Analysis of day-dreams

Its so hard to stay focused. I spend the majority of my time thinking about something other than the task at hand.

In an effort to try to curb this productivity-killing habit, I reasoned as follows. The day-dreaming must be an artifact of background processing that is attempting to address situations that are important to me, but to which I have denied my conscious attention. Therefore, if I apply my conscious attention to their content, instead of just shaking them off and returning to my work, then I may be able to focus on what I consciously wish to focus on after giving them their due.

I have found “remembering” my daydreams to be at least as hard as remembering my dreams. The impulse to look back for the dream can be linked to the sensation and situation of waking up, but this is far more difficult when one is already awake.

First, I tried keeping a tally of what the dreams were about. I would continue my reading, and when I noticed that I had become distracted, I would add he content of reverie to the tally. Unfortunately, I found that one word was never enough to describe the content, and that it never became a tally because each was unique.

Instead, I started mapping out the major thing I was thinking about and as much of its associational orbit as seemed reasonable. This amounted to about one page of fairly dense little mind-maps in about two hours. While I’m sure that these maps could be thoroughly analyzed to some effect, I haven’t yet attempted this and am overwhelmed by the prospect. However, they are almost perfect free-associations.

So far, the most interesting engagement with this process has been keeping track of the nodes of the graph that are people. Sometimes they are people in my life, and sometimes fictional characters. I began to ask myself what relation I was imagining to these people as they came up. I found that Kohut’s self psychology came in very handy here. Often, I would be imagining myself acting or being in such a way as to be approved of by these particular people. It is important to mention that these were usually surprising to me. These were, in Kohut’s terms, mirroring fantasies. They are attempts to find identity through the eyes of another. At other times, I would find myself conjuring the image of particular individuals as if to say, “it must be okay if so-and-so is doing it.” This is “twinship”. At other times, I would imagine people whose qualities I wish to absorb, and this is ‘idealizing’. I found that the latter was also often inverted, in that I was imagining situations in which I was the idealized other. The prevalence of this particular reversal is typical of my psychology, which is pre-occupied with self-reliance.

This process has also given me new understanding of the Lacanian concept of the Other. What I described above as mirroring, can also be understood as an attempt to address myself to the Other, as personified by these particular people. In other words, to exist through their imagined gaze. The daydreams, in this sense, were attempting to figure out what I would need to be, in order “to be” in the eyes of this Other. When I saw this happening, I drew a small eyeball next to the name. Often, the content of these ‘eyeballed’ topics was the most problematic. I found this practice particularly enlightening.

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Another Good Reason to Worship Spheres

The “singular value decomposition” is a powerful concept that underlies both factor analysis in psychology as well as basic image compression. It is a means of finding ‘the important parts’. It does this by taking the variables in which the information is framed and converting them to variables that are more native to the information itself. It lets the data speak its own language.

The best way that I’ve found to think about this is by imagining the data as a many-dimensional ellipsoid, which is to say an elongated sphere. The idea is that the ‘important part’ is the longest axis of the ellipsoid and the least important part is the smallest. To smush together the long axis would take more smushing than to do the same to the smaller axis, and the point of good compression is to get rid of axes with as little smushing as possible.

For example, say I have data about caring for plants. Maybe I have a hundred input variables for each plant (water, food, sunlight, CO2, etc). It may turn out that, so to speak, what the plant really cares about is the sum of sunlight and CO2 (with the proper conversions), and with this number we can create almost any kind of plant we want. This sum is the longest axis, because it creates the largest variation. It is one less dimension than thinking about sun and CO2 separately, and three less than thinking about all four variables. It may be that the water and food input create almost not effect on the plant, these then are like the really short axes of the ellipsoid, and they are eliminated by the compression. The actual process is at least a little more complicated than this because it is operating on the input and the output simultaneously.

Spherical information is therefore the most difficult to compress. In this context, sphere-ness of the information refers to the process that it measures making equal use of all the information available to it. The more information that it ignores, the more predictable and less entropic it becomes. The process becomes harder to “fool” because it is looking in a lot of different places.

The Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s Dune, for example, are people who have trained to use every bit of information in their environment. Their processing matrices are almost perfectly spherical and they are able to quickly see and exploit the warpings and elongations in those of others. The Voice is an example of this where they are applying energy along the principle axes of another person and thus exploiting their lack of entropy/sphericallity. Of course, the temptation to elongate is ever present, but the fanatic has the least entropy and is therefore very vulnerable/predictable. It is the maintenance of the entropy/chaos that will allow triumph in the eventual war with the machines.

“One must have chaos in one to give birth to a dancing star” -Nietzsche

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Self-absorption as a defense against loneliness, looking inside for what is missing on the outside.

Self-absorption as shelter from otherness, the me in you is the only you for me.

Intolerance of otherness as fear of losing oneself. The part of you that is not me, the part of me that is not you, what becomes of them in the abyss between words?

Only the least lonely and the most lonely are apt to become hermits, those with nothing to lose, and those who wouldn’t risk losing everything…

The Quest, The Fellowship, The Ring

An infinite intersection of open sets may become closed:
The absolute as the intersection of an infinitude of vagaries.

infinitude:vagaries :: exaltation:larks

The blurry boundaries of our intersection give way to the crisp truths that we grope for in Our intersection.

Fuzzy <=> binary
Closed <=> Open
Subjectivity <=> logic
In each of these pairs, one member may become the other at, and only at, infinity.

More Irony

Rationality as self-absorption: the logical content of what you say is precisely that which hasn’t to do with Thou.

Rationality as shelter from otherness: the part of me that is the infinite intersection of subjectivities, that is, my hard rational core, the fantasy of saying that which could be denied by no one.

Rationality as insulation: you will never the part of me that is only in me.

Rationality as control: nothing is ambiguous, nothing can surprise me, now I can finally trust again.

Rationality as alienation: no longer a blurry boundary. Not wanting to risk the part of me that isn’t you, now stuck with the part of me that should be part of everyone. But how can the definitively impersonal satisfy?

Re-behold the stars

The monolith of instrumental thinking, a world of ‘it’ s with particular functions. To have a function is to be a signifier: structuralism and functionalism collude.

The symbolic realm pushes towards the oneness of a point; individuation pushes towards the oneness of all-points, the universe. Reason as intersection; Individuation as union.

The monolith begins the world of I and it, the rational, the technical, the tool-based, the articulated. For Kubrick, the first word was “to kill”.

Yet, thou art other-wordly

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The Bloodlust of Images

Reading my statistics book today I came upon an amazing anecdote.  A study meant to determine the effectiveness of the Samaritans, a group that aimed to curb suicide rates in the 50’s, was criticized for missing an overall downturn in British suicide rates during this time.  The authors suggest that a switch from coal to gas heat is responsible.  Apparently, death by coal heat intoxication was a common method of suicide, and without it, many people simply didn’t bother.

Suicide is a deeply mythic act, and here we see that without the myth, we haven’t the act.  The very image of turning up the coal heater and letting nature take its course must have been enough in some cases to make the difference.  It was apparently the psychic presence of this fantasy that proved irresistible, and not the idea proper.  All suicides are in some way symbolically coherent, mythic images.  Hanging, for example, might say, “The world has judged me harshly, quickly, and perhaps wrongly,” and courts resonances such as lynchings, Jesus, and “the gallows”.  If in some slightly different universe martyrdom were not such a fundamental fantasy, or if we were robbed of our preferred means of enacting it, then perhaps a whole class of suicides would disappear.

The myth is in these cases ingesting lives, feeding on souls, and growing stronger through the acts committed in its image.  It is interesting to contemplate that this is in the realm of the image and not the law, and thus the act is committed very much “in the image of” rather than “in the name of”.  This act is in a sense an attempt to escape the world of laws, names, and words.  Indeed, the power of the image in that it draws us out of this world, and fills us with the desire to be a myth.

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In order for a result to publishable it must be within the probabilistic censor known as ‘p-value’. P-values, in short, measure how likely it is that these observations would happen by accident. Allowing higher p-values causes the information economy to inflate, like lowering the reserve ratio. Our world of uncertainty abandoned the truth standard long before the gold standard ever came into being.

Our tolerance of noise and uncertainty leaves open the question of whether we believe in a definite signal. I once misheard a favorite song of mine, “The Coloring of Pigeons,” which is about the theory of evolution, to have the lyric “More than forms exist in their own right”. It turned out to be “Northern forms existed in their own homes.” The “turned out to be” is what is important here; I maintained a faith that there is a particular lyric that I will hear or mishear, that is, that there is a meaningful distinction between signal and noise. It is a Platonic position, positing a perfect form presented to us imperfectly, through a glass darkly.

But what if more than forms exist in their own right? Evolutionary ontology posits only noise. The “signal” is only a particularly compelling or enduring variety of noise. Research relying on p-values is not cutting through the murk, as much creatively shepherding chaos into form, itself only a variety of chaos.

I call the former faith in the one signal underlying the noise, the idea that things are one particular way, “monotheism.” It has always been the secret basis of science, as is witnessed in the difficulties still lingering over the comprehension of the uncertainty principle.

The mathematical theory of the limit is a unique means of collapsing the distance between these two approaches. The limit is an elegant abstraction of the scientific process itself. Scientific method allows for the uncertainty introduced by the imperfection of its instruments. In high school, this concept is called “significant figures,” and it states that the results of the experiment can have a precision no greater than that with which the inputs were measured. This is the last remnant of what might be called “subjectivity” in science, an imprecision born of the defects of the observing instrument. The limit captures this tension by asking for a guarantee that improving the precision of the input will improve the precision of the output, which is to say that the supposed signal will always remain as more and more noise is removed.

The scientific laboratory is the locus, then, of a sort of redemptive process. Matter is more and more reduced to its eternal platonic form, and the patterns that rule it are likewise seen to emerge with increasing clarity. We can see clearly here the roots of science in alchemy, which explicitly aimed to bring out the eternal within the material as a means of redeeming the metaphysically besmirched (i.e. noisy) nature of the latter. The philosophers’ stone is merely the limit point of the material realm.

The limit does not posit the existence of the signal that it hones in on, merely what that signal would be if it existed. It therefore avoids being monotheistic, although it does gesture in that direction. There are after all plenty of processes with no limit, or with several oscillating points of accumulation. The definition of the limit is the most compelling analytic depiction of becoming, in contrast to being, that western science has produced. It does not say anything about particular existences, but rather the potential for ever-changing becomings. Indeed, one of the greatest critiques of calculus came from Bishop Berkeley, a monotheist, who accused early calculus (prior to its casting in terms of limits) of relying on “ghosts of departed quantities.” These ghosts where later corralled by means of the notion of a limit. The monotheist’s discomfort with calculus is that it is in league with the insubstantial and impermanent. Berkeley’s tract “The Analyst” is an exquisitely abstract witch trial.

Ambiguity is the ultimate monotheistic heresy. Witchcraft functions within the ambiguous and insubstantial wherein signal and noise are undifferentiated, and the question of whether the process is more like weeding your garden or watering it is not asked. Winnicott calls this “transitional space,” and considers its existence to be necessary for psychological health. As the infant begins to differentiate itself from merged symbiosis, it has need of objects that are neither fully internal nor external. Space that is neither subjective nor objective retains its importance throughout life. For example, the mechanism of projection requires it. We relate to another as if he is part of ourselves, yet in that instant he is not fully either a part of ourselves or a part of external reality, and nor would we be able to interact with him at all if he were.

Transitional space is the necessary home of that dance between inner and outer known as artistic creation. Its role in art is attested by Winnicott, but given an even more pleasing exposition by Merleau-Ponty in his essay “The Chiasmus,” or “crossing.” Merleau-ponty, in a maneuver that recalls Schopenhauer’s exposition of “Will,” points to the necessity of that which touches being itself touchable.

Again alchemy becomes relevant. As understood by Jung, alchemy is any process in which inner and outer objects are “worked” simultaneously, in which metaphor allows for erotic distance from ourselves. Every synchronicity or divination is a chiasmus; all meaning must weave internal and external (what Lacan calls the “Button tie”).  Jung’s claim that synchronicities would begin to happen during productive phases of therapy can be understood in terms of an expanded transitional space.  I don’t wish to fall into developmental reductivism that attributes all “mystical” experience to “regression.”  I will say, though, that in the same way young children need to make sense of their world for the first time, those in therapy who are symbolically birthing new part of themselves are having experiences that are parallel to developmental milestones.  Synchronicity reflects an ability to weave meaning into our lives by being open to events that belong to both internal and external reality.  An over-emphasis on objectivity or subjectivity both lead to a sort of psychotic narcissism.

The arts and humanities are the praxis of this weaving. Science and art are the modern differentiation of alchemy into telos and technique respectively. Fritz Perls defines the ego as that which manages boundaries, between figure and ground and self and other. This includes creating them where appropriate as well as allowing them to blur on occasion. The sciences and the humanities play these roles in the collective psyche. Science allows for differentiation of self and other by lessening and collapsing the transitional space wherein meaning, ambiguity, and creativity can function. Scientific thinkers’ accusations of “illogical,” “un-falsifiable,” and “meaningless” are the witch-trials of our time, or put another way, the healthy functioning of the collective ego.  Logic is the differentiation of true and false, which stems from the differentiation between me and not-me.  Magic always happens in the liminal space, where ambiguity can be put to practical use. The arts and humanities, on the other hand, have the complementary purpose of enlarging transitional space and bringing us to together inside of it, which is to say integrating boundaries.

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What story are we in?

Having wondered past a couple cheesy movies lately, I was struck by how even very unsophisticated entertainment has become very self aware.  In “Journey to the Center of the Earth” the character are actually reading Verne’s original novel as a guide to what is happening to them.  Indeed, many movies have this moment where the characters realize, “oh wow I’m in a fairy tale/book/movie”.  This is not so unrealistic either.  Last year in NYC, a shooting in Times Square did not perturb witnesses nearly as much as it should have because, as they all said, “we thought we were in a movie.”  I wonder what the consequences of this are.  Have there been other times in history in which characters in fairy tales knew that they were in fairy tales?  Narrative has long since begun to cannibalize.

Our collective psyche is now capable of lucid dreaming.

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Why Printers Never Work

Computers resent that we still want physical manifestations of information.

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Synchronicity is a Freudian slip that the universe makes.

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Form and Intention

Few ideas are more obviously erroneous than intelligent design and creationism.  Indeed, the extent to which most of modern christianity has literalized its mythos is quite abominable. This idea of ‘truth’ is totally foreign to me. I have to assume that the emotional texture of communal epistemological enmeshment is primary.

Strict behaviorism is another ontology that I find dubious. It cannot account for insight, the means by which there exist behaviors to be reinforced. There is here a lack of distinction between the chaotic and the random. The random is digital; it works within a circumscribed, though not necessarily discrete sample space. Flipping a coin is generally thought of as a random process. Chaos is when it lands on its edge, something that will never happen in a computer simulation.

The fundamental claim of creationism (I will include intelligent design in this term) is the existence of (an) intelligence, a meaningful arrangement, in nature.  Indeed, relativizing the idea of intelligence makes this claim fairly reasonable, it simply posits a similarity between the patterns that underlie human thought and consciousness (“intelligence” can only mean human intelligence) and the structure of larger ecological contexts within which humans are embedded.  In other words, creationism says that the same system that humans belong to and were born of is structured in a way that makes “too much sense” to humans.  This is not so strange; its like a conscious fish marveling at how water is “exactly what it would have thought to create”.

The obligatory grandiosity of creationism originates in alienation.  Only because the fish has forgotten that it developed over time in relation to the water can it marvel over its uncanny suitability.  It is here that we remember that, as Nietzsche wrote, “Christianity is Platonism for the people”.  Interestingly, the best exposition I’ve read of this issue is in Bakunin’s “God and the State”.  Ultimately, the problem of ‘creationism’ is a phantasmic pseudo-question in the antimonial
wake of alienation.  The idea of a creator god reconciles a need to be separate from nature with the un-ignorable affinities that exist between it and our consciousness, affinities that are not so surprising given that we are part of the system.  This need to be above finds its most famous manifestation in Plato’s theory of forms.

The theory of forms is the standard top-down understanding of creation.  Beginning with abstract patterns somewhere in the cosmic mind, the material world slowly coagulates.  In the gnostic telling, this materialization is a degradation.  In any case, this idea of mimesis does set up the mundane world as inherently mediated, and thus sets the stage for alienation, reification, dialectical estrangement and so on.  Alienation is synonymous with mediation; transportability implies a figure-ground relationship that is inherently violent and which ruins the integrity of the  τοπος by creating conspicuousness (in Heidegger terminology).

The crux of evolution is that it is bottom-up.  It leaves behind the digital past of forms; it establishes chaos as ground.  It is thus one of the only serious challenges to platonic thinking.  Evolution, and chaotic causation in general, provides a way out of the many antimonies bequeathed us by platonism.  For example, the paradox of the beginning of the universe.  Chaotic theories can circumvent “unmoved mover” arguments such as those of Aquinas.  Interestingly, there is always a connection between platonism and intentionality.  Establishing ‘mind’ as the fundamental substance automatically implies intention, while materialism (which many argue is just the shadow of platonism) implies a lack of intention, “dumb matter”.  Both of these assumptions are dubious, and I believe that deconstructing these coupled dichotomies is the best prospect in overcoming these impasses.

Behaviorism is anti-intensional.  It aims to explain human being with no recourse to insight or intention.  It does microcosmically what evolution does macrocosmically.    Though, unlike evolution, it does not wish to give an account of the chaotic creative processes.

Tangentially, I’d like to question the commonly understood rivalry between behavioral/cognitive theories and psychodynamic theories.  Psychoanalysis, at least in its infancy, very clearly wished to find causal, which is to say intention-less, explanations of human thought and behavior.  Yet, it was never able to give up the phenomenology at its root.  Jung distinguished himself by becoming the avatar of precisely this eccentric center (like an ellipse) of early psychoanalysis.  Freud, it seems to me, wished to eventually leave behind the phenomenon for a deterministic/causal theory.  But there is an inescapable dissonance between “evenly divided attention” and the hydraulic theory.  This beautiful fracture continues to provide much of the vitality of this subject.

Yet, deterministic causation is a sublimation of intentional or animistic thinking.  Two of my heros have made this observation, but with very different tones.  For Nietzsche, causation was simply one more casualty of his genealogical method, one more delicious irony, and one more example of the roots of ‘reason’ in the irrational.  For J. G. Frazer, however, this genealogy justified a spiritual positivism.  He plotted the shift from a natural philosophy based on material sympathies (magic), to one that relied on intentional forces (religion), to Science, which is based on intentional forces that are entirely conscientious.  Indeed, Frazer macrocosmically parallels the account of consciousness given by behavioralism: gross associations between stimuli become dense enough that something like a “personality” seems to exist.  Therefore, it is possible to read Jung as radically divergent from this line of descent because he positions himself at the point of phenomenological emergence, the physis, instead of aiming to pin down causal structure.  Even though he concentrated on personified portions of the psyche while Freud aimed at mechanics, Jung was less the “magical” thinker.  Ironic.

Having labored to establish this precarious dichotomy, there are a few sparks between the two poles that I want to mention in closing.  Neoplatonic thought posited an ongoing copulation of these two forces that I’ve called bottom-up and top-down.  This was symbolized as two interpenetrating triangles, an emblem that alluded the alchemical elements of water and fire among other things.  This looked like a star of David, and is likely the inspiration for the masonic symbol.  The I Ching represents this alchemical interpenetration of the upwards movement into form and the downwards movement into matter in a similar fashion in hexagram 63, water over fire, the abysmal over the enlightening.  The famous aphorism from the heart sutra that form is emptiness and emptiness form seems to make a similar point.  In renaissance neoplatonism, such as that of Fludd, this point of intersection between the earthly and the divine was symbolized by the sun.  The idea was that this in-between realm was given to humans whose special gift it is to be capable of mediating between disparate realms.  Again this theme of mediation.  The word for this ability comes from the idea of comparing two things or finding their ratio or harmony.  This word is rationality.  The renaissance elevated this solar rationality to a ruling principle.  Therefore, it is fallacious to talk of Copernicus as the emblem of the fracture of human narcissism.  Quite the contrary, the movement to heliocentrism was an equinox of the gods that replaced a world fractured between materiality and divinity with one that revolved around the mediating principle of rationality, the rational principle of mediation, and in short, the human mind.

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Intuition and Sensation

Intuition is a vector; sensation is a point.

There is a principal of uncertainty that animates their animosity.  Some of us want to know what is there, others where it is going.  You can’t have both at once.

The dynamic and the static cannot be understood simultaneously.  The infamous quantum paradoxes are only a contemporary manifestation of the incommensurability of these two ways of being.  Other expositions of the disconnect have been given by both Whitehead and Zeno.

Calculus is a functional solution to the issue.  Indeed, it would seem the be the best compromise of process and particle, being and doing, noun and verb, that the western world has come up with.  It solves the paradox of Zeno by domesticating infinity.

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