Archive for June 2016


I’d never eat your shoe

June 30th, 2016 — 9:38pm

A sudden plosm creates echoes. Later i exhume the body of an old pet, and notice that the chickens are all gone. So now is the time for wine and music… the blood on my fingers.. picking up the guitar the snow begins to fall, cooling my mind like a song.

Several days at home with my daughter, who has a fractured tibia. We do puzzles together. It’s winter now so I endlessly am chopping and carting wood, avoiding the weather, being sat on by my cats. Me and my million progeny extend to the horizons.

The world is suspiciously paused. Half the people think they want a revolution because they read about it in the paper. The world is sinking, but ever so slowly. People only notice it at the fringes.

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View along the bluff trail

When walking in up in the Victorian Alps near Howqua, with some friends last spring, i was listening to the ravens and their strange half-human language which has been echoing around those mountains for millennia.  Suddenly i felt light headed and as i sat down i fainted and drifted off into a dream for all eternity.  Coming around with my friends shaking me, i looked at the mountains around me and felt completely confused as to what part of my life i was supposed to be living. It rushed back eventually and then i spent the rest of the walk worrying that i’d faint and embarrass myself again. But the experience of my identity unravelling like that was on the whole really refreshing. What i liked was the heady feeling of unconcern for my own mortal wellbeing. It’s a truism but once you’re dead you really don’t worry about being dead – the terror of death is a burden for the living alone.

Such a short holiday.. soon Sanskrit will take up all my time again. I was reading David Godman’s pages again this week and perhaps what i’ll do eventually is translate the Arunachala Mahatmyam. When I imagine myself in India again it’s either in the mountains or somewhere south.. these are always strangely lucid dreams, full of odd psychic vapours.

My other fascinations abound and are squeezed into these holiday periods.. recording music, reading about all the minerals in the world, and the metals, following the damn politicians..

 

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Gaia is born of freedom

June 23rd, 2016 — 3:07pm

Freedom is a very basic personal instinct. I think all creatures want to be free, free from fear and desire, free from hunger and pain. The protection of key personal freedoms has been central to the rise of civilisation, and this has continued in modern societies through activities like the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women. We now believe that freedom is a basic human right and human happiness and social cohesion is dependent on it.

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Img: earth wind Map

But we are even now not entirely free – and much of what we do in life is really an effort to procure more freedom than what is granted to us at birth by our society. So gaining power over others has become the primary means to exercise more personal freedom. This drive to acquire power is the basis for the market  – as money grants us material freedom so earning money becomes in theory a freedom creating exercise. Freedom of mind is more elusive but either quenching or ridding ourselves of desires can be described as a method of freeing ourselves from them, and so becoming happy. By engaging in such activities, we express in our everyday lives the truth that greater freedom is a good thing, whether we think much about how we obtain it or not.

The struggle for personal freedom has been continuing since the first microbe ate another to make some space in the warm purple soupy ocean of the Archaean earth. Evolution is simply the playing out of these desires through time, with the reward for chance innovations being an enhanced domination of other species. Even though the struggle of evolution was undertaken nearly blindly by its competitors, it delivered us our bodies and the supporting natural world around us. The survival games of a market economy continue with this model. So long as a level playing field is maintained, market economies harness the same desires for freedom that are the drivers of evolution to encourage innovation. The 20th Century has demonstrated the amazing facility of the market to create the most efficient systems to feed, house and entertain the human population of the planet, nearly all driven by the self-interests of everyone involved. As an engine to drive evolution or humans technological powers forward, there seems to be nothing better.

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Img: John Lurie Art.

The creation of corporate entities has added a level of coordination in this activity, but the principle is the same. Corporations act within the system as if they were individuals, but with desires that are tailored to their individual business model. The drive for increased power and freedom is the same – but it is like a ghost desire, articulated in the objectives and raison d’être of the organisation. It is hard to hold the individual greed of humans accountable – except in a few instances of corporate tycoons whose personal agenda is embodied in the company they lead (Murdoch, Koch brothers et al). John Poynder noticed in the 19th Century that corporations “have neither bodies to be punished, nor souls to be condemned” (referenced here by John Quiggin) but do reflect the amalgamated desires of the actual bodies of a subset of the human population.

Nation states are very similar creations, as they also seek the greatest possible freedom for themselves. It’s just we tend to view them more benevolently as they are supposed to put the rights and wellbeing of their citizens first – places like North Korea are exceptions.  Nations have an interesting relationship to corporations, as taxation is essentially parasitic, yet its legislation is existential. The drive by corporations to reduce government power pushes back against these hindrances, in accordance with the desire for increased freedom. It is interesting how in recent decades nations actively compete against one another to provide low tax havens to encourage businesses to set up their headquarters, e.g. Apple in Ireland.

This might go on indefinitely. However a problem emerges when the environment which these entities operate within becomes suddenly closed. This can be demonstrated by placing yeast in a jar. Previously harmless by-products (alcohols) which used to be carried away suddenly become concentrated. The yeasts go on multiplying and competing with each other and producing these contaminants, not realising that they all face the same existential threat. Thus they poison themselves en masse once they reach a certain concentration. Portions of human society have been in similar scenarios through time, for instance on Easter Island where all the trees, then all the historical records (inscribed on wooden tablets) were burned for firewood as society collapsed. As the population has grown, the whole of human society is now effectively in one jar now, with climate change being the most pressing hazard resulting from pollutants at present. Because the same problem affects all inhabitants of the planet equally, and there is no way for one person’s activity to avoid it (space colonies still being too difficult), we find that the struggle against one another, as created by market capitalism, does nothing to help us innovate away from the apocalyptic end game. The way of talking about this in economics is in terms of ‘negative externalities’.

In this situation, nature does not select against one or another of us, nature selects against all of us. The only solution which actually guarantees our continued freedom is clearly one that reduces our freedoms. It is a solution which supersedes the market economy but requires the coordination of our activity as if we were a single organism. But in doing this, there is no alternative but to restrain the personal freedoms which are so highly valued by each of us.

This dilemma, of subverting personal freedoms for the good of the whole, is not entirely new to us. We are familiar with the operation of the principle in some areas of civilised life already, and it is forced on us by nature herself – every creature has an instinct that runs against their personal freedom when rearing its children, for instance. But we are not used to it affecting our right to compete with one another. Ever since we have been free of slavery or serfdom or debilitating poverty, we have expected to be able to use our work and cunning to obtain what is best for ourselves and our family, to increase our freedom at the modest expense of those around us. It seems counter to the very trend of modern society to slip back into the shackles of a controlling overlord. If we do not fight against it at a personal level, it will certainly be fought by corporate entities and nations for whom the freedom to compete and dominate one another is as natural as it is to the male lions of the herd or the sharks in the ocean.

Perhaps we should prefer the feminine instinct to protect the herd against the greater existential threat, than to continue to allow infighting for dominance among the alpha males. However, unlike some on the left, I do not think that the engine of innovation which is the market economy should be shut down altogether. However it needs to be subsumed within a system that places first the good of the whole, second to the good of its individual parts. It can be like the mitochondria inside an animal cell, generating energy but kept safely in check.

The shift in reference which needs to accompany this change in the organisation of humanity really can be compared to episodes in the evolution of the species. In fact it seems that every great leap forward has been accompanied by a similar gestalt moment – the realisation that the whole must become more than the sum of its parts. The movement from protozoa to eukaryote is one such shift, the movement from single cell to multi cell organism, the socialising of animals into altruistic groups, and finally civilisation itself – are all shifts upwards in the level of coordination. At each shift, there has been a loss of freedom at the level of the individual component. It is unavoidable. But the benefit is clear and in some instances it has been necessary to ensure survival.

Humanity is at this juncture now. Climate change poses a certain kind of existential threat but it is only one part of the general threat which is a product of our own success – the limitation of the earth’s resources to sustain us all. The threats that are now coming our way occur on a different plane to that on which the market economy works. They are essentially unseen externalities to the players in the capitalist game, as the actor – humanity as a whole – is simply assumed by these players to continue to exist. There has never been an existential threat to it, so there is no capacity to respond to such threats. Humanity’s interests must be hardwired in, through a new superstructure which must be applied to the entire society. Fortunately, the technology for this superstructure has just been invented.

(next episode coming soon…)

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Renovations

June 20th, 2016 — 2:05pm

Taken some new portraits of me as a poetaster, and making images as part of general renovations to the ‘poem library’ and other parts of this site.

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Tortured or disgruntled?

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On the red chair in the blue room.

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With books. Do I look poetry enough?

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Too Lord Byron?

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making sense of things past

June 14th, 2016 — 9:28pm

I recently had a clear out of my notebooks which i took when traveling in 1997-8-9 and filled with poetry and drawings (most are not publishable – but some of the o.k. ones are in the ‘poem library’ part of this site).

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The ‘little red notebook’ and Schrÿfbloks.

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Schrÿfblok scribblings.

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The “little red notebook” which has a few poems and lots of other dreamings.

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Self portrait aged 20.

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Poems..

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Leunig influences.. yearnings for simplicity.

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Psychedelic scribbles.

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Being a nerd, I designed castles. Later I recreated them as ‘Doom’ levels.

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Lines improving Somerset Maugham’s “The razors edge”.

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I spent these travel days on my own trying to make sense out of life. I was heavily influenced by eastern ideas and the amount of meditation that i did put me in a completely different state of mind to any other time in my life. I can’t even really touch on those days with writing – they are gone but they are always deeply present in me.

 

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tram #3

June 6th, 2016 — 3:34pm

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It has been a while since i saw the guy and the girl on the tram. This time i only caught the end of their conversation before they got up abruptly and left.

***

“So there can only be one observer in a coherent system of knowledge” said the girl with the orange hair.

“All particulars must be either observed or not observed, but never both. And to say what kind of knowledge we have of a something, it is essential that we know if it is observed, and to discover this we must have a single clearly defined observer.”

“Is this because you have been reading about Schrodinger’s cat?” asked her friend.

“No it’s not just that. The cat helps. I mean, the alive/dead state of the cat wave form collapses when it is observed. We know that. But it is the same with anything.  The moon doesn’t even exist when i look away.”

“How can that be?”

“Well there are two ways. Firstly, because the collapse of the wave form. But more importantly, it all goes back to how i know anything.”

“You see, in the beginning, when i was a baby, there was just a stream of sense data. It was sense data and the knowledge, the only piece of knowledge i think we have, of existing. It’s not even knowledge, just a sort of being, it comes before thought.  It comes before observation. Because this stream of sense data.. it’s like the number plane, it just keeps coming. And at some point, i suppose, we are able to say ‘well that’s different’. We notice something has changed. And that probably is our first observation. So it goes “i exist ===> i observe (a change).  The opposite way to Descartes actually.”

“And this sort of thing must go on for a while, and all the while importantly the tape is running, so we are recording somehow, we have memory. And then we notice something and we realise that have noticed it before and that’s the first ‘ah’ moment. It’s importantly different to just floating on the stream. Maybe it happens in the first few days when we notice the pattern of our mother’s heart beat and everything swelling with it. So it’s our first pattern recognition event. And it’s our first real knowledge.”

“But we are making a leap already,without even noticing it, we are leaping into knowledge of the future. For we are going to assume, something having occurred before, and it happening again, we are going to be ready for it to happen in the future. We don’t know, of course, this is the problem of induction. There is no certainty. We cannot even know, it is the first fear perhaps, that our mother’s own heart beat won’t even continue. It seems regular, it seems to always be going on and on. We don’t know. Although in time, in the mind of a tiny baby in the womb, perhaps it comes to be taken for granted. And so we come to rely on patterns and we start to map out the future from the past.”

“And then there is the great event, that first death which we all experienced. The heartbeat ends, the darkness is blown away, the cold rushes in, and we are born.  What a bittersweet thing, to lose that heartbeat, and yet discover that we still have one of our own. What can be left to discover after that…”

There was a sudden jolt and everyone on the tram was knocked over, the girl dropped some books, which spilled over the floor. I dropped a coffee i was holding and after i finished apologising to the old lady with the dog, i noticed that her friend had already helped her to put them back in her bag. Then it was her stop and they both got off.

I saw them again the next day though, and they still seemed to be talking about induction. This time the boy was talking.

“All observations are based on the knowledge that ‘I am observing’ which is derived from those first few months of life.  It is all built up from the earliest beginnings, with thoughts such as “when I open my eyes, the light arrives”. All this knowledge is inductive, we still haven’t got any further than that first step of noticing the stream of sense data. We just have a steadily growing bank of past experience to draw more complicated reference to.  It is impossible to get past the supposition…”

The girl interrupted.

“But the stream is still there, the sense data. And this is the important thing, this is the only thing that is real. Everything else has been built up out of nothing. And so this is why unobserved entities simply can’t exist. They have no reason to exist. There is no grounds for them to exist. The cat doesn’t even exist until it is observed.”

“what about other minds then?” asked the boy

The girl thought for a minute and then replied.

“Consciousness is not an observed entity. Consciousness shares its character with that first thought, “I exist”. So the grounds for the existence of other minds is stronger than for other sense data. It is like discovering our own reflection in something. Other minds are not ordinary matter.”

They walked away then and i have not seen them again since.

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