Let's begin this post with two quotes. The first is one of my favourites, from Darwin's The Descent of Man:
It is a more significant fact that a female zebra would not admit the addresses of a male ass until he was painted so as to resemble a zebra, and then, as John Hunter remarks, "she received him very readily." In this curious fact, we have instinct excited by mere colour, which had so strong an effect as to get the better of everything else. But the male did not require this, the female being an animal somewhat similar to himself, was sufficient to rouse him.
So talking about computer games, I have just finished playing the game Soma and thought I would discuss some of the issues it raises. [Warning: spoilers ahead!] In the game you begin as Simon, a man afflicted with some kind of brain tumour. He agrees to take part in some advanced imagining of his brain and then the end (hardly, though it is the end of Simon 1.0). We awake in a post-apocalyptic future as Simon 2.0, an artificial intelligence imprinted with the brain scan of Simon 1.0. First philosophical dilemma then. The original Simon died 100 years ago. Though I have his identity I am not him. So what to do? Do you just sit there in the world, refusing to accept the obvious falsity of this transplanted identity? Well that’s certainly an option, and as with Patient 42: the text adventure one of the …
I saw a piece in the tech news this week that I couldn't pass up mentioning. I've had a bit of a love/hate relationship with video games. I've played them since I was a kid, and getting my Amiga 500+ for Christmas one year was one of the defining moments of my life (I was like 12, so sue me). The Final Fantasy series of games also figured in my childhood, so I was intrigued when I read about a player who reached level 99 in the game Final Fantasy VII. What's interesting about that? Well he "achieved" that level before ever reaching the first boss in the game, a task that required 500 hours of the most mind-numbing game playing imaginable. For those not acquainted with what I'm talking about, imagine 500 hours of doing the same thing over and over and over again. No story. No new …
Continuing this series of posts examining identity fluidity, I was chatting with Jacob Isler, who runs a YouTube channel devoted to tulpamancy (he's also a psychology undergrad). I was interested in his experiences of multiplicity (or plurality) of consciousness. Anyway, Jacob kinda criticised my model, so I thought I would clarify it.
So this is the original diagram. Consciousness sits between two aspects that argue to be us. Soma (which includes our biological heritage and evolved predispositions) and identity (which includes our psychological heritage, our personality, our autobiography). In the last post I said that all identity is essentially fictionalised. What I meant by that in simplified form: The past cannot dictate to the future. The self is not a contract out of which we cannot escape. Arguing that we are trapped in the valley of the self does not make it so.
Let's return to a topic I've been pondering quite a lot recently. So in some of the previous posts, I have been examining what it is to be a human being. Let us refer back to a diagram I drew for one of those earlier posts. Here consciousness sits like bubbles in a boiling saucepan of water, atop the two aspects that appear to determine being (using the analogy of the water, they are the hydrogen and the oxygen). We have soma (the body) and identity (psychological heritage).
Now, let's assume that gender fluidity is a phenomenon that reflects a loosening of the importance of the biological aspect of human being. Just because our biology argues that we "are" something, doesn't mean we have to abide by it. Evolution can set up the chess board, but I think it is evident that evolution cannot compel us to play the game …
So this post has been stimulated partly by a podcast chat about apophenia, and partly by the updated blog post, Dots Don't Make The Man. (It's also based on some writing that didn't make it into my final PhD thesis, which is why it has references and footnotes 😱.) Apophenia is the process by which people find meaning within randomness. An example is seeing images in cloud formations. When they are conducting good research (i.e. the procedure isn't too sloppy), parapsychologists are on the front line of studying randomness (whether they know it or not) and often conclude erroneously that they have discovered something meaningful. If you examine the first graphic, you can see a number of paranormal or fringe topics that (I am claiming) are the direct result of misinterpreting randomness (or more explicitly, some order in randomness) as meaningful.
What is randomness? Good question. Well this isn't the …
(So this is an old post that was first published in 2006 that I've updated. Gone is the old graphic, to be replaced with another CSS and html animation. Spiffy.)
Look at this animation and think about it. What are you looking at and
what do you 'see'? Aren't they two different things? The human
brain has evolved an innate predisposition to interpret things as having intention. To look for meaning, even when it is a stretch. You
think that the dots are 'alive' because it is cheap to come to this
Our ancestors evolved in
environments where it was important to quickly determine what something
was. Is that shape a human or a predator? Friend or foe? And you see it
was better to make a quick decision, than to wait around to learn
the potentially deadly truth. Individuals who made snap decisions about the positive intentionality or …
So during an (as yet unpublished) episode of The Existential Files, we got into a debate about who (or what) is an existential being? I thought I would clarify my thinking. I rule out categorically any non-human on this planet. I love my cat Ziggy, but I don't believe he has an existential being (a being of sorts he does have but he is not a category A existential being that's for sure). And maybe a category system is what is needed. Category A: Full existential being. Well I'm going to say that I am one and you probably are one too. I joked in that episode, that I count anybody who has read or is capable of reading a Dostoevsky novel as an existential being. Obviously I was being a little flippant, on the other hand it does capture something of what I am getting at. You have to …
Been a bit busy this last month, but the podcast has been providing a good bit of content. Someone asked me if I had a copy of my take home essays in a more portable format. Well I'm always up for a technical challenge, so I decided to create a little epub combining what I consider to be the two most important pieces of writing on the blog: Happiness in the Belly of the Space Whale, and Misery in the Brain of the Earth Ape. Not much more to say really. It is, what it is. Enjoy or not, as the case may be. Download epub
Let's look at something different, and hopefully a little amusing. Consider Charles Mackay's book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. It may well have been published over 150 years ago, but it is a wonderful illustration of how very much like our modern day, the past actually was (and I can't recommend it highly enough). Be prepared to be amazed by his account of Tulipomania (crazy, crackers, mental). This, however, is the bit which has stayed with me since reading it, about two phrases that became, for a short while, popular in the parlance of their times:
London is peculiarly fertile in this sort of phrases, which spring up suddenly, no one knows exactly in what spot, and pervade the whole
population in a
few hours, no one knows how. Many years ago the favourite phrase (for, though but a monosyllable, it was a phrase in …