Monday, December 8, 2014

Meaning, Connection and Mind. The Foundation for Thoughtful, Loving Structure

This is the second time I have endeavored to write this essay. I wrote the first one Saturday, saved it, so I thought, and closed down the document program to let it sit for a while before I came back to it for some polishing. Turns out this was not to be.

The save didn't work because I forgot that the security program I use (for virtually anti everything) has a new version of itself in place. This new version loves its “Sand Box” mode so much that the authors decided that certain applications ought to be run in it by default. And just to be sure we're all on the same page here, “Sand Box” mode in this context is simply a virtual work space inside of Windows. A mode I hasten to add is a must for web browsing. It was a default for the documents app simply because of the language this app was written in, which has newly discovered vulnerabilities.

I mention this only to illustrate one more aspect of how silly the human mind can be.

As you can imagine I was royally pissed. Took me all day to get passed it. To let go of that sense of unbelievable injustice. All feelings that I knew in one part of my mind were complete nonsense, but for which I was powerless to stop the flood of feeling over. I'm sure you get the picture.

The reason it's acute for me is that articulating something I feel is important is always an intense struggle; both as a joyous and frustrating experience. This is so because, for me, the vocabulary of any language is an immense block of stone. White marble perhaps as it relates to a blank sheet of paper.

In any case, though, every time I begin something I am confronted by the fact that, inside of that immense block, is virtually everything that we can know or feel; specified in a brilliant spectrum of forms of precision and effect; everything from coldly analytical, to obnoxiously ostentatious. You get to the part of the spectrum of the thing you want to express by chipping away at the inappropriate, as well as the irrelevant, fragments so that just the right balance between form and content are achieved; which of course never happens to the full degree possible. There is both joy and frustration at the mere fact of getting close; precisely because of how relative “close” can be.

I thought what I did yesterday was fairly close. And then I lost it. For that time yesterday I felt like I'd just chiseled out a form that would never be duplicated, which I then promptly dropped, letting if be smashed into a million bits of meaningless ones and zeros. Nonsense as already stated of course, but that's the human ego for you.

There were two things I wanted to cover here. The first was to explain why it sometimes takes me a while to post anything, and the second was to talk about how connection, and shared meaning, are vanishing all around us; and as a result, there comes to be less and less structure left to encourage the ability to counter this trend in the first place.

The first issue is simply what results when someone spends an inordinate amount of time as completely immersed as they possibly can be into the current roiling hurricane of fact, fiction, absurdity, breath taking discovery, and gut wrenching horror, that is the info-sphere today; that multichannel atmosphere for the mind that more or less renders the interaction of our physical world and the six billion or so people (as meaning processors) who make choices in it.

Precisely because of what I have indicated as trending now, it can take a toll on a person. It also doesn't help much when that person suffers from severe depression, even if they weren't so immersed. Severity punctuated by the fact that it takes the maximum recommended adult dosage of Sertraline to make it even approachable as manageable.

Mind you, I wanted to tell you this not because I need any sympathy. My youngest brother died of severe cerebral palsy at the age of six. He wasted away to the state of extreme starvation simply because we could not pump enough calories into him to offset the constant, virtually complete, body rigidity his lack of muscle control left his body in. And I mention that only to convey the degree to which I understand how lucky I am despite of anything else I've had to overcome. And to acknowledge as well that there are literally millions and millions of others, in various parts of the world, who continue to suffer in the extreme; as least as much, if not more, than my even my brother did. And that this is intolerable, unconscionable, as well as immoral.

The fact is, I feel that I owe those few of you who have continued to pay some attention to what I have had to say; as well as to those who simply haven't had a chance to happen upon it yet. I'd like to believe that you've kept the faith that there might be something here of importance. Just as I'd like to believe that I might have been lucky enough to stumble onto something important, let alone the ability to express it properly; even after over twenty years of trying.

I haven't given up because you haven't given up looking for some answers; regardless of whether my take on things is the right one or not; though I would certainly settle quite amicably for simply being temporarily useful in getting any and all to a better answer.

The fact of the matter is that meaning and connection ought to be of immense concern for all of us now. The expansion of our part of the universe is accelerating its rate of expansion, even as we seem to whirl away from meaningful ties to each other faster and faster as well.

Having said that, though, I am not trying to suggest that there is a direct linkage. A physicist will tell you that this expansion is all pervasive in the Cosmos, and that's certainly possible. Whatever the relative probabilities might be, it is also possible that this expansion is localized to the event horizon formed by the speed of light and the distance already created by past expansion (perhaps cutting us off from ever getting to, or getting anything from the rest of what was once a unified reality). We already know that the rate of expansion can change, as the great expansion illustrated early on. Perhaps we are bubbling out into our own zone of entropy; our own cold new reality.

In any case, though, I cannot help but believe that, whatever dark energy might ultimately be, it and our own disconnect, are related to some degree at least. I believe this because, at a philosophical level, there can be no meaning, just as there can be no referencing focal point to base relativity on, without singular meaning processing systems. And ultimately, a sentient entity has to be involved in making the whole notion of meaning processing possible in the first place. Sentient entities that observe, categorize, elaborate on and exercise choice based on that processing. For without that there would be no need for probabilities at all. Everything would simply be locked into the measured dictates of certain fundamentals in various wave/field equations.

But I am getting ahead of myself here. I want to provide you with a little bit of juxtaposition to help illustrate why this has come to a head for me at this point in time.

As those of you who have been reading recently will know, there are two books that have got me to thinking with a little more focus. Those are “The First Word” by Christine Kenneally and “The Evolution of Consciousness” by Robert Ornstein.

In addition, however, several movies have been kicking around in my head for years, and a recent one only made the rest stand out more. Those moves are “The Forbidden Planet,” “Avatar,” and most recently, “The Congress.”

Certainly there are others also related in theme, but these are the ones that I seem to keep referring back to.

In “The Forbidden Planet” Walter Pigeon, Leslie Nielsen, and Ann Francis are on hand to delve into the mystery of a race called the “Krell.” Nothing is left of the Krell on the surface of the planet Pigeon’s character, as the Philologist in a scientific team sent to study it, has come to find out. Only the truly immense (8,000 cubic miles) machine buried beneath the surface is left. Suffused with technology a million years ahead of our own.

The Krell destroyed themselves the moment they achieved what was supposed to be their crowning goal: the ability to affect the physical world without any immediate physical instrumentality. The ability to create, or change, anything of or around them with only a thought. All powered by this energy creating machine without equal.

As is usually the case, they hadn't anticipated all of the ramifications of what having this new ability might entail. Just a little thing like the lower brain left over from their rise, in evolutionary steps, from whatever species was lucky enough to find itself in not only a gravity dependent, three dimensional physical space, but with opposing digits, vertical symmetry, and at least one set of true arms and legs that would allow for running, climbing, throwing, carrying and, most importantly, grasping. For it is in the ability to grasp that we acquire the notion of handle. Because once you have a handle for everything you can begin to manipulate not only physical things on a whole new level, you are able to do the same with interior layers of abstraction; as in the naming of things which is the objectifying foundation of language.

That mistake cost them dearly as the lower brain is where all of the base instincts and emotions come from. The fears and lusts. The rage or rapture that being socialized, as cooperation had tremendous adaptive advantage, had to put constraints on. Learned responses to inappropriate urges that would make cooperating nearly impossible. The animal part of the brain that the sudden explosion of neurons and synaptic connections that overlaid it would come to try and ignore, and/or forget, most of the time. Passions that might not be so helpful if they were tied directly to a machine designed only to turn thought into action and effect.

The subconscious mind of Pigeon’s character is discovered to be responsible for killing all but him and his newly acquired wife out the original scientific team. Killed them because they wanted to leave a planet with such dangerous power and he didn't. He had stumbled upon the mind expansion apparatus. He had survived it where the captain of the expedition had not. And once expanded his mind could begin to unravel the Krell language. Unfortunately, it could also access the Krell thought translator, if only from within his dreams.

This story, you see, is a powerful metaphor. A metaphor best expressed for my part by the little turn of expression I use: “Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to receive, our fictions.”

Our society now, powered by an electrified form of Capitalism, approaches what the Krell created. It is an electric dream machine now precisely because that is what motivates consumption the best. And our technology winds up with ever more clever ways to not only encourage and shape the dreams, but to know what we might be dreaming at any given moment, and then to be able to produce whatever object or effect to best satisfy that dream; that fantasy. And to get it to you ever more quickly.

It can do this because all pervasive, external observation, is soon to be supplanted with instrumentality in direct contact with ever greater parts of our being; giving not only more fidelity and resolution to the data collected, but to what can then be returned as the thing consumed.

If you have seen the other movies on my list you can probably already see where I am going with this. “Avatar” alone prompted a lengthy essay on what I found to be the amazing contrast it presents concerning connection. A movie that broke new ground in creating a new, immersive viewing experience; all so that it could tell a story that had connection, and its relative lack thereof, as its primary focus. Portraying a native people absolutely connected to each other, as well as the unbelievably beautiful, and fantastic, world they lived in, being set upon by beings who have come to embody almost absolute disconnection with virtually everything around them.

On the surface it was a rather simplistic story of greed, partially belied by the “Unobtanium” the humans were supposedly there to mine; when of course we all know that what is really at stake here is power, and the base fear that creates the irrational need to horde whatever can be horded in the first place. Thinking that, by placating this one fear, we will be in control and nothing else will matter.

The last movie, however, is a real topper for me. A fine bit of punctuation to mark just how crazy the path we are on is. That movie, “The Congress,” has Robin Wright basically portraying herself. more or less. She is shown here to be an actress who has squandered virtually all of the acting opportunities she's been offered, after “Princess Bride,” because of her son. He has an unnamed affliction that will eventually leave him deaf and blind, while leaving untouched a mind that might be unbelievably creative; a physical disconnect that is suggested to be quite prescient in terms of where interactive technology might be going in the story.

Harvey Keitel plays her agent of long standing. The story starts with Keitel telling her that she has one last shot at securing a contract with Miramax. It will later be revealed that this contract will be to acquire her complete physical and emotional persona in the form of digital scanning. Once collected the studio will own all rights to the utilization of that persona in the portrayal of whatever character and story the studio wishes to undertake. From that point forward she will no longer be an actress of any sort, and banned from expressing her persona in any kind of portrayal for public or private consumption.

And thus do we see a new layering of abstraction. The old fear certain natives had of a picture capturing their soul takes a significant step towards being true. One person's nearly entire physical and emotional potential for expression captured inside a computer and ready for presentation of whatever the market desires (porn was excluded here, but you know that restraint wouldn't last long, seeing as how code is always vulnerable to attack and/or theft).

Ms Wright resists at first, of course, but in several truly heart breaking scenes with Keitel it is made clear to her that it is either this or nothing. It is so not only because of her proclivities for being difficult, but for the studio's desire to remove all human elements in the creation of this particular form of entertainment. Cost effective production demands it. Computer games are already having the movie industry's ass for lunch as it is. They have to compete more effectively or die.

The movie then jumps 20 years into the future. We then see a gray haired Robin Wright driving with stoic resignation towards a meeting with the heads of Miramax; now a Japanese and American conglomerate. They want to renew the contract but, as Robin will find out, they want to take her persona into a new realm of consumptive technology.

Not only have their chemists discovered the chemical means to have the human brain perceive and feel within an engineered reality that can be shared, they have gone the extra step of creating chemical formulations that would allow a person to assume all of the captured essence of the personalities of their choice while in these new “realities.” You simply drink the formula and you become that person.

The real kicker in this is that, in order to participate in this meeting, Robin must agree to sniff the concoction that puts her in the outlandish cartoon that the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry have decided is the “reality du jour.” The meeting site is, in fact, a restricted animation zone. And at the gala surrounding this meeting she will be used to announce that everyone can be whatever personality they desire to be, and to hell with “Miller Time.” If you think that's a buzz just wait till you can play around with Anniston, or Deschanel, or Jolie, or whoever else, from the inside out.

We get a feel for the kinds of chaos this kind of layered abstraction can have on connection and meaning, when rebels attack the gathering, but the movie ends with a kind of ambiguity and ambivalence towards what might ultimately be achieved by chemical manifestation of our deepest dreams. Ego may supposedly be freed from caring about achievement, or the lack thereof, and therefore jealousy, because we will all have the ability to find true nirvana. On the other hand, when Robin decides to remove herself from the shared fantasy, she sees the sorry state of the former “real world,” and those who still in habit it.

The other side of the coin, of course, is the direct electrical connection to the brain so that we might simply become self processed avatars of our own in endless plastic environments; limited only by imagination and raw computing power. That this might be a truly involving experience goes without question. What we have to recognize, however, is that one form of experience will always have things the other does not.

No matter what the fidelity that our techniques are able to achieve, there will always be certain elements that cannot be measured and abstracted completely, so as to be manipulable. Elements of effect and reaction that may well be at least as subtle as the butterfly wings whose movement in one place sets in motion a hurricane in another. Elements of life energy for instance that are impossible to fully understand, let alone know the importance of.

Our connection to meaning, and the structures that create those meanings, as well as the larger impact all of that has on the Cosmos in general, feeding back to us in turn, is ignored at the peril of a good deal more than just this one vector of experience association we like to think of as a reality. Meaning and Love go hand in hand. Just as abstraction and mind go hand in hand. The bottom line here needs to be the effort to live a proper balance between the two; knowing that this balance will seldom be symmetrical, and never static. In my opinion we will never be able to achieve even attempting to work this balance if we continue within the absurd commercial, commodity, form of social organization we call Capitalism. We must seek an alternative and we must begin as soon as we can.

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