Thursday, March 30, 2006

Flat Affect

Who wants this flat affect? I sure don't. I cansee how if would be useful in certain very specific situations. But so what? It's the time of year when everyone buries their bald ostrich heads in their books and never deigns to look up, because if they ever did they'd be so sensitive to the actual world that their retinal ganglions would explode and induce little arabesque swirls of multicoloured patches of visual field as they spill their potassium out onto neighbouring neurons, firing them in a punk-rock-wall-of-sound way. I've felt it; felt my desire to create anything ebb; felt my acceptance deteriorate and slowly turn to annoyance; felt that keeping contact with people was a burden.

It is not a burden. I welcome it. But not this week. Or maybe the start of next week. Cognitive systems are firing and the affective division is curiously silent (except for the most basal affective states: fear, formless fear, free-floating anxiety, anger, disgust). Hopefully the chronically elevated levels of cortisol won't turn my hippocampus into swiss cheese, such that I'll be a completely different person when I emerge from this particular glut.

Well, that's cheerful. This is the life I chose; although I chose this life more for the freedom of action and choice than the inevitable anxiety.

Consider: ""A true friend is somebody who you call at 3 a.m. and say 'I'm in a prison in Mexico' and (s)he replies 'No worries, I'll be there in seconds'."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Obits

Forget volumes of modern American poetry; forget Gabriel Garcia Marquez--or at least set them aside. The thing that has tweaked my emotional strings the most of late have been the memorial poems you can find in the "notices" section of any newspaper. You know the types: poems written to commemorate the anniversary of a loved one's death. They're not terribly good poems, but they invoke such a broad sweep of the circle of life that I know there's something I'm missing. Will I know what that is when I've lived to the same age as the person(s) who posted this in the paper? Obviously I'm missing out on actually having to deal with death. That will inevitably change. But as it stands I'd like to thank these obituaries for helping me climb out of a pit cut off from the rest of humanity--yes, even mainstream workaday humanity, because I'll bet you in the end there is no other kind owing to our incredible capacity to adapt. In the morning I will return to readings, AI and neuroscience where there is no room (yet) for a man commemorating the death of his wife. Once again, I said nothing about the poem being "good" in any technical sense, but you cna be sure it was heartfelt.

So consider his words: "We often think of bygone days / when we were all together. / The family chain is broken now, / but memories will live forever. / To us, she has not gone away, / nor has she travelled far, / just entered God's eternal home / and left the gate ajar."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Wine (Part XIII)

Two firsts: sitting at a bar with a drunk-skunk Irishman talking about women, and clapping my hands to flamenco music at a table full of drunk German exchange students. These are new experiences on a night that seemed quite usual in other resepctes, what with the uncalled-for stories and the slightly disturbed spatial relations of the buildings on the streets and the tables and the cars on the streets that seem frozen in time if you fixate on them really hard. The beer was green due to leftover carcinogenic dye from last week. There were dancers greedily eating nachos and bobble-head girls coming from nowhere to make me twitch, twitchy as I am.

It's just an ordinary bar on an ordinary night.

There was a fellow who came in and did a ridiculous riverdance. Probably everyone in the bar wanted to sleep with him. My feeling was that he was aiming that dance at a blonde girl he had walked in with, but she was talking to her friend and probably missed the full impact of the admittedly impressive skill. He pines for her, and on really slow nights he probably riverdances to curry favour with the ancient Celtic pantheon to aid him with his grim task.

The night is full of four-sentence anecdotes.

Inevitably we move to dimly spot-lit tables, talking to the bearded Scotsman (not an actual Scotsman), a contemporary of mine. Hearing about tits and ass and other things, hearing about preferences, proclivities to fighting, revisiting memories from three years ago, getting a fuller picture of our ancient implicit man-rivalries. He talked all night about fighting, but didn't. Instead we fell to watching a hilarious/hideous piece of real-life performace art tableaux: one woman at a pool table, four men surround her. They shout and joke and gesture to curry favour, much as the riverdancer curried favour with the gods; fights almost break out; intoxicated brains smash pool cues against the solid tables. This ruckus makes the woman realize, even in her impaired decision-making state, that something is afoot. She slips out undetected, while the men srut and pose, vying for dominance, not really realizing that such triangular hierarchies are a few decades out of date. Or so I thought.

Consider: "Mystery is the ontological foundation for tolerance."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Call

There's nothing to read any more in my tiny corner of the coffee shop: just technical manuals, how-to books on cooking up brains in vats, pamphlets on astral travel and philosophically impenetrable semantic circle-jerks. I need to go back to the kind of reading that I enjoyed on some level that still escapes me. You know the kind: reading which imposes narratives on this world and, while making you cry, is always implicitly saing "it's OK; don't worry". So which poems/novels/novellas/plays/streams-of-consciousness have made you feel that way?

In the meantime: a man walks into his house after 11 hours at the office with some Chinese take-out. As he walks in he hears sounds of flesh slapping flesh and moans of pleasure: his wife is making passionate love to his best friend. He waits until they both climax violently and volubly. He then takes off his overcoat and sits down to dinner, scooping three platefuls of noodles and mixed vegetables in special sauce (#163) out of the cardboard containers. His wife and the Other Man join him at the table.

"Try the snow peas. You guys might be a little desensitized to the pleasure, but they are phenomenal," he says.

"But we've worked up quite an apetite," says his wife.

"I hadn't thought of that."

They eat.

Consider: "Philosophy is like the mother who gave birth to and endowed all the other sciences. Therefore, one should not scorn her in her nakedness and poverty, but should hope, rather, that part of her Don Quixote ideal will live on in her children so that they do not sink into philistinism."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

13 Years

This is in many ways my saving grace. I try to put into words those ineffable "feels" or "propositional attitudes" of the language of thought. So today I took a walk into a park I have not seen in a long time. And I thought "how much has happened in 13 years". It had not been 13 years since I had walked in that park, but it sent me thinking of a time when I, eight years old, chased a temporary friend around the stakes supporting tomato plants in some muddy backyard garden. How strange! How absolutely absurd! This park I was walking through was the site of similar childhood antics a few years later. There were the willows by the stream! And there was the copse which was our hideout. All the playground eqipment has been changed, though. Probably because of a girl who fell off the plank bridge connecting two needlessly tall towers of the old structure. Apparently she had internal hemorrhaging. But that's development: the rest of us learned about the cruelty of gravity, as we learned to fall in line in the schoolyard, as we learned what the pecking order was.

I'm not explaining it well: these words are little smoke puffs coming from the censer; they serve to obscure. They obscure the pangs at the realization (one I keep getting again and again) that childhood is over; my personality has been realized; the connectionist nets implementing it in my brain are hardened by the standards of a few years ago. The only choice now is what to apply this clustering of temperament, action patterns and hobbies to. (A few thanks to formative individuals: to B.M. for his unobtrusive but looming pointer to creative endeavors, to S.R. for being the first to collapse on top of me in the snow, to O.S. for what I can only describe as necessary explorative cruelty.) To apply all this to what end? For survival? That is the ultimate end. To endure is to make one's way in the world. And then to sleep when the tired mind has been sucked of all potency.

But this post is not for those formative giants of my life. It is only a few days ago that I put into words the unifying principle begind this scattershot blog, and it deserves airing. This is written for those who I do not know, but one day may know.

Consider: "If divorce has increased by one thousand percent, don't blame the women's movement. Blame the obsolete sex roles on which our marriages were based."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Wine (Part XII)

There are couches which are good to collapse on and then there are couches with hidden sharp things in their depths. I say this because it often becomes necessary to avail oneself of a collapsing-couch, like fainting-cushions in days of yore. Especially when nights are chaotic and it gets to the point where the script and schema becomes hopelessly punctate. My interlocutor tells me a joke; do I respond? Have I heard this joke before? Is it funny? Does (s)he expect a response? It is only in times of great cognitive deptivation that questions like this get asked. And the only response that ever gets emitted is poor little A.D. collapsing on someone's shoulder. The modern fainting-cushion.

They say St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland. There are no stars tonight. Traffic lights are little fractals, and I see through the slats of the fire escape the eavestroughs of the roof. Inside our window a rigged-up mini disco ball rotates. Shadows dance. Ghetto strobe lights kick in (they work best if you flick the light switch on and off proportional to the pounding dance beat). My dancing-alone-in-my-room secret is spilling out into the living room as a holy molten wave of sweaty enlightenment into the crucibles of live and writing human bodies. They do backflips; they do pull-ups on on of the metal bars holding up the (non-functional) fire escape; there are sounds dancing up the walls into the cobwebs and wormholes in the ceiling. Above us: the housemates are watching an incredibly sad scene where a child is dying. And they say St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland. So says our blues-wailing beardo. And we hand him wine long ago transmuted to vinegar by the luck of the Irish. We'll drink some beers. Some aetherial things to keep us going, at least for a little while. The living room looks like a gay bar.

They say St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland. That's what the traffic lights told me with their rhythmic patterns. Definitely seeing some visual effects. So says the family of raccoons in our alley. Mating calls reverberate. I do the joyless twist from Pulp Fiction. I exeunt and end the night reading. I don't usually read when I'm drunk. I shouldn't try to accomplish things in such a state.

Consider: "Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before,” Bokonon tells us. “He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I've not been much into the cynicism, or the walls of negativity like walls of sound at hardcore shows, or brutal self-refutation or self-deconstruction. But let's give it a try. Let's pretend like I had formative high school experiences that still linger: you know, the kind of experiences on hilltops when I looked into your eyes and awkwardly, clumsily made my first terrifying move, but you were equally terrified so it worked a little. Let's pretend we were a couple of kids that just needed reassurance and symboolic guarantees of fidelity. Let's pretend I gave you a pin which you wore, pretend you consulted your sisters on ancient feminine lore and the formal structure of dates. Pretend I had a car I knew how to drive so we could go anywhere. Pretend we laughed and joked at the Spring Fling. Pretend we talked to our respective circles of friends about this. Pretend I knew precisely where to put my hands at which date. Pretend I swathed you in my heavy coat when you got cold on the football field. Pretend we had little "bits" we referred to and laughed about which made us smile when they popped up to remind us of how we met, those first awkward encounters, troubles which turned to stories and so on. Pretend it was all better because we waited. Pretend I actually listened to you drone on about the constellations. Pretend you lived on my street so that you were only natural around me. Pretend the snapshots I took of you in the cab ride home ended up framed in our living room twenty years down the line. Pretend we made plans during listless summer days on the verandah with the wind chimes ringing. Pretend we went grocery shopping together. Pretend you knew exactly which paint you wanted in the living room. Pretend I lorded over the unpacked boxes of that first apartment. Pretend we had our moments from the third act of a shitty romantic comedy--sad music playing while walk my dog and you channel surf aimlessly, me stacking folders and you brewing coffee disaffectedly, me looking out the window disaffectedly and you pretending to laugh at a client's witticism--followed by the uplifiting reconciliation: orchestra swselling, tulip bulbs bursting. Pretend that gimmicky first time was more "cute" than "terrible". Pretend you parents finally learned to approve of me.

In the great hedonic treadmill that are human "relationships" I don't have even the most basic groundwork. Maybe that's why I think the rituals surrounding them are insane. My opinion has not changed. Good people come and go: the senseless mechanical ritual remains constant. I don't have a dog or a pin to give or a car. Affection for me is more cerebral than limbic. That's how unbalanced people have. And (jai deva guru om), nothing's gonna change my world.

Consider: "Education would be much more effective if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school every student should know how much they don't know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Urban Soup (Part XI)

What have we here? We have a table steeped in lore. We have ruts in the ancient wood which I suspect was ripped out of an old-growth forest by shirtless men with bronzed backs in some forgotten unhygienic before-time. These ruts which were made by nervous fingers tapping, and frightened nails clawing, and bored forks wandering and erosion from spilled coffee or tea or chai or water or molasses. I am here; here where I drink the coffee; here where I read radical philosophical theses. Here where at the next table people not much younger than me are planning a culture jam of the soulless capitalist machine. I was reading but now I am using conversation as an excuse to powerslack. I want to talk to everyone but instead I am talking to one of my doppelgangers, except this one has not been to class in three weeks; he has circled and hummed and wandered the entire time; he has wept and snickered his way through books of poetry; he has taught himself the violin and the tarot cards. Next to him is the firghtened puppy barista, fretting yet resigned about her three jobs or full schedule or ADHD brother. We are rapidly becoming wells of negativity with modern-day insta-critiques of society, which usually begin with horrible shallow role-inculcation during high school, which proceed through howling at the moon un some pagan ritual where the totem pole is given its mystical power by rubbing it with moss soaked with the menstrual blood of the coven, right through the awful first years of university lecture halls where taxonomically pulsating passion is exhausted by syllabi that rain on our heads for a decade, by cover letters which are verbal equivalents of a smile permanently fixed by an adminsitration of the botulinium toxin. We will talk that day of the most interesting people who will never tell you anything iteresting, of stand-offish sidewalk encounters, of the ghettos of downtown Toronto and of the ignorance. My god, the ignorance. I would like to tell these people what I read about mindfulness meditation and how it differs from concentrative or transcendental meditation, but I cannot since they are things I have not practiced, and I am in no mood to liberally sprinkle snake oil onto the canyons on the table. We will talk of pill addictions and pill recreations, we will talk of children playing the cello on a sunny meadow; we will talk about awareness and consciousness-building, and I will interject to mention sight without awareness and how folk psychology and its conceptial framewwork for the mind is stupid and evil. And we will continue to talk, the shaggy-haired devil pisqueak, the barista and I. And the two of them will touch each other and connect via synapses through their skin while their inert words talk of alienation. Tonight they will end up panting and sweating together in either of their grimy beds. They will not know it, but their rapid exit will give me an idea for the beginning of the essay I should have been researching, and I will jot it down on a cocktail napkin that will fortuitously blow across the rutted table.

Consider: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Imam (Part I)

(A new attempt at a serialized short story. Bear with me.)

It's clicking again; rapid clicking. Soon it will go back to a more sustained buzzing. Then it will click at a slightly higher pitch before dropping down to the original pitch. The original pitch is 312 hertz (Hz). That's 312 cycles per second. I know this because it is my job to know the ins and outs of the clicking mechanism, among other things. The buzzing portion sounds like an alarm. The final clicking portion is between 437 and 443 Hz, depending on the temperature inside the chamber. We try to keep it constant, because this clicking pitch is actually essential to the smooth operation of the machine. That's why they have someone dedicated to knowing these things: they are salient. They are salient because this machine is essential for understanding what's going on in people's heads. That's right: I tend to the needs and wants of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. I won’t bore you with the details, but let me say that it measures brain activity. It is new and exciting. It gobbles power. It costs a great deal of money, and like any pseudosentient marvel of technology it tends to whine. That’s what I call it when it’s not quite broken, but it sends signals to my control panel telling me something is not right. I will then fiddle with the various functions, tools, diagnostics and controls in my toolbox to act as a final line of defense and restore homeostasis. And they call me a controller! If some subjects only knew how close the electromagnet came to giving out. Do you know what happens when an electromagnet that is generating a magnetic field 6,000,000 times stronger than the Earth’s gives out? I can only imagine, but I’d sure as hell feel sorry for the poor sucker whose head is in the center of the hungry, sick mechanism. From what I know, there would be a massive electric kickback, something on the order of a few hundred thousand lightning bolts aimed at the skull. Light bright enough to bleach the soul. Heat of such magnitude that if anything were to survive after that cataclysm, modern philosophical materialism would quickly run down the shitter. But I suppose there are worse ways to die.


I know it's barely an introduction, but the blogging software has been having some problems lately.

Consider: "No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Track Marks

They gave me drugs. They took my blood. They popped the radioactive tracers into my bloodstream; I imagine it as a green (why green?) miasma sprouting out like a tree from my left brachial artery, aimlessly wandering until it finally lights up the circle of Willis and various smaller wraithlike arterioles, plunging into the darkest of all mysteries (ever since we demystified God by refusing to talk about it) within the brain. They injected me there repeatedly, and I didn't put enough pressure on the hole in my venous endothelium, so there will be a bruise. They poked my legs and tapped my forehead, made me go limp as a marionette, "opened up" my skull to look at my cerebellum through indirect testing of motor function. I now have some solidarity with the schizophrenics I sometimes interact with, having had the ascending mesolimbic dopaminergic pathway (the "reward pathway") blocked for a few hours. What do we have in life if we don't have that? What would you surrender your sense of reward for? Let me rephrase that: what would it take for you to willingly give up on feeling pleasure? Imagine making them make that choice. Every day, you must either function as a kludge or be stigmatized out of civil society. What kind of choice is that? What are you living for? The question here isn't one of whether this is unjust or not. The question is deeper. What kind of justice can there be in the world if some people are born with this limitation? I have no problem answering why schizophrenia might persist in the population. But the moral superstructure cannot deal with it. This is one of the reasons I'm skeptical of any great sentimental universal justice. Those that grow to expect it will inevitably be disappointed. This in no way advocates that everyhting is meaningless; on the contrary, isn't it the case that injustice inserts a lot of meaningful goals into any life? I have never found "freedom" more meaningful than when it is trampled on. So is meaning the same thing as salience? It's similar: I don't know how else I could characterize it. How would you characterize it?

Wisdom from the East: "Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful."

Sunday, March 05, 2006


What would I do if this pain in my head turned out to be brain damage? A tumor? I know that the brain has no pain receptors, but what about unruly cells pressing against my skull? Would I end in shame? Would I just be a collection of unfinished threads? A cluster of knots that never quite got tightened up? A set of desires destined to be dashed up on some wall, commemorated in a brass plaque in the crematorium, a form letter from the Organ Bank? A score of short stories that always seem to peter off by mid-arc? A weblog that turned in circles and turned inwards, that was written for no-one and everyone, to the city, to my friends but mostly to total strangers? A sad computerized minima black reflecting inner depth at times and inner obfuscation at others? A journal of sorts which has sustained its volume of readership but has lost the interactive quality? What will I be? Will I be cremated? Will it be triumphant? I'd like it to be triumphant, but I've been raised for two decades to look over the next hill: "when you are out of school...", "when you finish your story...", "when you've acquired the necessary experience...", "when you've sorted your confusion out...", "when you're ready to rejoin the rest of us...". Will I be able to finish the last testament, written with the greatest sense of urgency? Or will that peter out as well, left at half-paragraph as my executive function unravels? If I could not achieve enlightenment in the time between diagnosis of tumor and death by surgery, odds are an entire lifetime will not be enough either. Does that mean that I have all the time regardless of the "imminence" of death? I have all the time in my world. Living is the longest thing any one of us will do. I would have preferred to be crushed by a cinderblock, or splattered by a falling construction crane, or vaporized, or melted, not to die bloated and cancerous. But such are wishes: they breed hubris, and they obscure the fact that we have all the time in the world. I walked the streets for hours, and were I more courageous I would perform neuropsychological tests on passers-by. That would be a gay old time. What would they think? Poor little A.D. has finally lost his mind. Now all that is left is to scatter his ashes in the ravine. But only symbolically. Preferrably only bone. The rest of my tissues can go to either the trees or as organs for people who actually need the damn things.

On a Wall, Worth Repeating: "Beauty is our only weapon."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Heaven Incident

Heaven, in the dominant conception, is bullshit. Eternal bliss does not jive with most of the aspects of human psychology. Our brains--that is to say our minds, our souls, however you choose to sneakily label them--are wired to adapt, and whether they adapt to hapiness or horror doesn't really matter, except that it's easier to adapt to happiness. That's why I posit that eternal bliss cannot work. Similarly, if you conceive of heaven as like being on pleasure-producing drugs all the time, it still wouldn't work, for the same reasons of adaptation, except now they're biochemical reasons.

Having said my piece about the plausibility of heaven, I've always found the following parable intensely useful. I think it is an ancient Chinese story, but I could be very, very wrong:

A person dies and goes to hell. In hell, everyone is seated around tables ten meters in radius (they cannot move). In the center of a typcial table is a pile of the most delicious, succulent food all of them have ever seen. Beside each person is a pair of chopsticks ten meters long. Each person reaches into the center and tries to feed themselves, to no avail. So we have eternal life with eternal starvation! Heaven is the exact same arrangement, except each person reaches into the center and feeds someone ten meters away on the circumference of the table. So we have eternal gluttonous bliss!

Why do I like that story so much? It requires nothing outside of human capabilities. It hints at where ethical behaviour comes from. It Manages to balance on the razor's edge between self-promotion and selflesness. (I don't really think I need to explain it, that's why it's a parable, a high-level analogy that works better than just asserting the principles we should live by.)

Consider: "There are no atheists in foxholes isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

High Lonesome Wednesdays

See the manic trumpeteer blasting and blorting his melody at 1 a.m. and inducing brooms to hit the ceiling below. See the great assembly on the rostrum in the Blues Club, with its dancing and its tunes bouncing off the walls and innervating knees so that they keep twitching. See the overcaffeinated row of three tables where scarved and hooded figures half-sleep in the sounds of pandemonium. Or how about the twitching dancers in front of the rostrum? Where are the panthers that leap into the rooms and predate the hell out of this impromptu party? Where are the excessively long tables piled high with newspapers where I tried to write a poem which ended up spilling onto the table and made me blush and leave really quickly? Where are the box sets of "essential listening" CDs for the modern iconoclast? They are high lonesome Wednesdays. Try drinking until you can't feel feelings any more. Try swallowing your jealousy at the mandolin player whose fingers are like hummingbirds, or your inadequacy at the nasal twangy harmonies they manage to extract, which are like gossamer feathers compared to your bullshit affected throaty rasp. This attempt at Cohenesque prettiness is declared over, with mixed results, as usual.

Consider: "The handful of hotel guests were still there, alone again, except now they were confronted with a hundreds-strong armada of hipsters overhead, arrayed shoulder to shoulder, staring silently down. But intimidation was not the point; we were staring down at where we had just been, and also across at one another, two hundred artist-spectators commandeering an atrium on Forty-second Street as a coliseum-style theater of self-regard. After five minutes of staring, the ring erupted into precisely fifteen seconds of tumultuous applause—for itself—after which it scattered back downstairs and out the door, just as the police cruisers were rolling up, flashers on."