Monday, October 30, 2006

The Fable

So I classify myself as an "atheist". I classify myself as "agnostic". (I'd like to think I'm not prone to being pigeonholed, but such is life.) Some people think this is a contradiction. I don't. Here's how it goes down. Assuming for a second we know what the hell we mean by God (or G-d, YHWH, Jehovah, Allah, Atman, The Ordering Principle, Fate, Cronos, The Creator, ya dig?), my views run like this: regarding God-knowledge--I don't know, and you don't know either. If you say you do, you're lying. If you've had first-person experience of something numinous, something transcendent (for example Ginsberg's finding "God" in Blake's voice), good for you. But it can't be what you mean by God. We have drugs that induce these experiences. There is a neuroscientist in Sudbury who can induce these with finely-patterned magnetic pulses to specific cortical association areas. Anyway, there's the agnosticism. But it you really press me, I may get cranky and I'll make my probabilistic argument: the likelihood is astronomically small, especially with your personal God. Keep your red herring off my table; we've got bigger problems. Shit, algal blooms are more relevant.

If you ask me, ever since the emergence of monotheism, religious practice has been overextended. The most likely gods to exist are things like polytheistic pantheons. Except I would put them somewhere in my limbic system, or as properties of hard-wired organization of human consciousness. These gods are jealous; they fight and cheat on each other and tell stories and keep secrets. That's the most likely thing that's going on beneath our conscious surface. Sometimes I feel Apollonian, sometimes Dionysian; sometimes Mercurial, sometimes Jovial or Saturnine. Sometimes I am Cronos eating my children. I get seized by moods. I can dig that explanation. But it's always an "as if" explanation.

Pretty far from the god we "had in mind", eh? Except I'd argue we didn't have the concept to begin with. So why, then, do people rage and kill and whip children over Old Testament stories, but not Aesop's fables. Here some people say we absolutely need religion for meaning in our lives. I agree with the "we need meaning in our lives" part. In many ways, the humanities killed the religions. I don't need Jesus if I have Camus' Etranger. Odin has nothing on Optimus Prime. Nietzsche could take on at least half a dozen apostles and St. Paul, to boot. If it came to that, Hafiz would show Mohammed what's what. And the Dharma Bums can hold their own against the gurus of the Pacific Islands.

Let me say this: I wil noy begrudge anyone their myths. But myths must be seen as myths. And I don't mean myth in the belittling sense. Most of our lives are spent in myth. They are framed by myth. As a child said: "myths are stories that are not true on the outside, but are true on the inside". That's what myths can do. What they can't do is furnish the contents of immediate experience. That is the hinge of the other great facility of the human mind.

Consider: "When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous."

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Wanderers (Part II)

A short one: next week I will go to the park. I will hike and trek in what approximates the wilderness. I hope it isa bleak day. I hope by that point the wind has ripped the leavges from all the deciduous trees. I hope they coat the ground in slick compact messes. I hope they freeze and make crinkling noises mixed with the squooshing of suction as boots lift from mud. I hope a bitter north wind blows and rustles my overcoat, flaying my goosebumped skin. I hope to mortify that flesh too weak from days in warm climes that has feasted on mead and taken too much for granted. I hope to huddle with my fire and watch the imperturbable deeps again, to fathom the abode of the nymphs, to hear the pizzicato huddling of violins from, of course, Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Crackling and rose-cheeked, watching breath hang in the air, feeling my face crush under the onslaught. But inside I am warm and whole and dry. Nobody said healing was flowers and sunshine in a madala lotus garden. No, healing is the narrow alleyways of Liverpool with its unlikely sages, the pubs with their islands of gold on the pool table, the foggy crags with arrogant lords' wills to power.

Consider: "The struggle of humanity against power is the struggle of remembering against forgetting."

Monday, October 23, 2006


If anyone wants my opinion, sci-fi has done a disservice to science as reality, at least my field. If we ever initiate the Butlerian Jihad by making a machine in the likeness of the mind, people think it will be super-intelligent and somehow capable of outsmarting us. First of all, these idiots underestimate the difficulty--fucking! difficulty--of making any machine approximating a human intelligence. And I don't mean in terms of speed. Idiots think that AI automatically means a computer's speed plus a human's resourcefulness. The only reason our current computers are so fast is that we've done all the hard work of defining all their problems for them. All they have to do is crunch through teraflops of well-defined steps. This is nothing new.

Here's the deal: what will be the first symptom of an emerging intelligence? Not a theorem crunched out, not a chess-game played well, not the capacoty to control aircraft in some terrifying Skynet way. No: the first triumph of our upstart intelligence will be confusion. By confusion, of course, I don't mean some sort of breakdown, some sort of error message, or a stubborn failure to work through a problem. I mean a machine that notices something is amiss and strives to change that situation. It will almost certainly fail, but that little program's "well, that's odd!" should rank up there with thhe moon landing. How long until that happens? Don't count on it in our lifetimes.

Until robots mull, until they get fristrated, until they are girt in emotions to determine the value of objects in this world, until they dream, until they develop heuristics that might lead them astray, until some of them turn away from (artificial) life in "disgust", until they begin to ostracize each other, until they begin to experience cognitive dissonance, until they grow attached, until they experience rude awakenings they will not be close to intelligent. Idiots have made AI appear to be a discipline of transistors and relays. Somebody convinced an ignorant public bigger and better machines were the answer. Someone was a money-grubbing technocrat asshole.

Consider: "By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. Just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root. I don't know. You try. You do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously, though. If you are, do. No, really. There's no rationalisation for what you do, and you are Satan's little helpers, okay? Kill yourself. Seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No, this is not a joke, if you're going: "There's going to be a joke coming." There's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked, and you are fucking us. Kill yourself, it's the only way to save your fucking soul. Kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going: "He's doing a joke." There's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend – I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations."


...then ERAKLAION, wielding the Staff of Speech, ascended the dais and adressed the assembly:

"Father! Friends! Servants, both male and female! Machemalius, you whose hosts threaten outside the city walls! What is the meaning of calling assembly if you will not listen to a word the people of Herakleia offer to you? Surely, regardless of the outcome of the struggle which will almost surely come to pass outside these walls, you wish to learn something of the people you might be called on to rule and bend to your will. Even if we are vanquished and all the young men of Herkleia put to the sword, surely even then you will have to contend with the deadlier barbs of the whispers of old men in the marketplace, or the harangues of old washer-women on the collonnades of my father's palace! Surely, Machemalius, you wish to gain some insight into the workings of our foreign minds! Your people are of the pastures, ill-versed in the ways of trade and commerce. Tell, me, conqueror, have you ever parleyed with a crew of Numidian sailors? All the spears, shields, swords, arrows and polearms in all the seven seas will not suffice to afright these men! Who will you count on to build your fortune, lest it be carried away across the trackless seas only they can navigate? Who will fill your amphoras with wine sweet and delicate if you cannot grow the right grapes. You talk of slaughter. You threaten to cut the flower of Herakleia's youth. But, conquering "hero", it is certain you will grow old behind these walls in a manner of weeks. Where will your shepherd soul run? Where will you hide the wrinkles between your brows, the aspect of ape-like puzzlement? Where, pray tell, warrior, will you find your skill with the abacus if I do not teach it to you? Such is the case with the folk from the northlands: good for felling trees, and rollign those trees down mighty rivers. It develops a solid physique, but it sears the mind with its indelible stamp: the stamp of illiteracy, the stamp of innumeracy, of the kind that flees tall vaulted buildings for fear of them falling. Such foolishness hopes to conquer Herkleia? Hah! Father, briends, servants: do not listen to his empty, stammering words!"

And with this a mightly derisive roar rose up from the people, and Machemalius, his tongue paralyzed by surprise, left the hall without firther words, and was followed to the gate by old women who clacked their tongues.

Consider: "In a world where everything is ridiculous, nothing can be ridiculed. You cannot unmask a mask."

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Let's take a sampling of the baffling torrent of images that come out of a single night. Like looking through a photo album. Pictures of dark iron fences relieved against trees in the backgorund. Beyond that: brick. Here are the arrays of my own psychic currents: here my sundered life. Here my brother dances with wolves, but even the wolves are tame even tohugh he does not know it. Here are the three women: one the quentessence of softness ready to envelop and protect, all couch cushions and hands held, all the marvel at the dancing star, all puppetry and acceptances and long walks; one is the ringletted hardness of chthonic past--seductive and fascinating, the spirit of the streetcars, the song of the hardened steel beams under the railway bridge, the blast of colossal speakers in graffitti-speckled little rooms; the third: the woman of the orange rays of setting sun, darkened over with cataracts in her old age, rocking by the fire and taking up the call from the book of Yeats' poetry, vast quilts at her lap and feet and the dance of cherubs. I am standing in a tree, on a darkened plain; the first owman is to my north, the second to my east and the tird to my west. The wheeling of Cassiopea marks the time; the shooting star punctuates the stillness; in the stillness I can hear the beat of hardened drums. I can see the pinpricks of cooking fires. And I see towards me coming the clans and families, parades and processions on horseback, carrying children and cauldrons coming to take away the last tree in the plain. Horse archers firing flaming arrows. Cannons loaded with utensils drawn by teams of fifty oxen. Infantry advances in a closing circle. The generals order their banners unfurled. All is still after the commotion. They are puzzled; they expect resistance, or if not resistance, then at least the Sakyamuni with some gesture of peaces. I offer no "pace, pace!"--and their confuzzlement will not be permanent. The moon rises in the horizon, but they are undeterred. They know the procession on the machine of the night. It is the clouds of the day they fear; it is the eagles from on high they fear. It is the gnu they fear, these feasters on human flesh. They fear not night; their astronomers have accounted for its vagaries well. But they will obey the burning tempests set down to quench them. They will pay their due tribute to the gods who must be dancing.

Consider: "Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self."

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Rationale: inner otherness is your first encounter with some aspect of the self that is impersonal, that is, in a way, collective and immortal. What would that look like for me? It would be a mishmash of opposites. That is, her

Someone once called me an old soul. Let me explain what that doesn't mean. It doesn't imply wisdom or experience. All it implies is a certain weariness, and weariness is no stranger to me. Neither are black moods, fears of death, the rattles of the cage, though I dance my chains like the sea (a little idiosyncratic Dylan Thomas there). So much for the pseudo-self-help astrology-grade insight.

So why this little girl? Look at her again. She is striking. She is perceptive. She is already accusing you, having seen that which you are hiding. She does not take you at face value, her default take being to assume the average knot of ill-understood drives lying somewhere behind the mask you show to the world. You can just tell she has an older brother--a mentally unstable older brother. Perhaps he is hyperactive, or has issues with rage, or drinks heavily, or goes out onto the streets to steal and loot to feed other addictions. She is the only one that can melt him, but sometimes her accusing eyes only worsen his rage. Her parents are absent, if not physically, then mentally. Fixated on jobs, or cleanliness, or travelling as a pathological form of futile escape, or obsessed with "finding themselves"--and reading to that end all the Freud, the Jung and Adler, all the Maslow, Deepak Chopra, Dalai Lama, books of Zen koans, books on flower arranging, Tai Chi, physiological psychology, books on faith healing and out-of-body experiences, UFOs, Norse Mythology, evolutionary theory. I bet she already knows how to cook, and all her early childish blunders (the "darndest things") have already tightened up. The fount of words is still there, but it is a fount of insight, mostly kept to the self, transferred to a totemic toy (a truck, a teddy bear, a blanket, a mirror), or played out with an imaginery friend. She stares at animals and backs away from them--she'll feel no communion. And how can she? She is terrifying. Also seductive (not in that way--but my words stand as they are). She embodies what I m not and aspire to, but lazily. Wisdom, not just dusty oldness. Imaginativeness, not fact-memory. Actual cretion of new myths instead of waiting for one to drop into your lap. I'll bet she dreams such vivid dreams, and what comes to her if she pierces through the vague swirl of the day's events. If she pulls back her brother stumbling in high/angry/retarded, if she climbs over the molasses waterfall of here parents talking politics/religion/science over the dinner table, she will find her own inner otherness. Is that me?

Consider: "If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Waking Eye

I collect nuts in the hope of nurturing the great sundered tree within. I'm trying to construct the overarching frame based off directed wandering, a kind of prolegomena to a mystical experience. Another thing that really helps is "art". We experienced an entire night of art (and art parties) a few days ago. Hurried impressions will have to do. Giant chess set under a ginat cardboard box in the sky--ten-year-old DJs in a gymnasium full of rubber balls--watching light stream in from behind a tree in thick fog--watching fire jugglers from the same fog--staring into nothing but fog: nothing but white--here our experienced wiped bare, laid bare, taken up a notch by being screened--muddy-soled people vanishing into fat air--midnight solitude-benches of confession taken up an inappropriate level--I can think of at least one person who would have eaten human flesh to be here today--shadow puppets on the clouds--fearful revelry on the back of a giant turtle--searching for a stick in the reeds--"here are all the people that will probably be at your funeral"--staring at the mandala and dreaming of life a nightmare--ephemeral wire sculptures feminine as the moon--great winking Jupiter-eyes of sheep grazing repetitively--(the story begins here)--sky tree vibrations in the arch of my foot--hot chocolate with wisps of cinnamon--yurts in reading rooms settung up a disco-sauna--Conrad-esque hallways--echoic listening experiments--bored ushers talking to stay awake--cordoned and pigeonholed and soaking with sweat and rain and fog--choke on fog--light the bowl--dream of the shadow of your umbrella--subborn feminists turned to stone--"we should do this every night"--freestyle spoken-word chance untaken, unbidden, regretted--mystical and bored--housewarming invites--the madness--the muzak--we'll not be be back again for a year.

Consider: "me-ism - a search by an individual, in the absence of training in traditional religious tenets, to formulate a personally tailored religion by himself. Most frequently a mishmash of reincarnation, personal dialogue with a nebulously defined god figure, naturalism, and karmic eye-for-eye attitudes."