October 10, 2010

Happiness tends to Zero

This post was inspired by the short film "Happiness Tends to Infinity," (recommended) by Yinka Selley.

I met an engineer in a design room in the Stanmore branch of Marconi Defence systems, a missile company at which I worked. The design room was a Porta Cabin and the interior decor rather bleak. The engineer sat behind one of those drawing boards equipped with a mechanical set-square-come-ruler-thing.

He moved it adroitly, across plans for missiles, I presume. Prior to working for Marconi, he had been in the Navy and had travelled the world. He had a different equation of happiness, which was based on one of Newtonfsf laws, the second I think. Newton's second law is often expressed as


or force equals mass times acceleration.

Of these the engineer equated force with happiness and velocity with materialistic states of being including health, and acceleration with changes in these states. I am not sure if how mass figured in the equation but perhaps it has something to do with attachment - the number of people with whom one shares things being a major, but not determining factor. The above equation can be rewritten as

Force = mass x (velocity2 - velocity1)/time

Which may be substituted for

Happiness = attachment x (state1 - state2)/time

In other words people feel happiness when they are ggetting thereh, but not when they have got there. Or that that states - such as being rich, being healthy, or whatever - do not himself or herself cause happiness or unhappiness. Happiness cannot be stored or accumulated. The engineerfs equation seemed quite plausible, at the time.

Bearing in mind that life tends to draw an arc, which ends in death, while on the rise our achievements bring us happiness as long as we do not achieve them, and in the longer term at least for the second part the general trend is down. Given a steady state, or one which is not changing much,

Happiness/Sadness = attachment * (state1 - state2)/time

If state1 = state2 then Happiness = 0

The engineer recommended marriage (this was the topic of our conversation, and how he had ended up in Stanmore) as a way of introducing waves (up and downs) into ones life, without which there would be no happiness, so he claimed.

Interestingly, this equation is almost the reverse of that proposed by Yinka Selley.

This does not mean that either is incorrect.

On the contrary, perhaps zero and infinity meet! In my limited experience of Buddhism the reduction of attachment is said to result in being ultimately free from suffering. This is pretty darn good. And sometimes accompanied by rapture. And, attachment and anticipation are clearly linked. I am not sure how.... perhaps attachment is anticipation frozen, or the attempt.

Posted by timtak at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2004

Self-division and the Self

A colleague asked me about "Self-division" and the self today. In particular, why do some people like Lacan and Derrida claim that having a self, or being an individual leads to "Self-division"?

Here is the quote (I am very sorry that I do not know who it is a quote from...)
Though Derrida's work is widely read as a means of undermining Western power structures,  privileging the spoken text, with its reference to an elusive "transcendent," is common to all cultures, and the "violent" binary oppositions he identifies as attributes of Western philosophy are found in great many societies.  No doubt the stress on the individual in Western thought has exacerbated our self-division and produced a heightened emphasis on the "other," who defines us.

What is going on here? What is this "priveleging spoke text?" What has this to do with a reference to a transcendent, or to "stress on the individual"?

If it all sounds like gobbledigook, you are forgiven. What follows is my take on this French philosophy.

First of all, I do not like the way that Derrida, Lacan and other postmodernists choose to express themselves. They are not kind to their readers. I find their books very difficult to understand. They do not give me the impression that they are trying to make themselves understood. But at the same time, I think that the same postmodernists are better than most other philosophers at their job. They are vague, and possibly even deliberately convoluted but they get to points other philosophers do not reach.

In order to explain the above summary of Derrida, I use my poor understanding of Lacan.

According to Lacan the human as she arrives in the world is a pretty chaotic thing. Lacan says that there is no centre to the human being.

What human being is Lacan talking about? I am probably misunderstanding Lacan here, but for me, the human as he comes into the world, that Lacan is talking about, is the immediate world of experience. This "immediate world of experience" is not something that I should give even that name to. But following people like one Dr. Nishida, the "immediate world of experience" is experience before we have interpretted it at all. It is the "just is" of experience, the raw data. In Buddhist terms this raw data is perhaps "the buddha," or enlightenment. I would not want to put to much stress on this, because I am not certain but perhaps we are all born as Buddhas. That is to say that when we are babies we do not yet have, or believe in,  a lot of interpretations of our world. We simply experience our world.

And where are we in that experience? My Lacano-Buddhist answer is that we are not their at all, or we are that experience itself and that comes to the same thing. 

When I am awake I experience stuff. When I dream I experience stuff. When I shut my eyes I experience stuff. The world of my experience is full of something. The "something" that is for me the most apparent is my visual field. We can all see some thing now. It is roughly circular.

When I dream I know that I am not seeing anything outside of me. When I imagine the world I know that I am not seeing anything outside of me. But both my dreams and my imaginings bear a striking resemblance to the experience of the world. So much so that sometimes we don't even know that we are dreaming. I can shut my eyes and still imagine something that is almost identical to the thing that I see when my eyes are open. In both cases I see something like a screen, a round screen.

There is something round going on! Descartes could be sure of his existance but I am sure only of "there is something round." One may presume that there is something, a me, watching that round thing but I have never seen it (me). All I can be sure I have experienced is experience itself. All those that agree with Rene Descartes will be sure that there is a something else, themselves that is experiencing their experiences: an observer. This may be the case. But as far as I am concerned at least, I have not and I can not experience that experiencer. No matter how fast I turn my head, no matter how many mirrors I look into, not matter what I do, I only ever see my experience and not the person that is experiencing it.

The strange thing about experience is that we can say very little about it. For example one of the most poingant thing in my experience is color. For exampel I will soon be able to see the color red.  Yep, I can see it. One small area of the roundish screen that I am now looking at is red. We may agree on that. However the quality of the experience for me is not something that I can communicate to you. It definately has a quality but there is a chance that when I see red you see blue.  So long as we both agree that this is red and this is blue then we will call the experiences that we have as red and blue. I deliberately reversed them there. The actual experience that I have and the actual experience that you have is not something that either of us can talk about. And it seems to me that it is quite possible that the quality of my experience could be different from yours. We here that some people are color blind. They often do not know until they go for exams to be pilots. Color blindness tests show us that some people are unable to distinguish between two colors. But if the quality of red that I see were what you called blue it would make no difference. We would still call the same red thing red even though we were experiencing completely different things. Even that statement is not allowable though because there is no talking about my experience. I can convey nothing of the quality of my experience to you. I can say nothing of that experience even to myself. For me, red has a certain quality. I can never convey that quality to anyone. It is an unsayable. That is why one might say that the world of my experience is "chaotic." All of it is completely undescribable.

Okay so here we are experiencing our undescribable experiences. But are we even sure that there is anyone doing the experiencing? Lacan and Derrida say that we cannot be sure. Both you and I assume that there is someone in front of this circle of light but both you and I have only ever seen the experience and not ourselves.

Both of us however believe that there is something else other than our experience. Lacan seems to be saying that this is a mistake. We are that experience but all of us believe in something else that is experiencing.

According to Lacan we make this mistake in two ways. First of all look at our own bodies directly or in a mirror. Then we assume that the thing that is seeing this disk of light is visible person or image. Or at the very least inside that image. Another way that assume that we are infront of the disk by believing in language. It seems to stand to reason that if "I am experiencing a oval disk of light" then there is something called "I" that is doing the seeing. 

Lacan says however that this is a mistake. Not just "the person that I am cannot be reflected in a mirror" but there is no centre, no person to reflect. 

However, Lacan says, we all identify with something. This is a mistake that we all make. We all think that we either the person that we can imagine or the person that we refer to when we say "I."

Returning to Derrida. Derrida is fanatical about phonocentric language. This language that you can see is written. You can see it. But when you read the words that I am writing then you hear in your mind remembered phonemes. As you "pronounce" each word a silent sound is experience by you. As each word is sounded or read as soon as you move onto the next one the previous word has disappeared. Phonemes, remembered or otherwise, are like that. 

It is not clear to me whether Derrida puts the chicken first or the egg, but he says that the phonetic medium of language is particularly good at convincing us that we are it. The very fact that the phonetic sign is so good at disappearing, enables us to belive that is refer to who we really are.

It seems to me that I have been even more incomprehensible that Derrida! Ach. I forgive him. Almost.

Posted by timtak at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 05, 2004

Meditation for beginners

If truth be known I meditate very little. This article is neither an account of my experience nor a recommendation to meditate, but merely an explanation of my understanding of what meditation is. Having made it clear that follows is merely my own understanding of meditation, so I will try and leave out clauses of the form "in my opinion," or "I think." Please take them as read.

There are all sorts of techniques for meditation. Using the term broadly one might include: the orthordox sitting meditation of zen and perhaps even TM, which may include counting of breaths, attempts to silence the mind or to seek the self, then there is chanting meditation of various kinds, meditation staring at a mandala, meditation staring at a statue of the buddha often accompanied by chanting, thinking about Zen koans (riddles), meditation with meaningful content such as thinking about the extent to which one is indebted to everyone and about ones death or illness, mediation involving physical contortion or movement such as Yoga and various dances or prostrations, Shinto meditation involving sitting under waterfalls, pretending that one is rowing on dry land.

The point of all these techniques is to experience "enlightenment:" to understand what the world is really like. The significant point about this "understanding" is however a negative one. That is not to say that it is a bad understanding, but one in which one understands the limits of ones understanding.

Meditation attempts to achieve that which Socrates claimed to be aiming for. He said that that the wise man is the man that knows how little he knows. And in this, Socrates hit the bullseye. Unfortunately the Socrates in Plato's books is a guy that ends up claiming that he knows a lot of things. Should you succeed in meditation, however, you will understand just how limited your understanding is.

Furthermore, and perhaps this is where meditation parts company with Socrates, "enlightenment," is not just realising that you don't know, it is also realising that what you thought you knew is incorrect. If you are successful at meditation then you will realise that all the things that you thought were true, were in fact a big lie, a fiction or illusion.  

Finally, as far as preamble goes, the "understanding" that one might achieve from meditation is not an intellectual one. It is an experience. In everyday life we are aware of the distinction between levels of understanding. For example, if you read a lot of books about golf and you really understand golf you will still not understand it experimentially. Or you might read theories of love (such as Eric Fromm's "The art of loving") but until you do it and have the experience then you won't understand what love is. Similarly reading this explanation of meditation, and even if I were in some sense right, and even if you, dear reader, agree then you will not have experienced the "understanding" that meditation gives. It is definately an experience and not something that you get from a book or blog.

Okay so what is the point of meditation?

The idea is that humans are all the time creating models of their world. We understand our world in human terms that is to say "relatively," relative to our human perspective. 

There are some examples of this relative thinking in the book "The little prince." The Little Prince meets an accountant that wants to know how much everything costs. The accountant only understand the world in terms of the bottom line. The Little Prince meets a king and the King only understand people in terms of whether they are his subject or not. To the King, people are either subjects or not subjects. The king is unable to see people in their massive variety, but only using his own measure "my subject or not."

Another way at getting towards an understanding of relative thinking is to consider the world as understood by a "simpler" form of life. This is only a thought experiment, because the situation in humans is perhaps even more deluded but we can wonder how does an earthworm undertstand the world? Perhaps in less dimensions? Perhaps in terms of things that can be suqiggled through and things that can not. How about a bat? Perhaps a bat understand the world in terms of things that bounce back sound and is ignorant of things (like the color of the setting sun) that do not. There is not way that we can enter the mind of a bat, cat or earthworm but perhaps we can appreciate that the world they understand is limited by their sense organs and their objectives. They probably ignore things that they are not interested in. They probably don't think that things that they cannot sense exist.

Another way of understanding "relative thinking" is to consider simplified languages. The philosopher "Wittenstien" brought this up in his later work. One of the main ways that we understand language is in terms of our language. And we are aware that some languages are highly simplified. For instance there are sign languages used by people in the army, or codes used by people at work, or playing sport. Taking the example of the soldiers' sign language, we might imagine that a soldier can say with movements of his fingers and fist, "flank from the right," "three enemy soldiers ahead," or "I am wounded." But lets say that on the battlefield he met his girlfriend and he wants to say "Sorry but I can't advance any further because I have just met someone I love and I need to protect them." Of course he would not be able to say that in soldier sign language. Or imagine a catcher in baseball trying to sign to a pitcher "Your zipper is undone." They will not be able to say what they want to say because the circumstances, the truth of the situation, is beyond the limits of their language. These examples are problems of communication. But if we understand the world by communicating to ourselves, by saying things to ourselves, then if our language is limited our ablity to understand is going to prevent us from saying, and understanding, how things really are.

One of the main things that meditation is trying to acheive is to make us overcome the limits of language. There are theories that meditation is only about overcoming the limits of language. I do not agree. But it seems clear that overcoming the limits of language is a main activity in meditation.

We do not normally feel that natural language, the type of language that I am writing now, is limited. We tend to feel that it can explain how things are. But what if our language is limited in really basic ways? For example in both of the languages that I speak there is a distinction between things that do things (subjects or objects) and verbs. What if this distinction is merely a limitation of my language? Of course I cannot think in other terms.

So a lot of meditation is aimed towards...destroying language. People who meditatie often chant, that is to say they repeat the same words over and over again. There was an English poet that said that he had an enlightening experience as a result of repeating his name over and over again. Many Buddhist in Japan repeat the name of their Buddha (rather like a god) over and over again. Others are given a phrase or a word, or a poem and they repeat it over and over again. By doing this meditation attempts to make us aware of the meaninglessness of what we are saying.

If the Little Prince asked the accountant to say his "bottom line" over and over again, "So I am worth ten dollars?" "Yes, you are worth ten dollars." "I am worth ten dollars?" "Yes, you are worth ten dollars." And so on, just by making him repeat it, enough times, the accountant might realise that he is being ridiculous, he is not seeing the wood from the trees. Or maybe the soldier on the battle field, trying to get his commander to realise that he has met his girlfriend might try using soldier sign language to say "There is someone here" to his commander. The commander signs back "Understood. Advance" and the soldier just keeps on repeating "There is someone here." Eventually someone clicks, that the language they are using does not measure up to the situation. They may realise that the language they are using is corrupted, broken, cannot capture the situation they are facing and then become aware of the truth beyond their language.

Thinking about riddles that have not answer (koans), repeating phrases that should mean a lot (like ones own name, or the name of the entity that one respects the most - the god or buddha) until one realises that the language that one is using is limited, meaningless or until that language breaks is one way that meditation attempts to make us aware of our "relative thinking."

"Silencing the mind," by counting ones breaths, or directly by thinking about what one is thinking and then trying to stop is a more direct method of turning off language and attempting to see the world beyond its bounds.

I don't think that meditation is only about stopping language. For the Westerner, preventing linguistic thought is probably very important. However there are other ways that we process the world that also might be "turned off." For example Buddhist claim that space is an illusion. We tend to think of the world as a three dimensional space. It may be because I think in language that I understand the world as a three dimensional space. But it may also be due to other frameworks that I foist upon the world.

My two eyes each provide me with a disk of tone and color, a picture. I presume that these two pictures are pictures of something "three dimensional" that is extended out before me. But I have never seen space. Space is my interpretation. The experience I am presented with is pressed right up against my nose. The space before the disks of light that are my visual field cannot, of course, be seen. Herein lies perhaps a hint to the meaning of staring at a mandala (please search for an image of one on the Internet): a mandala is a picture of the world without any perspective. It might give us a hint to that which is really in front of our eyes.

The Shinto method of meditation, of sitting underneath a waterfall, is perhaps in part an attempt to shut down our interpretative mechanism by a more direct means. If you sit with your head underneath a cold waterfall then there is a chance that your brain will stop organising the world into space and things and just see it as the disk of light and chaos of sounds and smells that it is.

The Shinto method of meditation that involves "rowing on dry land" is an attempt to break down the imaginary representation of the world that I have.  We do not only simulate the world in language, but in image too. As a look at this one sided disk of swirling light that is my visual field, that disc is all that I ever see. But I imagine that, from the point of view of someone sitting behind my monitor, they could see me. Even though I only ever see on disc (my visual field is a disc), I imagine that there is a visual world of form seen from all angles. I model the world from other viewpoints and imagine that there is somethign on this side of the disc. There is of course nothing that could be seen "looking at the disc." The conciousness that sees the disc is, in its most observable, the disc itself. In a sense, I am this disc that I am seeing. I can shut my eyes, or dream, or hallucinate and still see the same, or very similar visual field.  In these "illusory" cases, that of the dream, afterimage or hallucination, it is clear that I am only seeing a part of myself. But when I look at the world, I presume that I am seeing something "out there."

A common method of Shinto "meditation" or spiritual practice requires that I imagine myself in another situation, seated on a boat.The rowing action found in some shinto "misogi" (purification) is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. It is very difficult to row without an oar in ones hand. It is only by imagining myself sitting on a boat that I am able to "row." Thus by performing this excercise, by seeing in my minds eye an oar, a boat, the water, I am able to realise how it is an illusion that enables me to perform the task that I want to achieve: a rowing action. I am lead, by analogy of sorts, to realise that the imagination I have of their being a "me" in front of the disc that I am always looking at, is also a method of achieving a objective and not the truth of the situation. I am not on a boat rowing, likewise there is no "me" in front of this disc of light. Both are merely a means to achieve control of my body.

The "meaningful" methods of meditation, such as imagining ones death, are attempting to break down the motive for believing in the illusion that we have of the world, and to call that world view into question. The primal motive for believing in a "me," some entity that I imagine or speak of, is out of self love. I never see me. The word that I have for myself is but a word. I am however very attached to these images and words, for they are to me a way to love myself. By imagining my death, something that I would never really be able to experience, I can help myself to realise that the puppet that I love so much is both not a pleasant thing, and also an impossible thing.

Impossible because I can never die for myself. How can a consciousness be conscious of that which is after it is no longer conscious? The consciousness that I am can never become a corpse. Assuming I ever become a corpse, at that point I will be a consciousness no longer.  My death can never be a reality for the "true" self or consciousness. This sword cuts both ways. Meditation tells us that we will never die, and also that we were never alive, as we understand it, in the first place.

Did that make things any clearer?!

Posted by timtak at 12:48 AM | Comments (2)

March 29, 2004

Dr. Nick Bostrom is a Simulation

Dr. Nick Bostrom is a philosopher at Oxford university with interests in Anthropic Principle and the possibility that we are living in a computer simulation.

Nick Bostrom writes
"Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious. Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones. Therefore, if we don't think that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears. That is the basic idea. The rest of this paper will spell it out more carefully."

He concludes  "that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a posthuman stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation."

Dr. Bostrom also points out: "If we start running simulations, that would be very strong evidence against (1) and (2). That would leave us with only (3)."

Dr. Bostrom directs his attention to future generations that run simulations on non-biological computers. The entities that are simulated are encouraged to believe that they have real biological brains. Such simulated people would believe that they have one type of brain (a biological one) when in fact they have only a simulated brain which is the product of some kind of electronic supercomputer.

I will assume that Dr. Bostrom's reasoning is correct. I will not attempt to verify his reasoning but only to thresh out minor points regarding the nature of the simulating and simulated minds.

Details of the arguement that can be removed while still allowing the arguement to stand
It is pertinent to note first of all that the technology being used to simulate is not an issue. The computers possessed by future generations may be made of silicon, or they may be organic. The advances of genetic  engineering may well enable future generations to make biological computers. The technology being used would have no bearing upon the issue discussed by Dr. Bostrom's paper.

If the future generations are using biological computing technology then, it would not be a case of an electronic computer simulating minds that believe they have biological brains, but rather a biological computer (or brain) simulating people that believe that they have biological brains. The biological vs. silicon distinction is not one that that we need to stress.

And as Dr. Bostrom points out brains are not essential different from computers. Thus it does not effect Dr. Bostrom's arguement whether we call the hardware possessed by the future or forebear generations, "computers" or "brains."

As part of the proof of the likelihood that we are simulated brains, Dr. Bostrom requires that the future generations are capable of simulating a great number of their non simulated forebears. Dr. Bostrom seems to envisage future super computers running a great deal of simulations. However, in this age of the personal computer, it is not unreasonable to assume that the future generations use one piece of hardward for each simulated mind. The only stipulation is that they should be capable of making a very large number of such simulations.

It is also of note that intent is not particularly an issue either. Dr. Bostrom talks of future generations evolving to the stage where they are capable of "running" simulations, and this would suggest that they the simulations are created deliberately. There is nothing in the reasoning that asserts that the brains need to have been created deliberately.

It does not seem to be an issue whether the future generations have themselves become extinct or not. If the future generations have become extinct then this increases the likelihood that we are simulated rather than real.

While Dr. Bostrom hypothesises a situation in which a future race simulates their forebears using supercomputers, combining the last two points above it does not seem to affect the arguement if the simulation is being carried out by computers, possibly organic ones.

Those parts of the arguement that are essential
Having removed some of what I hope are non-essential parts of Dr. Bostrom's hypothesis, it is necessary to recap and clarify the types of situations that might be occuring.

Dr. Bostrom argues that whatever the situations there are minds and brains. Calling on the principle of "substrate independence," he argues that minds are run on hardware irrespective of the hardware type. This being the case, it is not clear whether minds are by their nature "simulated" entities, and whether this impacts on their existance. I will leave this question aside and merely point out that there are always mind-brain paris.

As a point of departure we may point to the following types mind-brain situations that we might find ourselves to be in.

1) Real forebears with minds and brains.
2) Simulated forebears with minds and simulated brains.
3) Real subquent generation simulating brains (computers) that are runing programs to simulating those in situation 2.
4) Real subsequent generations with minds and brains, that possess and control computers as described in (3).

As previously noted, it is does not necessary that the simulating computer-brains have masters,(4) so I will ignore them from the following discussion. Additionally on closer examination, the mind-brain situations (2) and (3) above are identical. So the question as to whether we are simulated becomes.

(1') Are we minds of real brain hardware
(2') Are we minds of simulated brains being run on simulating machines

Dr. Bostrom uses the pertinent analogy of the "java virtual machine". Java is a computer language that runs on a virtual, or simulated computer. The question as to whether we are simulated or not is rather similar to asking whether we are java programs or assembly language programs, the latter being programs that run on real machines. ]

He also asserts, as noted above that if we start running simulations, that would be very strong evidence that we are simulations. He is thinking of electronic simulations. At the present time our electronic simulation technology is not such that they are very convincing, yet. They are slowly getting that way, and it is partly the ability of computers to create convincing simulations that has lead to the increase in speculation that simuation may occur in the future, and that it may be already occuring now.

However, while our computer simulation technology is certainly advancing, we are aware that biological simulation technology is more advanced. We are aware that we dream and that our dreams are sometimes convincing simulations. Hence we are aware that a highly evolved simulation technology already exists.

Thus, if Dr. Bolstrom's reasoning is correct we should assume that we are the simulated brains running on virtual machines within biological computers.

Hence, Dr. Nick Bolstrom, and I, are very likely to be simulations and we should behave accordingly.  

Posted by timtak at 01:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2004

The Anthropic Ends of Science

Recently in the fields of cosmology and philosophy there are a lot of scientists and philosophers getting revved up about the anthropic argument.

The anthropic arguement (or rather arguements, since there are many of them) start from the assertion that the universe seems to be "finely tuned" for human life. In otherwords, had any of the 20 or so contstants of the physical universe been very slightly different, then there would not have been the conditions for life.

There are a number of papers on the Internet that describe the ways in which the universe appears to be  finely tuned, this excellent site introduces most of them indetail and this excellent summary covers the main ones.

Scientists and theologians give a number of explanations as to the reason for this apparent fine tuning.

In the physics and cosmology community there has been a tendency to explain the lucky chance of fine tuning through the assertion that this universe is only one of very many universes, perhaps an infinite number. And in most of the others life did not arise. We should not however be surprised, they argue, that there was one universe in which there exists the conditions for life. The assertion that there are  an infinite number of universes raises problems of its own. But, nonetheless, "the multiverse," hypothesis tends to be the response of the scientific community.

On the other hand, a great number of Christian theologians, are very pleasantly surprised by the recognititon of "fine tuning," and use it as proof that they were right all along. This paper, by a Dr Hugh Ross, a Christian, describes 16 ways in which the Universe was fine tuned to be a "fit habitat" for us to exist. Dr. Ross claims that the only way that this coincidence could have happened is if there were a divine intelligence at work creating a universe tuned to our needs.

Another way of refuting the fortutious-ness of the universe is to describe it in terms of "an observer effect." In other words, had the universe not been such as to support observers, then there would not have been anyone around observe the universe and note upon, or be thankful for the lucky chance.  Hence, in a sense, some argue, the universe could not have been any other way. The majority of the scientific community however, reject this arguement asserting that there could have been universes that did not become aware of their own existance by nurturing life. Hence, it is argued, it remains fortuitous that this universe is one which is observed.

Nonetheless, arguement in support of some sort of observer effect is quite strong. The fact that that the universe is fine tuned to our needs sure has something to do with the fact that we are the ones that is observing it. But what?

It seems quite possible to explain the fine tuning of the universe based upon the Buddhist assertions that the universe is illusory. Another way of putting this is to assert a Strong Athropic Principle, as a Strong Observation Effect: the universe is the product of observation, it is an observable world.

According to my understanding of the Buddhist world view, what we call "the universe" is described as being an illusion, due to the fact that it is "relative", or an anthropic interpretation of something more complex. Thus what we call "the universe" exists ony as one point of view and is not itself the ultimate reality. Hence, the answer as to why the universe is finely tuned would then become a direct product of the strong observer effect; we are observing an observable universe because "the universe" is an observation.
Mathematically, perhaps, is rather similar to the "multiple universe," answer to why the universe appears to be finely tuned, except that instead of proposing that there are many other universes existing lifelessly elsewhere, those other universe exist here all around us as aspects of the same ultimate reality that we cannot observe.  Under this interpretation, that which we call "The universe" becomes, not one real possible world among many, but our "observational world," our "interpretation of", our "handle upon," a reality which is far more complex.  Since our universe is only an observation, and not the ultimate reality, there is nothing in the slightest surprising about the fact that it is observable.

I find the Anthropic Arguement quite shocking because it seems to me to signal the end of science as we know it. Most scientists like to believe that they are unvieling being. And in a sense they are. But the existance of fortutious coincidences should encourage them to belive that their unvieling processes is radically bounded by the nature of human powers of observation, and that the universe they hae in their hands at the moment is only a theory about the universe and not "the real thing".

Very few people are aware of the relativity of their view of the world, so this is not only the problem of scientists, of course.


Posted by timtak at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2004

Einstein was Batty

As mentioned in a previous entry, science started to puzzle me when I was told that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light. This seemed to be particularly fortuitous since light happens to be the medium of our fastest sense.

Science purports to tell us about the universe, about the whole of everything in all its possibilities.  It thus seemed very strange to me that the universe in entirity should have a speed limit. Even if electro-magnetic waves can not travel faster than a certain speed surely there should be other waves, or things that move with a non-wave-like motion, perhaps with an "arfdarf" motion, should be able to move faster than light. Or even if matter cannot travel faster than like then shouldn't there be some "smatter," with an entirely different composition, that can travel faster than the speed of light. One would think that in the universe, there should be possibilities for a lot more than the theory of relativity  allows.

I am purposefully using nonsense words, like "arfdarf" and "smatter" since I wish to refer to things that we have not yet, and perhaps even cannot ever observe, or concieve of. If science is describing the whole of everything, then the rules it proposes should be big enough to cope with things that are beyond our understanding. But science insists that the fastest speed that *anything* can travel is the speed of light. Does this sound plausible?

The fact that we have an organ for sensing the fastest thing in the universe seems is a little strange. Dogs may rely on their sense of smell, bats upon sonar, but humans rely on a sense organ that uses the fastest medium in the universe. I am not sure what evolution will hold in store for the human race over the coming eons, but it would seem that in terms of our choice of sense medium, we are at the pinnacle of the possible.

This strikes me as being rather fortuitous. It also raises another possibility. Is it not possible that, rather than assuming that light travelling at the speed limit of the universe, we may instead postulate that light only travells at the speed limit of the universe that we may select. Perhaps there are lots of things that travel faster than light but we are simply not able to sense them. Not so fast....

Einstein's equations are both predictive and applied. The theory of relativity predicted the existance of compacted "neutron stars" at the end of their life. These were first observed in 1967, more than 50 years after Einstien put pen to paper. And Einstein's equations were used in the making of the atomic bombs that killed so many inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The theory of relativity is not one which can simply be shrugged off because the theory stands as a foundation of who we understand the universe.

Imagine Einstein was a Bat

Imagine the cosmology of a bat, assuming that the bat is blind, and that it is using sound waves to judge the distances between itself and the nearest objects in its universe. The bat is of course unable to see light.

Since (let us assume at least) bats are unable to sense anything that moves faster than sound, bullets and other things that travel faster than sound, must be difficult for bats to comprehend. The bat scientists might postulate that their brethren are liable to spontaneously explode when in the presence of human's with steel sticks. 

Or perhaps not? Would they realise that some things travel faster than the speed of sound? That would depend upon how they understood their universe, whether or not they understood it in a "batty" way.

A "batty way" of seeing the world is one which is based upon a sonar screen view of the world, where being sonar-detectable has conditioned the way that matter, time and space and velocity is understood. In this batty world view, matter, that which exists, would be defined in terms of its sonar-detectability. This is not to say that everything in their world shows up on the sonar screen. If the bats bumped into sheets of silk that do not reflect sound then the bats may presume that there are somethings that are sonar transparent. But these "sound-transparent" things will be understood upon the metaphor of other objects that do appear on the sonar screen. Other things, such as the colours of the setting sun, things that Bats will never become aware of, will not be given existance in their batty science. In other words, in a batty sceince, their understanding of space and matter would be governed by being detectable by sonar, and sonar-detectability will have got in at the ground floor of their world view.

We are told that, when Einstein was 16, in 1895, he asked himself a question which was to lead to the discovery of relativity.

"If I pursue a beam of light with the velocity c I should observe such a beam of light as a spatially oscillatory electromagnetic field at rest. However, there seems to be no such thing, whether on the basis of experience or according to [the theory of electricity and magnetism]. From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, judged from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest. For how, otherwise, should the first observer know, i.e.. be able to determine, that he is in a state of uniform motion?"

If we look carefully at this statement we can see that, while Einstein mentions field theory in passing it is not field theory that is the basis for his initial observations. The thrust of the arguement is based upon intuitive assessment of the conditions for observation, experience, and determinability.

Einstien's argument can be re-written from the point of view of a bat. If a bat flying at the speed of sound where to attempt to 'look' at the sound he were flying alongside, he would like Einstein say "there is no such thing," "on the basis of experience." Again, for the bat also, it would appear "intuitively clear that everying would have to happen according to the same laws as for a bat who was at rest. For how else would the nearly supersonic bat know, *i.e. be able to determine,* that he is flying so fast." As we can see, for the bat and for Einstien, the possibility of going at speed depends upon the determinability of that speed. And for determinability, both the bat and Einstein can only appeal to their best methods of determining.

This is not  a problem faced only by bats and Einstien. Einstien certainly did not create the problem. We all understand the world in terms of how we observer it. Einstien became aware of the fact observability was getting in at the ground floor of our understanding of space and time. Once we realise that our "space" is a light observable space, then it becomes apparent that some strange things will have to happen to objects that fly at close to the speed of the medium (light, sound) that is defining space, and speed itself. At speeds close to the medium that was used to define space and speed, then there will enevitably be the sort of bending of mass and time as described by Einstien.

But what I would like to assert is that this bending takes place in the "observable world" of the observer, because it the direct result of an observation effect. "The universe" being defined by Einstien and modern scientists is an observable world, or a humans' eye view.

That being the case then, we can ask "what would happen if we move a bat (or Einstien) faster than the speed of sound (or light)?" While it is very difficult to move at anything like the speed of light, it would be quite easy to move the poor unsuspecting bat at speeds seven times that of sound.  The bat, of course, would not be able to tell what is happening to him. It might even seem to the bat as if time stood still, or the bat is flying back in time, as it caught up with sounds that had flown off into the distance. To the bat, it would be a very mind expanding experience, that will not make sense to the bat. However the bat would make it to familiar places fast.

I do not think that it will ever be possible to accerate humans to speeds anything close to that of the speed of light. However if Einstien's theory is an observational effect then by comparison with the bat, in theory at least "hyperspace" is perhaps possible.


I read years later that Einstien knew he was batty. He gained inspiration for his theory of relativity from Ernst Mach, of Headless picture fame, who said (in his "the science of Mechanics) "Nature is composed of sensations as its elements.... Sensations are not signs of things; but, on the contrary, a thing is a thought-symbol for a compound sensation of relative fixedness. Properly speaking the world is not composed of "things" as its elements, but of colors, tones, pressures, spaces, times, in short what we ordinarily call individual sensations." (p. 579)
I.e. Einstien was aware that nothing goes faster light not because there is any speed limit of any kind, but because nothing goes faster than sensations, because that is what the world is. The world that does not faster than light is the world of sensations, it is our batty, human world.

It also occurs to me now, in 2012, that if special relativity is a batty, "sensational" effect then there should be some apparent retrocausality around. Consider the world of bats. Occasionally bats get shot by bullets traveling faster that sound. In the disucssion above I suggested that bats might "postulate that their brethren are liable to spontaneously explode when in the presence of human's with steel sticks," but they would also sonar the movement of the gun, and hear the bang as it goes off, *after* one of their brethren has been blow away. I.e. from a bat's point of view, there appears to be retrocausality, effects preceeding causes. On this batty "sensational" view of relativity, one would expect there to be some retrocausility occuring in our world too. Why isn't there more "spooky action at a distance"?   

It could be that retrocausal events are rare, just as bullets are rare in the world of bats. Or that there are retrocausal events but we are not noticing them, believing the events to be independent. Or it could be that we really are lucky enough to be able to percieve the fastest stuff in the universe, but that strikes me as being as implausible as the existence of god. Indeed a "sensational" theory of special relativity, in the absense of retrocausality, might even be used as a proof of the existance of god. If special relativity is based on the limits of our senses, and there are no retrocausal events occuring, then we really are at the limit, seeing the whole of the universe. Man would be the measure of all things. That we, an evolutionary blink away from goats, should be so lucky almost suggests divine intervention! My money is on the existence of superluminal hidden variables, such as "pilot waves."

That Einstien read Mach:
The above quote from Mach

Related Books and Articles
Albert Einstein "Relativity: The special and General Theory"
David M. Harrison "Special Theory of Relativity" (a superb introduction)
Thomas Nagel What is it like to be a bat?   [From The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974): 435-50.]
Sadly this article does not address relativity but it does address the problem of explaining things that are beyond the listener's power to observe.

Posted by timtak at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Preposterous Vanity

While I am fan of science there are some things about the scientific outlook that I find rather absurd or arrogant. I call this the following the arguement from humility. It is not my own. I first read about it in more than one aphorism of Friedrich Nietzsche.

(I) Science generally upholds a principle of non-contradition.

(II) Science demonstrates to us that humans are *uttterly* insignificant when compared to the universe. Science demonstrates we are in our size, our similarity to other things numerous, the time we have existed, and the fortuitousness of our existance, *utterly* insignificant.

Spatially, science tells us that we are extremely small. If the solar system were scaled down to the size of a house, then the earth would be much smaller than a grain of sand. But, we are told the solar system is itself a spec within the galaxy and the galaxy but a spec within the universe.

Temporally, we are also, apparently tiny in terms of the length of human history to date. If the life of the world were compressed to 24 hours then the arrivale of humans would occur three seconds before midnight. Compared to the age of the world the life of any individual human is of course fleeting in the extreme.  It is no surprise then that the world view of youngers (the basic tenets of science are taught at schools) and the world view of the ancient Greeks, are not so different from the world view held by scientists.

In terms of our uniqueness, we share 97% of the same genetic material with an earthworm, more than 99% with other mammals and about 50% with a banana.

In terms of our fortuitousness, we are, science tells us, the product of chance.

We are of a level of utter insignificance that, science shows us, boggles the mind. We are, science tells us, a virus that lives fleetingly upon cosmic dust. For all intents and purposes, we are dust.

(III) However, Science claims that this dust, that we are, knows a lot about the universe. That for instance we know the limits of the universe (the fastest speed "c", the smallest mass). Or that we dust that we are can conject about the origins and end of the universe.

Oh, let us laugh loud and strong! Such, preposterous vanity!

How could anything as small as the human pretent to understand something so vast as the universe? How could anything so short lived as the human pretent to understand the universe? Even though we don't believe that earthworms, cats, or even monkeys understand the universe, we are prepared to believe that we know the limits of the universe. While it is difficult to see how chance could have evolved something as complex as the eye, Dawkin explains how this could have been acheived in this recent book "Climbing Mount Improbable." However Dawkin is convincing with his explanation of the evolution of the eye, can he be so convincing with regard to the theory of evolution, or the theory of relativity. How could chance have created a mechanism that would understand creation?

It is true that sciences has acheived a lot. We have learnt to fly, make nice electronic gadgets, life enhancing medical equipment and some awesome bombs. However these achievements are only such as to allow us to double or triple our life expectancy, move around our speck of dust quite quickly or destroy ourselves still more quickly.

But that we have framed the universe in our equations, that we have understood it substance, its beginnings, is limits, it mechanisms, this "achievement" is reaching far beyond our time and place.

In my own field, that of psychology, we are shown the extent to which humans are inclined to overestimate themselves. It is called "self-enhancement," and it is so pronounced that only the those that are clinically depressed are inclined to understand themselves correctly.

Rather than assume that some cosmic bacteria has understood the whole of everything, it seems much more plausible to me to assume that this is a vain misapprehension.

This is not to say that science teaches us nothing. But that we should interpret the limits that it teaches us as being limits upon our world, the world that we can understand, the world that we observer, the world that we experience, the world that we mistake for the real thing.

Posted by timtak at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2004

Scrabble Brand Sentence Cube Game

Recently I played a game called "Scrabble Brand Sentence Cube Game," a Scrabble (r) spin-off provided by Selchow and Righter in the early sententies.

The game consists of 21 dice on the faces of which are printed short common words, such as "man," "leg," "walk," "kiss." The object of the game is to make sentences, which may be interlocking, within a given period of time (approximately 3 minutes) as timed by an egg timer.

Mis-reading the rules, and failing to note the bonus of 50 per sentences longer than 7 words, I presumed that the longer the sentence the merrier. And I did find it quite merry. Here are some of the sentences that I came up with:

"Baby saw how they live off a young beast and it is too bad his old lady did kiss, bare" (using 20 of the 21 dice)

"How bare a heart may he let love, my boy ran on up her new live work, not any cold felt" (using all 21 of the dice)

My, who is Japanese, wife managed
"They who time his old foot smell, laugh and ran out with a big part which felt new." (Using 18 of the dice)

Now, the thing is that while as a game, the "Scrabble Sentence Cube Game"
is not one I would recommend, I found making the largely non-sensical sentences to be particularly amusing - I laughed heartily - and even cathartic.

Now there is a certain sexual element to the above sentences that might, in a particularly inhibited mind, give rise to laughter. But it seemed to me that it was merely the ability to place words in grammatically correct but largely non-sensical order that caused my merriment.

Drawing on Freud's view of cause of laugher as the controlled return of the repressed, what repressed libinal drive might account for laughter at the ability to create nonsense?

From a Lacanain point of view, perhaps nonsense (the shaggy dog story?
the absurd?) may present the ultimate in comedy since it threatens what he calls the prohibition of the father. According the Lacan, the father prohbits not only that we give up our desire to be (re) united with our mother, but also that we confine ourselves, or even create ourselves, within the bounds, or topos, of language. After that moment that the father banishes us to the world of language, I am as I think myself, in language.

In this light, perhaps, the "Scrabble Sentence Cube Game" plays out the boundaries of the signified, and allows the return of something primally repressed: that we are, in , bounded by language and continually hopping from one signifier to another.

Or perhaps, simply, I simply have a purile sense of humour? There must be others like me. I recommend the Scrabble Sentence Cube Game to all those that are feeling a bit uptight and generally repressed.

Posted by timtak at 11:21 PM | Comments (2)

November 16, 2003

Buddhism anyone?

Do you believe in Buddhism? It sounds reasonable enough to me. I thought the other day that I ought explain Buddhism more. It is the sort of thing that needs explaining, cause there are so many people, even Japanese people or tibet people that probably think that Buddhism is a lot of codswollop.

Buddshism, I was taught, diverged from Hinduism when it taught that there is no self. The taught that the self is god. Or that the self is the world. "I am food, I am food," "I am the eater of food," "I am the navel of the universe." And if this doesn't sound unrealistic enough, the Buddhist came along and said that they did not believe in the self either. There is nothing, the void, chaos, or perhaps buddha nature.

This sounds very strange. How could anyone believe such a wacko thing? There is nothing? Or why is there supposed to there is some sort of ancient Indian lingering around here?

Buddhism is not so strange. First and foremost, Buddhism is just humble. The main thing that Buddhism is saying is that, however we view the world, our understanding of the world resembles real world as it is very little indeed. Our perception of the world, me, this keyboard, the room, my wife, our dog, all laid out in space, with three or four dimensions? This conception of the world, in the mind of a large bacillus, bears so little resemblance to the world "as it really is," that it is a joke. The real world...Nothing so prosaic as the bottle humands that we see in the first film in the Wachowski brothers trilogy. Perhaps "reality" has four thousand three hundred and five and a half dimensions, or it is a speck of trifle under the fingernail of a giant whose world exists as a spect of trifle. Perhaps time runs forwards and backwards, or perhaps it runs in both directions, or not at all. Perhaps there are many different types of time, or perhaps there are many different types of "many-ness," of mulitiplicity. Perhaps, just sticking to the dimensions, there are several oogle ways of their being plurality and the "number of dimensions" is very plural in all of them. What of thingness? Or space? These lumps of stuff that I presume spread out in field of light? This speck of a thing that is me, this microbe, presumes that my model of reality has anything to do with the real thing? Jest not!

But it all seems so real. There is me, and there is the keyboard. There is space and there is time. It should be noted that while I go about my day to day business being fairly confident about all this stuff being here, I am pretty much at a loss to what all these things really are. Space? Well space is space. But time? What is that when it is at home? And me? I have no idea what I am. Or rather I do. I have this "model." I think I am me.

Buddhism says it is all cobblers and tells us to flush our minds of the junk. Here I perhaps part company with the Buddhists. They are really sure that when one flushes ones mind of the myths of person hood and thingness, space and time, then one sees the truth, the absolute. It seems to me that this is very unlikely. By switching off my mind I may get as close to the world as is possible it still seems that it is a long way away.

Indeed perhaps the void Nirvana is just as far from the world as this state of caught-up-in-the-illusion ignorances is. After all my powers of conceptualisation are the best that I have. But then again, I don't think that Buddhism denies that. One does not switch off ones mind exactly but one sees it for what it is. Usually I do not do this. Normally I believe in the maps that I am making and think I am one of the symbols that I have created on my map.

Should one ever meet the map maker then I personally do not think that presto one will have seen all and known everything. One will not, as Plato claimed, have seen the froms which our symbols replicate. But on the contrary one will have seen the chaos that we are are trying to make sense out of. Seeing the chaos is probably a very enlightening thing. I am that much of a Buddhist. It is the ulitmate in Socratic Wisdom. If you get in a cave and or chant for long enough then you may get a glimpse, in a flash of inspiration, of the wierd enormity of the blamange that you are tring to make sense out of.

Whatever happens, I am very likely to be wrong about what the world is at the moment.

Posted by timtak at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2003

Mythic Education

It seems to me that the purposes, that the greater part of school education is
geared towards, is dumbing down or (more politely) "socialisation" and that
students that are heavily dd-ed or socialised, get certain rewards, such as
"good jobs," big cars and and desirable partners.

Now then, there may be some particularly hard nosed students that are able to
accept that the "content" of what they are is relevant only as 'pumping iron for
the brain,' so that then can prove how much they can brutalise themselves
(or "train their mind"). However, most students want to believe that the learning
content is useful, *not* just in the sense of being a means to get grades, jobs,
and cars etc.

Hence educators are faced with a dilemma.

Leaving aside purist attempts to be Rudolf Stiener, swimming teachers, heavily
vocationally oriented teachers and some language teachers; there are some teachers
that are in the lucky position of imparting content that is useful to students but I
would say that they are in the vast minority. Most of us are in the business of

Accepting this fact, the dilemma for me is, in order to get students to study
it seems necessary to *lie*. In order to help them to get all those consumer
rewards (that most of them want), praise, and good grades, it seems necessary
to lie, at least by omission, and encourage students to believe that the content
they are learning will actually be useful to them.

This dilemma was brought home to me recently after auditing the class of a
"very good", motivating teacher teacher. As well as having an excellent command
of his subject, he also told his students how much he loved the subject and how
much he wanted them to gain the same enjoyment that he gained from it.
The students were very enthused and grade-wise, he gets very good results.

1) The small percentage of students likely to use and enjoy the content of
what he was teaching are those that are like him, going to be teachers.
2) For most of the students the content is likely to be utterly useless to

However, by convincing the students that the content is useful/fun-to-non-teachers,
he achieves what many educators, his superiors, and the students themselves
view as good results. However, I don't think he was lying. He and many "good
educators" seem to be oblivious to the fact that what they are teaching is only of
use to people like themselves. They seem to be thinking "I am using and enjoying
this, so the students can too," without considering the different circumstances that
students are likely to face. My guess is that they are able to block the lives of
their students from their minds, partly deliberately, and partly

What I am wondering is, is there a teaching theory or ethic, that recognises this
dilemma, and looks at it full in the face.

I know of one: Esoteric Buddhism. It starts with the premise that it is necessary
to teach pupils not-the-whole-truth, saving the the-whole-truth for later since
fresh students would give up if you hit them with the big whammy at the beginning.
I really feel that there is a need for a theory of "esoteric education."

In the extreme, an Esoteric theory of education might encourage teachers to tell
their students that what they are learning is dreadfully important and so encourage
them to study. Then finally, it might recommend that teachers get together with
students, after the exams, and say "This was all pap, but you are going to go to
an Ivy League school, and get fat pay checks, so let us celebrate." Doing this
might be better than never telling them the whole-truth, in the manner of the "good
teacher" mentioned above.

It might be argued that it is valuable, for the students, to never be told the truth
of the inutility of what they are learning. Or that there is some sort of valuable
epifany to be had when the penny drops and the student realises that the content
of his or her studies had little utility other than to teachers. Even so, even if this
is a theory book that should be kept out of reach of children, for educators at least.

Finally, on a more positive note, perhaps it is possible to have what I would call
a theory of mythical education, where students too would be encouraged to engage
in the process of equivocation, and make their own dreams and myths.

In this, more democratic approach, teachers would be encouraged to give
students the techniques for learning, consistent with constructivist, "student centered"
principles, including the ability to equivocate for themselves.

For example, consider the case of someone teaching French to a group of students
that have little opportunity to use it. The teacher may

1) Overemphasise the opportunities to use and enjoy French blindly (the "good,
enthusiastic teacher")
2) Overemphasise the opportunities to use and enjoy French, as a lie
3) Tell the students the boring truth about the lack oppotunities to speak French,
that there are innumerable opportunities, but they are very unlikely to be realised.
Then instruct the students in ways of overemphasising the likelihood of these
opportunities materialising for themselves. There is nothing particularly insidious
about this. It is sometimes called "Image training," and the techniques are varied.
Just hanging a poster depicting France on ones wall, reading something about
France, seeing some French films. All these things may be encouraged by
"conventional" teachers, and this mythical education only puts a new spin on them.
E.g. the purpose of as making a penpal abroad is not "to practice French" (the
amount of practice will in fact be miniscule) but create the sentiment, the expectation,
the myth that one will have the opportunity to practice French. The purpose of
this education would be to provide students with the mythmaking skills required
to enable the students to dumb themselves down, in the recognition that his is
what they really want to do.

This sort of theory needs to be founded on a philosophy which recognises the
*utility* and healthiness of non-truth. I am thinking of Lacan's view of the mature self
(as misrecognition) and Neitzsche's appraisal of truth

Friedrich Neitsche 1876 The Birth of Tradegy

Posted by timtak at 03:25 PM | Comments (3)

August 14, 2003

Money Talks to Suzanne Vega

What nationality is Neil Diamond? I am not sure. But he made a lot of good songs. One of them is "Forever in Blue Jeans."
Forever In Blue Jeans is a nice song by Neil Diamond about a guy, with a deep voice saying that he would much rather be poor all his life (wearing bluejeans) if he can have his women by him, "by the fire," with the "sound of her sighs." Please have a listen to the song. I like the opening lines:

"Money talks,
but it don't sing and dance
and it don't walk."

Yeah, Neil, we don't need money eh? If we can just have a singing, dancing, walking, woman around then who needs that money stuff? Who needs the car, the house, the company (longer list)? Who wants to become a beetle?

Yeah, you bet Neil! I would like to do a bit of sex in front of a fire without having to pay! Are you kidding Neil? You sound as if you are being radical! You jest surely!

When I was young I believed him. I believed that it was simply a matter of choosing the "forever in blue jeans" option. As if I had that choice! So young, so naive! I walked through the streets of London, where I grew up, gazing at all those massive buildings (that someone owns), at all those Jaguar cars and shop windows and thought, in images, "I would live in a ditch with my darling."

Forget Neil young! I did not even want jeans! Jeans! What luxury! Give me a crust of bread, a place out of the wind and a partner, I will dance and make believe. I will play and play forever.

Little did I know that I wanted a female partner. Little did I know that I wanted into her panties. Little did I know that in order to get her panties off "by the fire" that I would have to earn, not as much as Neil Diamond, but more than the price of some second hand Levis.

I was not the only one to be bemused. The song "Marelene on the Wall" by a very intelligent American Suzanne Vega, is about a woman that "gives away the goods too soon," and does not talk about it later. What did Suzanne have to talk about? Why did she feel that her lovers are "soldiers" that "butcher" her? I think that Suzanne made a gallant attempt to not take part in the game.

A lot of Western women are not aware that they have to be prostitues. They don't have to be prostitues. But if they are not prostitutes then their children will get less education than those children whose mothers do prositute themselves. Again, if women are not prostitutes, and choose to work, then they are sure to meet the abuse and the severe brutalising competition of all those men that are working to pay their lovable prostitue back home. Suzanne was very brave, but she is changing. Get on down Suzanne!

Posted by timtak at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2003

The Myth of the Fall

You know the story of Adam and Eve? What did that apple eating mean? Why should finding out that you are naked have such dire consequences (death)?

This seems to be something that has been hidden since the beginning of the world. So I am not sure how to begin. The message, in nutshell, is that, a woman found some food and her sexuality, or her sexuality and some food. Or in other words, for humans, "apples is sex" and "sex is apples". So, what does this mean?

Here it is - the truth unfolds here at Jblog at last!

Men pay women (some money or apples) to get their kit off.

You knew? Well I guess we all knew. There is no big deal. But I think that the ramifications are massive. Indeed, that is all there is to it! That is all there is to life, art philosophy and religion! The bible? Kafka? Plato? They are all about the same thing. It is as simple as that!

It could have been the other way around. Women like sex too, but perhaps men like it a bit more frequently. If men had been smart and said "no way lady" then we could have been the ones that, like lions, get our food brought to us in merely as thanks for being male. But as it happens, Eve and a lot of other female humans can get fed by taking their kit off. "Kit" means clothes. Women get paid for their sex.

The long and short of this is that women have the option of being, and a most of them take it up, prostitutes. And so they are well advised to do, under the present circumstances, since this is the way of the world.

I am not saying that that it would be likely or preferable, but I happen to think that it could have been the other way around. That things ended up in this way is largely luck. Men ended up paying women for their sex organs. Or in a different way, men pay with their muscles and mind for the sex organs of women. And women pay with their sex organs for the muscles and minds of men.

The conclusion? The truth is that I am not sure that this is the meaning of The Myth of the Fall. But it seems to me that it is a damn good myth; that means that it is meaningful. And I think that the meaning is lingering around this neck of the woods; the myth has something to do with the disovery of sex, the concealment of sex, and the arrival of a new hithertoo forbidden source of food. It also means that we will die. Strange that. I think that it may also mean that we live! More on this later.

Posted by timtak at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2003

My Personal Niblog

I am a man and I live in Japan
Japan is called "Nihon" or "Nippon" in Japanese. And I think that there is some sort of pun down on the word "Nib" as in pen. Also there are not too many other instances of "niblog" on the Internet. So there we have it.
This is my personal Blog, my ramblings. I think that there is a good chance that I will not write much here but at the same time I feel that I have a lot to write.

I am 38 years old. I can remember the days, not so long ago it seems, when I thought that being 30 was incredibly old. And yet, the strange thing is that time escapes me. There have been few changes. I am ashamed of my lack of progress.

So why would anyone want to read my blog?

Perhaps the wisest person is the youngest? Everything I learnt I learnt at kindergarden and all? There is a Nietzsche quote along the same lines.

So here is to things that we always knew, before we forget.

Posted by timtak at 12:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 18, 1999

Casablanca and Freud

A Freudian interpretation of Casablanca (1942)

It seems pretty straight forward and may explain why this film has been so popular for so long. Casablanca recreates the oediple triangle in the following way.

Victor Lazlo = Dad. The world leading guy, the only one that impresses Rick (Humphrey Bogart)

Rick = The son. Heavily oediple, drinking too much, cynical, lacklustre, life is meaningless, in the limbo of Cassablanca, still loving mummy, reminiscing about the brief time when he dominated and thought that he had mummy, that idyllic (paris in the spring-) time, permanently in the past. Ilda (Ingrid Bergman) = Mummy, caring loving and torn between two males.

Ilse (Ingrid Bergman) = Mummy, who in Casablanca is torn between her love for two males.

The purloined letter that gets passed around, that eventually reaches its destination, the exit permission to leave Casablanca, that the queen=mummy wants seems to be straight out of Lacan's Poe.

The oediple drama is about the conflict between two males for one woman, a grown man with money work and power, and a woman doting boy. The romance between the boy and the woman takes place in the past, when he was a baby, when he felt as if the woman was his own.

But why has the fact that Casablanca is a modern Oedipus been a secret for so long? I think that in modern society the oedipus taboo is so strong that it turns our stomach. No movie that even smelt faintly of sleeping with mommy would do well at the box office. The secret of Casablanca's success was that, while having most of the elements of an oediple drama, the personality and skill of Humphrey Bogart kept it right out of view.

The character of Rick is not a man but a soppy boy. He does not stand up for people or his country, he drinks mopes over memories of another man's wife. Only the actor Humphrey Bogart managed to pull it off, making this oedipus drama appear as a normal love triangle between "men".

The actor who played Victor Lazlo, Paul Henreid, felt Bogart played his Rick Blaine character as a man who was "like a crybaby" and "sorry for himself." But was that Bogart's fault or the fault of the character? The Rick character was either being narcissistically cynical ("I stick my head out for nobody"), drinking ("What is your nationality?""Alcolholic"), or mooning and reminiscing about Ilse. The role was pathetic and it was only by using someone as hard boiled and cynical as Humphrey that the role did not appear pathetic, unmanly and adolescent. Bogart was manly enough to make the sad, drunk, catty ("I'll have Sam play 'As Time Goes By' I heard it's your favourite song") jilted lover role appear manly.

Apparently Bogart had put conscious effort into making his weak character more manly --

According to http://users.bart.nl/~lester/kultnite/casafilm.html
"From the very start, Bogart had much to say about his part. He found Rick to be weak in character and not very heroic. [That is why he had the scriptwriters put write a second version where he wins back Ilse.] Winning back his old love might add a little glamour to the part. Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, the main screenwriters, added more gumption to Rick's character and more humour to the film but Bogart remained insecure about his part and all through shooting. Mel Baker, one of Bogarts advisors, had told him 'Make sure you stay in one place and have her come to you. Mike ([Director] Michael Curtiz) probably won't notice and if he does, tell him it follows from the script. You have something she wants and so she has to come to you.' Bogart took his advice. To make him look even taller than Bergman, wooden blocks were attached to his shoes."

I think that the actor who played Victor was a bit of a card board cut out; he appeared un-sexy. But the role of this resistance hero is quite sexy. Called an "altruistic type" he sounds un-sexy but he could also be called a fighter or warrior. Perhaps he was fighting for himself. He had some good lines too - "Not even the Nazis can kill that fast". And it was cool and manly they way that he did not get jealous towards Rick, saying "I know what it is like to be lonely" he kissed her and kept her.

Victor was an interested in other things than his wife, but this is the nature of adult men and it is what sets them apart from children who are, or only think they are, interested in mummy. Men and boys are attractive in different ways. It is when one thinks that a hybrid could exist a man-boy (or a mother-wife) that the oediple drama begins.

And a non-hollywood, but Freudian happy end, perhaps - Rick gives up on mummy and sends her off with dad (but he does seem to take up with
a man, rather than cathect or whatever.).

Rick and Victor are twins just as men and boys are twins - twins in the way that both, on their own, do not quite satisfy mother.

Rick is a cynic. He values nothing except himself, Ilse and whisky. He is a boy.

Victor is a man of the world. He loves Ilse very much (he kisses her before she has time to say that she loves him, Rick waits until she says "Kiss me like it were the last time") but he *also* loves his work. Isn't this the dilemma, the reason why men and boys are both attractive to women. Boys are loving sots that love pretty damn wholeheartedly, men are interested in other things, and are attractive precisely for that independence and un-aquirableness.

The end of the film was the end of analysis. Ilse realise that she should go back to *the man* who loved her and his work 50% rather than hang out in limbo land with the romantic cynic. Or think that she might have a sexual relationship with a boy.

Their whole romance was shown only in flashback just after the famous "If she can bear it, so can I! Play it (again Sam)!" scene, as Sam plays "As Time Goes By". I think that the fact that their song was "As Time Goes By" reinforces its nostalgic, 'once upon a time' element. Their romance was in Paris in the spring (according to the script) as the Nazis (and society and growing up?) approaches. In a timeless place (just remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, as time goes by), before the onset of time. This is same place where we all had a love affair with our
mothers, I think.

The Script can be downloaded here - http://users.aol.com/VRV1/script.html

He was a drunk, cynical bar owner in moratorium, in a limbo town. Everybody knew him because he was king limbo, he personified their predicament.

In amongst a film which I find Oediple, I was really surprised to find a purloined letter guiding the action and the power of the personae, in the central space. The exit visas are stolen, first from two Germans and then intercepted in their flight towards the queen (Ilse), by Rick with the help of Renault. Like the hero in Poe, while Rick has the letters he becomes pretty unmanly. He hides the letter in the most obvious place, not the mantel piece but Sam's piano. The letter does not prove the queens infidelity but, conversely, withholding the letter brings the queen's fidelity into doubt. Rick, like poe's purloiner, starts to readdress (one of the) letter to himself (or at least says he will) when he says that he will use one exit visa for himself. The letter eventually reaches its destination. This signifies a cure for rick and everyone else.

If Casablanca was not a myth of some sort then it would not have gone down in history as probably the supreme movie romance and while ...

Cousin Neil, film buff and extremely oedipal in a cute nihilistic way says that "Casablanca" is America before the war, the conflict--Rick (don't get involved) vs Victor (of course get involved).

The reason why I cried when I saw it again on Wednesday was because there is another ahistorical, myth in the plot. We must all give up on that woman that we romanced in Paris, in the middle of a war zone, a war that at the time we could not win. We must take on board the rules of the other, and be a man, and say good bye to the moratoriums, andhoping that kind of wordless love story could ever be again.

Only one thing, there is no analyst, unless Renault is the analyst? After all, he is French.

Posted by timtak at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)