Saturday, May 28, 2005

good morning, comments on SSE

This morning, I am feeling pretty good, and it's time I wrote some thoughts about the SSE meeting over the weekend.

The much anticipated article in Time magazine has come out, and it's nothing special at all. In fact, I was surprised at how snugly it fit in much of the coverage of PEAR's work. You'd think people would get tired of writing in the exact same way. At the conference, I was somewhat impressed with Michael Lemonick's explanation of the way he goes about verifying his articles. I could see how it was sound reasoning, even if systematically biasing against disenfranchised groups. At the conference he came off as justifying why journalists don't make a better attempt to understand, but in the end his justification came off as mostly reasonable. TIME is the mainstream, after all.

Criticisms of the article: plenty of "this is silly stuff" spin (first sentence says "this stuff makes scientists cringe", article goes on to mention lunatics, Bozo the clown, relative poverty of the researchers, ...), no mention of data, comparisons with mainstream science for robustness of
data. No mention of possible conclusions, or any of the real interesting bits, like the dependencies that effects seem to ride on.


Enough of that.

There were many levels to my experience at the conference -

1. I was stressed out and really hectic busy because I was responsible for video stuff, and there wasn't much organization to facilitate that. In fact, there was a lot of mis-communication that made things more difficult and made the product less than perfect.
2. The people there were pretty wonderful. I really enjoyed meeting so many of those folks.
3. Many of the talks didn't really interest me, or were too abstract, or were just rambling. I much preferred my one-on-one conversations with people.
4. There was one representative of a "skeptical organization", Eric Krieg. Though he seemed like a nice guy, and I applaud him for going to the conference, he lacked a basic understanding of the statistical methods being used and the claims being put forward. That's pretty unfortunate.
5. There was an undercurrent of Belief - or if not outright belief, then complete tolerance. As Brenda put it, "the SSE will challenge you to be open minded."

Although I am a believer in many things, I felt like I was in the 'non-believer' camp at the meeting, and that I was trying to hide it. I did feel uncomfortable with some of the topics that SSE encompasses - I was almost hesitant to start conversations for fear that I wouldn't be
able to respond seriously.

If I had ever had a compelling experience with ghosts, or aliens, or weeping icons, or the loch ness, then maybe I'd have an interest. But I haven't. I almost regret saying this because a part of me loves exploring the strange and the new, but I don't feel like I should try to investigate weirdness for the sake of weirdness.

For me right now, it comes down to this - I have no desire to join the SSE. More so than my curiosity-seeking compels me, the unifying principle of "fringe" disquiets me.

In the end, I want my interests to be admissible to the mainstream. Maybe it's just because I haven't yet tried to enter the public sphere that I don't understand the value of the SSE. I'm sure if my interests and research had been rejected time and time again by journals that
should be publishing me, I would be pretty frustrated and grateful to an organization like the SSE. But from my perspective now, it seems that though the association between all these researchers of the anomalous may provide some amount of camaraderie, it also contributes to a mutually reinforcing lack of credibility with the mainstream. That's one part of my hesitation.

The other part, of course, is that I have no developed interest in many of the topics discussed. Though I should say that I enjoyed the perspectives on consciousness that were present at the meeting. Still, the SSE is not the only place that one can discuss consciousness-related
phenomena, and I don't feel I'm ready to blend my interests with the entirety of the SSE community.



You're great folks, and I appreciate the hospitality, but I'm not ready for you yet. Good luck. I'll see you around the bend.


Friday, May 13, 2005


The question was posed, by email: how would 'virtuality' be different than our current experience? may we now be living in a virtual world?

Sure! but since evidence of that is, by def, 'outside' our experience, it quickly becomes a matter of belief. I'm going to defer on the "brain in a vat"/MATRIX rundown right now, recall a lecture I attended when visiting Alicia in Montana, and link to David Chalmers.

Still, we sometimes do have experiences beyond what we identify as normal. For my own part, my experiences have not lead me to think that my current reality is a nasty virtual trick of some kind. Rather, those experiences have lead me to believe that when I'm caught up in human affairs I tend to miss the forest for the trees. It's not that there aren't trees at all, or that trees are actually slimy energetic ... uh ... I'm thinking of that kid's movie about the magic tollbooth, where he almost got caught by some nasty creatures in the 'doldrums...'

Anyway, my point is that my transcendent experiences haven't lead me to believe that my experiences are a complete fiction of some kind, or a figment of an imagination (mine or the entity pulling this hypothetical hoax), but rather that in a 'normal' human state of mind, I'm just not seeing the wider picture.

I tend to think of it in terms of local and diffuse consciousness. in a transcendent experience, I identify more with a diffuse consciousness. In my more human moments, I tend to identify with the humble human foibles of my local aaron-being. A metaphor that works for me more often than not is that of the locality of consciousness that identifies as 'aaron-being' is a droplet of water in a vast sea of meta-consciousness.

Coming back to the interpretation of virtuality through this lens, I could say that my experience, when subsumed by the daily troubles of 'aaron-being', are constrained by the limitations of that perspective, and are, in some sense, virtual. Hard edges surrounding my perceptions typify this state of being, and I certainly don't experience consciousness as diffuse in any sense.

I feel like drawing a picture, though I doubt it will help. part of it would be labeled 'aaron-being', part 'diffuse consciousness', and there would be a timeline. 'Aaron-being would travel mostly linearly on the timeline, but would have the possibility of diffuse edges and tendrils etc. etc. If I get around to doing the drawing, I'll put it here. okay. here it is.


It seems I forgot to put tendrils on there. i think there's room...

Anyway, to come back to the original tangent from the previous post-

I started on this chain of thought, and I found myself being rather pejorative about the possibilities for the virtual world. I felt like coming back to say: Sometimes, very beautiful things are made by beings that have no perspective from which to appreciate their accomplishments. So who am I to pass judgment?

Even from my limited vantage point, I can see some beauty in us placing ourselves in a sea of information. In some sense, an alignment with fluid information over physical reality may be seen as a noble and desperate attempt at the transcendental. (The flip-side interpretation, one that I'm usually more apt to make, is that the creation of a virtual world is the just the control-freak side of humanity coming out.)

Another tangent:

I'm tempted, again, to ask - What is special about humanity?

In some places I've made the comment that it is consciousness, or awareness of the consciousness that makes humanity interesting. But, as a different take on human evolution, you could say the stage of 'information' comes before the stage of 'consciousness', and that the glimpses of the nature of consciousness that we're having will become more prevalent as we become more fully integrated into the later stages of the 'information age'.

food for a later post?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

tangent on this morning's thoughts.

I've continued to think about the stuff that the PEAR visit stirred up, and I stumbled into another tangent.

The idea I'm examining here is this: There is a fear and a resistance to the digitization of the world. What is this fear made of? Is it legitimate?

In Scott Granneman's class last year, I did some writing about this which I have since lost (maybe I could find it on a bulletin board somewhere...). In any case, one thing I've been thinking about lately in relation to online gaming, and the increasing visual and auditory reality of some online worlds, is that soon it will be possible for a person to live entirely within online digital realities. Basically, to 'opt in' to a Matrix-like world, and abandon the physical body to a storage tank with an IV drip and a brain-implanted ethernet jack.

I've been wondering about the appeal of this new world, and the resistance to it, and I think one component of the resistance is rooted in the 'second lifeless existence' I mentioned this morning. Namely, the consciousness being surrounded not by the unfathomable depths of physical reality (the 'greater consciousness' of the natural world), but by an a-personal facsimile. In this case, this 'lifeless existence' would take place in a virtual reproduction, a model based on physical reality, and built with human intent.

It's my impression now that though it may be fun to be able to jump off a building and bounce, as in a simulated reality, and though eventually there may not be any quantitative sensory difference between a simulation and reality, there is a great thing lost when the indeterminate complexity of "God's World" is replaced by algorithmic pseudo-randomness, and the programming of experience.

What is that thing lost?

Human consciousness is something that I would presumably take with me as I entered this virtual world, but I am uncertain of how the virtual environment would feel to me. Would the subtle consciousness of the natural world somehow inhabit the digital sensory input? If so, would it's character be changed? Would it be possible to form subtle consciousness-to-consciousness relationships with this re-constructed virtuality? would that virtuality have the richness of the boundless depths of physical experience? would it contain the intangibles which are so important to a meaningful relationship with the outside world?

From my own life, I know that I can form an emotional tie to a virtual character. Any RPG is based on this. However, there is something very tangibly different about that tie. is it because it is a disposable tie? you have the capacity to press control+Z redo?

There is something emotionally different that I can't capture at the moment.

I'm drawn to think about some of the Walter Benjamin writing that I vaguely recall, and that jessica has been mentioning lately. Auras of the original, mass production, etc. Also - some Asimov i read once dealt with this (people preferring to live holographic realities instead of come face to face with their biology). And - the animism my good friend Scott Anderson introduced me to - what of that?


okay, i guess blogger got their act together. old posts by my family have been screened out, blah blah blah IT'S FIXED.

I'm back in SC now, and feeling pretty good about my time in Princeton. I'm glad I got the chance to really soak up the PEAR vibe for a while. It makes me want to do the doc that I approached them about so long ago. I think I'd start from the same angle that I'm working on for the GUR doc; I'd use the whole "how did I grow up?" angle.

I remember when I was little that I had very concrete relationships with everything around me. A stick on the ground could quickly become a close friend. I collected stuffed animals for a long time, and each one had a distinct personality that I knew very well.

An image that I remember very well, and one that I think looks a lot like the random walk of PEAR's cumulative deviation graphs, (below) is looking out the car window on a rainy day and watching the paths that the raindrops took as they sped horizontally across the glass. I remember that there would be certain drops that would attract my attention more than others. they were "my drops" - an extension of me in some way - and i would wish things for them. I wanted them to enjoy crossing the glass, connect with other drops, go fast and bold, or linger. When i was little there was an emotive bond between me and these droplets. Today I don't have that. I don't have much use for pets either.

When I was little, I lived in a world in which every part was very real and alive - I had personal relationships with everything from light-switches to motes of dust. today, I simply don't (or perhaps i just don't pay give that part of my life attention?). In any case, I find myself tempted to call that world of my childhood 'imaginary'. I think it would do more justice to that world to call it 'personal' (what part of an emotional bond is not 'imaginary'?) So the question remains: when and how did this personal relationship end for me? Or become possible only among humans?

I can think of 2 ways that a person can live lifelessly. Either (1) be a zombie, and have no agency, no awareness of living, no attention to the consciousness in yourself, or (2) be aware of yourself and entirely conscious, but have no connection to any part of the living environment around you.

The first existence is robotic and unthinking, the second existence is lonely, tormented, meaningless. the 1min video i made for Joe Uhl's project starts describing a day when i was gripped by the second kind of experience.

As I'm writing this, I can't help but see the parallels with haruki murakami. i love reading murakami.