Prozac blues.

No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious & charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED
FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
WAS MUSIC

***

Back to music. It makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she would be without it. Even military bands, although I am a pacifist, always cheer me up. And I really like Strauss and Mozart and all that, but the priceless gift that African Americans gave the whole world when they were still in slavery was a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit. That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues. All pop music today—jazz, swing, be-bop, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Stones, rock-and-roll, hip-hop, and on and on—is derived from the blues.
 
A gift to the world? One of the best rhythm-and-blues combos I ever heard was three guys and a girl from Finland playing in a club in Krakow, Poland.
 
The wonderful writer Albert Murray, who is a jazz historian and a friend of mine among other things, told me that during the era of slavery in this country—an atrocity from which we can never fully recover—the suicide rate per capita among slave owners was much higher than the suicide rate among slaves.
 
Murray says he thinks this was because slaves had a way of dealing with depression, which their white owners did not: They could shoo away Old Man Suicide by playing and singing the Blues. He says something else which also sounds right to me. He says the blues can't drive depression clear out of a house, but can drive it into the corners of any room where it's being played. 

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Brain's the enemy.

Mary had also taught that the human brain was the most admirable survival device yet produced by evolution. But now her own big brain was urging her to take the polyethylene garment bag from around a red evening dress in her closet, and to wrap it around her head, thus depriving her cells of oxygen.

Before that, her wonderful brain had entrusted a thief at the airport with a suitcase containing all her toilet articles and clothes which would have been suitable for the hotel.

Her colossal thinking machine could be so petty, too. It would not let her go downstairs in her combat fatigues on the grounds that everybody, even though there was practically nobody in the hotel, would find her comical in such a costume. Her brain told her: ‘They’ll laugh at you behind your back, and think you’re crazy and pitiful, and your life is over anyway. You’ve lost your husband and your teaching job, and you don’t have any children or anything else to live for, so just put yourself out of your misery with the garment bag. What could be easier? What could be more painless? What could make more sense?’

Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute. 

So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?

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"Life is very unpopular here."

The most horrible hypocrisy or the most terrifying hypocrisy or the most tragic hypocrisy at the center of life, I think, which no one dares mention, is that human beings don't like life. Bertrand Russell skirted that, and many psychoanalysts have too, in talking about people lusting for death. But I think that at least half the people alive, and maybe nine-tenths of them, really do not like this ordeal at all. They pretend to like it some, to smile at strangers, and to get up each morning in order to survive, in order to somehow get through it. But life is, for most people, a very terrible ordeal. They would just as soon end it at any time. And I think that is more of a problem really than greed or machismo or anything like that. You know, you talk about the dark side of life: that's really it. Most people don't want to be alive. They're too embarrassed, they're disgraced, they're frightened. I think that's the fundamental thing that's going on. Those of you with your devotion to peace and all that are actually facing people perhaps as brave and determined and resourceful and thoughtful as you are on some level. And what they really want to do is to have the whole thing turned off like a light switch.

(...)

When I'm engaged in any action I have to take into consideration that many of the people on either side of me don't care what happens next. I am mistrustful of most people as custodians Of life and so I'm pessimistic on that account. I think that there are not many people who want life to go on. And I'm just a bearer of bad tidings really. You know, I just got born myself and this is what I found on this particular planet. But life is very unpopular here, and maybe it will be different on the next one. 

(...)

It seems to me the whole world is living like Alcoholics Anonymous now, which is one day at a time, and it seems to me that President Carter is living that way too. Every night when he goes to bed he cackles, "By God, we made it through another day! Everybody said I was a lousy President, and here we've survived another day. That's not bad." We are living day by day by day now, but there seems to be very little restraint in the world. What an alcoholic does every day is not take a drink, and only not take a drink for a day. But I see no real restraint with regard to warlike actions. If we were truly interested in surviving, and having sobriety, each day we would congratulate ourselves not for merely having gotten through another day but for making it without a warlike gesture. But there is no such restraint. More weapons are manufactured every day and more arguments are gladly entered into and more enormous, dangerous lies are told, so there is no restraint. It would be truly wonderful if we could live as alcoholics do, to be unwarlike for just another day. We don't. We're totally warlike, and sooner or later something's going to go wrong. The book I'm working on now is about a kid, he's grown now, grown and in his 40s and his father was a gun nut. It was a house with dozens of guns in it. At the age of 11 this kid was playing with one of his father's guns, which he wasn't supposed to do, put a cartridge into a 30-06 rifle and fired out a goddamn attic window and killed a housewife, you know, eighteen blocks away, just drilled her right between the eyes. And this has colored his whole life, and made his reputation. And of course this weapon should not have existed. He was brought into a planet where this terribly unstable device existed, and all he had to do was sneeze near it. I mean, it wanted to be fired; it was built to be fired. It had no other purpose than to be fired and the existence of such an unstable device within the reach of any sort of human being is intolerable. 

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Man created God in his own image and likeness, on Halloween.

The gods play games with the fate of men. Not complex ones obviously, because gods lack patience. Cheating is part of the rules. And gods play hard. To lose all believers is, for a god, the end. But a believer who survives the game gains honour and extra belief. Who wins with the most believers, lives.

Believers can include other gods, of course. Gods believe in belief.

There were always many games going on in Dunmanifestin, the abode of die gods on Cori Celesti. It looked, from outside, like a crowded city.* Not all gods lived there, many of them being bound to a particular country or in the case of the smaller ones, even one tree. But it was a Good Address. It was where you hung your metaphysical equivalent of the shiny brass plate, like those small discreet buildings in the smarter areas of major cities which nevertheless appear to house one hundred and fifty lawyers and accountants, presumably on some sort of shelving.

The city's domestic appearance was because, while people are influenced by gods, so gods are influenced by people.

Most gods were people-shaped: people don't have much imagination, on the whole. Even Offler the Crocodile God was only crocodile-headed. Ask people to imagine an annual god and they will, basically, come up with the idea of someone in a really bad mask. Men have been much better at inventing demons, which is why there are so many. 

*Few religions are definite about the size of Heaven, but on the planet Earth the Book of Revelation (ch. XXI, v.l6) gives it as a cube 12,000 furlongs on a side. This is somewhat less than 500,000,000.000,000,000,000 cubic feet. Even allowing that the Heavenly Host and other essential services take up at least two thirds of this spate, this leaves about one million cubic feet of space for each human occupant-assuming that every creature that could be called 'human' is allowed in, and that the human race eventually totals a thousand times the number of humans alive up until now. This is such a generous amount of space that it suggests that room has also been provided for some alien races or - a happy thought - that pets are allowed.

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Matter Turns Intelligent.

Hydrogen…, given enough time, turns into people.
Edward Robert Harrison, 1995

One of the most spectacular developments during the 13.8 billion years since our Big Bang is that dumb and lifeless matter has turned intelligent.

(...) there’s clearly no undisputed “correct” definition of intelligence. Instead, there are many competing ones, including capacity for logic, understanding, planning, emotional knowledge, self-awareness,  creativity, problem solving and learning. (...)

intelligence = ability to accomplish complex goals

This is broad enough to include all above-mentioned definitions, since understanding, self-awareness, problem solving, learning, etc. are all examples of complex goals that one might have. It’s also broad enough to subsume the Oxford Dictionary definition—“the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”—since one can have as a goal to apply knowledge and skills. Because there are many possible goals, there are many possible types of intelligence. By our definition, it therefore makes no sense to quantify intelligence of humans, non-human animals or machines by a single number such as an IQ. (...)

It’s natural for us to rate the difficulty of tasks relative to how hard it is for us humans to perform them, as in figure 2.1. But this can give a misleading picture of how hard they are for computers. It feels much harder to multiply 314,159 by 271,828 than to recognize a friend in a photo, yet computers creamed us at arithmetic long before I was born, while human-level image recognition has only recently become possible. This fact that low-level sensorimotor tasks seem easy despite requiring enormous computational resources is known as Moravec’s paradox, and is explained by the fact that our brain makes such tasks feel easy by dedicating massive amounts of customized hardware to them—more than a quarter of our brains, in fact.

I love this metaphor from Hans Moravec: "Computers are universal machines, their potential extends uniformly over a boundless expanse of tasks. Human potentials, on the other hand, are strong in areas long important for survival, but weak in things far removed. Imagine a “landscape of human competence,” having lowlands with labels like “arithmetic” and “rote memorization,” foothills like “theorem proving” and “chessplaying,” and high mountain peaks labeled “locomotion,” “hand-eye coordination” and “social interaction.” Advancing computer performance is like water slowly flooding the landscape. A half century ago it began to drown the lowlands, driving out human calculators and record clerks, but leaving most of us dry. Now the flood has reached the foothills, and our outposts there are contemplating retreat. We feel safe on our peaks, but, at the present rate, those too will be submerged within another half century. I propose that we build Arks as that day nears, and adopt a seafaring life!"

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Disobedience

Human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be terminated by an act of obedience.

Human history was ushered in by an act of disobedience according to the Hebrew and Greek myths. Adam and Eve, living in the Garden of Eden, were part of nature; they were in harmony with it, yet did not transcend it. They were in nature as the fetus is in the womb of the mother. They were human, and at the same time not yet human. All this changed when they disobeyed an order. By breaking the ties with earth and mother, by cutting the umbilical cord, man emerged from a pre-human harmony and was able to take the first step into independence and freedom. The act of disobedience set Adam and Eve free and opened their eyes. They recognized each other as strangers and the world outside them as strange and even hostile. Their act of disobedience broke the primary bond with nature and made them individuals. "Original sin," far from corrupting man, set him free; it was the beginning of history. Man had to leave the Garden of Eden in order to learn to rely on his own powers and to become fully human.

The prophets, in their messianic concept, confirmed the idea that man had been right in disobeying; that he had not been corrupted by his "sin," but freed from the fetters of pre-human harmony. For the prophets, history is the place where man becomes human; during its unfolding he develops his powers of reason and of love until he creates a new harmony between himself, his fellow man and nature. This new harmony is described as "the end of days," that period of history in which there is peace between man and man, and between man and nature. It is a "new" paradise created by man himself, and one which he alone could create because he was forced to leave the "old" paradise as a result of his disobedience.

Just as the Hebrew myth of Adam and Eve, so the Greek myth of Prometheus sees all human civilization based on an act of disobedience. Prometheus, in stealing the fire from the gods, lays the foundation for the evolution of man. There would be no human history were it not for Prometheus´ "crime." He, like Adam and Eve, is punished for his disobedience. But he does not repent and ask for forgiveness. On the contrary, he proudly says: "I would rather be chained to this rock than be the obedient servant of the gods."

Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience. Not only was his spiritual development possible only because there were men who dared to say no to the powers that be in the name of their conscience or their faith, but also his intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient--disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense.

Erich Fromm