Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Demons sewn up, tied down

It exists; but in-the-world? Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911
  We are in a strange condition, sethren.  The sun shines and the breezes blow, like blades from the east.  Birds fly past, a magpie with a twig, a coal tit with a sprig of down.  They too are driven by deep evolved currents to do things, mate, build nests, in circumstances which make them look deranged.  Just up the road to the south, the snowdrifts are eight feet deep.
  When I was a young man, south of the Equator, my veranda was on the edge of the high savannah, and I would watch these little olive birds the size of my finger hopping and creeping through the mopani and bauhinia trees.  Willow warblers.  Three of them flew all the way from sub-equatorial Africa to Huddersfield last week, and were creeping and darting about the alders the other side of the millpond across from the retreat where we Brothers watch by night.  These three little birds had arrived just in time for the blizzard.  When spring does come, and the last snow with its border of blue lace of ice under the May sky shrinks to spikey green, we’ll see their little corpses there, rich olivaceous down a muddy pulp.  What is evolved cannot tell the future.
  That is selection, sethren, no more and no less.  With willow warblers, each death is the end of a line which is absolutely unbroken from the first life three and a half billion years ago.  That’s a long time for phut! Out for ever.  As if it were the commonest thing in the world.  When the old people say, “Where have the manners gone, all this swearing, some self-entitled fuck in a Range Rover parked in the disabled spot at Sainsbury’s?” that’s the answer.  Gone with those willow warblers.
  The upside is that those willow warblers which might have had a tendency to migrate early won’t get layed and they won’t get hatched.  The downside, given increasing climate instability, is that the ones that were selected by the meteorological environment this year, because their parents migrated late, will tend to arrive late next year, just in time for the mid-April second winter after the March heatwave.
   Evoculture is very good at foresight, as long as it doesn’t involve something cataclysmic, like climate instability.  In Evoculture, weather forecasts have evolved.
  Oh, I know, sethren, you may say, weather forecasting is not an insentiently evolved thing, it is an act of human thought, an act of cognition.   It is not.  What do you or I understand of weather and the climate, sethren?  Absolutely fuck all.  It is something on the telly, predominantly blue on the BBC, with lines with red triangles on them and circles with numbers and cartoon rain.  Beyond those is an uncountable multitude of demons, a huge host that have been in and out of a billion brains on the way, from Yahweh the storm god fighting the monster of the deep and long before that, to the pin-point accuracy of in fifteen minutes the temperature on the Huddersfield ringroad will be 0o and the wind due east at 16 mph, cloud cover with patchy sun.  The present science of weather forecasting is so complex, composed of so many demons and alliances of alliances to several orders of magnitude of demons, that one could spend a lifetime anatomising it and the job not half done.  That is why, just for the sake of practical economy, we need a map, a taxonomy, a hierarchy.  And that will come, sethren.
  But for now we need to tie up the loose ends of demons.  What makes demons difficult is that you can’t pin them down.  They are, in the final analysis, locations of energy, and the signature of this energy varies according to where it exists at any given instant.  And just because it moves, that is to say exists in a new place, that doesn’t mean it ceases to exist in the previous place.  It can move on, a thousand times a second, leaving itself behind a thousand times.  Nipple.  Sethren here before my eyes, with traffic, a Metro bus, one of those cement mixer lorry things, moving behind you, think of the path of that demon to your own neural substrate; to the part of the continuum of the universe which is your brain, your ideoverse; to the locus of the stable cycle of energy that is the irreducible difference between nipple and large hadron collider, or between nipple and wheel.  The demon must have had some existence everywhere along that long and complex journey, otherwise it could not have arrived.  And it also remained in my head, where it started.  And suppose you asked yourself, “What did he say. Did he really say Nipple, and quite loudly given the conformation of a young lady who was just getting off the 316 from Holmfirth at the time?” and you turned to your neighbour and mouthed, but did not voice, “Nipple?”  Think of the further journey of the demon.  By way of the electromagnetic spectrum and your neighbour’s eyes.  And think in that journey of all the places the demon has been, and all the places it still remains.
  Highly distributed, that’s what demons are.  And not just in the way I’ve just said, but also around and about what’s in the world.  Demons that ally with things could not exist without the things themselves.  An actual needle is a locus of the demon needle.  And what, I hear you cry, not distracted for an instant by the hunger rattling in your bellies, of the square root of minus one?  That does not exist anywhere out in the world.
  But of course it does.  √-1.  There it is.  And not just there either, but in a million books, on screens, in Wikipedia, on whiteboards in schools and colleges all over the world.  Angels likewise.
  So what’s a demon?  A demon is something that must be able to exist, multiply and distributed, in the world and in the human neural substrate.  In the neural substrate, it is a stable cycle of energy in the part of the continuum of the universe which is the human brain. It is the irreducible difference between something and anything else.  And in the world it must at any point have some physical existence; as energy, like nipple travelling between your lips and your neighbour’s eyes; or as a thing, like a bag or a knife or a brick.
Okay, a bit rough and ready, but it’ll have to do.  Tomorrow, the rest of the taxonomy. But still it snows.  To ward of hypothermia alone, we need transfatty gloop to burn.  We need MadamMiMi’sMagicMeatyBits. I shall lead the charge.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The hummingbird and the rat

  What’s the point, you ask, sether, what’s the point of all this?  You think you might become a Mormon.  Or a Baha’í.  They’ve got some traction.  They know how the world should be.  You, Brother Jero, you just rabbit on interminably about demons.  And they’re not even proper demons, red hot with anger, butting you up the bum with their pointy horns, lacerating you with their tridents.  They’re loci of irreducible difference.
  There aren’t many laughs in that, Brother Jero.  What’s the point?
  The point is, sethren, we are possessed.  The question we have to ask is, look, we are the most intelligent beings on Earth, possibly in the universe, or at least this universe; how come we are so fucking stupid?  Look at any area of the globe, big or small, land or ocean, and you realise that something about our behaviour stands out, above all other species.  Sheer blind stupidity.  It’s not our only quality I grant you.  We are also amazingly creative and constructive, we have built cities and spaceships, art, music, and society, all miraculous achievements.  It’s not that I’m on about.  It’s the other stuff.
  Take fish.  The oceans are a gift from eternity, powered by the sun, filled with evolved life over three and half billion years, an almost inexhaustible reservoir of protein and beauty.  And we are methodically, self-consciously, turning those oceans into squalid sumps.  Collectively, not very bright.  Collectively, the seven billion of us, we have less perspicuity than a whelk.  Why?  Particularly why if, as is the case, we are so fucking brainy?
  And that is the point, sethren.  We are like that because we are possessed.  Not by evil spirits.  But what we are is not quite what we think we are.  What is in our heads, the “thoughts” and “beliefs” and “philosophies” and “principles” are not wholly us at all.  Nor are they all that interested in our welfare as a species.  If at all.  In fact they are not interested in anything, because they are insentient, mindless, subject to blind evolution, just like the humming bird and the rat.  And us.  But they are not alive, though they evolve like life.  They survive because they are at an instant better suited to a particular niche than their competitors.  Instantaneous survival, that is the sole bridge they have to cross.  Opportunism in the shortest possible term; if successful, reiterated indefinitely, from second to second for minutes, centuries, millennia.  Like a bag, or a knife.  Or what you said at 3.27pm the Tuesday before last, if you were talking at that precise time.
  And when I say they, sethren, what am I referring to?  You’ve got it.  Those demons again.
I’m not saying, sethren, that we as a species have no foresight.  Clearly inestimable foresight is what distinguishes us  from all else.  Capitalism, town planning, space travel.  But these are all evolved too, quasi-infinite alliances and alliances of alliances of demons.  And they evolved through instantaneous opportunism, instantaneous selection, instantaneous survival.  Our huge success in catching fish, from the sprat to the whale, is equally evolved.  And if you read St Richard’s Climbing Mount Improbable, a point he makes most cogently is that evolution, if it takes a wrong turn, can never turn round and go back to the branch where this track was taken in error, and take the more promising way.  No more can a stone roll up a hill.  Evolution can only go on the way it’s going, instantaneous success by instantaneous success or, if success fails for an instant, death.  Death is okay when there are thousands or millions more of the same thing, like whatever it was you said at 3.27pm the Tuesday before last, if you were talking at that precise time..  But if too many die, we’re still talking about demons here and alliances of demons, that means extinction.  And demons rely on things in the world to survive.  Fishing cannot go on without fish.  So, it seems, our fishing will go on blindly, you cannot deny that it looks blind, blind and stupid, until there are no more fish.  Then it will become, instantaneously, extinct.
  Hold on a minute, you might say.  That’s not going to happen.  Other alliances of demons are evolving, as it might be marine conservation areas.
  That is the point too, sethren.  Evolution works for good as well as ill.  But it is hugely complex, and it might help if we understood it a bit more.  What does not work, or very seldom, and often only by very lucky chance, is supposedly superordinate plans.  Look at our present government.  Okay, sether Albert, it is more gracious to refer to “the intellectual deficit issue” rather than the biggest bunch of idiot fuckwits ever gathered together in the Mother of Parliaments, but I grant you the point remains the same.  They think they have a plan.  And I am not one who has time for essences, for Platonic Forms.  But yes, their plan looks like the essence of human stupidity.  A steady progression of instantaneous selection, survival, reiteration of alliances of demons which, when we look at their shape in the world, we might think were better extinct.  But that’s not the way the evolution of culture works.  We may love the whale and Nelson Mandela, but Hitler and the herpes virus were, still are, in evolutionary terms much more successful than lovingkindness for the whole human species.
  That is why it might be a better course for governments to look at what is good in political economy, and encourage it, and look at what is bad, and try to minimise it, rather than to have plans.  But such a course is a long way from where we are at the moment.  To get there it might help us if we understood what we are are and why.  How it is that we can be so intelligent, and so stupid?
  And to understand that, sethren, we have work to do.  Tomorrow, for one day only, we’ll tie up demons.    Then onward.  But for now… Can anyone smell bacon?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The needle in the skull

The brain in 1911 - Encyclopaedia Britannica
  Always at my back I hear, sethren, those chariot wheels, time, thundering.  We’ve just got a photo of that, apparently, time so old it has hardly begun, a time when time had only been about for 380,000 years, less than twice the time, that, our species has occupied the earth, and the thing I’m talking about, Evoculture, has occupied our species.  So the thunder of time, those chariot wheels, it’s not just the ringroad and its burden of death, the rumble and hiss of butyl on bitumen, one futile hydrocarbon on another, it really is time, getting shorter, and we have far to go.  Onwards.
  A sewing needle; a simple thing.  It is differentiated from a pin by having a hole in it, and differentiated from a hypodermic needle, and the fang of a snake, and the sting of a bee, by the placing of that single hole.
The needle is a shaft, pointed at one end and rounded at the other.  Because its function is to pierce and slide through woven or felted material or hide, it should be as thin as possible, firstly, so as not to damage the material needlessly, and second to do the least possible work.  There are three constraints on this thinness, the strength of the material from which the needle is made, the calibre of the thread, gut, leather lace, which it has to pull through the material to be sewn, and the thickness and toughness of that material.  But when I say, sethren, a needle in a haystack, I’m guessing the standard demon, the needle in your head, is about… that long, and about… that thick, and it is silvery steel, a tiny highlight shining off it, and it's got an elliptical hole at the rounded end, and a point the other, and there's just the echo of that sharp prick in the skin of your finger.  And maybe, if you’ve ever done any sewing, a button on a thick coat for instance, that almost uncomfortable pressure, turning to, not pain so much, but a pointed region of discomfort in the side of the middle joint of the index finger as you push it through.  Which is why thimbles evolved along with needles.
  So, there are all the demons in a needle.  Function, topology, shaft, length, diameter, aspect ratio, hole, point, substance, surface, reflectivity, silver, receptor nerve stimulus.  Thirteen in all.  Thirteen demons make a needle in the metaverse
  No, we don’t call all those things all those names, sether, of course we don’t.  That’s just language, and the metaverse is not composed of language, not at all.  You’ve got to get hold of this; compared to the complexity of the metaverse, which is entirely a function of the complexity of the human brain — astrocytes indeed, sether — language is a very simple system, and it's all open to us, we know what it is, we know how it works.  The metaverse, and the node of it inside each of our heads, is of at the moment incalculable complexity, and its workings are almost entirely hidden from us.  That is, the meeting place, the self, the I, I’m going to carry on calling it the work space, is almost entirely insulated from the incalculable processes of the brain.  If it wasn’t we couldn’t think.  I know analogies only cause more confusion, but here goes, look at it this way.  Imagine if, when we were watching the television, we didn’t just have to follow the complexities of the programme, as it might be Come Cook with Me, but we also had to perceive, analyse, calibrate in real time the internal processes of your flat screen LED HD telly, down to the last electron, the last quantal whatsit.  You’re right, sether, not fucking possible.  I gather we’ve dropped the partially deceased.  So be it.  Natural selection will have its way.  Verging on extinction already.
  So that’s what it would be like, multiplied a million fold, if we had to watch the processes of the metaverse; as well as the question which I’m sure you’ve spotted already, the question of what it would actually be that was watching this process?  For both those immutable reasons, we, being the workspace, are for ever insulated from the metaverse.  And that is a cogent reason why we always have, and always have had, way back to our origins as a species, a sense of, a yearning for, the beyond; the reality on the other side of the membrane of the cave wall.
  Demons are summoned, or arrive unbidden, into the workspace, in small platoons, a needle, in almost infinite hosts, the Standard Theory.  They do their work, they are sent back whence they came, crowded out by more instantaneously apt demons, or by a process of the organism, get the gone.
  That’s the metaverse.  Language on the other hand is a simple system in which demons travel through the world.  Between each ideoverse and the world there are portals.  Two of them, on inwards along the neural high roads from the ears and the larynx, lungs and mouth, let language in and out, but they are insulated, constricted, filtered, firewalled, we have no idea what they are or how they work.  They are just areas of the brain, we call them Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area.  There is one kind of thing one side, in the neural substrate, in the ideoverse; Evoculture; and another kind of thing in the rest of the organism and in the world; language.
  So when I anatomise a needle into thirteen demons, that is language, that is labelling.  And when we summon up the demon needle, the natural concept, thank you sether Lev, I merely surmise that in the metaverse these thirteen demons associate in a fairly ready way with needle.  It’s language (not that for a moment I want to diminish the role of language, look what I’m using here), it’s a crude, functional representation of what goes on on the other side of Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas.
  And I do not say, sethren, that that parade of thirteen demons is all and only what gathers round a needle.  Each ideoverse is unique, dynamic, ever changing.  Every time we mention complexity, that complexity is an order of magnitude less complex than the complexity of which it is a part.   We’ve just got to live with that.
    What?  I can’t hear you, sether Cavilia.    I thought that’s what you said.  A knitting needle.  Fuck.  No hole.  Fuck.  See what I mean?  Lunchtime.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The human doughnut

  Sethren, I do not want to dwell on the old, the Abrahamic religions, for they are fucked. 
   Hold on.
  I watched the fraternity’s television last night.  The brothers had chosen a socially reverberant drama about a disadvantaged minority, teenage zombies in point of fact, and we were introduced to the right-on phrase, partially deceased syndrome.  Sethren, while the theological question remains open, should a morally responsible teacher use the term fucked at all? let alone in direct apposition to the Abrahamic religions, I hereby transmute the term fucked to partially deceased.
  Sethren, I do not want to dwell on the old, the Abrahamic religions, for they are partially deceased.  However, before we turn our attention from demons to other aspects of the symbiosis between Culture and the human organism, I must pose the question, How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Apparently devotees to the cause of Christian Scholasticism in the medieval period talked of little else throughout an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon in 1273.  But I want to slightly change the question.
  How many demons are there in a needle?
  Irreducible difference, sethren.
  Such pursuit can divide differences into differences, demons into demons, for ever.  So, as a first attempt, I’m going to try it on a fairly coarse scale.  Forgive me.
  In practice, in daily life, we know the difference between a needle and anything else without thinking about it.  Needle is a quite simple natural concept.  It is a demon.  The only thing we might confuse a needle with is a pin.  However, at the level of anatomisation and analysis, more demons appear.  These are demons that exist separately from the needle demon in the neural substrate and in the metaverse, but like all demons can reiterate themselves at the drop of a hat and appear anywhere else in an ideoverse or in the metaverse, in this case winking and glimmering about the surface of the needle itself.  The first of these demons, these irreducible differences, is function, a difference of function.  A needle is for drawing a thread, cord or strip of hide through something, a skin or something woven.  A pin is for fixing something to something else.
  Blimey, sether Cavilia, I had hoped to get away with that for a bit.  Yes, it is a sad fact that there is a bin not thirty paces yonder, labelled “sharps”.  And, yes sether, yes indeed, it is for the deposition, yes sether Albert, as it may be by the company of those fucked (but now, sether, we say partially deceased) by the ill-advised addition of such as heroin to their own bloodstreams; for the deposition of their hypodermic needles.  Which, as you so joyfully point out, are not for the drawing of a thread through a textile.  And, I’ll do it before you do, you could say that they are for puncturing the skin in order to introduce a fluid into the bloodstream.  As it might be, the tooth of a cobra.  And so there are, sether, other things too, the sting of a wasp, with which a needle could easily be elided.
  One difference, I said, between a needle and a pin is, function.  Luckily, there is another.  Topology.
  A needle is a thing with a hole in it.  A pin isn’t.
  One of the demons that differentiate between a needle and a pin is a hole.  A lot of people are not quite clear about what exactly that is, a hole.  It is simple, and a needle is a good example.  Topologically, a hole is where you can put a thread through, bring the ends together, and the needle cannot escape without breaking the thread.  That is a hole.  A cup is topologically identical to a needle.  You can put a string through the handle, and hang the cup from it.  A teapot has two holes.  And a cereal bowl has none, like a pin.  Finally, a hypodermic needle has one hole, just like a sewing needle.  Think about it.  So a hypodermic needle is a needle, topologically identical to a sewing needle, not a pin.  We're okay there.
  Yes, sether, the fang of a snake is like a needle, but only when it's not attached to a poison sac.  Which it usually is.  Then you can stick a very fine filament up the middle of the fang of a snake into the poison sac, but you can’t get it out anywhere.  There is no hole.  It's the same as a sphere, or a balloon.  Topologically a balloon has no hole in it, otherwise how could you blow it up?  And you can't possible confuse a balloon with a needle.  Get a grip, sether.
  Sether Albert, your lack of discretion knows no decent bounds.  Here we are, in a layby, by a bus stop, in a public place, and you just keep going.  Okay, I will answer.  Yes.  The human skin is continuous, toroidal, and has three holes in it.  Yes sether, mine has too, but that ends in the bladder, and is topologically the same as a bowl or a sphere.  The human skin is topologically the same as a tee-shirt.  And the aperture you keep shouting about, yes you are, sether, and people are looking…  St Richard describes it thus, first quoting Lewis Wolpert:
             It is not birth, marriage of death, but gastrulation, which is truly the most important time in your life.
Gastrulation is thus.  In deuterostomes, of which clade we are a member, the blastula, the very early embryo, is round like a ball.  Then an indentation forms, so it becomes like a bowl (which is topologically identical to a ball).  Within this bowl the blastopore develops, and that becomes the gut and kindred organs.  But nothing topological has happened yet.  Later, the mouth forms, and it is only when the two, mouth and anus, are conjoined by the gut, through which, though not with ease, a string might pass (yes, yogic adepts, so I have heard, sether) that we become topologically the same as a teacup or a length of copper piping.  It is only then that we, along with the rest of the animal kingdom, gain our true toroidal existence.  And then, only briefly.  When the nostrils develop, we lose it again, we stop being the same as a tea-cup, and become the same as a tee-shirt.  No, sether, not as a pair of trousers.  A Pair of trousers is topologically identical to a button or a bow.  But not rings and things.  Rings and things are equivalent to a needle.  Annular.  Full circle.
I grow weary, sethren.  I had foreseen distraction, but not on this scale.
How simple a needle now seems, does it not.  A thing with merely one hole.  Let us rejoice.
I know, sethren, partly deceased syndroming outrageous.  And it is meant to be early spring.  The jetstream has split asunder and half of it is down in North Africa, the rest in Spain, while we on the ringroad here in Huddersfield are in the kingdom of the polar bear, and the poor bears swelter iceless in a landscape redolent of the Huddersfield ringroad.  In answer to this misery, the plump pink public schoolboys rub their plump pink squelchy hands together and wetly dream of fracking.
Off to feast in the fleshpots of the town.  Tomorrow we will finally compute how many are the demons in a needle.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Note to editorial intervention

And just a brief note to the parenthesis in the last post:
“Thus selection is an effect of who I choose to listen to (but I can’t really call that selection in any Darwinian sense) and, more accurately, of “what is transmitted”.
The “who” is, of course, a human organism, and whatever culture is composed of, it is not composed of human organisms.  Thus, in the evolution of culture, selection cannot take place at the level of the organism.  I suggest that, in terms of the evolution of culture, another human being, (as opposed to me) is an environment from which differentiable variation can be selected.