Roach

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In what way am I like a cockroach? In what way am I not like one?

I eat trash, that is to say, the food I eat is not all that great. I have the option to eat better food, a roach does not. I sometimes just eat whats out of the cupboard. There are also times I just eat when it is dark out, and I hide in my room when there is daylight. I don’t skitter away when the sun is out, I am more like a slug in that instance. I feel like a roach when I eat, because I eat bad food at night. I feel like a roach because I feel smaller than the people around me. I feel like a roach because sometimes I feel like a very subtle pest.

To say that I feel like a cockroach or bug might be a bit much. On average I feel nothing like a cockroach, and I hold the same amount of disgust for the habits of the bug. However, I cannot say that I have never had days, weeks, where I have felt like that. The sensation of the largeness of everything else. Everyone I know demands authority, I feel like an insect under their shoe sometimes! Is this what Kafka was doing in Metamorphosis? Everyone is a human, but I feel like an over sized bug who’s carapace is just as fragile as it would be on a normal scale. Like Gregor, it just starts one morning, the roach appears out of nowhere.

Roaches are not organized. They live in filthy places, with food on the floor and half eaten. They don’t finish their food, though I usually do. I don’t finish much else. No real discipline. No person holding the reigns all that tightly. Lots of unfinished work, especially this one!

Cockroaches thrive. They are hard to get rid of, too. The amount of life a building, forest, lake, or whatever can hold, the richness of biodiversity, never seems to consider the cockroach. Why should it? Who wants to know how well the cockroach is doing? No real value, since if one place cannot support a roach, there will always be another. There are lots of cockroaches, there are lots of people the same as me.

Celebrate the uniqueness! Individuality! Specialness! What is all that, if I know I am a roach? Just a copy of the last, maybe to produce another roach for the future. Millions share my same identity. I can’t make anything but more cockroaches. Even my cockroach is a copy, Kafka described before I even got the feeling. My plagiarism is what I am made of. Just a collage of my environments, a roach preferring the indoors to the outdoors. The preacher has it right. Nothin’ new under that dang ol’ sun! 

Pity, pity, pity! Pity? Pity. Roach under the shoe, poor little bug. Roach feeling blue, poor lil’ fella. Roach has not done anything new. Shouldn’t complain, it isn’t unique! This has happened before, it is happening again, and it’ll keep happening long after me.

I am lucky I don’t feel like a cockroach all the time.

The Singularity is a Shitty Rapture

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The future is near! It is happening! The singularity! An event horizon! Mans ascent to godhood! And you can be apart of it for just $19.99!

That is a joke, no way would it be that cheap. And I doubt it is happening, but if it does, it’ll be too much.

The singularity, from what I understand, is the blending of circuit board and nervous system. Not just jamming a microchip in my brain, but having technology become bigger and faster than ever. The effect on human kind as a whole is still in question. Will we get advertising shot into our brains? Will we live in a solar-punk utopia? Will our thoughts be more clearly translated from person to person than ever? It is like “The Jetsons” at this point, our rate of technological growth does not outright determine what it will produce. The shift from massive industrial production to a new focus on phone and computer production has changed our dreams of the future. No buzzing flying cars are talking about much anymore, instead we get to talk about dystopias run by evil AI. But those are just dreams. People dream up a utopia in their head, everyone thinking of the gaps in their life and filling it up with a gadget. I doubt the singularity is close.

Why not? The singularity I think about would have to include everyone. Singular singularity, that transhumanist goal of having mankind ascend together with the assistance of technology, everyone goes to heaven. We do not, however, have the privilege to take part of the singularity. I doubt people in the slums will take part either. It is the ascension to techno-heaven that is reserved for the saved. Only those who have enough money can become part of this new bliss. The mighty technocrat will don his computer helmet and rule us as an immortal demigod, citing his knowledge as the justification for his authority. The singularity will have occurred, but only for the select few.

It is just a rip-off rapture. The technocrat gets his fancy computer-throne and nice internet, but those of us who are not saved will get stuck with normal chairs and bad internet! What hell!

Technology has done little to unite people, it has only further stratified us. I cannot think of a good reason to expect otherwise.

What do I Want to Be

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What is it that I want to be? What is it that I am?

What I am and what I would like to be are immediately very different. The ‘ideal’ version of me is entirely fictional, not achievable, and alien to my current self. My current self is hard to understand, always changing, and only half under my control (and less than half of that control is conscious!).

I must elaborate on what it is I want to be. I desire strength, like all others. Not physical strength (though I do desire it), but strength of will. The willpower to discipline myself. The strength of my mind. Mastery over my desires and impulses, which gives me more control over the world than even the most capable athlete. I want to be that stoic man on a mountain, able to shrug off the cold, surviving with only what is necessary, completely free from societies and cultures. To shrug off the winter, those harsh winter blues, the draining sadness. To be able to adapt to any world, and only rely on myself and not any sort of medications or consolations. I wouldn’t be subject to the world, only to myself.

What I am, is much more realistic. I am a physical machine slogging through the muck, getting my cogs clogged with wire and oil from the world around me. It is necessary, though. I must pull the wires, let the oil clear my rust. The wires need pulling, the oil needs a use. I know that my parts, the nuts and bolts and springs and tubes, are always changing paths and functions (to an extent). The parts don’t sync perfectly, because I am not a perfect machine. I require maintenance. To believe I, or anyone else, can be so independent is ridiculous. No machine repairs itself fully without the help of a handyman. No person can go on without the nourishment of the mind.

I have been manufactured in a strange place. A baby, like every newly invented machine, should go through a stress test. How much weight does it take? Every moment the body is reinvented, and it must go through that new stress test. The weights are the challenges of the environment around the body. The body constantly improves, scarring itself like tempering a metal, learning to resist burns and diseases. The machine reaches adulthood, but my machine doesn’t feel ready. It feels incomplete, wired a little sloppily, rusted in places underused. My body wasn’t invented and reinvented under the conditions and stresses that my genetic schematics anticipated. Perhaps to make up for this lack of external pressures, I have tried to make do with a half-formed masochism, attempted to simulate the external forces, fight myself.

A machine cannot stress test itself. I cannot effectively create the experiences that I should have had so many years ago. Some bodies are able to get by without this, but I am unable. What was it that I needed? What causes me to bring about this misguided self-harm? School was not the correct stress test for my body. I don’t know how to go on alone, my body needs the external aids in order to continue its existence.

I need new parts, or rather, new experiences. I need to utilize the underdeveloped parts of myself, what few schools or parents think to test. If I want to even come close to what I want to be, I have to run experiments, I have to form habits, I have to commit to exercises, I need an engineer.

If any engineers are reading, please help! I know I can do it, but some days I feel like I cannot do it alone! Make me a better body, and I will make yours better too!

Sapolsky’s Lecture on Depression

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Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky

 

This is my favorite lecture on depression. Sapolsky is an outstanding lecturer. There is a whole series on the Standford youtube channel of Sapolsky lecturing on Human Behavioral Biology (the above lecture is a segment of that series). I think it is probably one of the most important lecture series out there, regardless of what one’s field of interest is. It is entertaining and informative, plus gives an excellent point of view for understanding yourself and others.

King Ludd is on His Way!

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As the Liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
     So we, boys, we
   Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!

What Byron says is true. King Ludd will return, I think it is inevitable. In this instance, I think of Ludd not as the symbol for willing denial of our tech, but for the unwilling denial; a fall from our computerized world and back into simplicity.

The Luddites, those with the hammers to break the machines, who yearn for the old-fashioned style of living, are a good people. But when they break the machines, the mechanical stilts that hold up the kingdoms we live in, I am not certain how well I will fare under the rule of King Ludd. Is it a lot to say that I think I will be in such a condition in my lifetime? Hard to say, but it is on my mind constantly.

King Ludd is a just king, but perhaps an intolerant one. I am, like the Luddites, sick from all the money and cars of today. But I do not have the constitution, the wit, or maturity to survive under King Ludd. I have been chiseled into a form that best suits the environment I live in, the city or suburb. When I am tossed into the low-tech world of Ned Ludd, what will I do? How can I cope?

 

I am sure I will figure it out if I live to see the day. It is inevitable though, King Ludd will return, and no human on earth can escape him.

Dread n’ Me.

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I dread all the time. Even when I forget what I am dreading, I feel some of it. I am dreading the future, at all times, just because it is the future. Mindfulness, living in the moment, meditation, a video game, a movie, reading, friends, television; these distract from the dread for only moments. When I lay down, sober, and try to force myself to sleep, dread is still there. When I sleep, dread manifests itself very clearly in my nightmares. When I wake up, dread is still there, loud and terrifying.

What am I dreading? What the hell is bothering me all the time? I live a great life, I love my family, I love my friends, I have money and food at all times, I have free time to do practically anything I want. I have medicine, I have therapy, I have lovers, I have showers. I get to go to school, I get to work out, I get to dress up, I get to watch tv. Some poor child in war-torn Syria,  famished Zambia, polluted India has it worse than me. Their dread stares them right in the face, gnaws at their stomach, chokes them. I have clean air, celery, civil order.

So what am I dreading? I know what it is, it is not always a mystery. I dread my future, particularly my future grades and relationships, my future income and health. So much dread, in fact, that it has brought me close to death. What is wrong with me that I am so privileged and rich, with so many paths and opportunities before me, that I must medicate myself to halt attempts for suicide? It makes me feel guilty! Where did I go wrong, what makes me this selfish, why can’t I trade my life for one of the African children’s?

I can’t trade in my life for another, it is impossible. I have to think about this differently. Who else dreads like I do? Many people, as it turns out, dread. They dread more, in fact. They are anxious about everything. They are afraid of waiting in line, of beeping cars, of paperwork, of tall buildings, of failure, of minimalism, of meaninglessness, of loneliness, of everything. I am just like them, I hate money and signatures, I hate all the news reports and the traffic, I hate the power lines and the smoke, but I don’t do much about it. It cripples me, I stay in bed, and I hide. We both take the medicines, see our doctors, and it helps so much. It is not an escape though. I have not learned to love this.

With so many of us on anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, anti-whatever pills, what can we do? The people in famished Africa don’t take them (not that they even have it available). How do they get by without killing themselves? Well, maybe it is civilization itself that has created this mess. After all, we only need to look at how Chinese suicide rates increased with its industrialization (google that, please, I am pretty sure it is true). What has civilized society brought to me to make me happy? I am horrified of bad grades, obsessed with and disgusted by money, always panicking about my future. I want to love nature, but how much can I love it when I know it is so close to death? How can I escape society and join the forest when there is so little left?

I often wonder if civilization was the problem, would I be happy to return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle? It seems unanswerable. There is no tribe I can join that isn’t simply a spectacle for us modern folk (That tribe in Brazil, who use bullet ants as a rite of passage. Not thank you). I can go camping, live off the grid, but how many of my friends and family will I isolate by doing that? Even so, am I even capable of doing that? Will my foggy memory of boy scout wilderness knowledge keep me going? Even so, how long will my adventures in the forest last until it gets clear-cut and paved? Dread is setting in, I feel almost trapped.

I am very thankful for everything I have, especially my medicine and food, especially floss and air-conditioning. It pretty much stops there, though. What good is this system, if the price of technology is happiness? What good is this system, if it is killing the world and myself? How far will it go before the medicine loses its effectiveness and the land cannot produce enough food for our exploding numbers?

Dread dread dread, it is so hard to be optimistic, holy shit.

The only thing that brings me comfort is what I know. I know that it has to be this way, I know that the universe almost pre-ordained this. But that only goes so far, before dread comes back up, mutes my reasoning. I don’t want to be a sad-sack, but I would be foolish not to.

 

 

[EDIT] It has been a little 3 hours since I wrote this and I feel fine now.

Ethics V, Proposition XXXVIII and Coping

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Ethics V, Prop. XXXVIII.– In proportion as the mind understands more things by the second and third kind of knowledge, it is less subject to those emotions which are evil, and stands in less fear of death. 

Spinoza understands three types of knowledge that people are capable of. The first kind is the most false, caused by imagination, superstition, prejudice, and general inadequate ideas of things. Any inadequate idea is evil (IV Prop. LXIV). The second kind of knowledge is born from reason, intellect, and knowledge common to all men. The third kind, is from intuition. Intuition is defined as the “…kind of knowledge proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of certain attributes of God to the adequate knowledge of the essence of things.” (II Prop. XL Note 2).

I don’t know if I have any sort of the third knowledge, but I believe the point to take from this singular proposition can be very stoic. It is not uncommon, after all, to consider Spinoza a stoic. By increasing our understanding of a particular thing, it has less ability to affect us. For example, when you are mugged by someone, it is naturally a very negative experience. As soon as you have a more adequate understanding of the mugger, their life, the factors that drove him/her to crime (such as desperation or a messy childhood), and the ‘chance’ element at play, you are able to take it less personally. It is not an attack on you, it is you walking into a series of determined causes that just happen to crest as a mugger. Sure, knowing all that won’t make you super zen about it, but at least you can move on much more easily after it occurs.

Trauma from such things is hard to avoid. There is one traumatic experience I have gone through, inappropriate to speak of the details here, but one of the best mechanisms for coping (besides just not thinking about it or letting the thought slip on by) is to try to understand the cause. Not just that, but the cause of that cause, find the chain that led up to the event. Grab that chain, pull it, observe each link, find the vast interlocking web of events that the actors towards what you are trying to understand. Causes are external, internal, from genetics, from parentage, etc. When so many things are at play, I get the sense that it was predetermined. I cannot control the event, but I have a better understanding that the event is simply one of the many waves of causes coming to a crest.

Celery

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There is no vegetable better than celery.

I find it to be the most pleasant vegetable of them all, not when its mixed in with a salad, nor when cooked up in a stew. The celery I love is pure, naked, and crunchy.

The crunch is essential! It is like a pickle, but more refined. I feel the crushing of the stem under my teeth, the water squeezing out of the vascular tissue. I love pulling on the cuticle, which is always revealed when I take the first bite. It is the string cheese of vegetables, with its long fibers, tightly packed together giving you a nice stalk of nutritious greens. The pickle has none of this, and while it is certainly more sweet, I think the celery gives a satisfaction to many more senses.

The fresher the celery, the better, of course. However, the plant has one special property that allows me to enjoy it when it ages. The increase in psoralen, a furocoumarin, causes an allergic reaction when it touches my tongue. Usually a defense mechanism, the celery sets up a toxic attack to repel any bugs or small mammals to feast on it’s body, but I am not small. The psoralen, instead poisoning me, makes me numb. The numbing sensation is just on the surface of the tongue,  it gives that weird tickle you feel when you sit on your leg too long, and it lasts for as long as you are eating the celery. What pickle can do that? Do apples do it too? No, celery excels at providing me with a sensation that no other vegetable (that I enjoy, carrots can do it too) may offer! What other foods numb the tongue? Spicy foods bring pain, but none of it numbing. Celery is truly a character.

I believe the best way to eat celery is slowly. I like to do so while reading. Passively chewing away at the stalk, slurping down stray fibers, using the pleasant crunch as white noise. It makes me feel like a big ol’ gorilla, sitting in his favorite gorilla-spot, munching down some bamboo shoot full of termites; the perfect condition for reflecting on gorilla-life. It is a calming vegetable, one that grows abundantly and beautiful, naturally sturdy like a tiny tree, and therapeutic to gaze at or eat.

Unspooling a Self and Entering Heaven

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It is often believed that the ‘Self’, the idea that some hold concerning their body to distinguish it and their experiences from the rest of the world, is something that can be maintained at all into the afterlife. This is the problem, as not only do some call Heaven “afterlife”, but some also hold that the Self is maintained in the personal form. It is problematic because life as a person understands it is not present in heaven. The Self is there, but not the personal type. I think that the Self as a person experiences it (that is, the type of Self that some hold to distinguish themselves from other things) is somewhat incorrect.

My conception of Self is that there is the personal type in addition to the true type. The true type of Self (the universal Self) is simply what ties the world to living things, thoughts, experiences, and anything that comes to form in life. The personal Self, on the other hand, is unique to living things (humans especially) because it is viewed as an entirely individualistic thing that is a result of a hierarchy of causes. The personal Self is a feeling, one with the utility of forming an identity, and is the result of the illusion of a hierarchy of causes. Personal Self is the end while the universe is the means. Not only is the personal Self the loneliest conception of a person in relation to the universe, but it also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of it.

As I see it, from what has been hinted to me by theology, as well as spoken loudly to me in Ethics, Self is best understood only in the universal sense. Certain Zen Buddhists practice specific rituals and exercises in order to gain this understanding, to deny the personal Self. More accurately, I think, is the Upanishadic conception of Self. Buddhism consistently grapples with the impermanent, so it is easily thought of the Self as one of the many things to be extinguished. The Upanishadic Self is eternal, all-encompassing, and indwelling all. This is also hinted at in Christianity.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…” (Corinthians 6:19).

“It is true the body is perishable, but within it dwells the imperishable Self. This body is subject to pleasure and pain; no one who identifies with the body can escape from pleasure and pain. But those who know they are not the body pass beyond pleasure and pain to live in abiding joy.” (The Chandogya Upanishad, Chap. VIII, 12.1).

 

The universal Self can be understood as a frayed thread, spread infinitely, and frayed again on each bit. The physical state we hold is a spool, capturing thread upon our conception, rolling up more and more as we develop (and we do not stop developing). The spool spins as we live, changing as we age, but spinning the eternal thread. It is painted with colors as we experience, made unique in the moment it is spooled, but never unattached to the rest.

Death is the separation of the spool from the Self. Most would identify closer with their personalities than their bodies, so it becomes important to know what happens to the Self. Many who understand only the personal Self believe either the popular Christian notion of heaven (which I agree with in its essence but it is so heavily bastardized by the worldly things that it is completely foreign to what it should be) or the atheist/Buddhist view of the Self of being snuffed out eternally. It creates a fear or desire of death, mixes experience and emotion with understanding, and makes a person anxious.

Heaven, to me, is merely the return to the universal Self. The unspooling of personal experience and time, eliminating the weight of the spool, becoming closer to the universe (not that we were that far).

Heaven in a more old fashioned Christian sense is that of angels sitting on the clouds, all of them pure, none of them feeling the deep anxiety and hatred of life. Free from all desires and in unity with god. In some branches of Hinduism, it is the same. To be with God, that is, to be of the substance in its purest form. This is the achievable heaven. The spool weighs us down from heaven, it is merely in a brief knot that the thread makes, and is free to flow with the wind once its spool dies.

 

Or there is a hell too, I am not sure. If there is, then that really changes the game.

Human Beings as Catastrophe

Nature has and always will exist. Environmental degradation by humans is not the destruction of nature, but rather a function of it. This is understood if we differentiate the meaning of the words “nature” and “environment” which are sometimes perceived as interchangeable. “Nature” should be understood the whole collection of processes which determine all things. “Environment” should be understood as the pre-human conditions that are caused and causes of biotic and abiotic factors, many of which still do exist and are now subject to human effects. By these understandings, we can say that what is also natural is any awareness of our effect and so are all attempts to adjust our actions. I say this to avoid implying that our destructive effects are good because of their naturalness.

The Earth contains an environment that has been drastically altered throughout history, and with each alteration, the conditions for life as we know it today approached. Earth, while still very much in a constant state of change, has maintained a general status quo that lets us exist, such as the acquirement of an atmosphere or the development of relationships between primitive microorganisms. This status quo will undeniably be altered to a new one, slowly or suddenly, and the planet we inhabit will be changed so drastically that no human will survive it (if they were to survive, I would argue that they are no longer human as we know it now). This time where the status quo is changed should be far into the future, further than any person can predict, most likely through a catastrophic environmental event.

The lifespan of the current status quo is in danger, however, as we can now conceive it changing within a number of years. We know this is due to our own action. Human nature, which manipulates and optimizes other materials and organisms, which creates a unique symbiosis and parasitism between all of the biotic and abiotic traits of Earth, and which directly alters geographical features, has caused the status quo to reach a point of change sooner than anyone who cares for life would wish. The human nature has potential to become, more than it already has, environmental catastrophe. We have wiped entire species off the planet. By our own definitions, we can make compelling arguments that we are a pestilence, invasive species in many places, parasitic to both living and non-living components of the Earth. This may be a drastic view, but to deny at least our potential to become something of a catastrophe is just idiocy or self-deception in the extreme. One only needs to refer to the atomic bomb, as it is the grandest example of the fact that we have an apocalyptic capacity.