Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Programmed amnesia

No one remembers being in the womb, even though research indicates that fetuses have memory.  This selective amnesia seems hard-wired, suggesting that evolutionary pressure made it advantageous not to remember gestation.  Why?

Similarly, no one remembers being a baby, though all the evidence indicates that babies have memory. Why are no baby memories saved?  Could it be that the transitions from womb to babyhood and from babyhood to toddler jump chasms too wide to translate?

In a related vein, a Darwinian might surmise that proto-humans who remembered the womb went mad from grief and confusion, and toddlers who remembered babyhood did the same.  The "fittest" were those who forgot.

Researchers have discovered a third programmed amnesia at age seven, when a child's brain undergoes a culling of the previous six years of memory.  Unlike the total blockades of memory before birth and between birth and age one, this third event deletes some memory but not all.  No one knows the criteria for remembering or forgetting, why the amnesia occurs at age seven or what its purpose is.

After learning about the seventh year amnesia, I reviewed my memories from age two through seven.  The memories that caught my attention were the ones of my father being furious at me because I had done something hostile, like spreading mud over the exterior of his new Studebaker, which he loved, or opening bags of baking powder that he stored in the Studebaker (part of a sales job to help him through pharmacy school) and methodically pouring powder over all the upholstered surfaces.  I remember doing those things, and I remember my dad's fury, but I do not remember why I did them, what I was thinking or feeling at the time.  Were the memories of my motivation censored by my own brain?  Why? To protect me from some view of myself?  What view?  Do I want to know?

Humanity practices political amnesia, in which amnesia spreads, often deliberately, via social groups rather than genetics.  For example, when one culture dominates and/or destroys another, humans don't want to remember the culture that was destroyed, at least not in uncensored versions.  The state helps by programing amnesia.  In Stalinist Russia people were not allowed to tour the tsar's palaces.  They needed to forget those palaces and a culture that often dazzled.  One of the Dutch party that first interacted with natives on Manhattan Island reported that the native population were clean, healthy, sane, well built and comely, not filthy, sick, crazy and deformed like people the reporter had seen in European cities.  That report has gone missing in state approved textbooks and almost everywhere else.  No one wants to remember it.

There are cycles of amnesia in our long-term evolution as well.  We have forgotten what human life was like before we adopted agriculture, only 10,000 years ago.  If it weren't for a few fragments of bone and clay, and some vague myths, we wouldn't know we had lived in small tribes as hunter gatherers.  We have evidence about our diet and use of materials, but we don't remember what it felt like to be human for those hundreds of thousands of years.  

Humanity is about to undergo another mass amnesia.  One hundred years from now, there might not be more than a handful of people in the world who've heard of Shakespeare, or the Roman Empire, or any of today's nation-states.  It could be the "end of history" we've been hearing about.  Genetic engineering, AI and machine/human interface will create a new humanity that will not understand much about the old one, except that it was primitive and should be discarded and forgotten.  

Today, as if to expedite the process, we are researching drugs that will delete "traumatic" memories, in a bid perhaps to keep pace with our bionic offspring, whose memories will be added and deleted by coders.  The current flooding of quasi-legal marijuana into all levels of Western society seems part of the trend, as the latest research on THC, the active ingredient, suggests it functions by limiting short-term memory (if further research on marijuana is legalized, it should ponder why limiting short-term memory produces a "high").

How should we react to the coming mass amnesia?  We might as well fight it, don't you think?  By "fight it" I don't mean keep it from happening.  I mean, let's inject some memory into the future, while we can.  

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Movie review: "Eternity's Gate"

When you live in the desert you shouldn't say, "It's a desert out here," because what else would it be, and because deserts aren't really deserted; they're full of wonderful things.  But you might find mine a cultural desert, at least if, like me, after weeks of gazing along with your fellow humans in forced passivity at the horror show of history, seeing it strive for some sort of climax in our time and in the process unveil your mistakes and demonstrate that you did everything wrong, that there is no one to blame but yourself for a parade of world catastrophes that seems to emerge directly from your guilt, you develop an urgent need to view a beautiful work of art about a man driven mad by what he sees.  

So you decide to see the new movie "Eternity's Gate," about Vincent van Gogh, written and directed by the masterful Julian Schnabel.  With your laptop on the kitchen table in your Pearblossom shack, bathed in a blast of setting sunlight coming through the window, van Gogh's nuclear fission streaming over the San Gabriel Mountains, you search the theater listings, scanning hundreds of square miles of desert which you find contain too few people who want to see this film to justify the economics of showing it at a multiplex in Lancaster or Palmdale, so you continue to scan and finally locate a showing in Encino- an L.A. suburb sixty miles south- at the Laemlee, an art theater you've been to before (most notably with your telepathic lizard friend- keep reading for more on that), but the schlep has got to be worth it, you think, because it looked like it would be a really cool and rare movie, and that it was.  

If I may dwell on the Laemlee for a moment, the audience is an older crowd, especially for movies about guys who are driven mad by what they see, which always strikes me as strange...I mean, that a teenage boy, say, wouldn't be spellbound by a man going mad from what he sees but instead might be captivated by a giant robot smashing iconic buildings.  Are they not two forms of the same thing?

Anyway, back to the movie.  Willem Dafoe was stunning as van Gogh.  He's always stunning, but in this case he was stunning because he created an actual Vincent van Gogh, whether or not it was accurate in all respects (the movie opts for the recent theory that van Gogh's death by bullet wound was not self-inflicted), a van Gough that shimmers off the screen like van Gogh's oils shimmering off the canvas.  It was almost too much, I mean how long can you love watching the beauty of a man going mad from what he sees before you start to wonder, is this entertainment, is it therapeutic, or is it about all of us joining together to merge with this Christlike figure and go mad from what we see, in which case I deserve double my senior discount because I don't want to go mad from what I see, I want to survive what I see, if possible, and not prematurely enter the heaven of exploding suns that must have compelled van Gogh's study of theology and love of light.

Of course, you need help to not go mad from what you see.  Works of art like "Eternity's Gate" help, but you also need help from the crass, physical world- what we often call "the real world."  What kind of help from the crass world?  I personally would like to see an element of political force at our disposal that is not cynical, because, seductive as cynicism can be, it's a dangerous indulgence when you're on the edge the way humankind is.

I should add that by cynicism I mean lying.  I'd like to see a political force that states the obvious so we don't have to feel like van Gogh, alone with what we see.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Midterm journal- Day 3

The midterm election acted as a closed mental floodgate, holding Americans in an emotional, intellectual thrall long enough so that politicians and our democratic system could focus us on a reality in which elected officials represent specific things, like taxing too little or too much;  opposing Trump enough or not enough.  During the process many people felt they were making decisions about critical matters.  On day 2 the floodgate held, as the midterm results defined our central reality.

But on day 3 the floodgate opened and stored-up real life poured in: A man undone by hatred killed 12 people and himself in a Thousand Oaks bar; the next day a fire of unprecedented destructive force erupted a few miles from the bar, ending the dreams and lives of many and sending shockwaves through millions of people in California and the world.  

But we did not vote on gun control in the midterm, or policy regarding the multitude of isolated, despairing people who live as time bombs among us.  We did not vote on development in fire zones, or effective moves on climate change.  

For the rest of today and in the days to follow the floodgate will remain open and real life will pour in unrelentingly. Very little of this real life will have been voted on.

My sense is that some of the war potential that has been stored in multiple locations around the world will soon be realized.  There will be provocations about everything from Brexit to Gaza.  War is the ultimate distraction, so distracting that if it happens now, no one will notice that war was not discussed in the midterm; we did not vote on it.

Are there decent alternatives to what we call democracy?  The word itself has sacred status.  No one questions democracy.  I'm not going to question it either, except to ask whether we have it. 

Let's keep our concept of democracy, but realize that it's an attempt rather than a fait accompli, and try to make it more real.  We can do that by inserting into our political vocabulary terms reflecting our immediate situation: genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, automation, mass displacement and unrest, total surveillance, total control.  If the national election in 2020 does not recognize what is actually happening to us, we will not have a democracy even in a theoretical sense.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Midterm journal - Day 2, Results

Today everyone is falling into their proper categories.  Here are three common ones (I'm in the second):

1. People who are empowered and joyful that the Democrats took the House.

2. People who are somewhat relieved that the Democrats took the House but are constrained by a sober reflection:  The basic uncertainties about humanity's current direction(s) remain uncertain, and would have remained uncertain even if the Democrats had also taken the Senate.  People in this category tend to see our elections as correctives for mistakes that came out of previous elections, but not necessarily as correctives for anything else.  

3. People who accept Trump's tropes and believe they are in a spiritual war against evil.  They will rejoice in the saving of the Senate and vilify the new House.

No one has been vanquished; the battle lines are sharpened.  There will be much noise ahead.

The word democracy was coined by the ancient Greeks to denote rule by slave-owning wealthy males.  In our culture, democracy means rule by politicians and consultants, who pick the terms and definitions for the rest of us.  Trump usurps the consultant role and uses only his own terms and definitions.  With the terms provided us, our democracy can connect us to immediate matters like taxes and social policy and give us some impact.  Unless it produces the proper terms, however, our democracy will give us no impact on matters like war and peace, or rewriting our genetic code, or replacing human judgement with machine intelligence.  Those questions, unless terms are provided, will be addressed behind closed doors as if there were no such thing as an election.

It's almost as if we are expected to project our lives onto a fantasy video game called Democracy, where everyone is battling about economics, ethnicity, gender, morality, religion and the future, fielding candidates and holding elections.  It can be an exciting game, but when you look up from the screen, you encounter your life.  Your actual life.  The video game is not real.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Midterm journal - Day 1

The weeks leading up to today's midterm election have been bizarre for me and the other 200 odd telepaths in the LA area (no pun intended).  We've been communing lately to share stress stories.  Our most common observation is that in crowded public places there has been an unusually persistent and so far indecipherable static emitted by almost all the randomly passing heads.  It sounds something like a snake hissing, suggesting that people are feeling threatened in unexpected ways, that long familiar paths forward have become confused, ambiguous.  What does this have to do with the midterms?

I'm not sure, so I've decided to start a journal today, November 6, 2018, the day of the midterm, and to write something here every day until it becomes clear what the midterm election means.

Tomorrow's post, of course, will reflect the results of the election.  Who knows what they will bring?

For today, I note that it's mostly Trump bouncing around in people's heads as they vote, as if Trump's downfall or triumph will decide the fundamental questions facing our species: Will we or should we continue on as the same species, with the same specs, or should we let biotechnology change us?  If AI surpasses us in all mental activities, will there be any further point to human intelligence? If so, what sort of intelligence will it be? Will the earth remain habitable for traditional humans?  Should humans have one more world war before they go extinct?

A Trump victory would not give reason to take heart for anyone concerned with these questions, but Trump didn't cause the problems the questions address.  They have been ignored by politicians before him.  That is not surprising when you consider that the United States government and its constitution do not regard ultimate questions of this sort as within their purview, because they were not urgent when the country was founded.  They are urgent now. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

What Putin and Trump said in the secret two-hour meeting


Dear Readers,

Sorry I haven't posted for a while.  My friend, Robert the Telepathic Gila Monster (still on his spiritual search, readers will be glad to know) taught me how to adjust my biorhythms so I can estivate.  This is the best summer I've ever had, lying in the cool sand under a rock in the desert near my place in Pearblossom. 

But my slumber was disturbed two days ago when the airwaves came alive with the promise of a telepathic bonanza.  I speak of course of the two-hour secret conversation between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.  Knowledge of the contents of that conversation might help answer the question tormenting everyone: What is Trump doing?

The static that woke me from shaded bliss began in what I used to consider my private ethernet, where I could commune with the souls of non-telepaths at will, before I discovered that I share this space with a few of my kind, surviving remnants of a telepathic culture that once, before the age of language, stalked the earth in great numbers.  


These days we teles get by as best we can, playing coffee houses and clubs (I was big in the Haight, back in the day) or, if things get desperate, cruise ships.  So when an opportunity like the Trump/Putin Secret Meeting pops up, we jump on it!

The meeting was announced on Sunday, so I only had one day to get in shape for the epic hack - not much time, given the effects of extended gila napping.  For hours I practiced old techniques, like Intereferometric Selection Relay, and Integral Diffraction Disambiguation, which had served me well in the days when I had to match the NSA's continually evolving defenses (keep reading, etc).

I and my colleagues did not know what sort of defenses to expect in Helsinki.  We probed and found credible reports of a new Russian weapon that could turn the immediate space enclosing Trump and Putin into a black hole, from which no information could escape, leaving even telepaths with nada.  This method would of course destroy the two leaders as well as contain all information, but the Russians, so we gathered, discovered something they call Molecular Rebound Reintegration, which will, they believe, throw back in time- to the original point of origin of its pre-black hole reality- simulacra of the two leaders, visible and seemingly real to everyone, which will operate in local time, saying and doing everything that the originals would have said and done had they not become subatomic soup.  At this time we have insufficient evidence to confirm that the two figures, Putin and Trump, have been replaced by simulacra. 

As an aside, to help me get ready for the challenge, I consumed double my daily intake of spinach, which, for reasons I'm still working on, makes me feel like Popeye.

So on Monday at 2:00 p.m., Hottern' Hell Western Time, I and most of the world's surviving telepaths focussed our vestigial talent on the matter at hand, barely needing CNN droning in the background or similar prompts for guidance, because the two leaders were clearly delineated in time and space by the worldwide attention itself, which gave us a sort of GPS route to them, as if the need for attention that drove these men had become their greatest weakness.

As anticipated, we encountered an impenetrable field as we attempted to track Putin and Trump when they entered the room for their private conversation.  The field did seem of black hole force, judging by the nothing that came out of it.  Fortunately one of our newly re-united group- a high school physics teacher from Visalia- had a brilliant idea.  I'm sure he'll explain it in a journal one day; for now I'll note that he called his technique Reverse-Echo Anticipatory Manifestation (or REAM), in which, he explained, the interactive simulacra from the molecular rebound are "captured" and (before they revert to quark stew in .006 of a nanosecond) induced to reveal their future dialogues.

The resulting readout was distorted by several fields it had travelled through on its way out of the black hole, garbling some parts, which we've filled in using context.  More intriguingly, at least one of the fields seems to have operated as a sort of cosmic editor, taking the original meanings and converting them into analogues from the deepest mythologies of the human or possibly reptilian mind. You be the judge.  This transcript should keep us guessing for a long time.

Enjoy your summer!  Harry the Human

Transcript of the secret conversation between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, July 16, 2018:

T: Sweet tidings, Putey, from the land of abandon!

P: Greetings, Donny!  Did you do some history homework?

T: Yes, Putey!  Russia without a tsar is like a village without an idiot- Haw Haw!

P: A tsar without Russia is like a balding man with half a wig!

T: No one can beat you, Putey, my man!

P:  We are such stunning successes, Donny!

T:  I could tell you stories, Putey...[unintelligible]...and they stand at the gates, howling.

P: Let them howl, Donny!  They have been out-thought.

T: We out-thought them, didn't we, Putey?  We out-think everybody, every time.  We are two-three steps ahead!

P: It is a joy; I shall bring an offering to the Female Creator of the Universe to show no hard feelings...[unintelligible]....

T: They howl at the gates.

P: Yes...I hear them.

T: Let them howl!  For we know, Putey, that in one week the reasons for the howling and the very howling itself will be remembered only, if at all, as mere passing sound, like someone in another car honking at someone, like someone's thought blending into the wind.

P: You are a poet, Donny, my friend!  Imagine, a world run by poets!

T: Would everything have to rhyme?

P: They howl at the gates, Donny.

T: Then come, let us show them....

P: Yes, let us show them....

T: ...that we are two-three steps ahead and we don't care who howls.

P: Your bard said it best: "He who laughs last laughs loudest," great words though they don't rhyme.

T: We laugh last, Putey!

P: Yes, Donny, at the end of the universe, at entropy's final fizzle, one last sound will ring out: our laughter!


T: Damn, Putey, you are a poet!

End of transcript

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