Snoop Lion From On High

Who’s ready for a new spiritual leader? Religions are less popular than ever, but obviously if some guy somewhere has a spiritual awakening, that’s a big deal for everyone. Things get especially serious if that guy is former pornographer, pimp, and rapper Snoop Dogg. His third eye was opened on a trip to Jamaica. He is now the reincarnation of Bob Marley. You will call him Snoop Lion.

Obviously his rapping ability and life of good works has augmented his karmic balance sheet. The gods have moved him up the animal kingdom to the top of the food chain…in certain specific climates. Now that I think of it, wouldn’t “Snoop Human” be a better leap up the karmic ladder? We still have time, I guess.

The saving grace for Snoop Lion is that he’s always been pretty much hilarious. He’s a musician, and he’ll continue to do his thing. His reincarnation carries about as much weight as one of Madonna’s reinventions. Snoop’s charisma will ensure he has enough fans and haters no matter what he does, but what the world needs now is a cult to form around him.

Usually, anyone who claims to be “enlightened” or “awakened” is almost surely not enlightened. I’ve observed this maxim over and over again. A person might truly believe they are ”enlightened”, but this doesn’t make it so.  Sam Harris seems more “enlightened” to me than Deepak Chopra even though Deepak rambles on and on about cosmic consciousness like an authority. There is a big difference between words and works.

Charisma can work wonders for charlatans. Having a magnetic personality, a face that’s easy to look at, and a certain way with words might be all it takes to build a base of devoted followers. If you’re charismatic enough, maybe your followers will go out and recruit other followers to your cause. Thus, cults spring up around individuals, from Buddha to Charles Manson. It also helps if the leader knows his or her audience.

Unfortunately there is no litmus test for enlightenment. A one-pointed mind might be a good indicator, the way Jesus was constantly on-message, but that same behavior could also be viewed as mania bordering on psychosis. Equanimity might be a sign, but some people are naturally stoic and others comport themselves in a way that only looks serene. Other than a certain mysterious good feeling we get from a person, the main indicators that we’ve witnessed genius are the works left behind.

Charles Manson left behind some crappy works. I’d call that fraudulent guru-hood. Beethoven left nine amazing symphonies. John Lennon’s Imagine always reminds me how potent simple instructions can be. Put Imagine on, do what he says, and tell me that guy wasn’t a genius. The last time I heard from Snoop, I think he was telling me to “put some Kush up in it”.

While that is sound advice, Snoop Lion’s new music is supposed to be family friendly. Can he really undergo a Rastafarian rebirth and come out on the other side talking less about weed?

Change Your Brain – Pt. 4

In “Change Your Brain” parts 1, 2 and 3, I tried to recommend books that had a positive effect on my behavior. Glancing back over recent posts I’ve noticed a shift in my thinking, and it stands to reason that the book I just finished contributed to that change in a major way.

We can’t know exactly why we are the way we are. Since each of our ‘minds’ arise out of the darkness of unconscious processes, it stands to reason that we should look toward the unconscious when we need a tune-up. Discovering our unconscious assumptions and bringing them into consciousness allows us to shed light on the processes that guide our minds.

The following book might have made me a little more sane.

Science and SanityScience and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski

The book’s full title is Science & Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems. This is the foundational text for the branch of study called General Semantics. Its claims rest on the fact that language and science are forms of human behavior. If our behaviors and interpretations of reality are not accurate to the facts of the world, our evaluations, and therefore our future behaviors, will result in harmful shocks, delusions, failures, etc. We use science to communicate facts to one another. These facts offer dependable models. But in our communication and even our thinking, unconscious assumptions can deform the information and leave us with models that are false to the facts of the world. If these unconscious assumptions aren’t remedied, our species will become less sane.

So why pick on Aristotle? Briefly, this work is an attempt to recondition the Western mind. Because Aristotle had the last word on philosophy before the Dark Ages, his theories went untouched for centuries and have become engrained in most Western culture. Though Science and Sanity was published in 1933, we still have a long way to go.

Aristotle inherited the primitive language of his day. The language was formed by cultures that did not have the benefits of rigorous analysis. He inherited a mythologized interpretation of reality, a worldview that explained phenomena in anthropomorphic terms without the checks and balances of science. Aristotle used the language of his day to express the laws of “logic”, thus introducing primitive unconscious assumptions about the world to future generations. World events halted the progress of philosophy after Aristotle and his works became canonized. Simply because he was the last word in reason for hundreds of years, his philosophy took deep root in the Western mind.

Aristotle’s assumption of properties in objects and his use of subject-predicate language take the brunt of Korzybski’s criticism. Words are words and things are things and never the two shall meet. No word can ever “be” the thing it describes. When I claim “Mark is lazy”, I overstep empirical means by ascribing to Mark some property of laziness which I have not looked for scientifically. In truth, all I have is my empirical observations of Mark’s behavior. To say “Mark acts lazy” is more accurate to the known facts and describes the world as a dynamic process.

I know this seems like nitpicking, but subject-predicate reasoning leads to unjustified inferences about the world and in extreme cases can lead us to completely false assumptions. Most pernicious is the fact that these assumptions usually go unchecked because they happen unconsciously.

Next on the chopping block is Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle. This is the claim that a thing, A, is either true, or it’s negation, not A, is true, and nothing else is possible. This thought pattern oversimplifies observations in the worst way. Korzybski’s revision encourages a revolt from this two-valued logic to an infinite-valued logic. A person can be wholly inside a house, wholly outside a house, or partially inside and partially outside to any conceivable degree.

Another major consideration is the elimination of elementalism in language. Elementalism describes the breaking down of concepts into constituent elements that cannot exist outside of the whole. Most famously, Newton broke down our reality into ‘space’ and ‘time’ and this verbal trick led countless scientists on the search for the properties of ‘space’ and ‘time’ which led to failure, of course, since there are no such observable things as ‘space’ or ‘time’. Einstein proved that they are inseparable. When we verbally separate them, we must make sure this separation remains on the verbal level. Words are not things.

Another example is the linguistic dichotomy formed between ‘mind’ and ‘body’, two aspects of a whole that cannot exist independently. A man who researches the properties of ‘mind’ while disregarding ‘body’ does himself a disservice because the properties of ‘mind’ involve the ‘body’, and vice versa, to varying degrees. Entities work as-a-whole, and should be analyzed and spoken of as such.

The harm of Aristotlian systems is that they look for The Truth as opposed to a truth. Science and future humanity need languages that correspond to observable phenomena that operate within a context and as-a-whole. Accurate descriptions lead to accurate models of the world, and accurate models lead to sanity. As you might tell from the description so far, the aims of Science & Sanity reach far and deep and aim to completely reformulate many of the thinking-habits of Western culture.

But it doesn’t stop there. You’ll learn about colloidal chemistry, the dynamic gradient, differential calculus, Euclid and Riemann, Einstein and Minkowski, and why nothing truly happens “simultaneously” with anything else. This vast, multidisciplinary approach gives a philosophical and technical basis for using language in clear, unmistakable ways.

Science and Sanity claims that knowledge and language are only accurate when their structure matches the structure of the world. If we rely on words, and the definitions of those words are other words, concrete meaning retreats from us. The true test for a scientifically sound language, according to Korzybski, is that the language matches the structure of the world it represents. More far-reaching still is his insistence that structure is the only true content of knowledge.

Korzybski believes that mathematics most perfectly matches the structure of the world as well as our nervous systems, therefore acting as our most perfect bridge of communication. Since our linguistic processes must make instantaneous assessments of a dynamic world, differential calculus offers an analogy by its ability to provide us with empirically accurate snapshots of processes.

Overall, the work means to enhance our “consciousness of abstracting”, to keep us mindful of the world around us, to differentiate between our observations through lower order nervous centers (sense input) and our higher order abstractions (language, mental models, etc.). “Consciousness of abstracting” offers an scholastic approach to mindfulness, and means to keep us from confusing orders of abstraction. The attempt is to bring scientific clarity to human thought.

While there are large swathes of the book that are quite technical, mathematical and daunting, the underlying principles remain easy to understand (though I should admit that I was somewhat primed for it by Robert Anton Wilson). Chapter to chapter, the exposition is powerful and comprehensive through its nearly 800 pages.

I recommend this book for scientists, linguists, philosophers, and people with time to read.

Neophile, The Gambler

I read that there are two types of people in the world, neophiles and neophobes. Neophiles love new things, ideas and experiences. Neophobes fear new things, ideas or experiences. It seems to me that most of us are essentially hardwired neophobes.

When you learn a new task you form a neural connection. When we establish the connection the task comes easier. When the connection becomes permanent, mastery can happen. The things we’re good at, the things we know and love, the things we usually go back to, are old hat. Every time we choose something familiar we make a case for neophobia.

Even when we make an effort, for instance finding new music, we send feelers out for familiar territory. When I look for a new movie, I look for directors I like, styles I’m into, themes I’ve been satisfied with in the past, etc. Because I like Thomas Pynchon, I will go see the new movie adaptation of Inherent Vice. It’s very rare for me to find something new using none of my normal criteria.

After all, we might try something new and hate it. Sometimes the stakes can be higher, like bungee jumping for the first time. We essentially gamble our time with every decision, so it’s a lot easier to use the information we have to weigh our actions. Based on what I know about myself, I’ll enjoy watching Game of Thrones more than I’ll enjoy dinner at Medieval Times, unless I’m very hungry. After all, if I really wanted to gamble I could stay home and get a room at Castle Jackpot.

But without trying new things, we don’t expand our knowledge of ourselves. So our criteria remains static even though the world is changing all around us and within us. Even if we progress to new things through familiar lines, we can broaden our experiences and generate more possibilities, activate more potentialities, and keep things interesting. Inertia keeps us in familiar loops, but the very intention to try something new can add a curve here or there.

On that note, I hope Pandora comes to Canada.

Close Your Eyes

When I was in university I co-hosted a radio show on CJAM called “Close Your Eyes”. We played a lot of mellow psyche/post rock and instrumental music. Someone came in to talk to us for an article in the university paper and I explained to him our philosophy that music can occupy your complete attention just like a film or concert or television show. You were meant to listen to our show, not just have it on in the background. The article said that I liked music as much as I liked TV. The dude wasn’t listening.

When you sit down to a movie it goes dark and quiet. You face forward and your senses of sight and sound get bombarded by the movie. Sight and sound is all you get, but it’s enough to keep your brain engaged in a continuous flow of attention. I can feel equally absorbed by a record even though it’s only half the input.

Most popular music stations play only lyrical music, unsurprisingly, because our culture talks way too much. But if I pay too much attention to the words of an unfamiliar song, I distract myself from feeling the music. That’s why I love instrumental and ambient music for deep listening, when I have nothing else going on.

I’m not sure why we find it so easy to sit down for an hour television show and so hard to sit down and listen to a forty-minute record. The Breaking Bad finale premiers August 11th, so before you start losing evenings to that, try to close your eyes and take down an album. I caught this one today from my brother Martin on SoundCloud. It’s experimental, ambient, electric, acoustic, weird, great, and shorter than an episode of Breaking Bad.