Ugh. It’s a new day—and a Wednesday, at that, so I have to do the payroll. It’s a new month, too, so there’s rent and water and electric bills and eventually cable bills and all that coming soon.
I suppose it’s nice that the vernal equinox is this month, and thus the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere. And of course it’s nice that my brother’s birthday is also coming up this month (and one of my best friends from back home has her birthday before that, but we haven’t interacted in a long time). But other than that, I have no interest in any of it. Frankly, I don’t have much interest in anything at all.
I spent about ten minutes scrolling through my Audible app this morning, trying to find something I wanted to listen to on my way to the bus stop. I didn’t find anything, though I have a fair few Audible books—not as many as I have Kindle books, but still, there are quite a few.
I eventually just returned to a podcast that I had started yesterday—an old one with Anil Seth on Sam Harris’s podcast, two interesting people talking about interesting things. I get a bit frustrated when Sam betrays some of his bias toward the “hard problem of consciousness” being a legitimate, persistent thing, which I think is just a notion he holds onto as a meditator and thinker about consciousness—the notion that there’s something pseudo-mysterious about the fact that neural processes give rise to actual subjective experience.
I don’t understand what he thinks the alternative is. The so-called philosophical zombie thought experiment is self-contradictory and incoherent when you look at it closely*. How would a self-monitoring and flexible, self-directing, agentic, information-processing system that’s part of a biological organism with problems to solve and a not-completely-predictable world in which to live be expected to function? It monitors itself internally and externally, including monitoring at least some of the contents of that processing, because that’s a useful thing for an organism to do to survive and reproduce in a complicated world that includes other beings like itself in addition to predators and prey and whatnot. Why is it a hard problem that all this produces “subjective” experience? What do you expect it to do?
It’s not any more sensible than asking why there is something rather than nothing. What do you expect? Obviously, there are only people asking that question if there is something. And why would there be “nothing”, anyway? Why do people assume that’s the default state? Of course, I don’t think any actual, conscious being can truly imagine “nothing”, anymore than any conscious being can really imagine or contemplate the experience of ceasing to exist.
If you’ve been under general anesthesia—particularly really deep general anesthesia like you have for open heart surgery and the like—you’ve experienced the temporary cessation of pretty much all of your brain functions. Try to remember what it was like when you were under complete general anesthesia**. If there’s something for you to remember, then you were still conscious, and that means you weren’t under complete general anesthesia.
Alternatively, try to remember what it was like (for you) long before you were born, before even your parents were born***. That’s what it was like not to be conscious.
From within its own realm, consciousness is, in a sense, endless, because it doesn’t feel itself begin and it doesn’t feel itself end—it’s almost like one of those Penrose/Escher diagrams of infinite hyperbolic spaces contained within another, finite space. And this, of course, may very well describe the configuration of our own universe, since GR allows for spaces that look finite from the outside but are infinite from within, and mathematics can deal with them rigorously and consistently and thoroughly. It’s not readily intuitive without a bit of thought and practice, but why would one expect it to be****?
Anyway, that’s the sort of irritated but at least engaging argument I get into within my skull with people who are not actually present with me, and with whom I’ll never interact.
When I try to talk to people at work about such things, I just get blank looks and confusion. I tried to bring up my discussion from a week or so ago—regarding the M-theory related notion I had of a potential explanation for “dark matter”—with the smartest person I know in the office. It was disappointing. I was actually enthusiastic—I get that way about science and math, still, sometimes—but though he listened intently and politely, he said that it all really just went over his head.
It’s very frustrating, and quite disheartening. I really do feel like a stranded alien castaway, sometimes, and in many ways, I always have. This is part of why I always liked the villains in stories, not because they were bad guys—who cares about that?—but because they were always different, but strong and confident nevertheless. They were people who got things done and changed the world, and who, by the way, also didn’t let other people fuck with them without cost. They were strange, they were weird, but they were powerful and capable, though often not in productive ways. And they’re fun, at least, or they used to be.
Nothing is very much fun, anymore, to quote the Pink Floyd song One of My Turns.
The next few songs on that album are Don’t Leave Me Now (too late for that) then Another Brick in the Wall, Part III, which definitely resonates with me, and finally Goodbye, Cruel World, to end the first half of The Wall, one of the greatest concept albums ever made.
The very fact that Pink Floyd’s only number one single was Another Brick in the Wall, Part II, the least good song on that album (though it’s got a great guitar solo…of course), is just another example of how unutterably stupid and worthless the world is.
Goodbye, cruel world, indeed. And good riddance.
*Just because one can utter the words of a “description” of what a philosophical zombie is and make it syntactically correct doesn’t mean the idea makes sense. I can write 2+3=12, or say it, or whatever, but given what we mean by those symbols or words, it’s not a coherent mathematical statement.
**Not what it was like when you were just going under or gradually coming around. Don’t be an idiot.
***Not any nonsense about past lives/reincarnation. Don’t be an idiot.
****I think people tend to exaggerate, quite severely, just how complicated hyperbolic geometry really is. (Get it?)
This is one of your best meditations, my friend. Not meditation as a mistranslation of dhyana/jhana, but meditation in the Latin root sense. I eagerly await more such meditations from you.
Thank you very much. That’s very kind of you.