Saturday, 30 January 2010

Ascesis.

I may appear to have been remiss with my blog over the last couple of weeks, but in fact I have been extremely busy - and have achieved a lot, though to all outer measures it may not seem like much.

As readers may have garnered from past posts, I live in a shared house for economic reasons. It has always been a constant bugbear for me, in particular since the place has been in such a state of dirt and mess, a result of literally years of neglect. I say was, since I decided this state of affairs was going to be rectified.

As with all motivating forces in life, the dynamic always runs from internal to external. Extraordinarily frustrated with my life on countless levels, I have begun a process of reordering and directionalising my energies - and I am now seeing the dividends. For countless years I have attempted to be "more organised", and always tried numerous hi-tech solutions; from Psion palmtop computers (state at the art at the time!), to laptops, to phones, to setting up endless systems and all sorts of software and files on my computer. However, despite the fact, that, for example my Samsung phone is by far the most powerful I've owned (it is very similar to an iPhone), I have come to realise that nothing can beat the perfection and purity of pen and paper. So I bought a Filofax (which, rather pleasingly, I got a nice genuine leather one for an excellent price on sale); in fact I bought an A5 one. More to the point, I bought this size specifically because A5 copier paper is easy to buy for a home printer: this means I can create my own custom stationery. Not only does this mean I don't need to buy the overpriced official Filofax stationery, but I am only limited by what my imagination can devise. So, into OpenOffice and I set about creating a whole range of sheet templates, ready to print out "refills" as I need them. Customised and specific to my needs; To-Do sheets, Notes sheets, Workout sheets, Diet sheets, Recipe sheets, Concept sheets, "Look Into" sheets, Sleep chart, Dreams sheets... Naturally, the Filofax already came with a fair bit of paper in there, including of course, the all critical Diary.







As you can probably tell, I've created something that is far, far more than a mere organisational tool for mundane tasks: I wanted something that was going to be my "offload" center for all my ideas, thoughts, and generally everything that cluttered up my mind. I say cluttered, because previously I struggled to keep on top of everything since I would have so many bits of information that I would try to mentally record and internally organise; e.g. I might hear some particular artist on the radio, or someone might mention some book - and then inevitably fail to recall it when I had the spare time to investigate. Meanwhile, of course, I would be trying to lodge said piece of information into long term memory.

One thing that virtually all successful writers insist is of great importance is observation - and those observations are useless as usable future material if you don't record them, since it is unlikely you'll be able to recall the specific details some time later on.

It also exerts a surprising "mentally fatiguing" effect trying to continually organise and preserve all this information purely within your memory. So, since I got my organiser, my life has been radically changing, because I've made a very deliberate decision to use it: as soon as I have some interesting thought, or indeed any snippet of information - perhaps something as basic as adding "bathroom cream cleaner" to a shopping list - it immediately goes into the appropriate section. All those tasks that I kept intending on doing, and sort of eventually getting round to... now get done immediately. I built a long list of fairly mundane things to do and have been slowly working my way through, doing them.

Micro managing the informational complexity of my life in this way has had a profound effect on several major aspects.

Before, I used to eat quite well (in comparison to the average Briton), and did always cook "proper" meals, eat my fruit and vegetables, etc., but still tended to do the halfway house solution of using pre-made sauces, etc. This was always rather unsatisfactory for me, since I developed a real passion for cooking some years ago; I also take my health and fitness extremely seriously. Most ready made sauces are not only expensive but also far too high in salt, and also quite often contain a lot of sugar. Meanwhile, for lunch at work, though I did make an effort to cook more than one portion at a time at home and take some in for lunch, it was rather hit and miss; some days I'd have to buy lunch, or resort to making sandwiches.



Because I train extremely hard at the gym, and lead such a high activity life - the walk to and from work is nearly 5 miles, for example - my calorie requirement is very high if I am to have any energy to have a decent workout at the gym. So sandwiches were never much good, as I'd inevitably end up having a massive lump of bread in order to fill me up: a load of nutritionally empty carbohydrates. 



I was also not organised enough in doing the food shopping, so tired on my way back from the gym, I'd drop into my local Tesco express and pick up some food to build a meal with: the selection was limited and relatively expensive, plus I was just in a hurry by this point.



The kitchen was also too dirty and disorganised, and always took a lot of effort getting things sorted.

In terms of workouts, if you want to make progress with any training regime - and especially once you're an experienced trainer - in order to go forward you really need to set specific targets and goals, and have a very structured and systematic routine: it requires a lot of effort to force your body into overload and thereby cause an adaptation response.

When I had previously recorded workouts, I'd always done it on my computer, in weblogs or in a spreadsheet. But what about those evenings when it was getting late after I'd come home, cooked, eaten, washed up, done whatever other tasks, and simply wanted to go to bed? Naturally, I wasn't going to take all that extra time to boot my PC up purely to key in a few numbers and then shut it down. So after a while it becomes inefficient.

So, bring out the pen and paper. Suddenly efficient shopping lists started to be built; economising started to happen as I tracked expenditure immediately (on-line banking suffers from exactly the same flaw: you have to bother to go and sit in front of your computer and track all your finances; now I simply scribble down the amount spent virtually immediately after spending it - merely a few seconds effort); workouts now took literally seconds as I scribbed the numbers on to my ready made sheets. All those things I needed to remember were simply there in the diary. Tasks or things to do immediately went into to-do lists - and consequently got done: the pure satisfaction of trailing that line though the writing.



Every single aspect of my life has started to be brought into control and order. As is probably apparent from this blog, I am someone who likes detail: someone who likes order: someone who likes things to be systematic and organised. Previously, these aspects of my personality were in a constant battle with the mess of my life. I was always so desperate after such a dull week of endless work to do the things I enjoyed on my day off that the prospect of spending my day off doing yet more "work" - since I would spend all day at work organising, cleaning, sorting or dealing with things - was almost unbearable. Yet by not neglecting; by getting everything done and sorted in my personal life: so it is tremendously liberating, and more important, I am starting to reap massive gains from the new efficiencies.

The house is now spotless: it is far less effort, rather than try to get anyone else to do anything, simply to do it yourself. The kitchen is immaculate; the bathroom is pristine; my bedroom now a proper sanctuary. Mess and dirt effectively become an external manifestation of your own internal disorder; attempting to ignore it comes at severe psychological cost.

Cooking is now a joy again, meals cooked absolutely from scratch are far tastier - and my health feels better than ever. My strength and weights are flying up because I am now tailoring my diet to my exact nutritional requirements. My finances are coming under control because I know exactly how much (or rather, how little!) I have left. I am buying all my ingredients fresh and from the local market during my lunch breaks at work: not only is the quality of produce and meat much better, it is also significantly cheaper. I have freed up all sorts of storage space in the house from clearing out all the junk left from endless previous residents. With all this new storage space, everything is infinitely tidier; I have space to buy things in bulk and reap savings (i.e. rather than buy 500g of rice at £1.79 a bag, I bought a 10kg bag for £8.50...).



Perhaps more interestingly I am feeling intellectually sharper than ever, and no thoughts are getting "lost": the relevant snippet gets jotted down, ready to return to whenever I have a moment.

I have far more spare time now, because I waste so little, and don't muddle myself with inefficiencies or continually forgetting to do things.

I feel infinitely more in control of my life. I am becoming clearer as to exactly what I want from life: and I am also becoming much clearer as to how I'm going to go about it.

The next step is to scale everything up. I am going to invest in a catering size stockpot: no more cooking portions of a casserole or home made curry for 2-3 servings. Instead I am going to cook about 10 portions worth all at once: hardly any more effort, and it would mean on work days I have a virtual instant top quality meal every day, with minimal washing up afterwards. It'll make things even cheaper too. I'll invest in enough air/water tight containers to immediately place each days meal in. Etc.



All these mundane details are dull, but absolutely critical: freeing up one hour more each working day, for example, means one hour when I can be writing or doing something productive or fulfilling.

Small things can be surprisingly satisfying. In our previously neglected kitchen, there were a load of empty glass spice jars, filthy after not being used for years. I cleaned them up and filled them with a load of fresh spices. A little detail, but it really changes the feel of the kitchen space. The spices look very attractive in the glass jars (I am aware than technically you should keep spices out of the light - but they'll keep getting used up well before they go off in any case!).









 


Sunday, 10 January 2010

On cloudberries, snow, facebooking, the absolute animal, and fountain pens



There is a balance to be found between a change, that wandering, that embraces new, alters, and discards old accretions; that and the preservation of past materials for the possibility of re-presenting, analysing, detecting developmental changes, or deducing new hidden truths.

Consequently, we create something - it could be any endeavour; a poem, a brick wall, a painting, the placement of a certain poster on the wall - and then later than can be a temptation or perhaps even a need to alter or obliterate it. Everything seen in this instance can be viewed as manifestations of being.

This can apply to blogs as well. There can be an understandable temptation to eradicate what is old, what is different, what is no longer felt necessary; or perhaps even what doesn't meet your own quality criterion.

I personally believe in leaving everything intact, for the course. It shows as much where you came from - each one has some type of qualitative value as a moment of existential expression. Even moments of inanity have value as an expression of the set of conditional circumstances that give context to your being. This is not equivalent to saying they have value for everyone, of course - this is not a claim to a hypostazing of all that is universal to some barometer of equality, much as our modern enlightened "progressive" society would have do. So in other words, some (who knows, perhaps most?) of my perambulating quite probably has value only to me. Irrespective, I leave everyone to their own court of judgement.

In any case, I hope Cloudberry will allow me to resurrect a few snippets of materials he has chosen to eradicate as I personally found them highly interesting, and their loss a great shame, all the more so because I can closely identify to a lot of the sentiments contained therein. I will let him consider the metaphysical and existential meaning to the resurrection, [re-]possession and adaptation of material he had withdrawn due to whatever motivating basis.

On the subject of Facebook he wrote:

"Just as there is something quite awesomely lonely about the gigantic metropolis, even as one is amid the swirling mass of humanity... so there is something intensely lonesome about Facebook, even as one has multitudes of squares, frozen faces, staring at you in various poses of shock, dismay, happiness, joy, anger, significant-othership, coitus (well, maybe not that one), being-abroadness, or anonymity.

...

Another thing is this: facebook profiles give an illusion of closeness to a person, but usually they are an enigma.

...

Facebook is testimony to the change underlying all phenomena. We friend someone, we exchange messages and posts with them, and then when the real-life context vanishes, the messages and posts dry up. But, generally, we do not defriend one another. The linkage is a corpse, meaningless, and probably unused, but it remains. Why?


And hence the culmination of Facebook's mental life reveals itself: the person who, rather than knowing people and being friends with them, is simply the person who looks at people, like Baudelaire and the Paris of industrialising France."

So indeed, we become voyeurs; or perhaps rather react in a manner befitting inauthentic being in a Heideggerian sense.

I've had this debate with myself one several occasions: Shall I delete my Facebook account entirely? It becomes a vapid time-wasting hole. Ultimately, I decided the sensible approach was the one moderated between extremes; Facebook is most especially valuable as a tool for organisational purposes, and used as a mere utility to keep abreast of, say, musical concerts and events going on, and arrange real-life interactions with people, redeems itself somewhat. Above all, avoid the trap of ending up succumbing to the urge to post those status updates and "microblog" about the disquietude of your own mental state. Because, ultimately, most people don't actually give a damn, else they would actually choose to reach out and interact with you in real life (excepting, of course, all those long distance contacts for whom such an arrangement is impossible).

So the simplest method of all: use it very sparingly. Have a quick look, or pick up a message if someone sends it to you, but otherwise, avoid it almost entirely, and instead try to operate more in the "real world" in terms of societal contacts.


Perhaps I felt motivated to create this new blog entry after starting to read one of Cloudberry's old posts entitled "Purge", which dealt with the metaphysical/existential meaning of snow. Since, after all, there is so much of it around right at this very moment, and especially here in the UK, quite unusually; we do not normally get winters of quite this severity. I rather enjoy it, as I alluded to in my previous post.

A small digression as to my reading habits regarding other blogs: I do not necessarily "check by" every day to see if someone has put a new blog post up. Instead, I prefer to "batch read"; so I might not look at someone's blog for several weeks, and then all of a sudden, read a whole great deal, and catch up again.  If I come across an interesting new blog, however, I will always bookmark or add it to my RSS feeds, and will, when the time is right, eventually come back to it and spend some time reading through it all. So, from my personal selfish point of view, I am rather glad my feedreeding software Liferea had fortunately kept a local copy of these older posts of Cloudberry's since they're now gone.

Anyway, again I hope he will not mind too much if I quote some of this extirpated material. On snow:

"I use the phrase "snow-white" advisedly. Sartre talks in Being and Nothingness about how we like to ski on snow because it barely changes the snow at all to ski on it. When we change the substance we're working on, that means it is stuff as opposed to pure fluid--it is in-itself rather than for-itself. Untouched snow is like for-itself, but when snow gets all mucked up by people walking or urinating in it, it is like in-itself. The most exact phenomenal symbol of for-itself is water. The most exact phenomenal symbol of in-itself is slime, which sticks to everything that touches it and doesn't move fluidly on its own, nor can it resist the imprint of everything else that comes into contact with it."

This statement reminded me of the opening paragraph of Manly P. Hall's profound Lectures on Ancient Philosophy. The opening few sentences, from the first chapter, "The Nature of the Absolute" go thus:

"To define adequately the nature of the Absolute is impossible, for it is everything in its eternal, undivided, and unconditioned state. In ancient writings it is referred to as the NOTHING and the ALL. No mind is capable of visualizing an appropriate symbolic figure of the Absolute. Of all the symbols devised to represent its eternal and unknowable state, a clean, blank sheet of paper is the least erroneous. The paper, being blank, represents all that cannot be thought of, all that cannot be seen, all that cannot be felt, and all that cannot be limited by any tangible function of the consciousness. The blank paper represents measureless, eternal, unlimited SPACE. No created intelligence, has ever plumbed its depths; no God has ever scaled its heights, nor shall mortal or immortal being ever discover the true nature of its substance. From it all things come, to it all things return, but it neither comes nor goes.


Figures and symbols are pollutions drawn upon the unblemished surface of the paper..."

We therefore see here a connecting principle between phenomenology, being, cosmology and theology. Extemporise at your leisure on the interrelationship.  It rather draws me towards the quote of Proclus that has always adorned the right hand sidebar of this blog:

"For all things are in us psychically, and through this we are naturally capable of knowing all things, by exciting the powers and the images of wholes which we contain."


One final aside, it this helter-skelter of a post. Quite of my own volition, I felt a peculiar random imaginative inclination to write a fictional story entitled The Frog Lantern. It is being written at the moment. It is quite possibly absolute nonsense, as it is descending into something wildly surreal. For some reason, perhaps due to the chaotic turbulence of my own bizarre existence in this ugly modern world, every time I attempt to write fiction I descend into completely peculiar and downright strange imaginative splotches. In any case, imagine my ironic surprise, when perusing Cloudberry's new blog, The Nostalgia of the Infinite, I discovered his posts on "animal totems"; foremost among them, frogs.

Incidentally, excluding perhaps frogs, which evidently seem to have some type of subconscious, symbolic importance to me (that I was not hitherto aware of), my animal totem would undoubtedly be a cat.

Why? Cats always make me remember a certain narcissistic independence; a complete absence of any need for validation from anyone or indeed anything else; in their "Egyptian" pose and always astounding elegance, balance, and regality, one feels the echo of nobility. They reify what is higher, what is above, what is beyond. And yet, on their own terms, and you as human on yours, you can nevertheless meet, and what is exchanged is authentic. The cat accepts, and then you know that it is genuine. They are indeed mighty; how often is it the case that you will walk down the street, and see a cat gazing out of the window, impassively scrutinising and observing.

They are perhaps the ultimate philosophers. They are perhaps the animal equivalent of Evola's "Absolute Individual", able to give transcendent meaning to one's own life.

It is little wonder that domestic cats have always been popular among writers, as they espouse a certain quality of apparent introspection that all writers must possess in order to be able to write.

And finally, on pens.

Perhaps as a result of the transience and impermanence of everything that is modern, I find myself drawn back to the humble art of handwriting; there is something qualitatively different to giving something a permanent immanent existence through the personal lens of handwriting. I would very much like to get a proper fountain pen. For some reason, I find myself with an intense desire to have something like a German Pelikan Souverän M800, or a Japanese Sailor Classic 1911. Along, of course, with some funky ink, such as the Noodler ink "Sun Never Sets".

Perhaps it is just another retreat along the axis of my increasing anti-modernist tendencies.


"Sun Never Sets"



"Pelikan Souverän M800"



"Sailor 1911 Classic Sterling Silver"

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Current life synopsis as 2010 arrives. Part 2/2: Transcendent.

So, this is the corollary that complements my earlier post at the end of 2009. As a man approaching 30, where am I in my current life?

Part two.

The transcendent.

Today I must say I felt much better than I've felt in a very long time. On a very basic level, the whole endless consumer Christmas retail craze has been largely dispensed with for another year; our shop has returned back to normal hours, we're no longer flooded with customers (though have a sufficient enough coming in to keep us occupied). Significantly, the end of the stupidly long tiring days has meant I'm able to return to my normal much healthier routine - since I'm no longer arriving home very late in the evening, I now am able to resume my exercise and training in the gym.

Regular exercise is vital for me not only for physical well-being, but also for mental stability. Without a physical impetus to channel all the stresses, annoyances and worries of my life into, instead I end up vegetating and slipping into a dismayed depressive state.

So, with a new year, a new sense of determination, particularly since some new training gear that I ordered way back in the autumn of last year has finally arrived from the States. I'll leave that for another post.

Secondly, as some of you might be aware, the UK is currently undergoing some rather unusual winter weather. Unusual, only in recent memory, that is: I would class it as more of a return to a proper winter: I remember as a child in the 80s we had quite a few snowbound winters here in England. Most of country is currently carpeted in thick snow, as it has been snowing heavily most nights for a good week or so now, and we've had a sustained period of much colder sub zero temperatures than recent winters have brought us. This type of weather had virtually disappeared over the last few years.

Whilst it no doubt makes great media copy, as the news is doing its usual job of ridiculously over egging, exaggerating, and sensationalising things (I would not class -5C as "bitterly cold"; rather, just "cold". -30C on a Siberian plain with 50mph Northerly winds - that I would class as "bitterly cold"!), and it is an awkward time for transport, since the UK is not very well prepared for proper winter weather, so consequently don't have enough grit and snow clearing vehicles, etc., and farmers are no doubt struggling badly with cattle and any winter crops; but on a strictly personal level, I adore this weather. Cold winter, snowbound weather makes me feel at home. There is something quite magical about he quietening and softening effect of snow on a landscape; sounds become wonderfully muted, the air becomes so delightfully crisp and fresh; shapes and forms of all objects, natural or manufactured, suddenly take on an independent aesthetic beauty all of their own. Some pictures from my locality:















So perhaps it is the way that when you get relatively intense weather like this, nature encroaches back onto the modern world: the conflict of the Enlightenment project of domination over Nature through the abstract systematisation, analysis and exploitation of natural resources, scientific "truth" and "knowledge". Natural weather events like this help to dispel us from our isolationist hermetic separation of modern urbanity and the "natural world".

It is this sense of a return of primeval essences, a primitivism, that helps break one out of those feelings of existential anguish in this increasingly noisy but simultaneously barren world: one of an immense veneer of technological and epistemological supremacy, which by equal measure empties inner knowledge in order to replace it with second-order derivative knowledge of mere subsequent effects; fully materialised and physicalised.



I read Evola's "Ride The Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul" over the Yule period, and like all of Evola's works, it offers an immensely penetrating and powerful critique of the modern world. So, a few quotes, one which is particularly apt on this point, when talking of the endless assault of the Holy Grail that is Science and Enlightenment:

"The boundary that defines the range of modern science from the very start, whatever its possible developments, appears in the fact that its constant and rigid point of departure has been and is based on the dualistic and exteriorized relationship between the I and the not-I, which is proper to simple sense-knowledge... They are not instruments of another kind of knowledge, that is, of true knowledge."

Moreover, on the abstract physico-mathematical ideal - that taken to its ultimate teleological form, fashionably proposes a "theory of everything", an all-encompassing supposed end of the quest for "final" knowledge:

"It is then like a catharsis that consumes every residue of the sensory, not in order to lead to a higher world, the "intelligible world" or a "world of ideas", as in the ancient schools of wisdom, but rather to the realm of pure mathematical thought, of number, of undifferentiated quantity, as opposed to the realm of quality, of meaningful forms and living forces: a spectral and cabalistic world, an extreme intensification of the abstract intellect, where it is no longer a matter of things or phenomena, but almost of their shadows reduced to their common denominator, gray and indistinguishable...


... It is about a formal knowledge enclosed in itself, extremely precise in its practical consequences, in which, however, one cannot speak of the real. "

He quotes the physicist Heisenberg:

"The object of research is no longer the object in itself, but nature as a function of the problems that man sets himself... Henceforth man only meets himself"

Little wonder, therefore, he laments the state of the modern world, whereby we are resigned to a

"...total consignment to the kind of happiness that befits Nietzsche's 'last man': a comfortable consumer civilization of socialized human animals, aided by all the discoveries of science and industry and reproducing demographically in a squirming, catastrophic crescendo"

Now, the point of this diversion into meaning in the context of my life is that the position I'm now in - along with all its material consequences - began many years ago. As I said, "I am suffering this situation due to a lack of coherent career decisions". Which of course raises the question, why have I made such an incoherent set of career decisions.

Knowing the world is knowing yourself - and vice versa. I've always been of the personality and type of inquiring mind that searches for truth, so naturally career decisions were also going to be a logical function of that drive. So, what does a child growing up in our secular world, from a religion neutral home naturally gravitate to? Science of course; science is knowledge, is it not? Necessarily, as an impressionable and ineluctably naive teen - as all teens must necessarily be, irrespective of how much they believe otherwise, and will of course do so - meaning was always going to be something that could be discerned as a consequence of knowledge, knowledge that was of course associated as inimical with scientific insight. Since we are seduced first and most easily by what is before our eyes: and the wonders of science abound with jewels all around. Marvels of the world - like this computer, this set of pixels, text, graphics, system upon system, building ever greater levels of complexity.

And this is the first - and perhaps most important - of many steps that a child takes towards being an adult; they come to realise that there exists more than their immediate needs and wants (largely sensory, or directed towards immediate emotional-physical gratification), and come to realise that behind it all is something more. Not merely an understanding of "this leads to that", the "paint is red"; "red paint is red because of the dye", in other words not the simple law of causality, but the law behind the causality, the law of the ultimate cause. In other words, the question, for the first time, becomes not merely what, not even just why, but the real Why, the why that eventually ends the infinite regression of whys that a child will ask when asking an adult to explain why something is so. But why, but why, and but why...     

So there was perhaps a residue of this type of schematicism behind my thinking when trying to make those initial career decisions as to what to study. I was of course, not ready or unprepared to make adequate choices at that age, and I now look back and think it could not have been any other way. There is something absurd to me now when I consider that people must make fundamental life choices at 16 - and what are now ultimately irrevocable ones, in this climate of automatic debt - when they can in no way have any real appreciation of who they are going to become. Far better, instead, if youth immediately went into work or some type of skilled trade in the larger world, or travelled, first, for some years; then, just at the point at which most people now traditionally leave university, they could go back and study, clear of purpose and mind. Or at least, clearer.

Anyway, digressions aside, as a teen I'd become hooked on popular science accounts describing all the fascinations of Quantum Physics and all the science that lies at the boundary; and although the first seeds of doubt as to the ultimate basis of this all had been well and truly sown when I read Kant's Critique Of Pure Reason at 16 (an enormously difficult book by any standard, but his triumvirate of his three Critique's will repay any effort put into reading them one hundred fold in terms of the effects on your thinking for the remainder of your life), it was nevertheless not sufficient to stop me pursuing the Scientific path (despite temptations on the path of Arts; my mother was a teacher of English, so I've always had a love of books and literature, and indeed arts in general; so I was torn between the general path of the Sciences or Arts that form the ultimate division of the Western education system).

And so I pursued Computer Science at University; all going well, at first. There was the dream of "Artificial Intelligence". What intellectually sexier subject can there be than the prospect of engineering intelligence, the emergence of the man-like machine? Like all modern myths - for perhaps the overriding fantasy of the Western Enlightenment is the replacement of traditional myths and legends with the all powerful rational intellect, ultimately just another form of myth, and the one that is currently en vogue - it offers great dreams. But - and I can speak with some authority on this, since it was a subject I studied in depth - from a philosophical, and more important, entirely real point of view, "artificial intelligence" is not really particularly such, or can only be considered intelligence if one restricts the term to a definition so narrow as to reduce it to a meaningless praxis. Instead, machines are merely computationally extremely efficient. Where a restricted set of parameters and delimiters can be defined, they can algorithmically solve problems with great efficiency. The essence of all artificial intelligent systems - and in the modern world, these are many; the computer and its microcosmos of software you're sitting in front of, your mobile phone, your MP3 player - is still ultimately simply an exhaustive search within a list of probabilistic parameters.

This is easily illustrated by the famous battle of IBM's mainframe computer "Big Blue" running chess software that eventually defeated world champion Gary Kasparov. Big Blue was ultimately superior at "playing" chess than Kasparov was, and in the restricted sense of "playing chess" you could credit it on some level with intelligence. It is critical to realise, however, that they way it goes about playing chess is so different to the way a human plays this game - and it also crucial to point out that because the game itself is an "artificial" problem, therefore ultimately a perfect computational problem - that it does so in a method that requires no "intelligence" at all. A chess computer will simply do a deep search - and the depth of the search can increase as computational power increases, though, because mathematically, it is what is known as an exponential function, search progress is slow in proportion to increase in hardware power -  and simply evaluate every single move. Increasingly the depth of the search merely means considering, say, two moves ahead - for every move of a piece that I could make, what are the possible moves that you could resulting make - and then three, then four... and so on. Very quickly you're at the point of mathematically considering billions of permutations. From these, without a predefined time or search depth limit, you select whichever move probabilistically yields the strongest move. It is simply a numerical weighting (a weighting method whose intelligence was originally supplied by the human programmers).  With Big Blue able to process billions of moves before selection, it was hardly surprising it won. Of course it was immaterial if it lost, since it would only be a matter of time before the sheer numerical quantity of moves that are able to be considered, as raw computational power increases, would become so statistically overwhelming that its probabilistic likelihood of victory would ever asymptotically approach 100% when measured against raw human computation. But the method itself it actually the epitome of stupidity, not intelligence!

It is akin to attempt to replicate, say, Tolstoy's "War And Peace" from the famous analogy of a team of monkey's randomly hammering at typewriters for eternity. Eventually, through every possible permutation of letters randomly delivered, whether that be a book of one character long consisting of merely "A" to a book of 1000 billion characters, you would - after an exceptionally long period of time - end up with War and Peace and indeed every single book ever written.

But the critical point is there is no selective or higher order intelligence operating here. It is simply blind mechanistic chance - chance, guided by probabilities, that is. Those probabilities are at least initially supplied by the experience and measurements of the human designers. The "intelligence" in every artificial intelligence system is supplied externally from the human programmers. Even neural networks, which are supposedly a method by which an AI system can "learn", still ultimately depend on a superior intelligent principle supplied by the programmer, which tells it which criterion's to select and priortise, or tell it "good" or "bad", "wrong" or "right". The machines operate on one level of existence only, a planar profanely dumb existence of simply a computational set of inputs for processing according to some preconceived, arranged, and deterministically calcuated algorithms. Emergent behaviour is merely second order interference phenomena, where as a result of so much data flowing into the system and being processed in various ways, you get effects that cannot be simply measured though a simple stepwise assessment of a given subsystem.

No machine is genuinely self-aware, and never will be, for such a sense of self-awareness would only come at the expense of realising it possesses no genuine self. It has no self because it merely reacts, in a predefined way, to a set of predefined inputs. Without a self, it has no referential totality with which to meaningfully refer the qualifier intelligence to. The destructive processes in our nihilistic era are precisely the outcome, on one axis, of this theory of computation applied to the human being; the mind as machine. It would have us believe that a human is nothing more than a sense-data processing organon, blinding selecting (ultimately via Darwinian evolution, science's creationist, entirely theological at basis, albeit disguised, principal of self-survival) upon possible choices based on a probabilistic entitlement of that which will most likely yield the most comfort and thereby best chance of survival. This the eudaemonistic fantasy; a blind, stupefied animalistic survival for the goal of being simply "happy".  

So, with the dream of AI being revealed as a fantasy - though, I should point out, and undeniably useful one; for science has an immense mastery of utilitarian shaping of of things to ones ends; so thank AI for that iPhone or whatever it is that you're holding: it may not be intelligent, but it certainly can behave that way, thanks to the careful set of human design criteria and responses behind it, and AI has immense information processing value to serve our ends - much as with every other previous scientific dream, I started to realise that the path to truth I was looking for was not here.

That intellectual process, coupled with the fact the degree became increasingly burdened with worthless paperwork (a pointless consequence of the administrative absurdity of the modern world, which increasingly specialises without any higher ordering principle) and increasingly dull and anodyne meant I lost interest, and once I lose interest in something that is a deathblow to my motivation, regardless of cost.

As a backdrop, I was reading Heidegger's Being and Time during this time, and it illustrated the existential consequences of the practical results of this mechanized computerized, automated era of production; man divorced from any higher meaning, man divested into a societal herd mentality, and ultimately lost in touch with one's very self; only in moments of crisis or significant events, did a reaction occur where one was "thrown back" or "thrown towards" one's being, Dasein; instead of being lost as a collective, numerical entity conditioned by our mass media.

Anyway, Evola describes such events - and I have above described two, the first from a child like state of wonder to that of the inquiring mind, initially following the empirical path; the second (starting in a real significant way at University, from 18, even though such tremors had been felt a few years earlier) from that of the slavish blind atheist devotee of science to an individual in existential crisis searching for higher meaning - indeed, the primary thematic material of most of this very blog as you may have noted - as ontological ruptures, or a rupture of ontological levels.

It is with the rupture of levels that a corresponding increase in the real development of the human individual occurs - not on any obviously measurable, materalised plain (though such results may occur as a side effect). But on the more significant, and ultimately all superior - indeed, ultimately primary - spiritual plane. This plane is largely non-existent in the Western world, and almost always completely misunderstood and reduced to profanity by those who lack the necessary self-awareness to comprehend it on a fundamental level. Since it is not a matter of "intelligence" (quotations added to illustrate the materialised understanding of the word which merely recognises numerical superiority), nor is it a matter of "knowledge" as such. Most people have not undergone the necessary existential developments to be prepared for any such awareness, not because they necessarily lack the capability, but because they are so anesthetised by the lull of the dream of the triumphant march of progress of modernity that they fail to see its very toxicity. Every step of progress in the Western world is accomplished at the expense of a diminishment of the strength of the ultimately supervenient and grossly superior "inner world". Furthermore, "spirituality" itself is reduced to some quasi-fashionable alternative statement, a fantastic world of hidden spirits and things that go bump-in-the-night. This is another example of esoteric knowledge being transmogrified into something that is a merely a divergent after effect of some material oddity, a quasi-Scientific paranormal event. Evola describes such results as the "regime of residues".

Yet the sense of inner barrenness and alienation is all around us, because without any explicit awareness, the nascent dormant spiritual plane in everyone nevertheless exists, and its lack of development in the face of this existential emptiness and nihilistic vacuity proposes only one course of survival: escapism. Most popularly, alcohol. So it is with most people my age that one does one's working week, then drinks oneself into oblivion come Friday night. The "pleasure" in such an activity is of an entirely negative character, negative in the sense that it obviates oneself, temporarily, of all the anguish and emptiness of life. It's entirely understandable, particularly when one considers that most jobs in practice, as a result of the entire organisation of the modern world, are entirely and fundamentally unfulfilling, as we all satisfy some eminently worthless socio-economic scale of "progress", where everything is ultimately referred to the economy, gross domestic products, and living indexes. Progress toward what, precisely?

Nietzsche's denouncement of "God is dead" was not a proclamation of atheism, as is commonly attributed to him, along the very same self-destructive materialistic lines that have got us here; it was rather to illustrate that the fundamental decline of all the higher values, sublimated under modernist myths, meant that in all realistic terms that any God was dead precisely because the very God within man had already died. Essentially, God was dead not because he didn't "exist", but because the very sacred center of man had been eradicated, and thereby rendered God, or any other reference to Deity, deities or all and anything that is truly transcendent, as entirely meaningless. Hence why Nietzsche described himself as dynamite; he knew full well his meanings would be ultimately misunderstood and perverted. Not only in the case of the atheist revolutionaries declaring that God had finally been banished - generally replaced by the wonderous pursuit of Science - but also in those that would later adopt his teachings of the Zarathustra "superman" and later entirely pervert it into the political doctrine of Fascism, specialised in National Socialism. Nietzsche would have been both amused and disgusted at Nazism (and, for that matter, Marxism).

So here I find myself, one of the "outsiders" - always an outsider in spirit, as the very least. This X-Factor generation is anathema to me. I find myself thereby on the brink, indeed, undergoing a third "ontological rupture" in my 28 years. A few pragmatic realities have hit me hard, and particularly so in 2009; this path I have chosen in life was never going to be easy, since it goes against the very grain. As I eluded to, the fact of the matter is my extremely limited material life - as a result of not prioritsing and directionalising all my intellectual powers towards this goal, for reasons that should now be abundantly clear - does have significant consequences. The social stereotype of "man as provider" does carry significant weight, so for me to meet someone, they would have to be someone of the necessary qualities as to disregard my financial and material poverty, and desire me for qualities in other areas; ones which do not obviously manifest in a lot of the ordinary day-to-day aspects of living.

I've consequently resigned myself to this fact, and will be living a fairly monastic life through 2010, as I've got debt to pay off, and easiest way to stay on budget is not to go out much. I will eat healthily, exercise with great intensity - I very much enjoy Powerlifting training - and absorb myself more than ever in my books and music. I will also greatly intensify my efforts finding a creative outlet. This blog is one, and this last week or so has seen a tremendously fertile period, as you can no doubt tell if you've succeeded in reading this far down this current post! I will write, and write more, because in truth writing is my one real area of natural talent; as much as I adore music, for example, I have no real aptitude for it; similarly fine art, I am mediocre but no more. But perhaps I can be a better than mediocre writer, and I feel that I am becoming much more of a human with which to find expression to life itself.

Finally, a little note for Ida. You know how much you mean to me, and your acts of kindness and quality as an individual ever resonate more with me. I love you, and always will, however our paths in life should continue to proceed. It is little wonder that so few relationships survive against the abhorrent ugliness of so much of modern existence. The best chance of survival is a form of seclusion, even at the expense of perhaps developing a level of provincialism and a petit-bourgeois existence. To live in a wood cabin, surrounded by trees and snow - a romantic anachronism, but perhaps the one way of blissfully surviving this world - either that, or a upright battle alone, a quest to remain strong to one's higher values, an upright challenge to recognise one's own transcendence, and to tap into that infinite supply to find a meaning to imbue to everything you do. A declaration of war. War not against nations, or on any material plane - but on the higher level for ones own very sense of being. Such a war requires not overt actions, because the war occurs entirely on the inner plane of one's own existence, unseen by the majority.

We ultimately control who and what we are. Look in, to see out.

And then you shall indeed be wandering with Sleipnir.




Saturday, 2 January 2010

Solar quandaries

The most accursed aspect of creativity for me is that it invariably occurs late at night, whilst lying in bed, waiting for sleep to take me. She is a most inconsiderate companion in that respect.

So, tonight, there I was, another mundane Saturday night after work. Tired, and went to bed fairly early. Starting to fall asleep, but as the sense of fatigue faded a hyperactivity in me started to emerge; most profoundly with that desperate nagging, that horrendous burning feeling of words, whole structures of thought, whole new aspects of realisation - antagonised, antithesis, ready to be violated: that is, ready to be exterminated.

By sleep.

For no record, no existence of those very particular instantiations of thought. Speed, immediacy, a foreboding necessity: quick, write, cast them down! Electronically compartmentalise them, make them above all immanent, before they disappear into that void! For whilst they do not disappear, they become absorbed and integrated into that existential morass of the continual structure that is I: they exist still, but they have become like droplets that have fallen back into the ocean. The particular shape and nascent is-ness of these ones I want out now. Right now.

So I ripped myself up out of bed, switched my computer back on, and am feverishly, slightly maniacally typing away now.

So the thoughts? Disorganised that the are, I start with this thought-about-the-thoughts; just the prelude, the introduction.

This is not part 2 of "Current life synopsis". That post is still formulating in my mind, being reflected on and synthesised. I will have to steer a course generally clear of subjects that will enter into that post, because I want this one to tackle different topics.

This is an ad hoc right-now-ness.

The morass: must be quick, before it becomes indelibly entangled.


So, something about financial poverty, a hardship, a loneliness, and the delicate balancing act of the male psyche.

In times of great emotional turmoil and hardship, friends can be invaluable assets. You are reminded of that wonderful unity whereby, without any real communication, there is at least some type of shared awareness on some sort of level. It is this automatic shared confluence of being, a being-towards, and the known response back. It is something subintellectual, something fundamentally non-verbal (even if it later finds verbal expression)... something acknowledging. In common parlance, you can just be yourself with them. 

The heterosexual male-male relationship of friends is something that is commonly presented and perhaps even perceived as simple - when in fact it is anything but. Male friendships are characterised by a peculiarly antagonistic and contradistinct mix of distance and intimacy. Generally speaking, us men do not verbalise our emotional landscape to each other, most especially in those areas where the landscape has a greater admixture of what would be known as more "feminine" qualities. We keep an emotional distance from each other - which manifests on a physical plane with a lack of "intimate" (that is, sensual but non-sexual) physical contact. You would not normally see two heterosexual men walking down the street hand-in-hand, for example; yet such an occurrence between heterosexual women is not unusual. Perhaps this is a result of a more integrated sense of emotionality, physicality and sexuality in a woman; for a man they are simultaneously more compartmentalised yet precipitate upon each other. Holding hands with another man would dissolve a sense of distance and reserve that seem essential to my sense of male-ness. (Incidentally, as an aside, this is quite a different level of impulse than homophobia, which originates elsewhere).

For a woman they operate more as an organic totality - hence why a "one night stand" rarely appeals to most women, yet in most men, if they are being honest with themselves, it quite often exists as an exciting and thoroughly realistic possibility. Realistic not in terms of the likelihood or not of it being achieved, indeed even desired (even if that seems self-contradictory), but in the the likelihood of the experience satisfying to an adequate degree the expectations of the experience. The sexual-physical axis can operate to some degree independently of the sexual-emotional axis in a man. From the sexual-physical axis, the emotional axis can then begin to emerge. Of course, it can still operate in the more considered, deeper, and relationship orientated direction whereby the sexual-physical emerges as a later product of the emotional-physical. Once all three axes integrate, then a totality is formed and higher order processes come into operation.

For a woman, as far as I can tell, if the attraction is to "go somewhere" all three must instead evolve organically and in a totality from the very beginning. Normally. Hence why, when one axis is distorted or accelerated faster than the other two, it will generally result in a failure; the male is more lenient in allowing deviation, but also places a greater percentage stress on the physical-sexual at an earlier stage, which can be detrimental to both parties.

Anyway, the peculiarity of male-male relationship is that we each are desirous of maintaining our solar qualities - distance, independence, strength, solidarity, self-confidence, assertiveness. Yet between male friends, this distance gets intermingled by an non-verbalised intimacy communicated indirectly. Hence we find common ground in terms of music or films, characters or topical issues; or we use humour as a mask; and use this as a signifier towards our own emotional landscape. For example, rather than directly communicate in an emotionally open - and thereby openly vulnerable - manner about or our own feelings of loss, anguish, pain, loneliness, etc., in the context of the specifics of our own life, we would instead get together and put some music on that realises instantiating versions of those emotional states. Hence there is the non-verbalised communication. Women are generally much better able at actually talking through problems directly with a close friend, as far as I can tell.

With men the words are fewer, and instead it is a nod, or a "I know", or a similar observation about their own life. There is sympathy there, even compassion. But there isn't the earthly, absorbing, and above all empathic quality that women have a higher art for. Us men can be close, but we will tend to go forever through life without ever communicating it to each other directly, or to the world - at least until a critical moment, such as when a friend dies, for example. 

In my own moments of weakness and self-doubt, when those decidedly "emasculating" aspects feel like surfacing - such as tears - it is a female friend I would seek solace or help from, if one was there for me when I need her. The "distance" would prevent me from such an emotional communication of weakness with another man, even a very close one; in direct terms, at least. Perhaps it is that the female energy is needed to balance the male psycho-sexual energy.      

This reflects the inner tension of the male. Beneath the shell, there is the part that needs the kindness and physical openness that the empathic female brings. There is also the fierce yang aspect, that is critical for the male psyche but that must nevertheless be kept in check: the energy that responds to adversity with force, strength, and stern resolve. When threatened with crushing situations, one half of my psyche collapses towards a passive despair, a bleak, blank depression, one that seeks comfort; the other half is radically different, and infinitely more productive (but must be controlled with care); the grim determination and desire to an exert a physical authority, a battle-hardened persistence that will not allow the grey weariness of life's crushing stagnation to capture, impute, and slowly toxify one's being.

The female also possesses a similar tension, but the distribution and weighting of aspects are quite different.

This tension is the inner music of all life. It is that which you hear beyond what you hear.

The aspects all operate circularly though, and properly aligned together they form a balanced structure. Balanced, and finding a footing at your root of being, the I, is the bedrock from which your spiritual strength originates and suffuses the rest of all that you are.