Posts

Showing posts from October, 2009

You Can't Keep A Good Meme Down

Image
I find it oddly satisfying that this evening many people will be celebrating something far older than Christianity. I'm talking about Halloween of course which, despite a determined hijacking by the greeting card industry and modern association with horror movies, is still basically the modern interpretation of the Celtic festival of Samhain which was being celebrated before Jesus was even a twinkle in the Holy Ghost's eye. It's surprising that a relatively small scale meme as Samhain has survived the two thousand year onslaught of such a powerful meme-complex as Christianity, which is fundamentally opposed to it. The word Halloween itself is a Christian invention. In an attempt to stamp out the popular pagan celebration, Pope Gregory III moved All Saint's Day (and therefore obviously the previous day, All Hallow's Eve ) from mid-May to the beginning of November. All he ended up doing was giving it a more catchy name that's easier to spell. So what is it ab

Crazy Spinning Circles

Image
I'm going to go on about The Question Machine (QM) again today. I've been theorising about and blaming it for any number of things over the past couple of months. For anyone reading this for the first time, the QM is my way of describing the way the brain builds up a picture of the world around it, starting from first principles ( is that a straight line? yes ) and after twenty million questions in a short space of time arriving at a correct description of what's being presented to it. Previously I've been interested in what happens when the QM's sense of discrimination is turned down or off (resulting in dreams or hallucinations) but here I'm going to poke it with a stick whilst it's still on full power. There is a phenomenon I've noticed myself but which I've never seen specifically described (and why should it, it only occurs in specialised circumstances). I used to hitch-hike around the country a lot when I was younger, principally to go and

Martians are from Mars, Venusians are from Venus

Image
I started writing when I was a kid. Aside from short pieces of creative writing, my childhood magna opera were comics drawn in biro. The first was about a giant called Bigfoot who was "twenty five miles high" and arrived on Earth and proceded to get into a rage. I'm not quite sure how I managed to sustain this wafer thin premise for as long as I did; perhaps by being derivative. In the Bigfoot in Space sequence he did meet Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, K9 and the crew of the Liberator... I moved on to a series of comics about the exploration of the Solar System starring Captain Dawswell. For some reason this one astronaut was involved in the first mission to every single planet. Apart from Pluto, which wasn't a planet at all (was I a bit ahead of my time there?) but which turned out to be a massive space station built by dolphins. Furthermore, flying in the face of the best evidence of the time, every single planet in the Solar System seemed to harbour some kind of

Anarchy in the UTC

Image
I don't have any deep philosophical topic that's been bothering me for ages to discuss today. This is partly because I am so tired at the moment. After a long week at work - and given the amount that I complain about time passing too quickly I should be grateful that it was so long - I've been given an extra long weekend to recover. It's not that extra long really; just one hour which represents a mere 2.083 percent extra. Still it's not to be sniffed at, although as a time rebate it'll be short lived as I've got to give it back next spring. More of a loan, really. Yes, it's the end of Daylight Saving Time . You know, the one where the clocks go back which in theory gives us an "extra hour in bed" but which in practice always manages to slip by unnoticed as for some reason I always end up going to bed at least an hour later than normal on the evening before. Unlike the one where the clocks go forward when I end up being late for work fo

The Importance of Being Senseless

Image
What makes getting up in the morning so difficult sometimes? I've just spent ten minutes wrestling with my volition, although in this case it's been time well spent as I was deliberately analysing what it was that made me want to stay in bed. Apparently it's not physical tiredness (and if I was writing a Wikipedia article I'd have to "cite" something here). All the physical body needs to recharge its batteries is around half an hour's lying down and then it's good to go. No, it's the brain. It's always the brain. Lying there analysing why I didn't want to get up I noticed there was a mental glow in the back brain and a general low level endorphine buzz throughout the body. I was enjoying it enough to be physically conscious of the Happy Mechanism. Usually the Happy Mechanism kicks in when we're doing something that we oughta, so what was it about lying there in bed and possibly falling asleep again that was biologically better for m

Temporal Copernicus

Image
Copernicus could have got in a lot of trouble when he suggested that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. Somehow he managed to avoid getting embroiled in controversy (perhaps by dedicating his book to the Pope - what a creep) and it was poor old Galileo that took the heat the following century and was the focus of the church's wrath and ended up spending the last ten years of his life under house arrest like a seventeenth century Salman Rushdie. The church's reaction to the geocentric scientific beliefs of the day being challenged seems a bit over the top. What had it got to do with them anyway? It seems that they were getting ideas above their station, interfering in scientific circles, but of course back then you couldn't get a higher station than the church, and what's more they had the might to back it up. But, putting the church poking their oar in aside for the moment, you can understand why the old Ptolemaic system, whereby the Earth is immobile a

Grand Theft Grandpa

Image
Quite why anyone would actually want to go back in time and shoot their own grandfather is beyond me. It's said so glibly and yet I'm forced to think that even if I possessed a time machine and a desire for grandpatricide, I would have absolutely no idea how to go about procuring a gun. Nevertheless this rather bloodthirsty scenario is often cited as a clinching proof of the impossibility of time travel. I'm not so sure. I feel sure it could be solved given the application of Many Worlds Theory (MWT). Broadly put, Many Worlds Theory states that everything that can happen, did happen. That is not to say that the universe is watching and decides to split in two every time you toss a coin; it's more that at a very basic quantum level everything happens. We can work upwards from that. This means that Schrödinger's famous cat is alive in one universe and dead in another - no spooky co-existence in both states until observed is necessary. Mind you, I wouldn't b

Who said you were in your body anyway?

Image
As a child I discovered that the only ways to beat the Evil V were either to fiddle with the curtains until they were entirely shut or to simply open them. Sometimes this was more difficult than it sounds. I well remember one occasion - I was still in a bunk bed so must have been pre-eight - when I awoke early in the morning and opened my eyes to see the Evil V hanging there looking at me. I had to get out of bed, go over to the window and open the curtains. I scrambled down to the foot of the bed and reached for the curtains only to awake to find myself still lying motionless back in the bed, eyes barely open; but open enough to still see the Evil V hovering, smirking. This went on for a while. I would seemingly get up and reach for the curtain only to discover that I hadn't moved; furthermore that I couldn't move. Once I actually managed to open the curtains, although the fact that I did so by playing a fanfare on a trumpet was a bit of a giveaway that it was merely an

Dancing the Dreamscape

Image
We've already seen that if you point a dreaming brain at a wall of red noise (namely the mind static sensory input of someone sleeping) it plays a game of twenty million questions which, thanks to a lowered sense of discrimination, results in a reasonably coherent narrative. Even though in some ways this means that dreams are being made up as they go along, this doesn't mean that they are random and meaningless. After all, it could be claimed that life itself is being made up as it goes along, but it's only the most hardened atheist nihilists that would claim that it too is meaningless (although we shall learn more of this point of view on another occasion). No, all this means is that the mechanism whereby we make sense of the world is allowed free reign. Instead of cross-examining reality and building up a fairly high definition, coherent picture which bears a close resemblance to whatever is actually out there (whatever "actually" really means) it's effec

Somnii Personae

Image
Some mornings it seems as if my body will do almost anything to remain asleep. Even if I seem to have been wake for a while, as soon as the alarm goes off I contrive to have somehow been asleep again and in the middle of an interesting dream (this morning I was riding a galloping horse along Marine Parade). They say that we need eight hours sleep; for me that's just not enough. Ten maybe. If I'm ever given the opportunity we'll see. Perhaps I should go to bed at 8pm one night and see what happens. Of course it was very different when I was a child. Back then I couldn't wait to get up (although I can be forgiven for this bearing in mind how early I had to go to bed). There was none of this lying around making false promises to myself - in a minute, honestly - as soon as I was awake that was it. I was pleased to be free of sleep's clutches. Given the recurring nightmares I had, some of which I described in an earlier blog entry , that's no real surprise. Wak

Am I Addicted Yet?

Image
I would have liked to write about earworms and the evolutionary significance of music this morning, but haven't had time to do enough research. There's a lot of it out there but it's difficult to find time to sort the wheat from the chaff from the far too complex. So this morning I am beginning to write without any idea where it's going. I am determined not the break the flow; I have to write something in order to keep up my side of the bargain. Of course the other side of the bargain is mine as well; that's the problem with forcing yourself to do something. I realise that this is in danger of becoming a metablog entry; I must need one of these right now, I obviously need to break the first rule of daily blog every so often. It's a shame that it hasn't quite yet become an addiction; even though I am still managing to force myself to write every day, it would still be easier not to (no matter how bad that would make me feel). I don't know how long

What's so funny?

Image
What makes something funny? Why do we laugh? There are many theories about what constitutes humour, about what makes comedy. That's not quite what I'm trying to understand. I want to know what it's for . In general everything about us has a beneficial biological purpose (apart from the appendix which seems to exist merely to become inflamed, affording many of us our first experience of an operation in which general anaesthetic is used). Even our behaviour - some would say especially our behaviour - has evolved in response to a specific need, to give us the advantage over those not so blessed. So where's the advantage in finding things funny? I can't see it. Perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way. Using an analogy might help. Why do we feel lust? Like feeling amused it's an irresistible emotion which can temporarily take over our mind so we can think of nothing else. Well that's an easy one. We feel lust in order to make us have sex. What

Multiple Personality

Image
Q: What do you get if you take the content of the previous two blog entries and extrapolate from there? A: Something that sounds a bit like Weird Shit. Sorry, that wasn't my intention. In the tradition of the good old thought experiment I'm only going to talk about what is or what might be and am not going to invoke any mysterious ineffable power. There'll be no " god did it " here - it's the philosophical equivalent of " because I say so " and we all remember how annoying that was when we were kids. Yesterday I was trying to demonstrate how linear time might be an illusion. I realised later that in doing so I inadvertently implied that another sort of time existed - in saying " your previous present was in 2023, and you may shortly be departing for 1977 " I was indicating that these three selves, 2023 , 2009 and 1977 , were being visited in sequence. A sequence implies time. A kind of meta-time. I didn't mean to; it's just t

What About My Memory?

Image
If you enjoy this entry or find it interesting do please leave a comment or follow me on Twitter . This entry has received a lot of traffic recently and I would be very interested to hear from where it is linked. "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." Douglas Adams The beginning of another week, once more we continue marching inexorably forward towards the end. Or do we? Well, obviously we do, or at least it feels like we do. But during my rambling investigations into the nature of consciousness I began to question the nature of time or at least the nature of our perception of it. Are we really moving forwards at an accelerating rate or is that just what it feels like? The acceleration of time as we get older is obviously an illusion as I've discussed before , so might its steady passage in one direction also be imaginary? We need to think about how we actually experience time. What is the present? I'd say the present corresponds to our short ter

Do Not Go Gentle

Image
"Being born is not a crime, so why must it carry a sentence of death?" Robert Ettinger Who wants to live forever? To be honest, I wouldn't mind. No really. Sometimes I think anyone who doesn't want to live forever quite clearly hasn't properly understood the concept of death. Perhaps this attitude of mine is being affected by my current reading matter; as any regular readers of this blog may have noticed I'm attempting to give my mind a workout by reading a lot of philosophical and scientific texts on the nature of consciousness, the nature of being. One thing that the Champions of Physicalism seem to delight in gleefully pointing out is that we are no more than the sum of our parts, that this is all there is and that we're all going to die. We're all going to stop . Sometimes this becomes horribly clear to me in the middle of the night and I go cold with terror. Something must be done. It may be an illusion, but I'm quite attached to being

The Question Machine

Image
Seeing as I Think Therefore I Am apparently isn't good enough any more, I'm still trying to work out whether I am, and if so, what. This involves a lot of reading. I've got The Emperor's New Mind and The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind in my to read list; first I'm re-reading Dennett's Consciousness Explained to see if I can mentally digest it this time. I haven't got far enough to make any decisions, but some of the author's ideas are fascinating. I was in particular taken with his theory of hallucinations and dreams. In it he discusses the sheer volume of data that would be required to convincingly fake a realistic scenario, given the free will of the audience. It would be impossible, he claims. Does that mean I can stop looking forward to Total Immersion Virtual Reality cause it ain't gonna happen? Well, not necessarily. It's important to realise that the world around us that we're experiencing isn&#