Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing Sex Scenes Personal Experience

There's an article on sexuality and writing making the rounds. What I wanted to point at, briefly, was this quote:

Mitzi Szereto, an author and teacher of erotic writing workshops, says writers on her courses are held back when they seek refuge in their own sexual histories: "You wouldn't rely on personal experience for any other kind of fiction writing so why would you when crafting a sex scene? I encourage people to write beyond their own sexual encounters, and when they do, they are less inhibited and more creative." (Article
The italics are mine. You wouldn't? Exactly what genuine place would we write from, then? "Write what you know" of course doesn't mean that all writing needs to be strictly autobiographical, but it must be genuine. It has to come from a direct contact with our inner experience, even if it is a little bit like method acting, in reverse. (In method acting, you meet the character by finding the part of your own experience that resonates with it, and you go to that "place." With writing many times you need to start from that "place" and bring it to the character. Or that's how it has often seemed to work, for me.)

I have also of course found my work becoming increasingly autobiographical as I progress as a writer, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a surprising amount of personal experience that informs even minor details in the construction of a scene. In other words, we can rely on our personal experience without being restricted by it. There is research, there is an "acting" element to writing, and there is experience. All of those things need to come into alignment. And this does mean that our range as authors is somewhat restricted if we want to stay "genuine." I haven't written homosexual men into any stories I've written so far, because I simply can't put myself in the headspace. I can't connect with it because I don't have a point of reference, unless if I'm just to transpose my sexual attraction to women onto men and pretend it is the same, which it is not. It wouldn't be real. I've had characters in my stories where friends served as inspiration for those characters, and I had to go to them for input about how to write something (or in collaborative efforts, just had them write their "own" first draft material themselves.)

In other words, I think this quote misses the point somewhat. You can "write beyond your own sexual encounters," and yet still inform it with personal experience- personal experience of desire, of longing, of fear, of awkwardness, or of whatever it is that a scene is meant to convey. I had to write a sex scene that was intentionally pornographic, that is, it had to be as called for by the story. That may have been the most odd for me not out of lack of experience - personally or professionally - but because I knew some would read it and think I was suddenly falling on overwrought cliche, when it was what was demanded based on the characters involved, in that situation. (It's a sex dream where Lilith first finds Dionysus and seduces him.)

So when writing about sex, whether the intent is supposed to be interesting, arousing, comical, horrifying, or some mixture of all the above, I don't see any reason that one shouldn't do the exact same thing- begin with the impulses within ones self and then change them, put them through the "filter" of the character(s) in question.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Psychology of Literature Your Novel Is Not A Sandwich

(Yes, to those who've asked previously- that is me. Or was. I've lost some hair.)

NOTE: This post is rife with spoilers for my upcoming book, used for the sake of example. 
I personally don't give a fuck about spoilers, but some people seem to, so I thought I'd warn you. 
Only really, really small. So this is a vision test, too. Did you pass?   


  Let's get right to it. I am going to deftly demonstrate to you that a novel is not, in fact, a sandwich. As this stands in glaring conflict with everything you have come to know since the point of your birth, this is going to take some work. So bear with me, please.
    All literary conventions show us intrinsic myths about how we perceive ourselves and the world. The centrality of a protagonist or groups of protagonists we can identify with, the need for a plot that moves coherently forward, these things are based both on how we are trained to conceive of narrative, and it is how also how we expect or want it to be. They do not, in fact, strictly follow the pattern laid out by life. Rather, it is a narrative structurer imposed upon life. Art is the lie that tells the truth, after all. Even the sense of time, place, and gender afforded by the language that a story is written in encodes the limitations of the thoughts that can be expressed within that language.
Take “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...” Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say “sat” rather than “sit.” In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) change the verb to mark tense.
In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall. In Turkish, you would have to include in the verb how you acquired this information. For example, if you saw the chubby fellow on the wall with your own eyes, you'd use one form of the verb, but if you had simply read or heard about it, you'd use a different form.
Do English, Indonesian, Russian and Turkish speakers end up attending to, understanding, and remembering their experiences differently simply because they speak different languages? (Boroditsky, “Lost In Translation,” The Wall Street Journal)
    These points may seem dully self apparent to some of you, but think about the conventions of fiction literature: not only different genres but also different literary movements. For instance, the so called post-modern desire to attack or change linearity or the self within a piece: also a psychological orientation. What is post-modernism but a hall of mirrors, a boundary which could not be traversed? Many tried to use the bricolage of all times, all cultures to create a new, open narrative but found themselves bounded, all the same, within the confines of what they were. What they know.
    As an author, thankfully, we can embrace these limitations, or at least choose them with greater freedom than ever before. We needn't escape ourselves, but we do need to be aware of relationships between consciousness, experience, and culture to be a writer. Or so I have come to realize. However, we must also learn the mystical art of making a living in an industry built from paper-thin profits, and it wouldn't hurt to be able to reverse engineer a tank and create an irrigation system out of branches and vines while you're at it.

    The publishing world has moved far away from the position of post-modernism, seeking as always to find a safe, dark place where it can grow, unchallenged. (In my imagination, the publishing industry has just transformed into Shelob.) The menu is ostensibly based on what people are buying, and people buy off the menu because it is menu we are trained to pick from.
    Genre fiction does not rule in sales just because of its ease, but because it primarily serves to provide a kind of predictability, a kind of preselected experience, which we find lacking in life. It is comfort food in all times, but we need it most in times when the most well-adapted learn that hiding in fantasy can be a survival technique. Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, etc are intrinsically “Special.” We are not. At the least, we believe we are not, and we seek to be. How any stories depend on some variant of this principle? The narratives of pop culture further simplify and centralize the desire for an ego to be gratified in its uniqueness, to be recognized and rewarded. To stand out, to have meaning conferred from the outside. This too is the opiate of consumerism, value granted not from within but without. (And any amount of self-congratulation falls pretty flat when your stomach is empty.)
     Certainly it would seem odd to us to have a story full of protagonists who accomplish fairly little, a story arranged in no particular order which begins somewhere around chapter 3 and ends at chapter 6, right before it seems it just might go somewhere. (Heart failure. Poor guy.) But this might be a more accurate portrayal of many of our lives.
    Of course, this approach too could be analyzed as the need for banality to structure experience. All attempts at rendering story, or of obscuring all the parts that we think of as story, belies an underlying intent. John Cage's 4'22" of silence still attempts to make a statement. As I said previously about myth and the arts, it is impossible for a piece of art or literature to be spoken of, even if the actual piece is a blank page, without a myth or narrative forming around that empty space. Perhaps the narrative is simply “the man has gone stark raving mad, clearly.” But then that is the story, and for all we know the artist could play that up and his relatives could make millions long after his impoverished body is interned under some unmarked grave. (This is part of what we've been playing with in “the world's first Gonzomentary series,” Clark.)

    So what does any of this have to do with anything? This all occured to me when I was asked – not once but several times in a day – what the point of Party At The World's End is. (This is one of the books I am at this moment wrapping up and looking to sell.) Not what themes does it try to convey, and in what way, etc but what point does it serve? Three or four times, one day. As I've wrapped up the writing process, it now enters the phase where you have to look over what you've done and try to figure out how you're going to frame it to publishers, the press, and try to convince them to pass that narrative along for you. So, I've been thinking about this a great deal and reading agent and publisher blogs like they're crack and I'm hooked. Obviously, this “point” thing would have to turn into a deconstruction of the purpose of this story.
    All I had was the truth, and that didn't sound very good. Every time I was asked I tried to give an honest answer, and each time I felt guilty for doing exactly what you're told not to do by agents and publishing houses: I told them the damn thing didn't have a point. It has characters and rising and falling actions and themes. It has witty banter and plenty of sex and drugs and even an underlying cosmology and mythological structure, which I hope to continue to expand upon in all the follow-up pieces I have planned. It has characters that begin “Special” and want you to join their “Special” club where you can be “Special” with them, (and explore a drug-addled orgy-a-thon.) It has, I believe, a market that can be reached with sufficient access to press and distribution. But a point? I felt flippant every time saying this but it strikes me as deeply odd that a story should have a point, any more than our lives do.
    Ah, but products do. A sandwich has a point. You could wear it as a hat but it was constructed for a reason, and people would know something was up if you started wearing a sandwich as a hat. That's not what they are for. Few would arrange bread and meat into a certain configuration and said “there, My Work is finished,” with a sense of creative accomplishment without there being a point behind that behavior. If someone did we might be more prone to look for that psychological motive behind that action. (Now I'm thinking about the “mashed potatoes” scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, just assume at this point that I've constructed a structure out of sandwich parts which I think represents my psychic connection with the aliens. The roast beef configuration over here clearly demonstrates that they'll be landing at these co-ordinates. Alright. We're on the same page now.)
    Well, similarly, a story that is meant to be sold has a point: to express certain ideas, or a certain point of view, in a manner that hopefully provides a bit of entertainment in the process. Bearing in mind that some of you are twisted fuckers and derive enjoyment from horrible, savage things. And I am quite willing to be your pusher.
    But what would be unique about my story beyond that? Doubtfully anything if I haven't revolutionized “story” (I have not), so then the point must fall to what the ideas are that I'm trying to express.
    Let's take this full circle: the form and format of an art form, literature in this case, shows things not as they are, not even as we personally wish they may be (though some try), no – to those in the process of crafting a message, they represent what various people in between the artist and you think you want to hear. Agents, film studios, publishers, etc want to get behind something they think represents an identified – codified, even – mechanism of desire. What is the point of a piece then? To satisfy their concept of your desire, represented and quantified through sales, focus groups, and so on ad nauseum. When you're framing something for them, then, it's a guessing game. You're pitching to what you think they think you want to read. That's convoluted, right? It's the kind of thing that'll trip you up worse the more you think about it.
    Formulas, genres and so on obviously work on this method, as a cost/risk value assessment, and the only way to expand them is to go straight to the source. In other words, some guy over in the corner can write a book or maybe – if they're really resourceful and have a ton of talented, reliable friends – make a movie. Or someone can pitch an idea and “crowdsource” the funds. They can do so without any consideration of the psychological desire that the piece fulfills. Or they can base it on something else, something rooted in their personal narrative.
     However, there is no solid mechanism for taking that and delivering it to people who may find value in it. You're lost in the wilderness and now you have this nice paperweight to keep you company. It's called your novel. Or album. Or film. Whatever it is, it's an albatross across your neck until you Sell It one way or another. Some people might like it but most likely they won't hear about it, and even if they do, and they're interested, ten thousand other things with larger budgets are vying for their attention Every. Waking. Second. (If you want to really experience what this is like first hand, go to Comic Con and try to push your book with a budget of $500. Make sure to get a booth right next to Marvel.)
     So, right now I'm making an attempt at the art of compromise. Which is backstory for you, but I still find myself wondering what the point of this story is. Obviously I'm no closer to that. I could start where the story itself was reborn, with a re-appraisal of its themes. I took a number of ideas embodied in myths and legends about Dionysus and Lilith and several other myths – the idea that the satisfaction of desire is immoral, that desire itself is neither moral not immoral, and that the moral is not necessarily ethical, that the Patriarchy represents order and when it comes out of balance nature must come in and bring things back into accord, and mythologically this is done through the hand of the “dark mother.” All of these were in mind when I wrote the first version of this book, and after a complete rewrite and god knows how many drafts in-between, I think I managed to capture some of those themes without hitting you over the head with any of them. In short: the protagonists are like walking ids. Got it. Pretty abstract stuff, but in conjunction with my personal experiences it wasn't hard to find the characters, and of course all of them have taken on certain elements of many people I've known. They have been abstracted, worked into an archetype, and may blend characteristics of three different people to create this new character. Basic myth-making.
     Stories need conflict, though. Easy. The idea that a “terrorist” is, in potential, simply someone who doesn't agree with me, and that the outsider and the ideological terrorist – as Robert Anton Wilson used to say, the ontological terrorist – are one and the same. There's the difference between manifesto and story.  Fiction is slow going because exposition is easy. Well. I could go on with the themes but Fuck! as I said, these are not points, purposes, but rather...well, themes.
    So then I think, “alright, scratch starting this synopsis thing from the standpoint of themes. Let's go at it from the standpoint of the process.” After all, this story was scripted off of a tight blueprint. Like a bunch of stoned architects, Jason Stackhouse and I drew up a scene list that followed logically from a simple idea, born from our theme: outsiders are identified as terrorists, marginalized, break out and improbably form an almost gypsy rock band slash travelling mad-house, around which a veritable army of outsiders and vagrant youth gather. (Using methods part Anonymous, part Greatful Dead, part Hammas, and of course there is something of the TAZ concept in there as well).
     The fictional audience in the book may as well be the intended real-life market. Marketing. This nails a central psychological need of the counter-culture, which are by their nature usually young movements: to find the Others, as has been said in counter culture lit a thousand times now. Find the Other freaks, that is. We've already explored this idea at length together in this book. The others are the other square pegs in a round hole kind of world, and to hell with the fact that the basis of this psychological need is antithetical to the ideals most American counterculture figures espouse, you know, the Anarcho-Libertarian “everyone for themselves,” “the individual is the only true authority” mentality. So invariably you get those who cluster to the “scene” as a sort of identity fashion statement, and in this story they are the first people to get mowed down.

    The outsiders in the story spread their contagion into the mainstream, and the lot of them wind up as target practice for federal agents and hired guns – the sacrificial blood. The very fabric of an already unstable society unravels, but the final stages of this occur in the background, as our protagonist has no further involvement with what “revolution” may follow his involvement in it. The story must attempt to follow him, though we soon see that his involvement with the story, in terms of the ongoing narrative he helped establish, is essentially over after that bloodshed. This story is in the fall, not the landing. And this is alluded to in the closing section, as the protagonist contemplates how he has “fallen his entire life” but only now is he not afraid. (Spoiler alert: it ends with him preparing to jump to his death.)
     Looking back, maybe this was a futile exercise. The reason this book doesn't have a point yet is because no books have a point before they've entered the world. A book isn't how many people buy it, but rather how many people are changed in some way by it. That's up to other people.

     I'm pretty certain my novel isn't a sandwich. But I'd like to eat with it, and I guess that's the conundrum, isn't it?


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bullying Changes Your Brain- So Does Everything Else

Scientists have long known that physical and sexual abuse in early childhood can alter brain development. But new research is showing that older kids who have been abused emotionally by their peers tend to share certain abnormalities in the corpus callosum. That's right: Being bullied is associated with an altered brain structure. The assumption here is that the bullying is causing the change, and not the other way around. It's also not totally clear what the external results of those internal changes might be—although researchers think it could have something to do with the higher rates of depression bullied kids also experience. (BOINGBOING)

A comment asks "Isn't any experience associated with an altered brain structure, to one degree or another?"

I responded there, but realized it's relevant to one of the topics I have been exploring on this blog:

There is the factor of genetic predisposition, but it seems like habit (often re-enforced by environmental factors), eventually creates an organic component-- it's like a feedback mechanism. Gives some strange credence to the idea of "fake it till you make it," if you "think" depressed for long enough, you probably will be. And yet, it's far harder to think oneself "out" of it as people suffering from depression will tell you. Because there's become a biological psychological re-enforcement system developed around the behavior and response, even if we consciously hate it and want it to stop.

I assume there are "points of no return" with these things, event horizons, where, at the very least, the power of the will-- call that "escape velocity"-- has been overrun by the "gravity" of a habitual method of thought and behavior. There are so many systems entangled with one another that it is very difficult to know when this point might be in a given case, or what environmental factors may be playing a role, and what that role may be. A "habit" can be something we typical think of when we use the word, like smoking, but any structure of thought which we identify as a part of our personality is a "habit," personas are habitual; the habits taken on or which re-enforce personas are habitual...

(Note: Systemic entanglement is something I want to think about more in regard to the somewhat simplified mystical (or neo-Platonic) premise "all is One." But that's for later, my brain hasn't gestated that thought-baby.)

By the way, I was bullied to an almost absurd degree as a child. I can say beyond a doubt that it had an essentially permanent effect on my neuropsychology. Even the things I've done in an attempt to overcome it become a part of that narrative. Our narrative is, as much as anything is, us. And so the awful things that happen to us become a part as much as the so-called good. Which is yet another reason when someone says to "get over it" that you should punch them in the face. You can, and should, of course attempt to work within the context and confines of your neurology to improve your reactions so that you get more of what you want and less of what you don't in your life. But reductionistic "just feel better," "get over it," etc mentality completely ignores a basic understanding of psychology. It also demonstrates a lack of compassion, which is not pity, but rather an appreciation of the systemic bind people are in when they, for instance, find themselves time and again in depression. You needn't feel sorry for them, but if you can't put yourself in their place, or at least make the attempt, you are not capable of acting out of true compassion.

The same could be said about the blind optimism of schools of thought such as The Secret. But, there's actually more truth to that, in that optimism does tend to provoke contagious reactions from others, and so long as it isn't acting in direct conflict with one of your pre-existent habits, on a personal level at least confidence is beneficial. The pernicious aspect of myths such as The Secret is more in how it will distort your perception and minimalize actual problems. Its flaw is explained well in Candide. Also, in an article that I received for the Immanence of Myth by Catherine Svehla, PhD so I'll let her piece speak to that.

Re-confirming Expectations



Man "Hey. ... That dress looks really good with your hair color."

Woman "OK, I've heard that a million times. Don't bother. I'm not interested."

Man "Hey. Alright, that's fine. It's just funny, for years I've been a really introverted person. I thought to myself- maybe I should just talk to people more. And I played conversations with strangers out in my head a million ways. All of them were either boring or left both parties with a thin patina of shame. So, I figured there was no point in talking with strangers. You re-confirmed my assumptions."

Woman "No, I'm sorry, I didn't--"

Man "--You can't walk it back now. Say we get along great. Exchange information. Flirt online and on the phone for a couple weeks. Do the entire expected courtship. Fall in love. A year later I'm wondering to myself, 'what if she's just talked to me out of pity?' Then the whole relationship is based on you feeling sorry for me."

Woman "Catch 22."

Man "Yeah."

Woman "Well...Nice meeting you?"

Man "None of that's true by the way. I just thought it was a pretty dress. I'm gay."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Murder The World: Sneak Peeks of the New Album


I've mostly been keeping posts about HoodooEngine on the site dedicated to that project to keep the feeds clean, but wanted to share a bit of what we've been up to. I figure you've had like eight rambling posts on philosophy, science and myth so a little music might be wanted. 
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Two tracks in progress for our upcoming album. No release date planned yet. We've still got work to do though all the tracks on the album are in some degree of progress. The album cover mockup you see before is from before we changed the album title to "Murder The World." But you get the idea. Cthulian nightmares and tons of eros / thanatos imagery.

ControlFreak - early demo by agent139

Nothing Is Sacred- pre mix/master/vocals by agent139
Some other earlier mixes of Murder The World tracks can be found in the completely over-the-top podcast we ran with Alterati. We are working on bringing more electronic elements - and of course vocals - as we make this material a part of the HoodooEngine machine.

Dig it? Check out our last release, EgoWhore.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Synthetic Process Decoded


A friend (lover, sister, I'm not sure exactly what term to use, doesn't fucking matter for the sake of this blog post, the point is I value her opinion a great deal) pointed out to me the other night that I "do a thing" when presented with a counter-argument to a point that I've made. That is, I further explicate and defend my position and simultaneously seek to find the flaws in the argument of the counter-position. She said this after reading some of my more recent posts on this blog, such as my "attacks" on Karma, Christianity, and etc.

This is what anyone with any background in debate is taught to do. Though I have a background in philosophy, I wasn't in the debate team -- though my Mother told me throughout my childhood "you should be a lawyer or join the debate team!" -- usually her way of saying that I was frustrating the fuck out of her. Even if you see the other side of things, and if you're smart you should because everything has many different sides, there's an element to making a case where you minimize those and maximize what supports your argument. It is an inherent flaw in the scientific process because only robots can truly remove this from their process of debate.

Among other things, this approach can quickly lead to ad hominem attacks on the part of the other person if they misunderstand my process. That is, mistaking the idea or the position for the person. Even if the discussion doesn't collapse in that way, it is very unlikely in the course of a debate that any one side will ever relent to the other. We are taught that it is a sign of "weakness," of "losing." Plus, in positing a seemingly one-sided position, we are effectively preaching to the choir and maybe even intentionally antagonizing people who feel otherwise.

And yeah. I do that. I even get a sick satisfaction out of it sometimes. I guess I'm just a bad, bad man.

But there's something else going on, for me.

Let me give the example of a sometimes-writing partner of mine. We have been friends for a long time. When we are working on a project together, sometimes one of us will make a decision the other questions. It could be an approach to dialog or plotting, it could be method of effectively setting up a scene. For this example, it doesn't matter.

This is how it usually goes- the other one proposes what is wrong with that course of action. They will usually then find other "established writers" who support the claims they are making. The other party will consider the positions posed and then do the defense/attack strategy I mentioned. Never once has this process ever gotten personal. We know and respect each other. There is no need for us to. (Though we often do make sure to tease the other mercilessly at some point. One time he told me that dialog should "generally have seven words per speaker" so I went through a number of popular books, counting the number of words in each speaker, and made an average - which was not seven, I actually would propose it varies based on genre, reading level, and the publishing date, those 19th century authors sure loved their verbiage - and meanwhile, contemplated writing a book where every piece of dialog always contained seven words whenever they spoke. No matter what.)

A curious thing always happens. I defend my position and in the process realize the reasons why I made decisions I did, which I might not have even known originally. I see the flaws and strengths of his argument. Usually we hit a point where we stop, and we seem to be in the same position that we were in at the beginning of the argument. It would seem that it served no purpose. We seem to be at an impasse. We quietly go back to work.

However, fast forward three hours. I show him the draft revisions. Chances are I've either found myself agreeing with him, upon reflection, or more commonly, I came to realize the flaws in both of our opinions and came up with a new solution.

This is simply the Hegellian dialectic. Thesis, Antithesis = Synthesis. Which then becomes the thesis for a new dialectic.

The point in this whole post. Please people: if you see me challenging you in a comment thread here or in another place on the Internet, do not assume I am challenging your position because I think you're an idiot (if I think so I will probably not reply at all- or at least I'll have the decency to just come out and say it.) No, I am working "my process." Work your end of it.

Maybe we'll come up with something interesting, upon later reflection.

And if I make a blog post that seems to be utilizing elements of hyperbole and exaggeration to make a point. Guess what, I probably am. These posts are already too long by the standards set by most "professional bloggers." If I tried to give an even and balanced view of the topics I try to wrestle with...believe me. You wouldn't have time to read it, anyway.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Myth of Science Continued

“The Personified and The Particular are arch-demons to advocates of a ley-like, nomothetic approach to knowing. Scientists teach their intellectual children at a early age to be wary of the wily Personification. Should Personification appear—in any of its several guises of animism, anthropomorphism, and projection—it should be treated as an evil, to be avoided or stamped out. The Particular is also not to be trusted. It can mislead. Those in the charge of nomothetic science quickly learn to banish The Particular by immediately labeling it, then ignoring it. These anathematizing labels include: merely anecdotal, a single case, an n of one, a single data point, an uncontrolled observation, a single instance, an exception, a suggestive indication, an interesting possibility to be followed up by more careful study.” And later, “Is there a form of understanding, of knowing that can occur only through familiar, intimate contact with the object of knowing—through a deep and sustained encounter with a particular?” (Braud, The Ley and the Labyrinth
This is the clearest distinction one can draw between what has been misapprehended as the opposing spheres of the scientific and the mythological viewpoints. I say “misapprehended” because, of course, science is in the sense we’ve already defined a mythologizing process, and myth is derived from experience - psychological if not physical - in a way which makes the modeling processes used in science useful for analyzing it, as well. Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms explores this distinction clearly, but did not see to seek to find their unity, how they apply one to the other.

Science models, myth generates narrative. We try to remove the scientist from science, and say that, should we still see the fingerprints of the scientist in his work, then he has done us all a disservice. Is there science without scientists? Of course not. Science, derived from and used to represent nature, is, yet again, a form of mythology. But there’s still an important distinction to be made between a model which can be tested, and a narrative, which cannot.

Thinking about this now, it seems the distinction is one of iteration and function. Iteration: the scientific method depends on the ability to repeat an experiment. Experiences which seem mythical are by their very nature seemingly unique. They cannot be reproduced or repeated. You cannot ask that lightning to strike the same place twice. (Though of course there’s no reason to assume that it can’t.)

Some of the functional axioms of the mythology of science - especially that of pure physics - make it quite dissimilar from other forms of mythology. Mathematics and formal logic too are able to unearth fact and truth axiomatically, without an actor, and serve as the requisite tools for a mythology unlike any previously known to Western Civilization. (Though let's not suppose that there is one universal set of axioms that can be applied to all of mathematics- see Godel's incompleteness theorum.) It is a myth so uniquely suited to modelling the empirical world, and of removing and reducing the consciousness of the minds in which it occurs to nothing, that we have almost completely lost sight that it is still a mythology at work. We mustn't lose sight of the representation inherent in all models posited by science, or of the removal of the subject so as to derive any clearer view of a world, which of course requires a mind to call it into existence.
"The world is my representation" is, like the axioms of Euclid, a proposition which everyone must recognize as true as soon as he understands it, although it is not a proposition that everyone understands as soon as he hears it. To have brought this proposition to consciousness and to have connected it with the problem of the relation of the ideal to the real, in other words, of the world in the head to the world outside of the head, constitutes, together with the problem of moral freedom, the distinctive character of the moderns. (Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Part I)
Of course, there is not in truth one "myth of science" but in fact many, countless myths supported on the back of a few basic axioms and suppositions, and many of them are anything if not aware of - or at least burdened by - the lurking shadow of the subject, of the hall of mirrors or infinite regress posed by consciousness and its own self awareness. As was referenced in an earlier equally rambling post, science is facing its own post-modern crisis, much as genetic science is, now that it is becoming increasingly clear that genes are more like holograms than a simple straightforward linear "code," with one line of code saying "blue eyes," another saying "red head." If only it were so simple! Even if Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is frequently misunderstood by laypeople (such as myself), as a thought experiment, it poses the useful insight that experiments cannot be conducted free of bias and perception. Theories of cognitive science that don't depend entirely on underlying strata of materialistic or positivist myth also are burdened with similar levels of uncertainty.

This too further muddles the unity and distinction between mythology and science, and narrative and model. Can we safely say they are all one and the same? No. But can we untangle them and say they are separate? Again, the answer is no.

More questions. Fewer answers.

Order The Immanence of Myth to see where this inquiry lead.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Immanence of Myth Status Staring Down The Rabbit Hole


Some of you may be wondering what kind of limbo the Immanence of Myth project has fallen into, or if I've somehow forgotten about it.

In early October I determined to focus on my re-boot of the Fallen Nation series. I have completed a solid draft of the Urban Fantasy / YA novel Fallen Nation: Party At The World's End, and as planned have been turning my attention back around to looking at the Immanence of Myth material, along with our periodic Clark shoots and ongoing agent queries for the FN novel.

But now that I look at the 400 or so pages that I've, believe it or not, whittled the IoM project down to, I find myself increasingly dissatisfied with its ability to really do what I intend to do with it: which is to solidly re-define "myth" and provide the first glimpses of a "unified theory" of the elements of philosophy, psychology, media studies, anthropology and folklore which all overlap within this single concept of myth, and specifically immanent myth. There are a lot of good contributions in the book, I've written some essays which on even days of the week I feel are strong. It doesn't need to tossed in a pit of flame. But I'm just not feeling the ground breaking cohesion that I'm looking for, yet.

So... I need to go back to the drawing board, I feel, and keep working this and researching and thinking, until I'm really satisfied that the project satisfies its goals. (Which is being satisfied twice in just one sentence. That's a lot of satisfaction.) Otherwise, there's no sense in publishing it. Of course, even if I do that, or maybe even especially if I do that, there is no assurance I'll be able to find a publisher to get squarely behind it - I have already approached quite a few with what a solid query and they've mostly baulked due to the fact that I don't have enough "rockstar" and or academic names associated with the project to assure a decent ROI. There's also always the possibility that this bloats into the 2000 page death tome that I never actually publish. In which case, if someone wants to edit the thing after my death, good luck!

But seriously... In the meantime, I'm going to keep the draft up on lulu for those who want to purchase a hard copy because there is a great deal of value in there, despite the problems I've mentioned. And I will probably continue to release some of the interviews that I did on this blog in the coming month or two. Perhaps they will lead to still further conversations on the subject of modern mythology.

When I say go back to the drawing board, I mean it. I need to do a lot more research, and I need to broaden my disciplinary base. I'm taking time every day watching lectures on calculus, physics, molecular biology, psychology, the philosophy of cognitive science, and whatever else I can track down that can in some way be related to this subject in the way I've framed it. I already have most of the background I need in media, art, and philosophy but my own lack of knowledge in some basic and fundamental areas is I think limiting the scope of the book itself. In a sense, I am using De Landa's 1000 Years of Nonlinear History as a means of reverse engineering the material I need to access... because though my subject matter is not history, I feel a similar approach in many ways is needed in terms of modern mythology for this to truly contribute to the subject. (I emphasize the word approach because I do not mirror his materialist model, or at the least, do not think it is as appropriate to the subject of myth as it may arguably be for the subject of history. But a multi-disciplinary, multi-model, and non-linear approach is clearly called for.)

Here is a list of the questions presently brewing in my mind. I wrote these in my iPhone while waiting in line at the grocery store. This may demonstrate that I've "gone round the bend" (or right, already there):
  • How, exactly, are dynamic systems modeled? (Not "how are those equations derived or solved" but rather, "how are the modeled, how are the variables attributed?") 
  • How do the biases applied in the construction of models effect the conclusions drawn from them, and how does that effect the conclusions, that is the application of that model? (This is dealt with in several sections of the book. Not well enough.)
  • How does the motive behind the modeling of a system or the interrelationships of systems effect the conclusions, and how does that skewing effect the presuppositions of future models? (I've already dealt with this in "Pretty Suicide Machine" but not rigorously.) 
  • What is the distinction between model and myth? 
  • How are the unquantifiable elements of modeled systems made so they can be related to one another - or to the quantifiable elements? 
  • Are unquantifiable elements of complex (multi-function) systems misinterpreted as quantifiable based on the bias of physicists / mathematicians? How does this factor into the psychological forms that artists try to represent in their work? (e.g. Do the arts manage to deal with the elements that can't be successfully modeled using scientific method - what Wittgenstein called "metaphysical," undefinable - and is there some kind of unification of these things to be had in how myths render themselves culturally?)
  • Is there an interplay of myth on genetics? There is certainly substantiation of an interplay of culture directly on genetics, (De Landa lays this out in pg 130-165 of 1000 Years of Nonlinear History with plenty of footnotes of other researchers to explore). This is crucially important to the thesis of the book and is only hinted at presently. Think about the ramifications of this if a correlation can be drawn. 
  • Can the conclusions drawn from modeled systems, even in theoretical physics, be considered anything other than myths (already dealt with in the book but not substantially enough) even if the methods used to draw them are unimpeachable? ("Natural Laws" -- again, explored in the book but again, not rigorously enough.)
  • De Landa insists that the systems referenced in his works are not merely metaphors, that they represent actual physical processes-- how does this distinguish from a metaphor if all modeling is inherently representational? Is there is a difference between representation and myth? Dealt with in the book but this needs to be explored re: not only De Landa's approach but also the central conceit of the history of science...(The only facts that can truly be considered facts are axiomatic, which is to say, mathematic. Mathematics are all derived, however, when applied, say, in physics.) 
Any thoughts on these questions are welcome. Especially from people with the background to really help me dig in. I have my fucking work cut out for me.

Let me also finish with an xkcd comic as a reminder to myself:


Though, when I did this very kind of thing in my psych classes in college it's not that what I was pointing out was original but turning a blind eye to cultural relativism or just calling it a "statistical bias" is such complete and total bullshit that @*(#@*#(*#*@#*@#*@!12014920. When I did the same thing about the nature of truth in a philosophy class, handing in a 100 page paper essentially saying that the methods of philosophy made the endeavor of philosophy essentially impossible when the assignment was a 10 page review of William James' definition of "truth," I may have overstepped my bounds.

Well. OK. I'm done. Have a good night, people.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Alien Conspiracies and the Varieties of Belief


As people who follow my twitter  probably already know, I've been on a "thing" the past day or two looking into some of the conspiracies that I tend to avoid. Why have I been doing this? Maybe it's a bit of self distraction. But since I at least ostensibly study modern mythology, and take a pretty damn broad view of what that is, it starts to seem that this topic does fall into my oeuvre, much as I'm loathe to admit it. Alien lore is a form of modern mythology. So are conspiracy theories. And they are subject to many of the points I have brought up before about ancient myths. Like many "believers" of all creeds today, a lot of these people have missed a crucial distinction between internal experience and scientifically verified theory, or even, dare I say it? Fact. (Don't get me started on "facts" today, though. That'd totally throw me off track.)

Rather than really get into what I mean by "missing a crucial distinction," just watch the video above, where this woman calls out Obama and the other Reptilians / Draco's, and Reticulans to let them know that she is the representative of the Pleiadian people, who according to her are about to show up and open up a whole bottle of whoop-ass for getting their asses trashed back in some war that, believe it or not, does get alluded to in a lot of the "literature" you can find through Google searching these terms.

I'll let you do the Googling if you care to. It's pretty fucking funny, until you realize just how many people believe this stuff in a way that can get dangerous, or manipulative. Not to mention the fact that offering threats to the President of the United States is probably not a good idea. But that's her problem.

This demands some xkcd:



As anyone with half a brain will point out: anything is possible. (I'm told Stephan Hawking has also said "anything is possible," and we all admit that he's not exactly dumb. Right?)

This does not mean, however, that anything is probable. If we're actually looking for cause the best route is to expel the most probable answers before even considering less probable ones. Occams Razor doesn't provide solutions but it does tend to keep us from making total asses of ourselves. For instance, 9/11: the result of almost criminal negligible on the part of the government mixed with inter-bureau jealousy... not sharing intel, an "inside job," or the first step of a Reptilian invasion plan? It can be very hard to determine the relative probabilities of many things in life- is it more dangerous for me to walk to the corner store in North Philly to buy a carton of milk, or to drive several blocks in a suburban neighborhood? But can we all at least get together in saying that it is more probable that humans are dumb and greedy, rather than that - without any further evidence to the point - that there is a global conspiracy in place which would require an almost absurd amount of intelligence? And that this is itself more probable than that eight foot tall lizard people are manipulating terrorists and governments alike?

Let me bring this veering train back to my initial point. If we are willing to accept the psychological and mythological perspective as valid on its own grounds, as I have discussed on this blog many times before, then if you have an experience of talking to an alien species through your crystal necklace than I say go with it. Have fun talking to your giant Pleiadian lover. I won't even call you crazy, because so long as you don't pretend you actually know the source of this message, that experience is valid. (Though her story really sounds like a classic schizophrenic breakdown.) Maybe the message is coming from inside you. Maybe it is something you just need to experience emotionally to maintain some kind of equilibrium, say, after a catastrophic loss. Maybe it is fucking telepathic aliens. (Though I doubt it more than my ability to fly.) If you approach it with a certain skepticism but also an openness to the fact that we simply don't know, with any real certainty, WHAT IS GOING ON HERE, then you may at least learn something about yourself. The fact that these things take on an increasing amount of reality, the more attention you give them, is something that is fairly well documented and it is certainly a curious thing. It is almost like that common motif in fairy tales, that the "fey folk" depend in some part on our belief to exist at all. That they feed upon our dreams.

But we'll save that for another day. What if your telepathic alien lover tells you to kill everyone. If you listen, then you're crazy. And a lot of other things, to boot. Put another way, the moment you take the leap and think that the aliens are teaching you Science, that you must spread the Good Word, and everyone must stock up on weapons before the Reticulans arrive... Well, we may as well all just get out our aluminum foil hats. Some people don't know this, but the psychologist Carl Jung wrote a book on UFO phenomena that deals with this.

I'd like to point out that if you look at what I just said, and swap out a few words, we could just as easily be talking about Religious fundamentalists. It is exactly the same principle at work. And the distinction between what is potentially a new and even valuable mythology, and what is a dangerous one, or what can be used to control people, is simply in the subtle distinction I've been trying to get at - possibly poorly - throughout this post.

By the way I recently read a meta-blog, you know one of those high traffic "blogs about blogging," which claims that if your posts go over 650 words that you're going to bore your readers, and another said that if you can't read a blog post in 90 seconds then no one is going to read it. Because no one has an attention span of more than 90 seconds these days. Is that true? Are you still reading? If that is indeed true, I had best stop writing fucking books, huh?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Modern Art Was CIA Weapon

I fucking knew it.


For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince - except that it acted secretly - the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years.
The connection is improbable. This was a period, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the great majority of Americans disliked or even despised modern art - President Truman summed up the popular view when he said: "If that's art, then I'm a Hottentot." As for the artists themselves, many were ex- com- munists barely acceptable in the America of the McCarthyite era, and certainly not the sort of people normally likely to receive US government backing.
Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.
(Independent Article)

This could add yet another layer of obscure humor to Clark. It also explains how so much of Pollock's work can be so intolerably bad, and yet he could go on drinking like that. Alcohol costs money, right?

General Semantics

One of the many things I've been reading up on today, which has some relevance to one of the pieces I've been working on for Immanence of Myth. I am short on brain cells now, so I'm going to cut short the usual amount of commentary I provide on this blog.

A snippet from an article that interested me:
The accusation is not infrequently heard that the scientist, in utilizing submicroscopic 'constructs' (e .g., electrons, atoms, molecules, genes, etc .), is guilty of precisely the sort of exercise that he rejects as invalid when practiced by the layman in regard to metascientific noumena. Such constructs, it is asserted, are in every instance inferentially-reached figments of the imagination and for this reason no more creditable and in many ways less compelling of belief than the spiritual and supernatural concepts long revered by mankind . Responding to this charge, Dr. Johnson points out that the scientific person-to the extent that he behaves as such-is highly conscious of the fact that his constructs are the product of his own imagination and that they are projected into reality by himself . He defines his electrons, etc., very deliberately as to size, shape, weight, composition, speed of movement, etc., assigning to them the characteristics they should have if they are to account for observed events. Above all-and this is a crucial matter he does not hesitate, whenever observed events prove incapable of explanation in terms of electrons, to alter his definition or, if necessity dictates, to abandon the concept altogether. There is for him nothing sacred or inscrutable about that which was designed in the first place for his own convenience . The measure of validity of his concepts consists wholly in the accuracy of the predictions they make possible ...
In Part III, Dr. Johnson proceeds to a detailed examination of general semantics and the contributions it proffers to epistemology in general and to the relations between language and reality and symbol and fact in particular . Before entering upon this inquiry, he finds it expedient to bring the reader a useful answer to the fundamental question, `What is a fact?' He observes that under any circumstance a fact is an observation and that as such it is an act of an individual, a personal affair consisting in large measure of complicated neural, muscular and glandular events taking place in an ever-changing organism whose capacity for observation exhibits decided limitations. It follows that a fact must be incomplete-always-and that it amounts to an abstraction o f something concerning the full-blown character of which the perceiver can but conjecture.
Because of the uncertainties that attach to introspective methods in the effort to distinguish between fact and fancy, a 'fact' cannot properly be said to be established as such unless it has been confirmed by at least one person other than the original reporter. Indeed, its usefulness at any particular time in the biosocial evolution of man depends to a considerable degree upon the extent to which others agree with the perceiver concerning it .
The PDF. (Johnson's "People In Quandries.")

The Karmic Fallacy (part 2)


I previously wrote some thoughts about the idea of karma entitled The Karmic Fallacy. As is often the case in a blog post, quickly dashed off, I conflated several ideas together (notably in this case- karma, free will, and destiny), but there is a reason why I did so. Read that article if you haven't, as it seems silly to reiterate.

I recently read an article about the subject of karma, that is very clear and useful, and yet also helps demonstrate the issues that I see with the idea.

To begin:
The word ‘karma,’ itself, is derived from the Sanskrit verb: kr, which means to “do,” “make,” or “perform” (Monier-Williams, 1988). So “karma”, in its more generic sense, simply means “action”. Karma denotes two different concepts: a) Action Per Se: every activity that occurs or that we perform, as well as b) Resultant Reaction: the natural consequence of each of our individual actions that are performed with ethical content involved (the common notion of karma). As we’ll see, for the ethical law of karma itself (b) to become operative, conscious volition must be directly involved. 
The distinction that is drawn in following paragraphs, then, is between involuntary and voluntary actions. At times, this idea of intent does enter into our own legal system- which of course is neither here nor there in regard to ethics, unless if you are under the delusion that our legal system is entirely ethical. (For instance, we have "manslaughter" as distinct from various categories of homicide which are drawn based on the supposed mental state of the perpetrator of the crime.) Fair enough.
For example, when we choose to snap our finger, or whistle a tune, we are now choosing to perform a certain action. We are now acting with awareness.
The first step of the train coming off the tracks. Who is to say we are acting with awareness when we whistle a tune? There is, as I've discussed here before, plenty of neurological evidence that we become "aware" (consciously) of our actions moments after they have already been engaged. Our consciousness is like a "magic picture" illusion that represents, or mis-represents, the activities of a complex holistic organism. It does not, in itself, present any sort of agency.* Even if we are to imagine that we are "aware" of our actions, before they happen, it's a valid question to ask how aware. This doesn't much matter when it comes to things like whistling, but when it comes to the next step of their definition of karma, it becomes key.

Many actions are free of ethical content, as, for example, when we choose to scratch our nose, or tap our foot. But when the meaning that we infuse into our actions is designed either to harm or to help someone, then we are engaging in an action that has ethical content, or specifically ethical meaning. And every time that a human being consciously performs any action that involves either the harm or benefit of either oneself or others, she then sets into motion the retributive law of karma. This is the meaning of the term “karma” as used in sense (b), the sense of karma as a metaphysically-defined retributive principle. This law requires that our ethical-content-actions must be returned to us in kind. 

They must be. Based on "the law of karma," which is derived from... what, exactly?

...any seeming injustice in the metaphysical constitution of God's creation would reflect negatively upon the Divine, thus requiring precisely the many unsatisfactory forms of speculation (known as theodicies) used to explain the existence of suffering that are found throughout the history of Euro-American philosophy of religion. As long as we have not fulfilled our karmic debt by experiencing the reactions to our activities, we are required to remain here, in the realm of material non-self, undergoing the repeated experience of birth, death and rebirth. We remain within the realm of the laws of karma until we do experience these reactions. It is as a direct result of our karmic activity that we find ourselves entangled in the non-spiritual realm. We, as eternal soul (atman), then find ourselves undergoing repeated transmigration through a string of material bodies until we learn to finally transcend the entire karma-producing process altogether, freeing ourselves from the illusion of separation from God.

Tautologies. Though a far more evolved form of the ethical imperatives presented by the divine in many other religions, we still find ourselves coming up against an otherwise empty "because God made it so" argument. Which, if such belief can be presented as beneficial in the here-and-now, is not necessarily bad. But there is a variety of traps hiding in the concept of karma, several of which I already explored in my previous post. I would like, at the very least, to find a clear demonstration of this law at work.

If indeed ethical misdeeds have clear and direct consequences, they should be scientifically demonstrable. That is, we should be able to take certain actions, which are clearly "misdeeds," and track their karmic result. Shouldn't we? Yet, though I'm aware of no such scientific experiment, in my own life and watching the lives of others, I've certainly seen no such evidence. And I would love to see a "karma test" organized and scrutinized. I think the results would be fascinating.

* Note: I say this, and at the same time maintain that consciousness is the only axis mundi presented to us. Consciousness and levels of consciousness are the only standards by which we can draw any conclusion, or maintain any illusion of order what-so-ever. This draws a stark contrast with my other statement, yet both are simultaneously true. Or at the least, must be maintained as true out of sheer necessity.

The Theory of Everything and Quandry of Light Speed



A little known secret: since I was a child, I've been obsessed with science. I was equally obsessed with fantasy, and later, philosophy and art, but my interest in science came about through the fact that it was the only one of these with any hope of creating a demonstrable model of how things work. Would I have used those words at the age of 13? Probably not, but it was still I believe what drew me to it. I had a bad teacher in middle school, and she forced me onto a far "lower" track of math and science than I should have been on, and at that point I consciously parted with the idea of ever becoming a scientist with a background in philosophy, focusing instead on art and philosophy. Though in my spare time, and in studying philosophy, I've done plenty of "layman" reading on Einstein, Neils Bohr, relativity, string theory, quantum mechanics, and all the bullshit pseudo-science that other layman have written about the subject.

I've avoided talking about it mostly because I know I don't speak the language, I have to fall back on the facile metaphors that real scientists attempt to make to explain these things to us, and in the process we can make egregious errors. I promised myself I wouldn't write about it, and yet here I am. So please, pardon my ignorance.

I have never been interested in lab science, in a fixation on detail and structure. I like science because it allows us to take philosophical ideas a step further. Many scientists are uncomfortable with this relationship, saying that science has nothing at all to do with philosophy except in their far distance past. Not so. But this is a topic that I simply couldn't fit into a blog post. It is the worthwhile subject of an entire book. I touch on it in the essays I've written so far for the Immanence of Myth but even there the topic is restricted to how science relates to myth, rather than philosophy.

Instead I'll cut to the chase. I recently read an article in Scientific American called "The Elusive Theory of Everything," written by Stephan Hawking (yes, that Stephan Hawking), and Leonard Mlodinow. The headline: "Physicists have long sought to find one final theory that would unify all of physics. Instead they may have to settle for several."

This cuts to the chase of a long running history, from relativity to quantum mechanics, and the fact that they can't be reconciled, to string theory, which at first was thought to be a means of solving this incongruity. For instance:
"In classical physics, the past is assumed to exist as a definite series of events, but according to quantum physics, the past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities. Even the universe as a whole has no single past or history. So quantum physics implies a different reality than that of classical physics- even though the latter is consistent with our intuition and still serves us well when we design things such as buildings and bridges."
But then more variants of that theory were needed. And on, and on. And - finally! - it seems physicists are starting to realize something that philosophers have been saying for decades.

Let me quote again from the article:
"These examples bring us to a conclusion that proivdes an important framework with which to interpret modern science. In our view, there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality. Instead we adopt a view that we call model-dependent realism: the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations. According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation. If two models agree with observation, neither one can be considered more reality an the other. A person can use whicher model is more convenient in the situation under consideration."
This is precisely the point I've been reiterating in the context of mythology, within my work for the Immanence of Myth. I recognize that, in an interdisciplinary sense, it is a point that shouldn't need to be made. But it seems that some diciplines have come to this conclusion before others, and it is about time that all disciplines - psychiatry most of all! - accepts this idea. There is no way I know of to drive it home with more force, and yet it doesn't manage to sink in. All models, all explanations, all beliefs that we form are contextual in every sense. Contextually derived, contextually dependent, and contextually useful, irrelevant, or even dangerous.

There is one point that seems, to a certain extent, to defy this fact, and it is this defiance that had me in an almost manic state most of yesterday until I realized I simply am not equipped with the knowledge or tools to solve the quandry. That is this: the constancy of light in a vacuum appears to somehow have a "higher" priority than all other constants. Space itself will bend to accomodate the constancy of this speed. When light passes through objects, of course, it is forced to slow. But time slows, we may imagine, to 0 as an object approaches light speed, and mass increases exponentially (making it seem likely that any object with any mass at all could never truly attain it.) Why is any of this relevant to what I've already said? After all, the behavior of light is one of the first places where the power of models became evident - is it a particle or a wave? It is because it seems peculiar to me that in a universe so recursively and emergently produced from any center-point that perception chooses to originate from should insist on one particular constant over and above others.

So .Why this insistence, and what does that mean in terms of our lives, and the nature of consciousness and being?

But this is where I hit a wall. I don't have the training to work this out. If I talk to scientists about it, I have to take their word for it. I have to approach the issue from another vantage point, that of personal experience. There are comments in the previous post where I talk about the nature of time. This relates to this as well. It would seem that the experience we have of time is very much based on our relative velocity to the speed of light. In other words, its behavior and seeming constancy is a condition of our relationship to that constant. How does that relate to the real experiences of our lives? Or of how we are all in a sense trapped in time, trapped to live on moment that appears to have some n-dimensional movement from a beginning to an end.

Tricking death would seem to me to not so much be a means of extending our experience of linear time indefinitely so much as changing the very nature of the rules of the game.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Battlestar Galactica and the Eternal Return


"A man's character is his fate." Heraclitus


Over the past month, I've been re-watching Battlestar Galactica from the perspective of modern myth, as well as strikingly poignant melodrama. I realize that there's not a whole lot at this point that can be said about this show that probably hasn't already been said before, somewhere else, but I still can't resist tossing in a few passing thoughts.

First, I found myself thinking a great deal about the tired argument of determinism versus free will in the light of ourselves as individuals, as personalities, rather than it being a matter of the inherent nature of the universe. This shift of emphasis is key.

The decisions that we make at any given point are in a real sense "pre-determined," as who we are is defined in many ways by the decisions that we make when faced with specific questions. Though there is no way to test this for sure, it stands to reason that if we are again faced with the exact same dilemma, while in the same frame of mind, being who we were at that moment, we would make the same decision. Again, and again, and again. It is fixed. And these decisions have very little to do with the rationalizations that we may convey to them, they have much more to do with an amalgum of hard-wired responses mixed with what we can kind of crudely call our software. Less mechanistically, many traditional theories of economics have proven themselves flawed - that is, theories that are based on purely rational "game theories" - because they don't take into account any of the cultural or emotional elements at play. The Dow reflects confidence of a certain kind far more than anything tangible.

So, in a manner of speaking, all prophecies are self-fulfilling. But the fixed point is identity, not externally driven destiny. A man's character is his fate.

This isn't a new idea to me, I play with it some in the novel I'm working on now (Fallen Nation: Party At The World's End)-- but I feel it is dealt with quite well by the BSG writers.

This leads me to another underlying element of the cosmology of BSG, the idea of Eternal Return. This is dealt with in different ways by philosophers and writers over time, but it essentially boils down to the idea that in an infinite universe, the same cycle of events will occur time and again. This idea is somewhat distinct with the idea of Eternal return that Eliade explores, altough there is a way in which this pertains to BSG plotlines as well. This is how prophecy and destiny can be said to occur from the outside, as we are not perhaps without free will, but in an infinite universe, we are possibly committed to playing the same role as one who has come before, and before them, and so on into infinity as well.

The wikipedia article has a number of starting points that you can explore on this. I found this particular amusing: "The first line of Disney's Peter Pan is "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." This line has been cited as the inspiration behind the same theme in Battlestar Galactica."

Though I'm not much for plot analysis, or getting spammed with complaints of spoilers, I feel that a show that has run its course can be opened up in such a way. So close your eyes now if you've not seen it, and enjoy the series-- for its occasional failings it is in my opinion one of the best Sci-Fi Television shows ever produced. (And it is all available Instantly on Netflix.)

When the Cylons and Colonials discover the first Earth, they discover an Earth that came before -- itself raviged by nuclear war. Throughout the series by that point we've seen various elements of what could be described as prophecy -- events re-occuring in a similar to way as how they had thousands of years before, like when they encounter the Eye of Jupiter -- and there is the idea of "floods," as Baltar refers to them when dying on the Basestar with Roslin (though they seem to literally be nuclear holocausts), and these are ongoing evolutionary tipping points that push the ongoing circular narrative of exodus, homecoming, recapitulation, hubris and conflict, and another flood. How many times has this happened? Hypothetically, in a truly infinite universe, an infinite number of times. The Cylons are closer connected to their genetic memory in the fact that they maintain memory through the process of resurrection, but humans and cylon alike are constantly plagued by flashes of genetic memory, and memory of their role within this never-ending drama.

On our own planet, there is some evidence that this occurs in ecosystems, where there is a stasis of a sort that occurs for a long period of time, and then there is a catastrophe or series of catastrophes, for instance a comet strike and increased volcanic activity... and then the dinosaurs come to prominence. And then over 100 million years later, bam. Same thing, comet strike and volcanos, and you have the rise of the mammals.

Though I've already railed against the idea of reincarnation in its most literal sense, this is an experience I've had many times-- of meeting someone, and feeling like I've known them before. Of a certain series of events having a certain gravity, and this nagging sense that it had happened before and would again. But what does any of that mean? And how can we know?

I don't know. How can we really know anything?

At any rate, it's a fun show.

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