Saturday, March 8, 2008

A week to make me glad to be alive

Its been a week to make me glad to be alive. I've reconnected with five or six old friends and rekindled that spark of friendship, done something fun almost every night, made a few new friends, and have had the privilege to read and understand some of the deepest human mysteries. To chronical in reverse order:
Friday there was lots of snow, so I left work around 10:30 and slid my way home, ostensibly to do some more work. I got about an hour in, so I can legitimately call it a half day. I spent most of the day getting nearer to finishing an excellent book: Hofstadter's "I Am a Strange Loop," which is an explanation via metaphor of his theory of the mind and consciousness as being understandable as a "strange loop" (or "tangled hierarchy") where causality seems to be inverted and symbols (representations fo the outside world) cause physical process in the brain. It seems paradoxical, but he shows that paradox isn't a reliable indicator of falsity, via (direct) analogy to Gödel's incompleteness theorem. Sounds forbidding, but I find it a quite understandable way to understand ourselves, and it confirms many of the intuitions I've been rolling around in my mind for some time.
Specifically, in the latter portion of the book, he talks about "I"'s (or "selves") as being instantiable in multiple containers, and of single containers potentially containing more than one self. He also speaks of love as being the "merging of souls," which in this case has the specific and non-mystical meaning of creating a symbol in one's own head that is reflective of the self that exists in the loved one. As the lovers interact, their symbols of eachother obtain a higher and higher resolution, possibly at some point becoming close enough to the other's actual and with sufficient complexity to be considered an autonomous self. Or rather, since this process is happening in both (/all) the entities involved, a single higher-level consciousness is emerging, just separated by bodies. Sound mystical? Consider that the right and left portions of the brain are essentially separate, and can function separately as a whole brain perfectly well. We seem to have one mind because the rate of communication between the hemispheres is very high, and so they seem to be a unified entity. The same phenomenon can occur between people, Hofsteadter suggests, though its limited by the bandwidth of the communication (ie language). He doesn't delve too much into futuristic possibilities, but this immediately reminds me of the scenario I thought up last spring in my "Research and the Creative Arts" class where I was speculating on the potential effects of immersive telepresence and the potential for technology-enabled very-high-bandwidth communication between individuals. Translation: once technology enables conciousness to truely be free of our bodies, souls could merge and fission regularly. Doubt the possibility of technology doing that? Read this, and think deeply and with a little imagination about it.

So that was Friday afternoon. Later I watched a movie that was sub-coincidentally about dreams and consciousness, with a subplot involving technology's questionable forray into the sacred realm of the human spirit. Its an Anime, and its called Paprika. Its beautiful on several levels: deep questions about humanity, relevant nested plots, beautiful visual imagery and cunning symbolism. It was a nice cherry on top of the week.

Thursday night I played paintball. My body is still sore from the exertion (and a bit of the impact!) from running around for four hours in a crouch all swat-team style. In the beginning I was playing all cautious, hiding behind barriers and trying to snipe people's guns when they poked out, and getting hit in the same way as often as not. After a while I decided that that strategy wasn't exciting enough, so I decided to take the "dumb" strategy, which involves a lot of shooting while running, tripping over barriers, slipping on the paint in the floor, a whole lot of getting shot, and even a little bit of hitting other people. As we were all running of paint, I made up my mind to take the kamikaze route and just run to the other team's side and fire till I was out of ammo. This being firmly my intention, I run out all rambo style, strafing from the hip. Once the whole team recognized my presence (and shot at me), something like this went through my head: "ow ow Ow OW FUCK OW!" whereupon I huddled in a ball and put my gun in the air. So much for courage overcoming pain. My welted body suggests that I shouldn't do that again, but now I know as bad as it can get and have less reason to fear slightly less stupid strategies. Afterwards I went out for beer with a couple of colleagues. I've been pretty reclusive at work, not bothering much to make friends with people, whereas one of my beer mates seems to be an admirably social fellow. I see him talking amiably with all sorts of people at work, no doubt learning many interesting things and finding good ways to get things done. Question in my mind: should I adopt the same strategy, or rely on someone with the expertize as a go-between?

Wednesday night I played Chess. Matt has a friend who's renting an old warehouse in the west side and using it as an art gallery/music venue, called Murmur. I've been up there once before, it has a really neat feel to it, like people pursuing their artistic vision without compromise and making it work. The last time I was up there they had a couple of really bizzare musical acts; really just pure noise somehow made interesting. This time the first band (called "Too White") was a sort of "surf rock" instrumental band, and they were really, really good. Matt turns to me with a big smile and says "Its not experimental! I forgot what that was like!" They rocked hardcore. Thats probably not the best description, but I felt really privileged to have heard them play live. I couldn't stick around for the other two acts unfortunately, what with "work" in the morning. What a bummer.
Anyway, before that I played a few games of Chess with Matt, his brother Steve, and and amiable artist named David. I felt like there was a pretty high level of play, and I was about in the middle. Its both frustrating and exciting to recognize that I'm average at something: its frustrating to loose, but its also exciting to encounter someone greater than oneself and see that there's more to achieve. I didn't get a chance to play with Issac or... tragically I've forgotten the other player's name. I've got the impression that he was the best of the bunch, and I drank some of his wine, so I feel bad for having forgotten. Sorry bro! Funny; before he started playing I assumed he wouldn't be good because he called certain pieces "castles" and "horses." Fine example of misleading appearances!

Tuesday night, I read a good portion of "I am a Strange Loop" at Highlands (coffeeshop), then went to hang out with an old friend at the Lions Den. Ian and I have been out of contact for a couple years, which is a shame because we always have such spirited conversation. I think that I decided he was to philosophically far off during a time I was particularly enthralled with Objectivism (he was similarly enthralled with Existentialism at the time), and we kinda stopped seeking each other's company. It's interesting to talk again now that we've both become more well grounded; it reminds me to keep in mind that everyone (including myself) is in the process of development, and not being friends with some one on the basis of the things that either person currently believes is silly. In fact, I think its possible more interesting sometimes to be friends with people who contrast sharply with oneself; their perspective is likely to add new dimensions to one's thought.

Monday night I read. Sunday afternoon I also read, but in an interesting context. I decided to go to a coffee shop, just to be out in public and let things happen to me. I tried to go to Taza (formerly the Buzz), but they're currently not open on sundays. So in the spirit of letting things happen to me I decided to walk to Baba's rather than drive. Nearly there, a girl and I come close to collision as she's stepping out of a building onto the sidewalk. Turns out she's also going to Baba's, and she and I wind up admiring the art a the same time (partially a result of the decision to walk!). We strike up a conversation, and we have what turns our to be a really inspiring discussion about art, theater, the mind, and what I'll call "life's paths." It was a nice affirmation that I can still talk amicably with people I don't know, even after a period of reclusion. Partially, no doubt, a result of the interestingness of the other party in the conversation. Who, incidentally, indicated very subtly that she wouldn't be interested in a romance (or so I interpreted). I find that its interesting how difficult it is to disentangle the separate interests I have in a person. Part of the human condition I suppose; the intellectual is tied intimately with the primal.

So now I'm finishing "I Am a Strange Loop," and trying to decided which book I should pick off my stack to enjoy next! I think in light of the preceding conversation, I'll revisit Aristotle's Poetics.

1 comment:

Paul Murphy said...

Linking of interesting concept. I might suggests that teh symbols are so that we can explain it. While they maybe required...I am not sure intellectualizing them is required.

The trouble with love is lust confuses things. Focus on love many and the rest will come where it is natural. When it happens that way it is more meaningful and thus the whole experience is that much better.

If you can hold hands you can make love...otherwise it is just lust. Lust is just exercise that messes with the mind. I'd rather work out.