Thought is a Virus

I didn’t really understand viruses. Or how they interact with cells. Or what cells even do, for that matter. Luckily, a trove of engaging resources abound for us opsimaths. And it was far more enjoyable (re-)learning this round for personal rather than performative knowledge.

A cell is a little province with a code book for manufacturing. A gene is a recipe from this code book for making a specific protein. How big is the code book? Good question I thought. If my calculations are correct, it contains about 375MB of information with built in redundancies. These instruct operations (i.e. which amino acids and what sequence to put them together) for making ~20k different proteins in humans, each protein with a specific technique for manipulating matter. All orchestrated god knows how.

Returning to the virus then, which is a scrap of code waiting to get stuck to a cell. Not even a living thing by most definitions. It’s just a chassis with code whose shape attaches it to matching contours on cells and dissolves passing instructions through a cell’s membrane. This code rewrites the cell’s code book. It’s sole objective, like most organisms, is simply to replicate. To get the cpu/processor/brain of the cell to execute its program for making its protein building blocks. Which aren’t that many. Because it’s not trying to build a city or province like the cell, which must support functions in a larger organism. It’s just trying to make copies of itself and its escape pods until the cell is so full it bursts and viruses can then float around attaching to more cells.

Thoughts are also similar to viruses. Some thoughts can survive on paper surfaces for centuries and then unfold inside a brain, mobilizing it to replicate its code to other brains through speech or writing. Many spread electronically now.

Credits to Laurie Anderson and her Language is a Virus song, and William Burroughs before that. Language assembles sequences that act like genes, for building functional ways we perceive and interact with reality. Much like proteins work to manipulate matter.

Sometimes replication depends on survival of the host, and even the host’s well-being, in which case it’s called symbiotic. Organism and host work as a team. Microbes of this type make up more of our body than our cells. We are a multitude.

Sometimes, however, an organism is only about its own replication, host or environment be damned. This model is called a pathogen. i.e. “pathos”-producing. Pathos from the Greek “what befalls one.” Concerned only with their own survival and replication, they destroy their hosts with strategies designed to find new hosts.

Information seems to be a fabric of nature, like energy and matter. And code instructs biological processes of growth and maintenance, including processes of our brains. Our thoughts are just as much biology as our cells. Code can build allies, making a union stronger than the parts, making the whole more resilient.

Or code can maximize its own survival, spreading sensationally and utilizing channels and mammalian habitual behaviors in ways that leverage and accelerate its chances to jump ships while its current one is sinking. As media accelerates and globalizes the spread of thoughts, code has unprecedented vectors for both symbiosis and pathology. Until we can quarantine our awareness from thoughts, we will continue to mindlessly and haphazardly embody both.

“I choose to live by choice, not by chance.” — Miyamoto Musashi

Pivot

We take reasonable precautions, but I suspect we either already had, or we will get covid this year and then we will roll the dice. We’re preparing for any combination of outcomes, as best we can. Logistically, psychologically, spiritually. It’s a good wake-up, because we often don’t take our mortality that seriously. The next rising sun is not guaranteed for any of us, and there will be a day, soon or distant, when we leave this body, this existence, this drama and perhaps even these memories. And we will leave alone.

So bringing all the strands of life experience together. Inner housekeeping. Releasing blame, regret, judgment, attachments to suffering, virtue signaling. These outward and temporal identity hedges lose relevance and interest. Sinking into the understanding and exploration of what might be beyond the physical, getting in touch with dreams and thresholds, living in the present, being grateful, speaking/acting with integrity, kindness and wholeness. Stopping trying to fix things, in both self and others. Taking nothing personally, letting impermanent be impermanent.

These are the new priorities. I think our current chances of catching it are low, but it will have many opportunities for ambush. But even if we are snagged, with my conditions probably registering a 1 in 20 chance and my mate maybe a 2 in 20, or less since she is female. Odds I’d definitely bet on in Las Vegas, although not voluntarily with life and death at stake. Still, the best we can do in any case, is to live this year to the max. As if we did not have another. And use this opportunity to learn what that is like.

Margo: “You guys know our life is about to get weirder in some insane way we can’t possible predict?”
Group: “Yes”,”Yes”,”I mean yes”
“And I find that, somehow, perversely comforting”
“So do I”
“And that’s how I know it’s our story”
-Magicians. Season 5

Recommended Reading

pandemics

I have stoic tendencies, so not so good at the consoling stuff —more like: “ok, so that happened, now what?”
with that in mind…

how you feel about the pandemic seems to boil down to three questions…

  1. how do you feel about risk and luck, your luck in particular, given your history, age, condition, beliefs, etc.?
  2. how do you feel about your own mortality, or sense of immortality?
  3. how do you feel about others you might affect, do you think they are on their own trajectories independent of your actions?

there are all sorts and sources of information, opinion, and on the ground reporting, which you may attend, or not —or just enough to get an assessment of the risk. But it all filters back to the same 3 questions, regardless of the source and content of your information, that everyone will answer for themselves, I think. And there are no wrong answers.

it may be a blessing or a curse, to be forced to clarify our stance. regardless, it is a wake-up call

Reconsidering Lucid Dreams

from kentskyo at ddg

I’ve been stepping up to a more subtle relationship with dreams. Instead of just stomping around trying to change stuff, leveraging or seeking entertainment like an ugly tourist, I’m transitioning to a better behaved guest. Realizing lucidity is not a gift but an obligation, to cultivate a consciousness in the waking state too, of the type of thinking and relating done in the dream world. To better understand the messages of both. The key is working with states of consciousness which come bundled with their own capabilities and limitations.

“Rather than act like the lord of the
manor, I would rather behave like a
guest.” — Lao Tzu

In waking, getting dreamy entails a shift of mindset from analytical/verbal modalities to other types of discourse with the body, for example, without words. And with the “field”, all those things “out there” seen and unseen. Images. Flashes. Felt sense. It’s like listening to a new, much fuller conversation about reality. Intriguing intimations flooding in. That I have no idea what to do with. But seems to make me a more trustworthy immigrant in the dream worlds, as I stop trying to over-analyze with waking habits. And I’m being invited to more dream scenarios now, and being less antagonistic.

I believe when the student is ready, the teacher arrives. Mine have usually been in the form of books. Sometimes movies. For others it may be music, synchronistic encounters. This dream world reorientation was nudged by a book from a talented and creative hypnotist, physicist and therapist from Canada with a unique approach and some incredible inductions on the tracks included.

Perception vs Interpretation

I’m learning to draw, and the hardest part of drawing has little to do with the mechanics. Other than learning to use the shoulder more than the wrist or elbow. Nope, to unlock skills in drawing the key is seeing what’s there. Which I naively assumed I was already doing. I was wrong.

This has deeper implications than art but art is proving a visceral way of understanding it.

Perception and interpretation are deeply intertwined. This can be easily demonstrated by any number of optical illusions. Rather than seeing what’s there our brains reform perception to expectations based on habitual cues. It takes shortcuts, in other words.

When trying to draw something the brain seems to identify, categorize and abstract in ways such that we’re no longer looking at outlines, contours, shading and color. Even simple things, like a chair. Or our hands. In fact, it takes sustained effort to unhook our interpretation circuity and see the raw elements of what we’re perceiving. And, like optical illusions, we have to actively fight the tendency to snap back to what we think we are seeing instead of what we actually are.

There are reasons (and experiments) that demonstrate, as tenacious as this is at the sensory level, the habit can be even more insidious on the level of concepts, stereotypes and ideologies. In fact, we seldom realize that we’re usually looking at a map rather than the territory for just about everything. Maps are always condensations of what they represent. By necessity they leave out more than they portray. (Although one of Lewis Carroll’s characters in Sylvie and Bruno proposed a map where 1 mile would be 1 mile but it would be impractical to unfold!)

“The map is not the territory,” is a famous quote from the founder of General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski. He developed a system of mental checks and balances that work much the same way drawing does to keep our attention calibrated to what we are actually seeing. He warns against getting lost in our interpretations and mistaking them for perceptions (intensionality), and proscribes ways to maintain awareness through various tools for calibrating and correcting our maps.

A. Vogt, a famous science fiction writer, wrote about a time when Korzybski’s approach is taught in society at large, like grammar in grade school, resulting in a more sane population. Less susceptible to living in descriptions of the world rather than the world itself.

perchance

Dreams, dreams, dreams. So many…

Last night an elf commented on my scalp. Asked me how long it had been like this? I told them a few years, maybe? They put their hand on my crown, fingers sunk into my skull, wow, that felt good. They said do this… and moved them clockwise, a few inches circumference from the crown. Start at 8 o’clock. But their fingers started at 4. I guess it would be 8 from the inside looking out. I’ve been trying it throughout the day.

Another was in a family home. Lots of kids and relatives. Trying to find privacy, I needed a shower. One cousin had a strange hummingbird, colorful. It was a type of device, like a drone. He could see from his eyes wherever it flew.

Then on a crazy car ride, trying to flee Oklahoma?! Trying to get my GPS to work, trying to figure out how to use my phone. We were escaping the apocalypse, but it could only be seen through the phone, like an augmented reality game. Like Pokemon Go. The phone was showing all sorts of destructive things happening, overlaid on the landscape we were passing, invisible to the naked eye. I was suspicious. Was it actually there, unseen, or was this some game that had enthralled the populace? Are we being invaded on the astral planes?

I was Johnny Depp at a club, dancing, both of our bodies were phosphorescent and psychedelic colors. She was painting something on me with a brush, intimately, and it was almost impossible to get a beer before the show.

Game Changing

Not a review but this book is riveting. The title really does not do it justice, nor indicate its scope. It goes far beyond “smart note taking” and provides a fascinating way to approach learning and leveraging what we already know. The system explored in the book below comes from a public administrator named Niklas Luhmann who was interested in sociology as a hobby. His family ran a brewery. He created a system he called Zettlekasten, German for “card box” which refined a non-linear way of taking notes and thinking about stuff. In the evenings, after his 8-5 at the office, he read up on his interests, made notes (in a specific way) and navigated this system for exploring and connecting ideas.

He ended up writing a paper on sociology that was noticed by a prof at a prestigious University who immediately offered him a job as a professor. For which he had no qualifications. He then took a semester of Sociology and, using his system, Luhmann spun out a couple more papers: a doctoral thesis and a second publication required to formally fill the job requirements in less than a year and was officially appointed as a professor. During his next 30 odd years, as almost a byproduct of engagement with his system, he published more than 70 books and several hundred of papers. His works rocked the field of sociology and brought in new ideas from widely disparate fields. But he never considered the system “work.” For him, it was a creative extension of the mind: discovering, connecting and understanding ideas that fascinated him at the time. Today he is considered one of the most important social theorists of the 20th century

So far I’ve been struck by the approach he uses for learning and thinking which are quite different from anything taught about learning in school. His system is simple, can be implemented with pen and note card like he did, or any electronic system (I’m using Evernote.) Amazing stuff. And practical for anyone who likes to think, who has a variety of interests and wants to explore new ways of understanding. And perhaps publish a book or post or two someday.

Pioneers

Like early pioneers, I wonder as we learn to venture inward, if we will have to cultivate similar skills and resilience as those brave and desperate souls. If the physical is the start of a trail-head, as many believe, then how amazing is it to be stumbling down this byway that will be the “camino” of future historians of consciousness. With tourists flocking to re-experience the wilds their ancestors traversed. And to marvel how they found their way using only primitive instruments like drums and plants.

Anthropology may recount the weird Polynesian-type navigation of reading waves, processes and currents rather than geometry of the stars, the aborigine messengers walking in dream time collecting sign and landmarks. The psychedelic shakedowns stripping stories and personal history. The wyrd sisters, weaving rainbow fabrics of time with chords of runes like streaming divas.

Life goes on in the settlements for now, but there is wilderness all about our sanctuaries. And strange noises break from the jungles and the darkness. “Here be Dragons” has always been our demarcation for the edges of our maps. And the song of our people.