Monday, November 17, 2014

Science Is ...




The ecological complexities of existence overwhelm the human mind, even though some of that richness is an integral part of man’s own nature. It is only by isolating some part of that existence for a short time that it can be momentarily grasped: we learn only from samples. By separating primary from secondary qualities, by making mathematical description the test of truth, by utilizing only a part of the human self to explore only a part of its environment, the new science successfully turned the most significant attributes of life into purely secondary phenomena, ticketed for replacement by the machine. Thus living organisms, in their most typical functions and purposes, became superfluous.
Lewis Mumford, 1970, p.68.

“The interesting thing for us”, continues Pumphrey [talking about the Vocorder], “is the effect of this process on the character of speech, for in discarding or blurring the detailed structure, it has effected a completely mechanical separation of the emotive and informative functions of speech. The output of this infernal machine is perfectly intelligible and perfectly impersonal. No trace of anger or love, pity or terror, irony or sincerity, can get through it. The age or sex of the speaker cannot be guessed. No dog would recognise his master’s voice. In fact, it does not sound as if a human agent was responsible for the message. But the intelligence is unimpaired.”
Ibid, p69 (emphasis added).

Initially people didn’t trust what they were hearing on the telephone because they couldn’t put a face to it. The word “phony” emerged at the time to describe the experience of not believing the voice at the other end of the phone line.
Jeremy Rifkin, 2009, p.376.
Science is a many splendid thing.

Q: What is the role of Scientism (science as religion) if objective truth is an impossibility?
A: To ensure predictability of outcome, to ‘control’ nature, to tame the wild.

Q: What is its power?
A: To manufacture machines, enable mass production, design and build giant cities, create an increasingly machine-like society, etc. (the value of this product spectrum is of course in the eye of the beholder), but also, rooted deep in the humble origins of Scientism, i.e. as part of what we might call science proper, to encourage humility in the pursuit of increasing or deepening wisdom regarding how universe and its infinitely interdependent systems work.

The bright appeal of the mechanical utopia Scientism promises arises from the immature ego’s ‘congenital’ need for control, reflexively fearful as it is of disorder, the unknown, the unpredictable. It is this fear that has turned science proper into a new iteration of ancient sun worship: centralisation, mega-projects, power obsession, institutionalised hierarchy, the mighty state, mechanised armies of human automatons as one with their machinery, etc. This almost lifeless technotopia is an inhumane expression of the ego’s power- and control-urge newly equipped with ‘objective’ science, a paradigm that concerns itself solely with the measurable. But Scientism’s prudish expulsion of subjectivity from its crystal-clear domain, the domain of what it thinks of as real, blinds it to the fact that emotional and wholly subjective human beings must remain firmly ensconced in the picture to first conceive and then wield science (or be wielded by it). This subtle but significant blind spot has made a religion of science, broadly speaking.

This doesn’t mean the 'dispassionate' recording of observable phenomena and the consequent humble positing of falsifiable theories – a process that improves wisdom and understanding, piece by cumulative piece (however fitfully) – somehow dooms us to destruction or is without merit. The humility the scientific method requires of us is, in my eyes, a beautiful thing, a wonderful cultural achievement. However, it is very, very far from specific to Western Civilisation, or to civilisation generally. The challenge is in not falling prey to our fear-based need for control, and also recognising that all methods of apprehending and explaining reality are limited. The challenge is to not erect totalitarian absolutes we must orbit as vassals, i.e. Sun King, divine king, president, market, money, nation state, The Truth, etc. As Lewis Mumford puts it, “Man cannot be trusted with absolutes.

How do we stay humble and aware of this creeping tendency while allowing space for invention and curious inquiry? I believe the answer lies in Scientism’s opposite, or twin: faith. Obviously, there is a deep paradox here, and this is what I try to resolve, or make fruitful, in this article.

Mumford’s The Pentagon of Power, which inspires this article, laments the decimation of the rich “polytechnics” of the high middle ages – a period responsible for a host of wonderful inventions and ingenious inventiveness. This almost anarchic richness did not survive the filtering or distillation of that richness by the likes of Galileo, Kepler, Descartes and even Bacon, unwitting fathers of what Mumford calls the “Monotechnics” that characterises our age. They created the lexis and syntax for the objectivism in which only the measurable matters, in which only the measurable is real. But it is not the case that the oddity of this position, its patriarchal obsession with control and regimentation, its fascination with the fully manipulable domain of machines, was lost on other thinkers of that time. For example:
Descartes’ contemporary Gassendi saw the weakness of his position. “You will say”, he wrote Descartes, “I am mind alone … But let us talk in earnest, and tell me frankly, do you not derive from the very sound you utter in so saying from the society in which you have lived? And, since the sounds you utter are derived from intercourse with other men, are not the meanings of the sounds derived from the same source?”
Mumford, 1970, p.82
It is self-evident that we are inextricably embedded in and products of our environment. See if you can extract yourself from universe to get a better view of it. Or, try and grow up from scratch again without learning anything until such time that you can make ‘intelligent’ choices about what you choose to learn. We cannot have thoughts in a mother-tongue language without first acquiring that language while unaware we are acquiring it and all the ideas that flow in with it. What possible objective appraisal of the process of socialisation that occurs in our early years can we carry out on ourselves? How can we check it, police it, sort the wheat from the chaff as we drink it all in? Descartes’ separation of mind from matter – where mind is spirit/intelligence capable of manipulating and perfecting a machine universe to fulfil humanity’s destiny to become nature’s “lords and masters” – either ignores or cannot accommodate this obvious truth.

And yet despite this, despite Goethe pointing out over two centuries ago that we cannot take one step deeper into nature nor one step out of it, despite relentless philosophical challenge, Scientism was born and rose to create and dominate Western Civilisation. As if destined. As if it has a lesson to teach us.

So, to repeat: how do we stay humble and avoid absolutism in the face of this grand destiny, in opposition to the weight of history? We yield. We let go. We give in. We act on faith, fearlessly, not knowing the outcome of our daring. But only we, as ‘individuals’, can decide which path to tread to bring this about, to open us up to our richer unfolding. To use the old cliché, we must be courageous enough to follow our hearts. (Believe me, if it doesn’t hurt like hell, you’ve either been following your heart fearlessly for years, or haven’t leapt courageously enough.)

Parallel with our descent into Scientism, we have become too cerebral. We live in our heads, are stuck in our minds, in Descartes’ prison, steered from within by unexamined fears that rule despotically from our cultural and psychological shadows. Rationality, objectivity, truth as distinct facts to be learned by rote, The News, entertainment, schools, consumerism, in fact the whole spectacle of modern life distracts us into mind, shepherds us into isolated pens of mental separation. This dynamic drives, sustains and is driven by the same fear that spawns it.

And yet we know, do we not, that mind is not everything. Surely we know by now that no one thing can be everything. Perhaps we can even say that there can be no distinct thing at all…

As one of many direct consequences of having had the courage to follow my heart and quit my old job towards the end of 2011, I recently fell deeply in love. It went badly wrong, and caused much suffering. The experience shocked me, broke me, cracked me open like an egg. I lost control and was forced to yield, to collapse into apparently endless pain. The turbulence this set in motion tossed me around like a rag doll. No logic, no rationality, no mind-based intelligence was of any use. I was lost at sea. In some ways, I lost my mind.

But the whole experience was (and remains) deeply spiritual. The love I felt, the depth of connection, was unlike anything I have ever known. I now liken it to a Near Death Experience (NDE). People who have gone through an NDE report being immersed in and experiencing that they are ‘made of’ unconditional love, and being fully aware in an infinity rich with creative force. They experience this as their true home, their true self. This is the description that is closest to what I felt. But there is no science that can confirm the 'reality' of such experiences, and unless you are touched by and touch that realm, that state, that soulscape, you cannot know it. If you hear it described, you cannot know what it is like so your mind recoils, throws up suspicions and objections. If you do happen upon it for whatever reason, you cannot measure it. You cannot record it on film or tape. You cannot reproduce it for others. You cannot ‘prove’ it.

You talk in riddles, and hope…

Yet I know it was real. I know I did not ‘dream’ it. The soulscape I became is more real than the ‘physical’ world we call real. I was wide awake, wholly alive.

I suspect what happened to me, and has happened to millions of others for different reasons, is a microcosm of what is happening to modernity, to the civilisational project as a whole, to its latest vanguard Scientism. We are broken by an extreme event, and are changed. Then comes the challenge of what to do with the new knowing.

In this case, it is an extreme of subjectivity. Extremes upset our apple carts. They take us out of mind. If we come back, we know something new. We are renewed. But the message we might want to share cannot be appreciated by mind. Only something like faith can accept it, whereupon we are free to use that faith as impetus for our own, unique development, our leap into the dark. Sadly, Scientism scorns faith, its blind spot, its shadow, despite faith being, I believe, fundamental to human experience. Scientism cannot handle this, cannot process it, cannot apprehend it , does not know where to begin. These rich, experiential phenomena must stay outside its remit.

Taking measurements of brain and other biological activity proves little in this area, as the assertion that the data recorded can be definitive about consciousness rests on an assumption: first matter, then consciousness. This assumption, or faith, cannot be proven, even if we manage to fabricate ‘artificial’ intelligence or other new life forms. That would be akin to building a radio capable of giving consciousness a new vehicle of expression, a new type of experience to learn from. It would not prove machinery can itself give rise to separated conscious experience, for it might also be that machinery can be an avatar for consciousness.

Scientism, like money and all other rigidly hierarchical institutions, must be demoted before our culture can become wiser and richer, more humane. My ego was demoted by my immersion in an experience and a place that were fully beyond all hope of control. I am richer and wiser for it, and more humble. The frustration for the rational among us is that this process is unprovable and unreproducible. But so what! So is something as mundane as a holiday, or rather the particular quality of a holiday. Indeed, what single thing that we have experienced can we reproduce, exactly, for ourselves or others? Which can we measure with numbers to understand better? Being unreproducible and unmeasurable, must we call all experiences unreal? Is there no such thing as experience? Is reality unreal? And if we cannot guarantee an identically wonderful holiday/romance/marriage/friendship/childhood/song/film by being rigorously objective and scientific in its planning, are we therefore doomed to misery?

Life is a complex and endless unfolding of unique and interdependent nows, not one of which will ever happen again, nor can any experience be replicated. That’s why life is so terribly wonderful, so achingly beautiful. Precisely because we cannot control it.

Universe (or All That Is, or God) is not an external machine to control, improve, perfect, domesticate, render unthreatening. It is alive with us, wild with us. We are alive because of it, in it, through it. Yielding to this fearful truth is the advent of lasting joy.

26 comments:

Timbo614 said...

Hello Toby,
You Live! Good to hear something from you, as you know, I admired you immensely for your courage 3 years ago.

And you have now lived a new trauma. I am sorry that again it did not work out for you (or maybe they both did from an educational/philosophical viewpoint). Reading loosely between the lines it sounds like you crossed a millennia old boundary and then suffered for that. Many have trodden that road and I glad you survived it to tell the tale.

Life is, it just IS. Sounds trite I know but the "reality" or lack of it, changes nothing. Love - there are some great songs about it - "All that I am, all that I ever was, is here in your perfect eyes, they are all that I can see" for some reason comes to mind here. I hope your love was returned even if only temporarily, for then it is pure joy. Such is that pure joy, that blending and soulmating, it is beyond rational explanation. It was ever thus.

As for our civilisation, I still believe like you that it teeters, like a single Lego brick tower, how far down the tower the break finally occurs, who knows. Capitalism/corporatism, unbending on its pursuit of "money" or our current idea of "money" will be its own undoing, of that I am certain now. None of that is world real either.

Once again your honestly and willingness to express your thoughts astonishes me. I so enjoy your writing, I wish I could put such thoughts on paper or pixels (if they are only pixels do they ever truly exist when an insentient machine is required to read them?). We all have these thoughts and feelings but truly there is no language yet, native or not, that has the words to express such ephemeral things.

Once again I wish you all the best and renewed joy, if now, it will always be tinged with sadness.

Timbo.

Toby said...

Hi Timbo! Thanks for your kind words, they always touch me.

If it was a trauma, it was a needed one. I have known lots of love in my life, indeed I am surrounded by it still and have only gained in that and many other regards. I have to leave you to read between the lines though, as I am not going to go into details, but this was no ordinary experience. If it had been, I would not have mentioned it in this piece.

Yes, language is too restrictive, as was the format I have been using here up till now, which was prescriptive and academic. This article is a watershed, an interim style, a hybrid of old and new me that bridges to a new way of communicating. I hope. Cos those is fucking bold words!

Joy backatcha old boy! All's well over here. As I put it in my diary at some point during all that pain, "Pain is the mark of meaningful change."

John Merryman said...

Toby,

A large part of the problem of understanding is sloppy use of concepts. The absolute, a universal state of totality would be equilibrium. Zero. What you refer to are essentially ideals; Points of reference and loci of attention, to which groups of people can be focused and directed. The mind functions by distilling cognitive constructs from the great mass of information we inhabit and it is natural to carry it to extremes, since that too is an expression of focus. Complexity is infinite and we can either shrink from it, or find ways to absorb it. Knowledge is information. Wisdom is in the editing. Though this bottom line approach has to be taken in context. What we create is not an end in itself, but input into further formulations.

In the west, we do tend to be very linear and objective, while eastern philosophies are more contextual. The irony is that while we view ourselves as individualists and those of the east as more conformist, this objective impulse to reduce everything to its "pure" form only atomizes, quantifies and isolates all from all and context is lost. Such that one brick is indistinguishable from any other and utterly replaceable, while in context it is unique to its place in the universe and supports the rest of the structure.

I think the source of this dichotomy goes to the dawn of civilization, when those in the west were much closer to a hunter, gatherer past and so saw themselves as moving forward and against their context and environment, while those in the east had developed rice farming much earlier and so saw themselves as part of their context and sensed the cycles of feedback from their efforts to structure it.

This goes to our perceptions of time. While we naturally view the future as physically in front of us, since we are moving towards it and the past as behind us, since we are moving away from it, in the east, the past is considered to be in front, since both past and what is seen are known, while the future and what is behind are unknown. This is a more contextually accurate paradigm, since what we see is past and then this information passes us, to further observers.

In fact, modern physical theory, largely developed in the west, does consider space and time as interchangeable, since measures of duration and distance are so intimately bound. As individual observers, we do experience change as a sequence of events and so think of it as the point of the present moving from past to future events, which is then scientifically codified as measures of specific duration, the larger reality is that it is change which creates and dissolves these events and so it is they which go future to past.

Duration does not exist outside the present, but is simply the state of the present, as these markers form and dissolve. To wit, the earth does not travel some dimension from yesterday to tomorrow. Rather tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth turns.

One way to think of this is in a factory, where the product goes from start to finish, while the production line points the other direction, consuming raw material and expelling finished product. This also is how life functions, as the individual goes from birth to death, while the species is constantly moving onto new generations and shedding the old. The arrow of time for structure and unit is toward the past, while the arrow of time for the process is toward the future. Our thought processes are constantly absorbing new information and creating fresh thoughts, while the old ones fade into the past and the jumble of our non-linear memories.

John Merryman said...

As an effect of action, time would be more like temperature, than space. Time is to temperature, what frequency is to amplitude. It is just that while amplitudes en mass expresses as temperature, frequency en mass expresses as noise and thus from a physicist's point of view, chaos and disorder. So to measure time, one oscillation is isolated and its frequency measured. Yet the overall effect of change is still cumulative, like temperature. It is potential, to actual, to residual.

A faster clock will use up its available energy faster and so fall into the past faster, or require more energy to sustain it. The tortoise is still plodding along, long after the hare has died.

This also goes to the function of our brain. It is divided into two hemispheres, with the left being the linear rational/rationalizing side, while the right is the emotional, intuitive, non-linear, essentially scalar function. Think heat or pressure and how these concepts are often applied to our emotions. So one side reacts cumulatively with our environment, while the other side necessarily plots a course through it. This navigational function translates to narrative and explains why plants don't need that sequential cognition and operate thermodynamically.

Keep in mind that narrative and causal logic is based on this sequencing effect and therefore history and civilization. Yet it is not sequence of form which is causal, but transmission of energy. Yesterday doesn't cause today. The sun shining on a spinning planet creates this effect we who exist at one point on this planet experience as days. We tend to rationalize narrative connections between events that are not always as neat as we assume, but our strobe like process of cognition needs a sense of order.

One of those ideals we like to focus on is the notion of a God as the all-knowing absolute. Knowledge is a process of distinction and judgement, which is meaningless in the absolute, because there are no distinctions, or distinct actions in such an elemental state. A spiritual absolute would be the essence of awareness from which we rise, not an ideal form of knowledge from which we fell. It is useful for those in positions of power to assume moral legitimacy as a top down guide and they as the interlocutors for this higher power, yet good and bad are not some cosmic duel between the forces of righteousness and evil, but the basic biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. What's good for the fox, is bad for the chicken and there is no clear line where the chicken ands and the fox begins.

Another distilled ideal is money as stored value. The problem is it is a contract, not the commodity we currently treat it as. As the economic medium, it is in an interim state between a system of private obligations and a public utility. when we better understand and educate the public that money is not actually personal property, but effectively still belongs to the issuer(try testing the copyright laws as applied to money, if you think otherwise), then people will start being far more cautious how much value they are willing to extract from their communities and their environment, in order to acquire these notes. It is a medium, just like a road system. We own our cars, houses and businesses, but not the roads connecting them and no one cries socialism over that. This way, we will understand it, not as property to be accumulated, but as ties to bind a community and then various forms of currencies will evolve to fill different uses. Like fat on the body, a little extra is healthy, but large stores of it are destructive.

Just spouting off, but you sound like someone with an open mind and on a quest, so these are some of my thoughts on the various subjects of social philosophy.

Regards,
John Merryman

Tao Jonesing said...

Toby,

Be careful not to substitute one truth for another, as the act of identifying the "truth" creates the "false." Focus on the process, that which is in motion, to understand the rhythm of the movement. "Scientism" is as much a part of the human condition as faith. Indeed, I'd argue there's no difference between the two, that the dichotomy is false, as scientism and faith both serve to create certainty in the face of uncertainty.

Human beings do not experience life, they interpret it. They compare what is observed to what is expected, and they take action based on their emotional response to the perceived difference between what was observed and what was expected.

The human mind is geared to be metastable, to be suspended between depression and euphoria. If you find yourself switching back and forth between those extreme (but basic) states, try to identify what set that process in motion. Understanding lies not in embracing one extreme or the other, but in figuring how you found yourself at an extreme. That requires you to understand the vector, the dynamic, that compelled you toward the extreme.

"Emotionality" is no more valid than rationality, as the result of being rational is just being emotional in a manner that you, through application of your value system (read "expectations") can condone and validate.

Sorry for dropping my thoughts haphazardly here. I do not intend to question your conclusions but to ask you to do so. Life is a flowing event, and what we can learn from even a single event in our lives is infinite. Reaching conclusions bars further learning.

I hope you and the family are well. My oldest is applying to colleges right now . . .

Best regards,

TJ

John Merryman said...

TJ,
If you go back to ancient Egypt, math and religion began as two sides of the same coin, to describe and explain cosmic order.
While they evolved in separate directions after that, the pattern still holds. Epicycles were mathematically accurate, because we are the center of our view of the cosmos, but the explanation of giant gearwheels propelling a clockwork universe proved unnecessary when the motion of the earth was taken into account.
I would argue the "fabric of spacetime" to explain General Relativity will prove similarly flawed.
To show just how much of a charade it is, consider that when it was discovered that all those distant galaxies appear to be moving directly away from us, General Relativity and spacetime were invoked to argue that space itself is expanding and so every point appears as the center.
What they left out of this attachment is that in order for it to qualify as a relativistic expansion of space, the speed of light would necessarily have to increase, in order to remain Constant to this dimension. Yet that would negate being able to explain redshift, since the light would effectively be "energized."
The argument is then that light is just being carried along by this expansion and the speed of light is only measured in local frames. Yet the proof of the expansion is the redshift of that very light! So if those galaxies are moving away, such that it will take light longer to cross this distance, that presupposes a stable dimension of space, as measured by the speed of light, against which to measure this expansion, based on the redshift of that very same light. If anything, this would make the stable dimension, as determined by the speed of light, the denominator and the expansion the numerator and so it would not be an expansion of space, but an increasing amount of stable space, which gets us back to the original problem, of appearing as the center, to be solved.
The fact is that we are at the center of our view of the universe and so an optical explanation for redshift would be a simple solution.
Consider that gravity is "equivalent" to acceleration, but the surface of the planet is not apparently rushing out in all directions to keep us stuck to it. Could it be there is some cosmic effect that is equivalent to recession, as the source of redshift, without those distant galaxies actually flying away?
The assumption is that after the Big Bang, the rate of redshift would drop off evenly, but what they found is that it drops of quickly, then flattens out as it gets closer to us, so the need for dark energy to explain this steady rate of expansion/redshift. Yet if we look at it from the other direction, as an optical effect outward from our point of view, which compounds on itself, this curve upward from the relatively stable increase to ever increasing redshift is the hockey stick effect of it going parabolic.
According to Einstein's original calculations, gravity would cause space to eventually collapse to a point and so he added the cosmological constant to balance this. Now gravity is the prevalent force in galaxies and the space between galaxies appears to expand. What seems to be overlooked is that if these two effects are in balance, then what is expanding between galaxies, is collapsing into them at an equal rate, resulting in overall flat space. Which would make Einstein's original fudge extremely prescient and what we have would appear to be a galactic convection cycle of expanding radiation and contracting mass.
I think I went off track on that, but you are right, science is in many ways, another institutional belief system. Not that we don't need to frame our thinking, but every so often, we need to break open the old ones and start new.

Toby said...

Hi John, hi Tao,

sorry, very busy at the moment, I'll respond fully over the weekend. For now, thanks for the thoughful comments!

Toby

Tao Jonesing said...

@JM,

"I think I went off track on that, but you are right, science is in many ways, another institutional belief system."

That was not really my point, although I don't necessarily disagree with it. I'm dealing at the level of the individual, not institutions. The scientific method encourages human beings to embrace their natural tendency to divide problems into finer and finer dichotomies until they arrive at the "truth" they already expected to find. Organized religion encourage human beings to swallow a particular "truth" whole. However we arrive at our expectations of reality, our expectations become the basis for forcing reality to meet them. Institutional belief systems are merely a form of control by those who control them over those who follow them. But even in the absence of such systems, the human being's propensity to force reality to comply with its expectations remains intact. Swapping one "truth" for another simply changes what change you seek to enforce.

John Merryman said...

TJ,
Reality is, like alot of things, both nature and nurture. We are constantly pushing against it, as it pushes back. The result is we do create a bit of a shell around us, of assumptions and expectations. Yet keep in mind that if we encountered no such obstacles, we would be in the void, as much as free of constraints. There are versions of the uncertainty principle, where pushing on one part of reality limits us in other forms of feedback, when we expect this reality to be more objective. So that "swapping" is terminal. Information is a function of focus and so reality is what we happen to be focused on. Consider taking a picture, where you set the aperature, shutter speed, focus, lens, direction, lighting, etc, or you get too much or unfocused information, like leaving the shutter open too long. The result is noise, not signal. So necessarily there are many aspects of reality to concentrate on, but that is what reality is. We could take a slightly broader view, though that puts the focus of our field of attention on a different level. There is no objective reality, because there is no objective frame. The universal state is one of infinite equilibrium, where everything cancels out.

John Merryman said...

So people do go around trying on the shells of old belief systems, religions, ideologies, nationalisms, tribes, attachments, addictions, etc, like old clothes, to see what fits them. The result is often a layering effect of definition.

Toby said...

Hi John,

I know you from a distance at Naked Capitalism. How did you stumble upon my little blog?

Your first lengthy comment references plenty of material I did not include in the post for reasons of brevity. I don't want to get lost in details though, as one of the post's major points is this: "the whole spectacle of modern life distracts us into mind, shepherds us into isolated pens of mental separation." Thus, while complexity may indeed be infinite, mind cannot process that, even remotely. As you say, wisdom (whatever that is) is in the editing. And I would also add that information is discernable difference, a definition I take from John Ringland. As we do the vast majority of our discerning via mind, of course we are dealing with snippets when we compile our litle wisdoms. But the experience I touch on in, and that is the core initiating element of, this post took me out of mind, as have subsequent experiences, all beyond my ability to explain via the analyital tools of mind. I guess we might call them miracles, and they make up the hidden backgroud of what I write here. Hence this post is strenuously not prescription but description suggesting a way away from mind. We cannot abandon mind totally and remain functional in society, but we can see it for what it is: a narrow organising filter (among other things).

That takes me to Tao.

Toby said...

Hi Tao,

all you say is true, but I hoped was implied by the post. E.g. “Man cannot be trusted with absolutes.”

As for the inescapable interpretation of everything, absolutely. I could not agree more. Until you learn how to be in experience non-judgementally.

In that vein: as I have experienced it over the last year, joy is a pure state that, when handled maturely, need not be euphoric or 'extreme' in the sense of one half of some wild see-saw. It is inclusive and expansive, heals, inspires, becalms, etc. Europhoria can act as a fuel that rockets you too high so that the correspondingly deep crash into 'depression' activates a kind of psycho-spiritual purge. This process – taken on bravely, honestly and maturely – produces what I have come to experience as the joy (or love or unconditional love (same thing really)) I just described. Life does get in the way of course, has more or less been desgined to block this stuff from really flowing, but joy is there to be felt when needed or desired, as long as that joy has been sufficiently deeply alowed in. This 'permission' appears to require the purge, a switching off of mind to some degree. That's my current take anyway.

In other words, this year has been a profoundly thorough awakening. I am a changed man.

John Merryman said...

Toby,
Think of it as the raw consciousness pushing outward and the thoughts and impressions being formed as the external elements push back. What you describe is growth, the energy of life pushing outward and overwhelming the prior structure, before forming new structure. When we try to describe and understand reality, it is in terms of those thoughts and structures which define our sense of awareness. The only way to apprehend that element of consciousness powering it is either in the dynamic euphoria of one's self pushing beyond its bounds, or encountering the self in another, to where you become one. With science we tend to focus on that structure of thought, not the element of consciousness powering it, so it does get to be about the set and slowly coalescing distinctions and forms. Even religion tries to give form and order to this spirituality, but it rarely takes hold, yet life does it effortlessly.

Tao Jonesing said...

@Toby,

"In other words, this year has been a profoundly thorough awakening. I am a changed man."

I have had the same experience, although for different reasons.

My father passed away in April, and my sister and I have been dealing with the emotional fallout of that even ever since. It has been tough for the two of us because we have never lost anybody before.

I have responded by taking on a new corporate opportunity that sets me up to be the next CEO of a publicly traded company. I'm actually being allowed to encourage success on the metrics I think matter, allowing people of good conscience and good will to step up and lead instead of being marginalized. A little over a month into the venture, I'm very encouraged by the progress we're making, but I remain concerned that success will prove elusive, if only because I come to the party very late. I walked in the door with our new CEO, and all I have to do is prove to him that I can do his job in a year or two, but my approach is so different from his (and I think he knows this) that I don't know that my success will translate into making it to "the next level," but that's okay. I'm here to learn, and what I'm doing right now will teach me lessons that can be applied in numerous ways.

As an aside, my sister is worried about me because I'm back inside the capitalist system. She was counting on me to figure out an alternative to the -isms. While I understand the concern, I don't share it. We can only create change one individual at a time, and at this company I am surrounded by people craving positive change. Thus far, the experience has been both encouraging and humbling.

My sister and her husband live in Copenhagen and get to Germany somewhat frequently. I think you'd like them both, so let me know if it is okay to introduce you.

I plan to get to Europe in March or April of 2015.

Toby said...

John, I agree, but I would add that meditation can deliver/instigate similar dynamics.

Where the process gets especially difficult on the personal level when one's existing structure (family, friends, career, culture) cannot follow, or only with great difficulty. However, what humanity is now waking into requires as much flexibility as possible, which means patience, compassion, etc. Further, we are our structures, and more than just physically. They have meaning and significance at all levels/dimensions. It must be so, because separation is an illusion. I have a sense that everything has to come along for the ride this time, or the touted revolution will not be sufficiently deep. But that might just be the hippie in me talking! ;-)

Toby said...

Tao, I'm sorry for your loss.

Re. being in the capitalist system: as I suggested in my commment to John above, it all gets to come along for the ride. Further, we cannot escape the system, since we are it. In my eyes, two opposing things are true: we can't change the system from within and we can only change the system from within. As you no doubt know, the resolution to this is that we ourselves change within, and the system changes around us. This is inescapable.

I am very excited for you and wish you the very best in your endeavour. It is heartening to hear that the hunger for authenticity I detect growing so strongly now is confirmed by your experience in your new job.

I would be happy for you to share my contact details with your sister, and very much look forward to meeting you next year. I have an intuition we are better prepared for our encounter now!

John Merryman said...

Toby,
It is all one big wave we are riding and when it crashes, the foundations of a lot we take for granted will be shaken. The question then becomes what comes after.
Tao,
Don't let go of those who have died. They are part of you and if you do, it just makes your world smaller. As you get older and more people you know die, you begin to sense it is more of a horizon line and parts of you have already passed over it.

Toby said...

Thanks John, that's how I see it too.

One other thing I forgot to add: there is an important difference between faith and dogma. In the post I called faith Scientism's twin, perhaps I should have said dogma, though faith is more 'accurate' in, or suitable to, the broader context of the post.

As I experience it, faith lies underneath dogma, but is not dogma. One is a deep knowing, the other is a descriptive and prescriptive programme. Dogma is inflexible, faith is supple. Dogma calcifies, faith sustains and replenishes. Faith requires courage and humility, dogma arrogance and fear of change. A great film that elegantly draws out these important distinctions is Noah, starring Russell Crowe.

Or, as the Yanks so pithily put it: it's not about you. ;-)

John Merryman said...

Toby,
Think of it in terms of awareness being that bottom up spiritual energy, shining through life, while thought, knowledge and culture are the layers of form it congeals into. Faith, as you are using it, is that energy still bubbling up and shifting those forms around, still bathing them in a warm embrace of familiarity and connectivity. Dogma is when the forms have taken control and fresh vitality is treated as disruptive and presumptuous. So we want to understand life as a whole, but not as a solid calcified chunk, yet that dynamic energy of seeking awareness is disruptive. Our existence as living beings is on that complex edge between order and energy. Complexity Theory goes into this quite a bit, but coming at it from an academic perspective, they equate the motivating energy with chaos, because it does naturally seek out weaknesses in the structure and pushes through them. Biology incorporates the whole dynamic of birth and death to keep the process refreshed, but culture tends toward the inflexibility of dogma and we are often to the point the only way to break through the crust is with some crisis, or just a harder form of dogma.
At this point in human history, I think the three primary lessons to be learned are: That money is a contract, not a commodity, so then people will respect it for the obligations it entails and not just dream about the hopes it might fulfill.
A spiritual absolute would be the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we fell and;
The vector of time is simply our individual experience of change. Ie, future becoming past, not the point of the present moving along this narrative from past to future. While that last might seem a bit abstract, it goes to putting all our reductionist quests into their thermodynamic context. All of which, if completely internalized, could teach humanity to pace itself better to its natural environment.
I'm not much of a proselyter for my own beliefs, because I long realized they don't fit any immediate agendas. Most people are either happy with the way their life is and don't want or need directions, or they want to be given a form and system to fit life into and give it security, not be explained how form is a part of the process and we have to understand how it defines us, without letting it imprison us.

Toby said...

Well said, John.

I have come to see biology as time, or perhaps that the 'two' are inseperable. Part of this entails the calcification and this is 'mirrored' at social and cultural levels. Both the latter are also intimately biological, include death and renewal, but we are that process's cells, and the timescales are more vast, the ructions and ruptions vaster of course.

On money: Franz Hörmann's Infomoney idea is the one I find most appropriate to the requirements we now have of our money system: pure utility, no value, assysmtrical prices to prevent inflation and deflation, mere record of ecnomic activity / social contribution. Sadly his work is in German only, though I have paraphrased his ideas at this blog a few times.

You didn't tell me how you stumbled upon this blog... ;-)

John Merryman said...

Toby,
Keep in mind the concept of temperature, as applied to consciousness. I don't seem to have much luck convincing others of this being as foundational as time. Consider though the effect of what we call duration on consciousness. While we think of it as linear, being from one event to the next in a series, consider how our minds process it as an effort at patience. While the process in question is occurring, we have to slow down our emotional frame and either concentrate on the process in question, or distract ourselves in some way. We essentially exist in and are part of this thermodynamic medium, in which our body functions as a large particle, interacting with others and its environment and like molecules of water, are absorbing and radiating energy, as we go through that physical and perceptual sequence of encounters and interactions. Then consider that less focused and linear creatures and organisms, from plants to prey animals, are all much less linear and tuned to the energies swirling around them. Meanwhile our emotions and subconscious are also greatly effected and defined by such scalar qualities as pressure and temperature. While life and death function as temporal sequence, consider how the process of being born, growing up, aging and actually dying are very much thermodynamic processes at work. Expansion and contraction. As for society, consider how measures such as employment levels, productivity, etc, are scalar measures of masses of activity, just like temperature. Not to mention such activities as war being a form of vast civic meltdown. When we look around the world today, much seems increasingly chaotic, in terms of linear, logical rationalizations, but if we think of them as thermodynamic processes at work, then the solids are melting and the liquids are becoming gaseous. And it is all energy pushing the seams of the current structures and orders.

Which then gets to the question of money. In the dichotomy of energy and information, money is information about energy. Everyone is seeking to acquire energy as an expression of power and money is a contract which obligates those beholden to this system to honor. Even a gold based money is a contract, ie. IOU x amount of gold. What this system does is use public debt as money. This makes those on whose account this obligation is drawn responsible for owing that amount of value. It allows the holders to hold a lien on the public purse. There was a time when banks would issue their own currency and profit from its use, such that the greater the trust in it retaining value, the more it would be used and the more the bank would profit. Until such time as the holders of that banking establishment became corrupt and drained the value by simply printing excess currency. So the way the system is constructed now, the public is responsible for maintaining the value of the currency, while the bankers still profit from its use. Now that the system has become totally corrupted, there is enormous value they can effectively drain from the public. Not just government, but using government to further drain any and all stores of value.
Obviously this system is a bubble and will blow up. Then we will have to go to an entirely public banking system, in which the public is both responsible for the value of the currency and reaps the rewards from its use. Just as private government, as monarchies, etc, eventually had to become public trusts, when they lost sight of their role in society. Meanwhile, if people do start to understand that money is not just magic notes, but is a contract drawn on someone else, they will better understand how it functions and not expect the economy to support infinite amounts. Then they will start to go back to more organic systems of reliance and trust, like strong communities and healthy environments.

John Merryman said...

I happened upon your site just 'surfing the net.' I suspect it was through one of the links off Peter Woit's site, Not Even Wrong. But its been awhile and my memory isn't that great. I have to say, I'm persona non grata on that particular site, since I've questioned too many sacred assumptions, such as spacetime being physically real and not just a clever mathematical tautology. Which shoots down the whole expanding universe theory. Yet as I keep trying to point out, that if space expanded relativistically, the speed of light would have to increase proportionally, in order to remain Constant, but that would negate explaining redshift, since the light would be "energized." That is a whole nother story though. Math is not the seed from which reality springs, but the skeleton that is left when we boil away all the soft tissue. Safe to say, I find myself in trouble in lots of such forums.
Regards,
John

Toby said...

Hi John,

I find the metaphor of scalar energies very helpful, actually. I hadn't thought of consciousness that way, thank you for running it by me. Like I say in the post, we can all benefit from getting out of mind, which is so crippingly linear. So metaphor, story, poetry, art etc. are badly needed. Stats don't really help as much, not any more. It's been very clear for a long time that radical change is necessary if humanity is to survive the century in any meaningful way. This needs to be communicated in honest and open stories, etc.

Your take on money seems a little shallow to me, though. Money is not value, nor can it possibly measure value (which is wholly subjective), it is always and only debt or claim/obligation (imo). Even gold-as-money becomes meaningless (valueless) if there is no tradable property (good or service) out there to buy. Money is an emergent property of (wholly dependnt on) private property, scarcity, the state and exchange. It has become way too powerful, and blinds our thining on value, contribution, reward and punishment, etc. Those who really benefit from money require state, scarcity, fear/control, private property etc. to be sustained, or they lose their substantial privileges.

It's amazing how deeply rooted money'ss meaning is in civilisational cultures, and how poorly understood. Hardly anyone really understands money, which is why it is such a controversial topic.

So, in terms of money keeping its value, it can't have any to keep. It cannot really be a store of value, nor should we want it to be. Demanding that it be so arises from scarcity- and fear-/control-based thinking, and will lead inexorably to the concentrations of power that bedevil us now. While money is seen to store value, having more of it is better than having less, by definition. That tilts the dynamics of society strongly towards power concentrations and endless competition over necessarily scarce stuff.

The structural way to get out of this loop we have for so long been caught in, is to have asymmetrical prices as per infomoney, and to change how double-entry bookkeeping is caried out. Money then becomes a log or record of economic activity, nothing more.

There's much more to infomoney than this, too much to lay out here in comments in detail, but I may post more on this in the future. I have spent a VERY long time analysing money's role, its symbiosis with state, private property, hierarchy, scarcity and fear/control, and believe money must be changed fundamentally so as to free humanity to live in a very different society.

John Merryman said...

Toby,
As a debt, money is a form of contract, like a marriage, business, mortgage, etc. contract. As such, it is an agreement between peoples who would like to establish an arrangement, but lack sufficient knowledge of the counterparties. Which will always be the case in large populations. The problem is that we are trained to treat it as a commodity and think of it as a form of value and not an obligation. Then it gets manufactured by the banking system, with little regard for who is responsible for that obligation and so becomes a bubble.
Not only that, but then people start sacrificing organic value and social bonds of trust, in order to obtain ever more money, which then allows the government and banks to be able to tax those social connections and resources. Like Talibi's Giant Vampire Squid.
If people began to be taught and thought of it as a contract, then they might realize those organic bonds are equally, if not far more valuable and treat money as peripheral to them.
As for information, think of it in terms of the dichotomy of energy and information. Since there is no information in the void and it must be transmitted by energy, there is no such thing as information without energy, even if its a few electrons. So I don't see how you would totally divorce the concept of money from energy and thus value. The issue needs to be to clarified what and where that value comes from. It is not being magically manufactured by the banks, but is siphoned out of the society and the economy and then blown up into enormous bubbles, so that when they pop, those with the ability to create the money naturally end up acquiring the actual value on which it is based. As they say, "lend to own."

Toby said...

Agreed, John, but with caveats.

I don't divorce money from value, I say value cannot be stored by money (commodity thinking, and anyway, value cannot be stored), nor can it be measured by money. Value cannot be measured by anything, it is just felt, experienced. Anything can 'have' value in that sense, in the sense that we can value anything. However, as I see it, poems and music are 'better' at 'measuring' value than numbers with symbols like $ and € stuck on one end, the point being that it is open-ended and flexible, and does not really need to be measured. Except as an instrument of hierarchical contol by the elite of the non-elite (the state). Then the elite kind of own value definition – which is a vital and living aspect of social life – narrow it down to something fairly arbitrary like abstract numbers, and get us all chasing it, fighting each other for our piece of the too-small pie and losing sight of the big picture.

Contracts yes, but contracts are about securing particular services and outcomes, while infomoney is a record of contribution. Money is still numbers in infomoney, but the money does not move from account to account as if a commodity is changing hands (as if it were property). If I perform a service, my record of social contribution (like a bank account) goes up by an amount stipulated in my individual contract with the whole community, not with the particular counterparty to the trade/deal. The counterparty who 'buys' my services sees his record of social contribution (account) diminish, perhaps by a different amount: asymmetrical prices. I 'charge' an amount for a particular service that is democratically agreed with the entire community – which acts as a proxy for a counterparty in all such contracts –, the price is recorded in my personal, unique contract ("life contract" in the system's terminology), while the 'buyer' sees his account reduced by the different price for such a service that agreed separately with the community in his individual (life) contract. In this way, inflation/deflation is impossible.

Infomoney is not created by banks in pursuit of profits, it is created spontaneously by acts of social contribution at the level of the individual at 'prices' that are democratically agreed (no 'law' of supply and demand in this system). The computer accounts that track this activity would be held by a public (democratic) central 'bank', but each account is unique to one person only, like a fingerprint, and you only get one. No one can take 'money' from it. It's like a blood pressure record that runs more or less automatically, logging your economic history, only as simple digits without symbols attached, without interest, with debt as we commonly use in money systems today.

However, there is much more to this idea. I think I'm really going to post it because I can't do the idea proper justice in a comment section.

Anyway, infomoney has value like commercial or bank money has value: it works, it has social utility. The key difference (one of them) is that it does not store or measure value, it just tracks economic activity (social contribution). Of course this is linked to value, but in a very different way.

Strictly speaking, infomoney is a voucher system on steroids and not money at all, but that's just definition. What society chooses to call money is money one or or the other.

John Merryman said...

Toby,
If people really understood money as a contract, that is pretty much how they would start to treat it. Vouchers are contracts. Consider how we naturally think of a contract. The actual bill is just a piece of paper which serves as a receipt for some relation we have entered into and its only value is as a written account. The fact is that the value of "fiat" money is not based on some thin air magic, but public debt and when people realize the driving force of this process is not simply those at the top, manipulating the process, but the desire on the part of the vast majority to acquire far more money than they have a practical need for and it is this massive public desire which is being exploited by the financial system. Much of the financial innovation of the last few decades has been to construct reservoirs for all this excess notational value, as the function of capitalism has metastasized from the transfer of value to the creation of capital as an end in itself. As such, money has gone from being a tool to being a religion. Its very lack of form is a source of strength, since it is difficult to define and thus limit. Like religion, its real value is public adherence and confidence. As a result, the public at large is responsible for fulfilling an obligation which a few hold most of the excess and now even much of that necessary to sustain the economy.
As for value and measuring, consider again the relationship between energy and information; When something is fully defined, is when it is at peak energy. Consider the amplitude of a wave as being its peak. Before that, it has energy, but no exact form, yet after that, it has peaked and so has started to recede. This goes to the very nature of reality. When we fully and completely understand something, is after it has occurred, or when it has reached peak form. Mass is at its most structured and solid when it is most quantified and dense. So then when you take concepts like money, they can be extremely defining, due to the incredible social and cultural forces attached to them. They not only contain the energy, but define its form. Meanwhile things like poetry and music can express energy, motivation, emotion, value, etc, but not fully define and contain them. They are an open vessel. Something which can continue to grow and acquire new meanings and more energy and value. The future goes where the energy goes, while the past is those forms which are slowly deflating. As such, that is why the banks like slight levels of inflation, since the specific money is losing value and receding, so people are less inclined to hold onto it and more willing to spend it. Meanwhile those running the system can dilute it and so their own store of value/energy increases.
I'm not quite doing justice to these various concepts either, but hopefully you get the general idea.
Regards,
John