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

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.

New Year

Niken Anindita aka megatruh is Jakarta based, self-taught digital artist.

I like new years; I like the ritual of pivoting to review the past 12 months and starting anew with minimal baggage.

Some baggage, like habits developed over the year, are valuable —good habits are wise investments. Projects, however, may or may not hold relevance depending upon deliberation.

For some things this annual ritual is about tweaking priorities, for others it’s something new, or something old revisited. But the ritual usually starts with dropping everything carried the year before. A total reset.

Each year ends with a harvest of what came from previous efforts, which may be meager, and a planting of the new year’s seedlings with what was gleaned. And learned. With no regrets for anything incomplete or undone or missing. It is finished. I may restart it, but as something new. The field starts cleared. A system reboot.

Some magical disciplines carry this approach into a daily practice. Before sleep each evening, they review the day in reverse unwinding all the events, watchful for lessons. Leaving the mind ready for restorative sleep with a clean slate. An adjunct practice then imagines the most beautiful image, whatever that might be at the time while drifting off to sleep. Talk about your sleep hygiene!

Halloween Story

A symbiotic organism lives in our body, it has a neural network in our gut, and has 10x more cells than we do … in our “own” body. We call it/them bacteria. They are our ancestors, for 3 billion years. They are intimately tied to much of our well-being: physical aspects of digestion, inflammation, immunity and psychological moods, motivations and depression. To name a few. It’s a little creepy, don’t you think? It’s like those parasitic cordyceps. But ours are for the good, right? And that’s my Halloween story for October. Just wanted to get a jump on it.

Zombie-ant parasitic fungus castrated by hyperparasitic fungus

Ant colonies are protected against brain-manipulating parasitic fungi by another fungus

A dead zombie ant infested with the parasitic fungus Cordyceps. Photograph: David Hughes/Penn State University

The modus operandi of the Cordyceps fungi is the stuff of nightmares. These parasites grow inside their insect hosts by feeding off the non-vital organs, and manipulate the hosts’ behaviour so that they can reproduce. When it is ready to produce spores, the fungus grows into the brain and releases chemicals that make the host climb a plant then attach itself near the top. It then kills its host by devouring its brain, before sprouting a mushroom from the top of its head, which disperses its spores as widely as possible.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy/2012/may/03/zombie-ant-parasitic-fungus

swapping minds

branches

Got notified 6th season of SHIELD is out. I parked it somewhere around the 3rd. Long time ago. So started back at the beginning of season 1. Remembered it was enjoyable, and while not quite remembering stuff, I’m oddly psychic about what might be going to happen. Maybe that’s what happens to people that take the same ride again and again. What a trip reincarnation would turn out to be. Like, here’s my ticket, I’m going to take the ride again and try someth’in different this time

Alright, keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times and here comes the memory reset…

I’ve also pondered, that if my conscious was swapped with another’s, and I had all their memories and experiences but none of my own (abandoned with the vehicle, or traded) then I wouldn’t know I had been anyone else. There would be a continuity of being

And if consciousness shared a multi-tasking pool of hosts that we each spent a few seconds, hours, days, weeks, years inhabiting, before swapping out for the next one. Perhaps taking some virtual guided tour of the human experience. Then, like, that would be weird

Feed Yo Head

We spend time online differently. Some immerse themselves in the political, others random entertainment, others life tips and self improvement, shopping or food porn, celebrity news, stalking, nostalgia, social signaling, special interests, causes and often a mixture of them all.

It’s addictive. The rotating smorgasbord of information kicks our amygdalas into overdrive. The amygdala’s role was/is to keep scanning… for threats, opportunities, looking for differences and what wasn’t there before. Newness. It’s hardwired. It juices our limbic systems.

The skittish survive and pass on their genes. Doesn’t matter they drop dead after procreating from stress related disorders, they served their purpose in propagating our species. That’s how nature works. You’re welcome.

But it can also be leveraged by our nascent executive function, perhaps more to our advantage. The same addictiveness can be attached to a stream of learning and deepening of what is relevant to us. That nourishes us rather than merely distracts and numbs. We can tap incredibly rich veins in a matrix of information, we can feed our souls and spirits rather than our biases, ego and instincts. And subvert the systems of nature and commerce to our soul advantage