon his elbows and smiled pleasantly at her. He still had the same intent expression of study on his face, though now directed towards her.  Sophia’s brain was racing, he seemed very familiar.  Those fiery eyes shining out from their grubby surroundings, and yet she could not quite place his face.

The arrangement lasted until Sophia began to feel awkward and broke the silence, “What are you doing here?”

The man simply replied, “I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.  Maybe I was searching for you?  You seem to have found me in any case.  But, what are you doing here?”

“I am walking to the Dream Academy.”

“Are you really?”

“Yes, I am a student there.  Now if you’ll excuse me I am going to be…”

But before Sophia could finish explaining that she was running late the man interrupted her, “I don’t think I’ve heard of this ‘Dream Academy’.  What exactly do you do there anyway?”

Sophia was a bit shocked, everyone knew about the Academy.  It was the cornerstone of society, their teachers reminded them of that whenever the chance arose.  “Oh umm, well, my classmates are developing their dreams, and err, refining them, until the teachers think they are worth living.  And when they graduate they will begin living their dreams, that is the point of it all.”  Sophia had forgotten she was running late and so she continued, “the teachers remind us over and over that it is our privilege to attend the Dream Academy; ‘the less fortunate children don’t get to choose their own dreams, they just have to copy their parent’s lives.’”  With an incredulous look Sophia asked, “Have you really not heard of the Academy?”

“Oh, well, maybe I have.  Maybe I have?  I guess it sounds vaguely familiar.  Do you like it there?”

“No, not at all.”  Sophia gave him a long look, and then asked, “you ask a lot of questions, who are you?”

“Do I?  I guess there is a lot I don’t know.  I’m not sure who I am, still trying to find that out, to be honest.”  And then the loopy man began to wax lyrical.  “Am I a beast, complicated and swollen with passion like a many headed hydra?  Or, am I a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, though with a diviner and lowlier destiny?  I mean, do you honestly know who you really are?”

“Yes, of course I know who I am.”  Though Sophia agreed that the old loon could well be either a beast or a gentle creature, his appearance seemed to support both possibilities.

The man fixed his studying glare even more intently on her, “Knowing who you are, with such confidence, and at such a young age, you must be particularly wise!  But, who, may I inquire, are you really?”

Sophia just gave the man a blank look and shrugged.  Then, finally remembering herself, and feeling slightly at a lost at having to explain things she thought everyone already knew, Sophia quickly excused herself, “I am going to be late, I am already late.  I really must be going.”

“Late is a curious thing to be.  Are you sure?” the old man asked.

But Sophia was already crossing the street so that she would not have to climb over him.   She called out, “yes I am, now goodbye,” before continuing on her ambling walk to the academy.

*           *          *

The regime, once well started, will roll on like a circle in its growth. For sound rearing and education, when they are preserved, produce good natures; and sound natures, in their turn receiving such an education, grow up still better than those before them.

Plato, The Republic, 424a.

In Regeneration is the preservation of the world.[1]  The pattern of wild nature is constant renewal and adjustment to new conditions, the same pattern also constitutes our own society.  One generation feeds into the next generation in a dynamic process of regeneration; each new generation never perfectly resembling its forebears.  Democracy itself may be best understood as the ideal process of regeneration through which society’s laws and values are constantly re-examined and reiterated by the collective contribution of all members.  Because the continual reformation of good policy depends on an informed population, education plays a fundamental role within democracy; it is the medium through which the knowledge and wisdom of previous generations is bequeathed to the next.  The potential progress of society always resides within its youngest members; those most naturalised within the current circumstances who are best situated to imagine what might come next.  Because this democratic process of youthful regeneration is neither entirely predictable nor controllable, it has often been the source of much paternalist fear.  However, we must remain courageous and confident that through a democratic process we are most capable of solving hard political problems; problems that shall sometimes even threaten the continued survival of our society.

We live in a chaotic world.  More accurately, we are part of a chaotic world.  By chaotic I mean a complex system permeated by rich interconnections.  Through the interconnected interdependence, patterns of loopy causality will inevitably arise to form quasi-stable processes (though such processes always remain prone to perishing).  Through our collective experience of the recent earthquakes in Christchurch we have learnt particularly vividly what it means to live in a chaotic environment.  We have particularly learnt this of our own society in the wake of the quakes, as social and political processes that had once seemed stable were suddenly disrupted.  In particular, the suspension of our democratic processes highlights that we must sometimes even need to reclaim our democratic society.  It has made starkly clear that the challenges we face as a society will sometimes even threaten our collective continued existence; there is no magical supernatural force that will ensure our continued survival.  In the past many cities have crumbled into ruins. Unless we are able to resiliently face the challenges that threaten us, there is no reason that our city will not also perish.

Why do some processes (organisms, institutions, or societies) flourish while others perish?  The conditions for continued existence may be stated qua wholes and qua parts, in what may be termed the ‘Two-Fold Principle of Becoming’:

  • As wholes, those processes which create the internal conditions necessary to perpetuate themselves will continue to exist.
  • As parts, those processes that are functioning parts of wider environmental processes, creating the external conditions necessary for their continued existence, will continue to exist.

Every process exists simultaneously as both a whole in itself and as a part in some larger whole, and thus every process must satisfy both conditions to remain in a process of continued becoming for very long.[2]  With the idea of a Two-Fold Principle of Becoming in mind, we can begin to understand the nature of some fundamental flaws in our current economic institutions.  They have proven themselves to be internally unstable, as demonstrated by the 2008 global financial crisis which required massive ad hoc bailouts to save the system from crashing.  They have also proven to be externally destructive of the environmental conditions necessary for their survival, as demonstrated by the catastrophic levels of environmental degradation.  Both of these flaws have been particularly salient within the New Zealand context.

It is possible to understand political societies in terms of collective problem solving processes.  Doing so allows us to evaluate whether they are effective; first at recognising problems, and then at resolving those problems.  The fundamental problem facing any political society is its continued survival.  However, if we understand flourishing as essentially a condition of harmony that is highly resilient to perishing, then the problem of survival can be more richly conceived as the problem of flourishing.  Justice may be understood as an arrangement of social concord or harmony, and as such a just society will also be the most resilient society.  Liberal thought has often celebrated democracy for the preeminence it gives to our liberty.  However, it is also possible to celebrate democracy as the political problem solving process most capable of addressing fundamental economic and environmental challenges facing society.  Because democracy is a process that grows and evolves by its own inertia, it is not possible to predict what outcomes it will produce.  Like the scientific method, though we do not know at the outset what the solution to any particular problem will be, it provides the most reliable and rational method (though still requiring individual and collective creativity to apply) for discovering optimal solutions.

It is worth noting that Aristotle’s reason for defending the claim that “the masses rather than the few best people must be in control,” was that “even though each one among the many is not an excellent man, still it is possible that when they combine they are collectively, though not individually, better than the few best people, just as a dinner provided by many people’s contributions is better than one provided at an individual’s expense; for (on this view) they are many, and each has some part of virtue and intelligence, so that when they combine, the masses become like one human being, with many feet, many hands, and many senses, and similarly for characters and for intellect.” (Aristotle, Politics, 1281b)  The phenomena he describes has been rediscovered by modern science, and is known as ‘the wisdom of the crowd’.  When the educated guesses of many relative experts are combined and averaged, they are more successful at reaching an optimal solution, when compared to the guesses of highly trained individual experts.  Crucially, however, a group non-experts do not exhibit this phenomena.  It is only when all things are given due consideration that we approach the most rational perspective.  Thus, for democracy to function well as a collective problem solving process, it is necessary that the entire population be educated enough to act as relative experts.

The conception of democracy as a process rather than a state is in contrast to much classical political thought, which tended to consider the goal of politics as some prescribed outcome; a static state of perfection much like utopia.  Of course contemporary political thought no longer hopes to realistically achieve such utopia, yet the focus often remains on the idealised outcome of politics.  Paradoxically, the focus on outcome seems to result in a myopic concern for the concerns of the present moment; meaning that we essentially live under a governance of the present, by the present, for the present.  In New Zealand this static utopian ambition was reflected in our pursuit of full employment and economic stability during our period as a welfare state in the mid-twentieth century.  More presently, we can see this conception at work in the current blueprint for rebuilding Christchurch.  The focus is entirely on what the city will finally look like, with no attention to the process of how we as a community will regenerate ourselves.

Neoliberalism has shifted somewhat away from prescribed ideal outcomes and towards simply letting dynamic forces self-select into optimal solutions.  This has been a step in the right direction in this one sense; in a dynamic world the solution to political problems rests in a constant process of regeneration.  However, the neoliberal ideology remains flawed insofar as it provides a dangerously shallow conception of the complex system of human society.  Embracing the absolute mantra of the superiority of the free market reduces our conception of politics to the narrow level of economics.  It is to in essence replace the free polis with the free market.  The neoliberal reforms at the end of the last century significantly redefined the role of government in New Zealand; rather than a democracy fostering cooperative political agency, it became one fostering competitive economic agency.  It could even be argued that Neoliberalism reduces our conception of economics to a shallow one dimensional measure of efficiency;  a conception that would have been unacceptable to classical market liberals such as Adam Smith.  It also remains questionable whether neoliberal rhetoric is even in earnest, as the outcomes neoliberalism produces –  consolidation of power coupled with growing inequality – seem more and more removed from what it once promised.

It may be helpful to re-imagine human society in the metaphorical terms of a healthy ecosystem, for instance a forest (or any other complex organism).  In a forest there are many diverse levels of phenomena, such as trees, bushes, soil, birds, insects, mammals, etc.  Within a healthy ecosystem the thorough interactions of these levels form an interconnected and interdependent whole system.  The waste products of one process are the materials of the next; as the leaves fall in autumn to produce the rich soil for seedlings to sprout in spring. Through constant regeneration it remains stable and resilient to disruptive events, even while itself in a dynamic state of wildness.  Human society also consists of many diverse levels of phenomena, such as politics, economics, religion, science, education, media, arts, etc.  Although these levels are often seen as fundamentally distinct, it is important to be aware of the deep interactions and interdependence within and between them.

Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest might be re-described in my own terms; the processes which are internally stable, and externally well-functioning, continue to exist, while those which are not perish; resulting over time in the seemingly spontaneous evolution of self-regulating stability.  However, neoliberalism retards the evolution of stable order within the whole system by retarding the influence of all spheres other than the market, thus restricting emergent order to the shallow level of maximising economic efficiency.  It retards especially those levels which have traditionally counterbalanced the excesses of pure economic pursuit.  It would be like decreeing that the healthiest forest is the one with the tallest trees, and then using pesticides and herbicides to remove or retard all other flora and fauna  because they hindered the competitive growth of the trees.  In such conditions it would be unreasonable to expect the forest to survive as a forest for very long.

We must admit politics as a legitimate level of phenomena within human society.  It deals essentially with the way people live together, and how our behaviour shapes itself and the world (including other groups of people) around it.  It is what we are doing when we ask questions about power and justice, or success and flourishing.  This understanding of politics lets us see that the religious establishment was the dominant political force in the dark age, insofar as its ideas shaped the way people lived their lives and interacted with one another.  Today this role is primarily filled by economic institutions; what we might call our ‘religion of consumption’.  The market has become the predominate force shaping our lives.  So much of our individual and collective behaviour is shaped by advertising and our jobs within the market.  It sets our aspirations and values.  It suggests what will fulfil us and make us happy.  It provides a conception of success for people to aim at, which is to become rich.  It also tells us what is bad, which is debt.  Debt is the consumers equivalent of sin; bad and yet inevitable, and many people spend a great portion of their lives attempting to redeem themselves from it.  Perhaps we simply need some saviour to come along and forgive our debt; it exists after all, like sin, purely by social convention.

Like the church in the dark ages, there remain a few critics of consumerism.  However they are isolated as fringe heretics, and made to seem unworthy of attention by the greater mass of adherents.  When the church was eventually criticized in the enlightenment, it was not a philosophical complaint over the theological existence of god, but over the political influence that the church exerted over peoples lives, often to their detriment.  If the enlightenment thinkers were living today I expect they would be criticizing the market’s influence in politics as harmful to the common good.  In the enlightenment their critique culminated in the moment of the separation of church and state.  A modern argument along similar lines might be made for some separation of market and state.

[I’ll get around to finishing this properly some time, for now this…] A flourishing society is one which always remains in a process of regenerating itself into perpetuity; failure in this respect is failure absolutely, success in this respect is success absolutely.  Our collective behaviours, even while shaped by consumerism, remain essentially political.  Thus we must consider them in terms of classic political questions; is our society just and fair? Is it stable? etc? [[ Conclude section on principle, and point towards what might follow from this all? ]]  Some problems we face are persistent, never finally resolved. On a personal level this is the problem of feeding yourself and breathing, and we’ve evolved very good processes for solving such problems. The important point is that the solution is not an outcome. persevere.

[1]  Or as Henry Thoreau famously argued in Walking, “in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”

[2]  It might be helpful to attempt to consider these conditions in terms of the following examples; a molecule, a fire, a river, a gene, a heart, a meme, a habit, a person, an institution, or an entire ecosystem. The tension of identity – between something as a unified whole and something as diverse part in some greater whole – is the source of much confusion when thinking about humanity and nature, as well as individuals and communities. Theorists tend to focus exclusively on one or the other.  However, to see the world for what it is, we must let this identity remain in tension. For instance, seeing ourselves as simultaneously both political animals and rational individuals; individuals which are essentially members of communities, and yet as members not reducible to our communities.

ζωον πολιτικον

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Pensees

It is unhealthy to misunderstand morality, or your place amongst nature.

All chaotic systems produce random noise, or Wildness. From this wildness emerges a new level of stable looping orders of being. This Wildness owes mostly to the instant mortality of all events. The world is in a constant flux, and it is only those arrangements which some way or other induce their environment and their own self to somehow produce the conditions necessary for their continued loopy existence. Wildness seems to pervade all levels of being; as a new order arises its parts will start to chaotically interact, however they soon resolve themselves into loopy patterns of change that manage to sustain themselves against constantly pending obscurity. Those arrangements that fail to produce the conditions, internal and external, necessary for their continuation, will simply vanish back into obscurity and not be likely to happen except by random chance. The arrangements that do, on the other hand, loop are able to sustain themselves on a constant loop of becoming. Even still, their being is mortal, and thus never attaining to perfect renewal only ever exists as becoming. But again, these ‘becoming’s, if particularly stable, will produce the conditions for a new level of order to revolve and thus evolve from wildness, and so on.

Fire and civilisation are half alive processes that consume resources to continue. Our civilisation is like a wildfire, and it will put itself out pretty soon. But if we can somehow tame it, and get it into a sustainable loop, like in a hearth, then we might be able to live comfortably.

Dreams

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Pensees

A dreamer lives a life of missed possibilities.

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folie à deux

Posted: December 13, 2011 in Pensees

Of what Nature will our Love be? Will it grow like a weed, that wildest of the kingdom, fast and vigorous, encompassing everything in its tight grasp. Or will it metamorphose, as divine things do, into a grand oak, proud and sturdy with roots dug deep down into earth. Or again will it become an exotic fruit tree, hitherto unknown to these lands, with bloom so delicately fragile that it cannot be plucked without spoil, but must drop of its own into an gaping mouth when ripe. But oh! Pray let it not be as some potted plant or other imprisoned – though thought “cultivated” – garden flower, retarded by laws more chaotic than natures own.

Enlightenment 2.0

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Pensees

[work in progress]

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment. – Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment? (1784)

Are we now living in another period of enlightenment? Throughout history, every time a new technology has empowered more people to communicate with each other in more meaningful ways and become widely disseminated through a society, it has resulted in fundamental changes and shifts within the structure of that society. The introduction of sea commerce between early cultures, the phonetic alphabet, the printing press, the radio, the telephone, and the television, to name a few. The latest of these technologies is the internet, and it has connected people from all over the globe more immediately and richly than any previous technology. We have always suspected that the internet is novel and powerful, but only now are we beginning to get a perspective of the full repercussions of this technology on society.

Over the course of the last month I have witnessed people all over the globe take their tents and friends down to local parks and form ‘occupations’; groups of strangers working together to share ideas for building cohesive but open communities. Most of the friends I have made over the past weeks at the occupation found out about what was happening over Facebook and other ‘social media’. The online communities we have grown up in are beginning to materialise in the physical centres of our cities. I have met a large number of practical idealists at the occupation; men and women, young and old, they all know how to dream of a better world and have the skills to work together towards it. We have learnt the powerful lesson that by combining our ideas and skills we are quickly able to achieve things far beyond anything we could as isolated individuals.

Many people are asking the question ‘what is occupy?’, but seeing no further than the 15 minute attention span that the media has conditioned us to, we miss the deeper question ‘what age is this?’ If we step back and consider what is happening by the scales of history, then we see that deep motions are stirring in our society. Our technology has opened up possibilities that have never existed for humanity before. It is only a matter of time before our whole society catches up with the new playing ground.

It is vital that we remain conscious that this is now our own narrative. +We+ can make this into and about whatever +we+ really want.

We are peaceful, but let us not delude ourselves that we are not entering a time of struggle. Our weapons are love and knowledge, let us wield them bravely.
 

Socrates and Plato

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Autobiographies

Plato faces us with two challenges. The first is to become like his hero, Socrates, and live the examined life of a philosopher. The second is in responce to a central question within the dialouges; is it possible to pass on wisdom? If we meet the challenge of becoming like Socrates, then this question is immediately answered in the affirmative; it is possible to pass on wisdom, because Plato has passed some to us. This raises the second challenge, to become like the author, Plato, and teach others to live the examined life of a philosopher.

[cf. life]

Negation

Posted: January 27, 2011 in Pensees

when you’re looking for something that isn’t there, you won’t find it

Reforms

Posted: January 21, 2011 in Dialogue

I do declare that a clean room is more soothing for the soul than a clean conscience.
You only say that my friend because you don’t know what a clean conscience feels like.

Pregnancy

Posted: November 26, 2010 in Dialogue

Q—: Can you imagine a man, having read and heard everything written and spoken, with nothing more to say?

A—: Of course.

Q: And is his silence anything other than the most profound statement left to make?

A: Perhaps.

Q: But it nonetheless would be a statement?

A: Sure.

Q: Then such a man cannot be imagined after all?

A: It appears not.

The First Supper

Posted: November 20, 2010 in Stories

We sit around an ancient oak table, its round top is covered in arcane graffiti. The darkness surrounding us plays tricks on our eyes if we stare too long or hard. We are not sure if our eyes are playing, or if there really is a tiny speck of a man far in the distance walking towards us. It grows into a speck before fully resolving itself into a small-because-faraway man. After an eternity, or perhaps a single moment, he has arrived, a full-scale human waiter. He introduces himself as Karma. After seeing to our comfort, he asks us what we would like to order.

Historian

Posted: October 26, 2010 in Autobiographies

When thinking as a historian, I often wonder whether the men and women I am studying were possibly consciously aware of the mystery they were setting down for future genereations to solve.

Philosophy of Language

Posted: September 27, 2010 in Pensees

a philosopher sculpts [appearances of] ideas out of words

The professor had a plan. And the professor was a sick man. A sick man with a plan. Once upon a time, in the professors distant past, he had happened upon the idea of writing an article on some arcane subject, but which contained the secret knowledge of a deep and secret philosophy, and placing it gently, without a stir, into the cauldron of knowledge. And now, many years since the publication of one such paper, the professor sets assignments, for his acolytes, in which perhaps only once or twice a century, some bright student would come across it in their research, and thereby become the next secret member of the group, taking up the life of a professor in order to keep passing on this secret knowledge, and with it, their secret illness.

This is a story.

Posted: July 9, 2010 in Stories
Tags:

This is a story. It is a story about a girl named telly, and a girl named leni. It is an existential story concerning the end of love. Looking through another you from the past, but from the perspective of a latter and now current version of yourself. – It contains an account of an almost perfectly beautiful date ice skating with an amazingly beautiful young woman, and the simultaneous mental digestion of the fact that a love of three years had met annihilation. – This account is also at least approximately ninety percent true. – [It also contains three additions and three ghost edits.] Write me.

Art:

Posted: July 3, 2010 in Pensees

belongs in caves

Normal

Posted: January 23, 2010 in Autobiographies

I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal, I’m normal. This is not normal.

Freedom:

Posted: January 9, 2010 in Pensees

our only desire for freedom is to relinquish it

Morality:

Posted: January 5, 2010 in Pensees

rationality applied to life

Wisdom:

Posted: December 31, 2009 in Pensees

the ability to live well, despite lacking knowledge of the good life

Philosophy

Posted: December 17, 2009 in Autobiographies

There are two opinions held regarding the philosophers; one by its practitioners, and the other by its detractors. The detractors believe that the philosophers come up with unusual ideas and then think up reasons for them. The practitioners on the other hand believe that they begin to think of reasons and are then lead to unusual ideas.

Apples

Posted: November 12, 2009 in Autobiographies

My childhood is singularly remarkable for the fact that I was never forced to steal an apple.

Pain:

Posted: November 12, 2009 in Pensees

it is not when something ends that we ruminate on past failures, but when something begins

Nature:

Posted: October 22, 2009 in Pensees

mother step-dad nature

Dreams:

Posted: October 7, 2009 in Pensees

every dream is born of a dull reality

please don’t throw stones

Posted: September 16, 2009 in Poems

my heart is just a puddle,
you are just a raindrop.

Stoicism:

Posted: February 9, 2009 in Pensees

pure reason leads to pure resignation

Enlightenment:

Posted: December 25, 2008 in Dialogue

Q. But isn’t it hard to live in a state of perpetual doubt?
A. Ignorance, like almost anything else, is something you learn to live without after a while.

Questions:

Posted: December 13, 2008 in Pensees

* What do you mean?
* Why do you think that?
* How does that follow?

Drugs:

Posted: December 13, 2008 in Pensees

The opiate of one generation becomes the birth defect of the next.

Failure

Posted: November 17, 2008 in Autobiographies

Failure, this is honesty. Who am I trying to fool anyway. Loneliness, I am lonely, alone. We all whither and fade in isolation, we all die alone. I write, without elegance, lacking style. It feels like a sorry attempt at prose. A fool only fools himself. What a charade, does it look like I’m holding things together from out there? I lie, I don’t want to be a hassle, a fuss, you couldn’t help anyway. I’m starving, dying slowly in what I suspect is more than just a poetic expression. A big empty room to match my big empty life. Save the world? Save the poor, the starving? I can’t even help myself. I’m vain, I hate vanity, but I am. I feel all wrong, my body doesn’t fit, I don’t act right, I don’t look right. Am I really this unattractive? You will hate me if I admit I feel fat, or at least chubby. No one understands what I write in any case. I suspect I shall just leave it be. I could lie and say it is preventing my thesis, but I just don’t know what to write for it anyway. My dreams are so hard, so impossible, so demanding. I give up.

My Adam

Posted: October 20, 2008 in Stories
Tags:

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I am a tourist, an observer, a loner. Perched on my windowsill in my unlit room gazing into my dull shadowy alleyway below I see a murky eyed man dressed in drag gray stumble into view. He has the look of a man coming from nowhere simply to return again, with only the differing shades of indistinguishable gray to meter out the moments. I mentally christen him Adam, even strangers deserve names. His life is written into his ravaged features as clearly as any history written in a musty old tome. His crushed posture tells of a man that has been trying to put his life together his whole life, though without much success.

In the beginning there was Adam. He had been born; the existent, with a slosh and flop, had come into existence. But that is now in his distant past, at least an epoch ago. His birth must be an occurrence that he infers from the fact that he now exists, rather than a fact he derives from any particular memory. His hands, ruddy and callous, suggest a youth spent working in the garden growing vegetables, which he most likely sold at the local market. As his whithered arm makes a gentle brushing movement through the empty air a forgotten smile swims across his face, betraying that he had once enjoyed animal companions. The etched look of sorrow that chases the smile from his face speaks of the fate those childhood companions meet. Farm yard pets, sheep and pigs, with names he can no longer recall, which grew into mere livestock and were slaughtered at his hand accordingly. His jaunting nose, broken in adolescence during blood thirsty schoolyard fights, tames the earlier slaughter in comparison. He had gone on to pursue a higher education, evidenced by the shabby satchel slung from his slouched shoulder, a worm-eaten book slipping out. Tima, in metallic gray lettering, is discernible along the half concealed spine. A dull silver cross hanging from his neck hints that the brief golden age of learning, proving unsatisfactory, had been replaced with the consolations of faith. Matching the silver pedant is a silver ring, worn on his ring finger, eternal proof of his vows to some dead or divorced girl. Predominantly his appearance testifies to a life of gloom and doom. Most of his hair has fallen out, what little remains is unkempt, soiled, and stained into various oily shades of gray. Long years of resigned apathy have convinced his disgusting grubby feet to toe the same line. Poverty inhabits the very wrinkles and furrows covering his skin. His cloudy cataractic eyes cease to see clearly, resigned to witnessing so many unspeakable sorrows. Eyes that no longer provide a window to the soul, instead vaguely reflect a bottomless depression.

My Adam stops, bent over double, to hack out a cough. The alleyway seems to bend double in turn and the echo his hacking cough, each reverberation more distorted and distant than it’s predecessor. My overcast gray sky begins to weep a gentle drizzle down upon my miserable alley containing my miserable man. As if determined to echo his surroundings to the same impeccable standard they have set, the man begins to weep. My weeping murky eyed stranger fumbles in his satchel and recovers a crumpled cigarette. Shaking hands press it to his lips, fond memories warming his cold expression. A spark defiantly springs into and out of existence within the alleyway, the occasion of a lighter. As he draws on the cigarette his hitherto vacant mind, like the tobacco, brightly flares into life. Inhaling smoke enlightens his mind, producing a look of anxious pleasure mixed with conditioned tedium. His murky eyes, no longer murky, now reflect thoughts of reason and equality, nay, humanity itself! Adam straightens up, clears eyes taking in the oppressing alleyway. For a flash second I swear he discovers my presence, the voyeur behind the window, but his gaze sweeps past without any sign of recognition.

Adam’s eyes cloud over once more, he clutches his chest. The cigarette, half smoked, topples from his lips and is quickly extinguished in a muddy puddle. A tumbling heap for a moment, Adam lands splayed on his back, fingers still clenching at his heart. A mushroom of smoke slowly rises from Adam’s dead lips.

By Weston Floyd

Relationships:

Posted: June 23, 2008 in Pensees

the purpose of any relationship, whether it is between friends, family, or lovers, is to help each other grow, emotionally, intellectually, and morally, as people

The Tunnel

Posted: June 3, 2008 in Stories

The sun was at her zenith as I walked along the abandoned railway track. Springtime was taking its toll; bright flowers of every colour covered the rolling hills that formed the valley through which my track lay. It was calm, peaceful, almost meditative walking along the tracks in relative silence. Lonely foot fall after lonely foot fall, falling in time with sleeper after sleeper. The only audible noise was that of Nature herself, the undertone from the wind swimming all around, the overtone from the stream which gushed gaily over the bright red lichen covered rocks. Something was inviting me along the tracks, drawing me towards its ineffable source. The hills begun to grow steeper on each side of the valley as my meditations progressed. And then behold! I saw ahead of me that the valley would, as I had necessarily understood, come to an end. The impediment to my meditations took the form of a looming mountain that arched the entire width of the valley. Looking beyond I caught sight of two snow tipped peaks whose beauty cannot be matched by words. The tracks drove into a dark thicket of dark pines covering a large patch of the impending mountain. I begun to wish that each moment now spent were instead an eternity, not to wonder what each meant, nor where it would lead, but to just be. And yet I felt myself projected towards one moment, one shared experience; inconceivable, inevitable, and sublime.

The abandoned railway tracks drew me into the thicket. The song of Nature that I had enjoyed hitherto was now drowned out by the loud thump, thump, of my heart. The pines were at first but light-hearted and subtle saplings; their soft, gentle aspect putting me at ease, inviting me to carry on. My steps then drew me into the shadows of great dark pines towering above me, filling my heart with terror. I altered my stride in an act of defiance, abandoning the melodic step from sleeper to sleeper, adopting in its place the balancing act of a tightrope walk along a single iron beam. Though not demanding much concentration, it was enough to draw my mind from the dark omens towering around me. Thus absorbed I continued for some while, until I chanced to raise my gaze and was confronted by a dark opening in the mountain ahead of me. Surrounded by a rough jagged rock face was a perfectly formed arc, into which the railway track relentlessly plunged. An ornate green stained copper plate set at the highest point proudly christened the pitch black hole as Leo V. Looking above I beheld a perfectly formed round boulder, singularly balanced on a precarious precipice directly above the entrance. Not knowing what lay within, whither I would be lead, filled at once with a sense of terror and a sense of overwhelming desire, I excitedly stepped through the threshold.

Love

Posted: May 8, 2008 in Poems

Love is a mean feature of our hearts;

It knows no master,

Respects no bounds,

Flows without hindrance,

But commands everything in it’s path.

i miss you

Posted: April 27, 2008 in Poems

I hate you,

I love you.

Fuck you,

Thank you.

Culture:

Posted: March 20, 2008 in Pensees

i destroy myself because I find my culture unfit for humans, but that is a fault in my culture, not in my humanity

Children:

Posted: March 3, 2008 in Pensees

children are not free; they are merely little monkeys whom we are willing to forgive for failing to imitate the big monkeys appropriately

So, I’m not actually dead. I am working on it however; recently I took up smoking, which is really just a slow and glorified form of suicide.

Nor am I truely a pessimist. I am working on it however; in truth I am a fallen optimist, which is really a lot worse than just being a pessimist naturally.

Pending:

Posted: February 29, 2008 in Pensees

it seems fitting to acquire a new book in which to write new ideas; old books are for old ideas