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

" 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.


Strawberry Girl said...

Bravo! Bravo! and again I say Bravo!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Yes...I enjoy the snow too! Glad to see that Newcastle and your good self is enjoying it as well.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

"is" that should be "are". My mind is definitely freezing up!

findingmywingsinlife said...

I've read this over I think 3, 4, or maybe 5 times. Each time, I've learned something or laughed a bit here and there- oddly, I found an undercurrent of humor here. Case in point- you mentioned that machines were "computationally extremely efficient" and I was led to wonder in my head if us humans weren't also that way as well sometimes ;) rather than possessing intelligence.

The other thing I wanted to note was that you said that for you, once you lose interest in something you then lose all motivation. If that is also true in your quest for a fullfilling relationship- then perhaps you ought to start thinking on what would hold your attention long enough to want to keep it and therefor helping yourself achieve your desires- because then you'd have an idea as to what your looking for. Just a thought and not meant to be offensive in anyway.

Lots of brilliant stuff in here! Keep at it and be patient, it'll take me some time to properly comment on your next post you already have up ;)

Aren O. Týr said...

April, not offensive at all.

I'm coming to the conclusion that my own internal conflict is the real cause behind my "isolation". You could even state it as a form of self-isolation; whilst on one level it would be utterly absurd to suggest I'm choosing to isolate myself from something I would like so much, on a higher level you could suggest it as a deliberate act because I am in the process of searching within myself and perhaps, therefore, on some level do not wish to make myself "available" until I'm clear as to what I want to make "available".

People are generally extremely perceptive on a subintellectual level, so even without any overt signs of any type (and I include all the semi-conscious aspects such as "body language" here too) they can perhaps pick up on a certain quality or perhaps a certain tempest of energy in my case. I'm normally always described as "intense" by those that know me, although I'm certainly capable of whimsicality and not an excessive introvert or "autistic type" by any means.

I'm finding the one consistent focus that always holds my own creative interest is writing. Somehow or other, if I could manifest some success - and unfortunately, in these times, that means some "material" success - that would be a type of external validation.

Of course I certainly don't write for that purpose, as the writing is its own complete validation, external of anything else; but at the end of the day, economic realities dictate that we have to have money to put food on the table and a roof over our head. So all the better if you are able to do that and get some sense of real fulfillment doing so; some type of real creative input where you feel like you are utilising your potential, as one would typically describe it.

But one must be pragmatic, and writing is usually not very lucrative; except for a extreme minority. And then you face the question, what compromises are you willing to make to adapt yourself commercially? In my case, I would find it difficult to make any adaptations, as my tendencies are increasingly anti-modernist, anti-commercial, and anti-populist (and I guess this makes me sound terribly elitist!).

Then again, there are writers who are distinctly "non-mainstream" in any conventional sense, who have nevertheless had great commercial success. I love Haruki Murakami's novels; they are completely bizarre and generally the extreme opposite of bestseller "formulaic novels".

Perhaps one benefit of this huge global market is that there is always some room for the alternative oeuvre to allow just sufficiently enough commercial success to mean that the artists in question don't literally starve to death, and can just about make some degree of livelihood out of it.

Realistically, for the foreseeable future, I'll just have to continue with my day-job, and see if any of my real interests ever amount to some tangible output.

Regarding your comment about humans perhaps being "computationally extremely efficient", this is indeed true, because the human in increasingly reduced to a "computational atom", if you will, in the great machinery that is our complex, quantified society; the increasing mechanisation and specialisation that characterises the "technologicalisation" of the world means that the humans within the workplace increasingly become atomised as a mere "cog in the machine". We thereby become extremely efficient at doing one task, machine like.

So the irony is that the dream was that technology would be the great liberator, creatively freeing us from drudgery; instead the opposite is true, it is above all totalitarian, and instead recruits us ever more efficiently for ever greater levels of mundane monotony.

The question becomes, are we the one's clocking in the machine, or is the machine the one clocking us in?