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Showing posts from November, 2009

Afterlife, Sir? No, Sir.

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I've spent the last few blog entries if not explaining it away then at least arguing that an afterlife is unlikely and that this is all we've got. This isn't as cheerless a claim as it might first sound. Many materialists gloomily cry " This is all there is! ", their faces contorted in melancholia (and, not to put too fine a point on it, no small measure of glee at spreading the bad news). I don't subscribe to this point of view; I'm trying to explore and expand my knowledge of our existence. I'm not starting from a traditional position of Heaven and Earth and then scribbling out great swathes of the firmament; I'm starting from a single cell and marveling at how far we've come and what it means to be conscious in the four dimensions of spacetime, and many worlds of the quantum multiverse. However, my subconscious obviously isn't entirely happy with my recent activities as several times over the last few days I've dreamed about the

The Self Event Horizon

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Previously in this blog... I started out discussing borders and ended up defining the shape of our selves in spacetime , four-dimensional mirrorballs cascading through the white water of the time axis. The reflective skin of the edge of self could be thought of as being like a two-way mirror. Information falls onto the boundary of the sensorium and is reflected back as we describe and interact with the universe at large. What others see of our selves is merely our personal reflection of the universe according to us, but on the other hand we probably think of our actual selves as homunculi sitting inside the spherical two-way mirror, observing but invisible to the outside world. But isn't this just an illusion? As discussed before there are no homunculi ; postulating their existence to explain consciousness invokes recursion as we then have to imagine the mechanism whereby the homunculus is sentient and so on... and any theory that invokes recursion or infinity probably has

Not Being Alive

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I realise that in the last entry I made a fundamental error describing the death and birth as a "border" in the sense I was using it. Whilst they are points on a boundary between being and not-being , they're not points on a border that anyone can cross. So I reiterate that there isn't really such a thing as being dead . One could say that not being alive is describable, if only as the absence of an actual state, but actually having a word for it, dead , seems odd when you think about it. After all, we don't have a separate word for not being in pain , despite the fact that (hopefully) it is the state in which we spend most of our lives. You might think I'm playing games with words here. That might be the case, but words themselves are immensely powerful. In my continuing study into what makes us into conscio us , I have discovered (mainly through reading and thought experiments as practical investigation in this field is tricky for the amateur) that

Near Death

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There is one border we don't usually get to linger on; we only ever cross it twice. That is the border between being alive and not being alive. The checkpoints are one way only, and are named Birth and Death. When we think about it this way, we realise there's no such thing as " being dead ". From a materialist point of view, the state before birth and the state after death are the same thing. And yet there's no way, for example, I'd describe myself as having been " dead " in 1960. Yet logically there's no difference whatsoever. Whatever makes you you is your mind, and even though hardcore materialists claim that's all smoke and mirrors, your consciousness has a definite existence however it's derived. So, unconventional theories of time and mind aside, any time period during which your consciousness doesn't exist is no different from another. So we die, but we are never dead. For instance: Where is Douglas Adams ? He'

Hypnogogy

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Boundaries can be the most fascinating places in the universe. They come in many kinds. Some are physical borders such as the change from desert to jungle, a river, the boundary between the heliopause and interstellar space. Sometimes they’re territorial or imaginary in origin such as the border between England and Scotland or the Greenwich Meridian. Occasionally the latter try and make themselves the former, as happened with the Berlin Wall , the Maginot Line or the Gaza Strip Barrier . Generally though in the grand scheme of things these political borders are invisible; even the Great Wall of China , originally a territorial border and allegedly visible from space, no longer marks the boundary between the People’s Republic and its next-door neighbours and in the twenty-first century is merely the fossil of Qin Shi Huang ’s ambition. Some borders are a state of mind, sometimes literally. They bisect the fourth dimension of your lifestream, lines drawn between knowledge and i

Pendaleon House

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For some reason I seemed to spend the last couple of hours of the night awake, wondering what I was going to write here. At the last minute I fell asleep and started dreaming. Once again I was in Pendaleon House, the place my paternal grandparents lived throughout the seventies and eighties. I suppose it's not surprising that it's stuck in my head so much; from the ages of five to at least twenty when I went there it was a treat. A holiday, a few days off from the nightmare of school. Plus I suppose it could be said that my grandparents spoiled all three of us (when you're a kid that's a good thing). And more even than that. The house had a surprisingly large garden with an unexpected number of sheds. My sister and I discovered a way into the extensive shrubbery which became our own version of Narnia, "Tufty", a land ruled by a king with a keen interest in photography. On our second expedition into Tufty we discovered it was several hundred years later and

Never Enough

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For the first time in a while I've booked a day off work. In theory it's in a bid to catch up with any number of the millions of things I seem to have to complete just to keep my life ticking over, but in truth I've just been lazing around. I think I need to though. After working flat out for what seems like a decade it probably does me good to kick back and not do very much for a while. It's a shame it makes me feel so guilty. Where does this apparent "work ethic" come from? I've long been comfortable with the fact that I'm a lazy sod and probably have been all my life. I still remember what one teacher said to me. " The problem with you, Limb, is that you're bone idle. " If I am - and who am I to contradict a teacher - I'm doing a very good job hiding it. To paraphrase The Cure : however much I think I do - it's never enough, never enough. In these enlightened days of course no teacher would dream of speaking to a pupil li

The Homicidal Gene

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The psychology behind Hate Week is precisely that of working up both party members and proles into a frenzy of self-righteous hate for the enemy, pushing out of their minds all thought of the unsatisfactory lives that they themselves are living. George Orwell 1984 If we return to our old friend Thugg the Caveman, whose antics are always handy when it comes to trying to explain modern behaviour, it's straightforward to see why we human beings find it so easy to hate. The Other Tribe at the far end of the dirt track that would one day be the M6 are in competition with Thugg's gang; there are only so many sabre-toothed tigers to go around. In order to maximise the chances of Thugg's people making it out of the Stone Age in one piece they have to be able to kill members of The Other Tribe without a moment's thought if necessary. Chromosomes are ruthless bastards when it comes to ensuring that they're passed on. The only problem of course is that in its journey towa

Information Overload

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"Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." William Faulkner I've spent a lot of the afternoon coding, communicating with a virtual space in the arcane languages of CSS and XHTML so as to produce the effect that a client wants. It should of course be far easier than it actually is. We invented this stuff, why is some of it so opaque? Sometimes I seriously think that these computer languages were deliberately made as unfathomable as possible by the geeks that invented them in order to give themselves a mystical, almost wizardly cachet. Have you seen Regular Expressions ? They seem permanently beyond my reach; every time I think I'm getting a handle on them they throw up something to baffle me. Other times I think it's just plain old human inefficiency. I'm getting metablogular again, but the practical upshot of this day at the code face means that I'm writing

Time Travellers Anonymous

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'I am afraid I cannot convey the peculiar sensations of time travelling. They are excessively unpleasant. There is a feeling exactly like that one has upon a switchback--of a helpless headlong motion! I felt the same horrible anticipation, too, of an imminent smash.' H G Wells, The Time Machine Let us assume that our Temporal Copernicus has indeed put us straight. The present is NOT at the centre of time, and it is arrogant and humanocentric to assume that it is, although just like his astronomical forebear, he is unable to go out there and prove it. It was not until over four centuries after the publication of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium that human beings were finally able to look back at the Earth and know that Old Metal Pants was right. It'll be a while then before the crew of the temporal equivalent of Apollo 8 take a trip around the back of a-week-last-Tuesday, returning with pictures that will change forever the way we see time. But they will one day.

Paranoid Android

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"Sorry, did I say something wrong?" said Marvin, dragging himself on regardless. "Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't know why I bother to say it, oh god, I'm so depressed." Douglas Adams, The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy Now that we have our thought experiment of me-as-robot fully set up in the Thought Lab, it's time to start playing with it. Settle down. There are any number of advantages to my new state. Instead of having to struggle with contact lenses and then having to hold small print documents at arms length, I can simply upgrade and get a new pair of peepers from eyeBay. And I'm sure once I get the mechanism calibrated I can do away with all that getting tired stuff and simply go onto standby at the end of the day; no more tedious insomnia. It's only when I start talking about it in this manner that it becomes apparent how complex the human machine is. How many of these things I think I could do without,

I, Robot (I wish)

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Sometimes I can't stand being made of flesh and bone. What with my current materialist reading material I've come to terms with the reality that I am in fact a machine. A highly sophisticated machine, it's true. A highly inefficient machine and yet at the same time an immensely, insanely complex one. But a machine nonetheless. What I don't understand is why they had to make it of such rubbish parts. I mean come on . The transportation mechanism is made of meat fer chrissakes. And bones. OK, they have that nifty self-repair process built-in (provided they're properly set after a break), but wouldn't it be better to just make them out of stainless steel in the first place and avoid the whole issue of breakage? If nothing else this is a compelling argument for evolution and against the ridiculous notion of Intelligent Design . Idiotic design more like. Still, as something arrived at by trial and error over the course of millions of years it's not

Narrative Archaeology

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On alternate mornings when I'm writing my novel instead of this blog, I have noticed something odd. Interesting, pleasing even, but still odd. It's that there are bits I don't remember writing. I don't know whether it's because when I wrote them it was first thing in the morning and I wasn't fully awake, or whether it's because my subconscious is using my brain to write a novel when I'm not paying attention. Whichever it is, I occasionally have the uncanny experience of enjoying reading passages in the same way that I'd enjoy someone else's work - without foreknowledge. Peculiarly, these blog entries are incapable of surprising me in the same way; when I read them back I remember every word and am particularly sensitive to flaws, to repeated words or phrases. It's just the fiction that appears to come from somewhere else and is capable of being written without touching the sides as it comes out. This isn't entirely a surprise; I ofte

The Detail in the Devil

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In case you were wondering, I am still wading through psychology and philosophy textbooks in an effort to find out what makes us tick and what, in fact, we actually are . Sometimes it's uphill work. This stuff starts out couched in friendly comprehensible language but often gets bogged down in technical terms very quickly. It seems not everyone has the skill of Stephen Hawking; I found A Brief History of Time entertaining and comprehensible. One thing I'm picking up from my current reading material, and anyone who's read this blog before may recognise the topic, is the battle between materialism and dualism . I may have been sitting on the fence before but recently I fell off into the materialist garden. I suddenly realised that it was, if you'll pardon the pun, a no brainer. When trying to describe the mechanism of the mind, the consciousness, dualists postulate a mysterious non-physical spirit controlling the brain. This is fair enough in itself but in order to

I Start Counting

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It's November. I know that's stating the bleeding obvious, but for some writers it's a particularly important month. They're going to write a complete novel from scratch. I am of course talking about National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as it's more commonly known. This is an annual event whereby people sign up to the web site and pledge to complete a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month. No editing - there's no time for that - just a great big splurge. Strictly speaking 50K isn't a novel it's a novella. To give it some kind of context, Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men , Kafka's The Metamorphosis and Orwell's Animal Farm all clock in at around this length. Quite apart from their undoubted quality, they're all books that require some effort and dedicated time to read but on the other hand they're nothing you're going to be able to whack anyone round the head with and knock them out. Even with a hardback special anniversar