Overweening Generalist

Monday, January 25, 2016

An Octad of Items For Your Delectation

Q: Is the OG stoned while writing this post?
is X
is not

Random articles I stumbled upon that interested me, with brief (you hope!) comments. - OG

1. When fire alarms go off, or you're stuck in a burning building, or even in the WTC just after they were hit by planes, many people don't do anything. They second-guess what's going on. They rationalize. Some apparently think they'll do something to get away from danger, but let me finish this phone call first, or oops, let me go back into the burning building to save my photos. They don't want any unknown changes in their lives. This is well-documented. Stephen Grosz, a psychoanalyst, notes clients who come to him with obvious problems. They want to change. The decision to make the change seems like a no-brainer to us, reading this. But they don't want to make any changes. How do we account for this?

Comment: as I read this brief article, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the people who neglected to get out of harm's way, and all I could think of was "Gads, I've seen so many false alarms and I've felt foolish a few times when I overreacted to what purported to be danger signals, I bet this is really not a big deal." But staying in a burning restaurant and burning to death because you thought you should pay the check first? Approach/avoidance cross-signals and Really Bad Outcomes...

2. Sorry for this article's length, but I couldn't stop reading it when I began. New School University cultural critic and PhD in American Studies, Mark Greif, writes one of the best cultural sociological pieces on the role of police in a Constitutional democracy that I've ever read. Tackling the topic due to increased visibility of police violence and numerous cries for reform, Greif notes that the role of police is "impossible," that when they graduate from the academy they swear to uphold the Constitution, though every cop knows this isn't what they do. Indeed, legal and political thought is "above their pay grade." Because a theory for the existence of police is fairly informal, reform will be difficult. Greif ironically mentions the great sociologist of police, Egon Bittner, who wrote that "criminal law enforcement is something that most of them do with a frequency located somewhere between virtually never and very rarely," and yet police departments award a Bittner to cops who've stayed on the force for 15 years.

This is an amazing piece, and despite quotes and references from and to Foucault, Adam Smith, Ben Franklin, Erving Goffman, Mary Douglas, Hobbes, Locke and the formidable police ethnographer Peter K. Manning, the piece flows. What hooked me in was the first section, about how police touch you. The varieties of touch. Women can be touched by police in public and the subtlest shift in touch can go from "professional and neutral" to "sexual and humiliating." There's a catalog of touching, and Greif states, "The purpose of touching by police if to make people touchable." And it can go all the way up to being punched and kicked while an arrestee is already on the ground.

Police in ambiguous situations add violence, and Greif argues this is a way to "test" the "good" citizens in the public to see to what degree they will support this violence. A problem is that the police really don't know who the "good" citizens are. Another problem: do you think your neighbors support escalating police violence? How many object, but withhold their voices for fear of retribution by the police? One thing is clear, and Greif points this out: police know black and poor people look wrong in white and rich neighborhoods; they know white and rich people in black and poor neighborhoods look suspect. So they investigate. "This, to their minds, is parity. They don't recognize their role in making up the boundaries of these neighborhoods in the first place, or why not all neighborhoods are functionally the same."

Comment: if you're concerned with police violence, read this.

3. In Russia, a 53 year old former professor who favored poetry stabbed to death his 67 year old friend, who said the only real literature is prose. Both were drunk.

Comment: Who knows what got lost in the translation here, but neither guy had ever read Korzybski, that seems for goddamned sure to me. In other words, in my own evaluations of poetry and prose, both seem like what is commonly called "literature" to me, and both forms can say profound things; at the moment I write this, I consider both forms as complementary, and if I encounter a drunk who gets belligerent and wants to argue that either poetry or prose "is" better than the other, I will very likely leave the presence of such a learned moron.

4. At Stanford's "Cracking The Neural Code Program" they've developed ingenious ways to isolate the circuitry for social behavior in the brain, of mice. Using optogenetics (read the article), when the circuit was buzzed the mouse interacted with a new mouse. (By sniffing. I do this too at parties but have found it necessary to develop stealth methods, know what I mean? Also at parties I frequently search for the cheese, but that's not my social behavior circuit working and merely my mouse-circuit.) By inhibiting the circuit, the mouse doesn't care for mingling at all. Of course dopamine is involved in this new knowledge of social circuitry, and I'm impressed not only by the Stanford people's techniques, but by the fact that they didn't buzz a circuit and note which neurochemicals rose up. That's what most pharmacological research does. This is on a very complex circuit, with branches into the ventral tagmental area and the nucleus accumbens. Just the trick of finding the social circuit(s) seems impressive. Buzz the circuit and put an inanimate object in the environment and the mice don't care: it's a social circuit. These researchers think this knowledge may spin off into helping humans with autism, social anxiety, depression, and maybe even schizophrenia. And let's hope it does help. I just hope these researchers aren't yankin' our chains, or chainettes.

                                I take this to be Mamakind with a vaporizer                

5. Here's a review of Sex Pot: The Marijuana Lover's Guide to Gettin' It On, from 2011. Written by Skunk mag's legendary Mamakind, a bisexual and polyamorous stoner who was so compelling to one reader that he developed her imagined "pussytoke": a way to get stoned through what I visualize as a dildo crossed with a pipe. It is described as gourd-like. Anyway...yes. Pot and sex: one of the alchemist's better-kept open secrets to illumination. I like reading books on pot. I like reading books on sex. I've been known to put a book down, walk nine feet, and have stoned sex. And yet I've only thumbed this baby in public.

Comment: I think I grokked it fully standing in a place that sells tie-dyes and does piercings. In Sebastapol, if I recall correctly.

6. Prof. of Analytical Philosophy at Geneva, Kevin Mulligan, reviewed A.W. Moore's book The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics. Mulligan likes it. It's about "meta-metaphysics," or trying to make general sense of the metaphysical thought of 20 eminent philosophers, all male, all English, French, or German. And Spinoza. The review was head buzz enough for me. Moore looks at Transcendent things. He tries to tease out the meta-metaphysics of Novelty: can we make sense of things in entirely new ways? Or are we "limited to looking for the sense that things already make?" I think making sense of things in entirely new ways is one of the great joys and jobs of the visionary, but what do I know?

Also scrutinized for its meta-metaphysical aspects: Creativity. Can we make things make sense in a creative way without hauling in wrong vs. right? Wittgenstein is a big deal for Moore. So's Guattari, as you see by Mulligan's remarks.

Very early in my reading of this review, I thought of William James's lecture on pragmatism in which he says (I paraphrase from memory) if you're reading Hegel or Spinoza or any of these Wiggy Thinkers and can't help but think, "What sort of person writes an entire, fat and very learned book on such topics?" And James says you're not wrong to think this. I love that riff. Anyway...

Okay, so there "is" propositional knowledge: of facts and truth. Non-propositional knowledge is what we get from art, or listening to music: we get knowledge, but it's not stated in the Art. And Moore wants his meta-metaphysics to be more like Art than Theory. What a relief! What appears to be the most important role of metaphysics, to Moore, is giving us "radically new concepts by which to live." This strikes me as having a strong family resemblance to Harold Bloom's notion of what the Strong Poet does. I wonder if neologisms qualify as quanta in this instance for Moore?

Comment: I doubt I'll read this book, simply because there's not enough time in my life. A more personal reason: knowledge and "reality" are, in my favorite models - pragmatism, the sociology of knowledge, symbolic interactionism, and the diffuse thought radiating from Robert Anton Wilson's writings - one in the same. Social knowledge is constantly creating "reality" and vice-versa. The various metaphysical issues are ones that function either as artistic objects for contemplation, or as tools for living. While I applaud the attempt (and I may surprise myself and end up reading such a thing as A.W. Moore produced here; stranger things have happened) to hunt for a simpler overview of metaphysics, I really do seem to have a full plate of reading to do already. The plate piles with books into the ionosphere, and Air Traffic Control and the Federal Aviation Administration is constantly on my ass over this.

7. A woman attended a lecture on out-of-body (OBE) experiences at the U. of Ottawa, then told the lecturers that she can do all that voluntarily, and seemed surprised that not everyone does it. They did an MRI on her and found that the visual cortex deactivated, and instead she had "activated the left side of several areas associated with kinesthetic imagery." These areas do mental representations of body movement. The woman often did it before sleep. She was aware she was still in her body, but says she could see herself "rotating in the air above her body" and other similar extravaganzas. The woman never told anyone because she thought everyone did it. She should've brought it up at parties! (Or maybe her social circuitry isn't working on all cylinders?)

The cool thing: maybe there are more people who can do this than we thought. Also, it may be learned during a "window" of time during adolescence. I think I've done it in middle-age - maybe 20 minutes ago, in fact - but I had extra-botanical help, so who knows if it counts. Also: because the woman said there was no feeling of "awe" or marvel when she did it, it wasn't classified as a classic OBE, but instead was deemed a mere ECE, or Extra-Corporeal Experience.

Comment: I'm jealous, frankly. Of course I'd want the whole nine in an OBE, but I sense an ECE would still be a kick. (Insert your anal probe joke in this space; go ahead and write on your computer screen right now, but only in crayon using cursive, please: _____________________________.)

8. I'm guessing a lot of you who've stuck it out here have already heard the one about the two Kazakhstan scientists who have looked at the human genetic code and think they have detected the hazy signals that our designers stamped their designer label into our genes, if we can only decipher it. Oh, they're onto it. If you play with models of the genetic code you see all sorts of cool things, like the use of zero and other mathematical concepts. What they are looking for will be statistically significant patterns in our code with "intelligent-like features" (ehhhh?) that are inconsistent with any naturally known process. Sounds like that book The Bible Code to me. Or using pretzel logic to find a cryptogram in Shakespeare that ends up reading, "I'm Sir Francis Bacon, and I approve of these plays."

So yea: here's yet another panspermia scenario of our origins. Which I'm open to. The proof will be in the pudding code though. The Kazakhs say this code, once deciphered will prove all those dummies who thought SETI and use of radio-telescopes to pick up non-random patterns from within the white noise wrong: it's in all our cells! It's the SETI of molecular biology! And I've heard there's a lot of white noise in there, too, but it's gooey.

No, but wouldn't this be mindblowing if they pulled it off? And a real coup for Kazakhstan, not to mention. Golly! They (the Kazakhs, not our designers from millions but probably multi-billions of years ago) say this "stamp" will have math-semantic info (talk about time-binding!) and be unmistakably OTHER, and be "the most durable construct known" and it's utterly outside neo-Darwinian models. I'm not even at a party and I sniff Intelligent Design, don't you?

On the other hand, let's cut these guys some slack. How much more unheimlich is this compared to The Matrix trilogy? Or, serious philosopher Nick Bostrom's idea that there's a better than 50% chance that we're all living in a simulation? We live in a hologram? And I have a dippy blog there? Whoa!

Okay, okay, but Who or What designed the designer(s)?

At this point I whip out of its fine-tooled corinthian-leather sheath my Occam's Razor and see that once upon a time, one fine infinite day, Cosmic Mommy and Cosmic Daddy loved each other very very very much...


Eric Wagner said...

Yet another terrific piece.

1. This makes me think of the TV show "The Walking Dead" and why I love it so much. It also makes me think about obesity and other addiction related behavior.

2. I find discussions with students about the police sobering. Many of them do not see patterns of racist behavior by police in our society. I love "The Wire", but it seems less realistic to me now because it does not deal with institutional racism. I just watched "Z" and I loved how it presented the role of the police.

3. Poetry, prose, and Korzybksi seem less relevant to me in our post-literate world.

6. This makes me think of Zukofsky's discussion of such subjects. I don't really follow him when he writes about Spinoza and metaphysics.

michael said...

Interesting to contrast The Wire with Z: I agree.

Our popular culture tends to mythologize police work. The perception of the legitimacy of the police has a lot to do with who you are, where you're coming from, personal experience, and wealth.

The work of Greif here, and Egon Bittner, Peter K. Manning, and Erving Goffman, when read, can't help but make anyone see the police in a new light.

Speaking of post-literate: I thought of you when I watched the 2014 doc _From Caligari to Hitler_ on Netflix. It was filled with marvelous footage. It's mostly a reinforcement of Kracauer's thesis, although I'm well aware of the contestations made about Kracauer's POV, and RAW's satire on it. Do you think the main reason RAW satirized it was because he disagreed with the thesis (I think he did disagree), or because Wilhelm Reich's model of fascism was far more robust? Or something else?

I know this might sound like an odd Q, but what/who is your favorite metaphysics/metaphysician? And why?

Eric Wagner said...

I suspect you have reached the correct conclusion that Bob disagreed with Krakauer's hypothesis.

I consider Ibn 'Arabi my favorite metaphysician. I had to look up the definition of metaphysics. I don't use that word much. I don't understand Ibn 'Arabi very well. Rafi Zabor has helped me there. Of course a large part of my way of understanding the world came from Bob Wilson. (He also avoided the term "metaphysics".) My challenges reconciling 'Arabi and Wilson have shaped a lot of my world in the last decade.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

#1 and #3, It seems to me that if you ever encountered situation No. 3, you could test the theory in No. 1. Would you have the presence of mind to split before the crazed poetry lover pulled out the knife?

#8 The idea of encoding information in the genetic code is a central them of Richard Powers, one of my favorite writers. In his latest novel, "Orfeo," a composer comes up with the idea of writing a "piece" in the genetic code of a bacteria (the authorities frown on this, and he winds up being labelled the "Bioterrorist Bach.") And in a long short story he wrote recently, "Genie," the genetic code is used to transmit information from a long-ago first contact with extraterrestrials.

#6 I love this sentence: "The plate piles with books into the ionosphere, and Air Traffic Control and the Federal Aviation Administration is constantly on my ass over this." Oh, how I can relate. I have unread books all over the house, and unread books on my Kindle.

michael said...

@Eric: Interesting: the reconciling of Ibn 'Arabi and RAW!

In my reading of RAW, in the last 15 yrs of his life his own metaphysics - which were never boldly stated - were more hinted at than in his earlier works. I think there's quite a lot there in his readings of "reality" and language and humans as both individuals with the spark of unique infinitude and as social beings who need to love each other. Maybe the most overt (for him) statement about his own metaphysics can be found in Cosmic Trigger Vol 3, chapter 37:

After discussing "masks" and multiple perspectives and the liberating experience of seeing all maps of "reality" as masks, RAW writes, "If we try to write about this post-liberation experience, we perforce produce metaphysics. This can take the form of the incomprehensible and mind-boggling brands of philosophy normally called 'metaphysics' or some new form, breaking the rules of ordinary literature, to jar 'the' reader, or should I say a few readers, into the new perspective we wish to share. Joyce's prose, Yeats's poetry, the paradoxes of Charles Fort, the 'occult' jokebooks of Crowley, all represent such grotesque masks, created to free us from believing in the more deceptive social masks. Like metaphysics, they mean more (and other) than they say, and never mean anything _literally_. As Wilde said, 'The reality of metaphysics is the reality of masks.'"

Or so I read him as of this date.

michael said...

@ Tom: I hadn't thought of #1 and #3 together, but yes, that's valid and funny!

Meanwhile, I have Richard Powers's _Goldbug Variations_ very near the top of my sky-high stack, mostly because you've recommended it so highly (and all the tangential reading I've done around Powers makes him smell like genius). Powers is not in the batter's box, nor is he on-deck or in the hole, but as I look at my stack (while keeping my ears out for the FAA), he's going up to the bat rack.

And so, to mix metaphors: Go Cavs!