We Make Brains

Art + the Brain: Stories and Structures
California Nanosystems Institute, UCLA
November 14, 2014


- I'm a physician specializing in the treatment of pain. I do brain surgery, but would like to avoid it if there's a better alternative. Your MRI research shows different brain states for someone lying and someone telling the truth. Some of my patients are able to tell themselves there is no pain, and they stop feeling pain. Sometimes a suggestion from a hypnotist does the same. Do you think your research will enable us to identify the mechanism involved here and set it in motion?
- Pain is real.
- Yes. But for some, lying about it makes it go away.
- I'd be happy to discuss this with you afterwards off the record.


- Hi.
- Nice to meet you.
- Likewise. While waiting to go off the record with the professor can I ask, suggest something?
- I agree of course that pain is real. If I kick my rabbi, he's feels it, even if I assure him he doesn't.
- I'd like to kick a few rabbis myself. I was thinking that in hypnosis, whether you do it to yourself or another does it to you, two things are happening. First, we make a break, decide not to act. We decide to reflect. We will let someone else tell us what to do, or do the telling ourselves as if it really is someone else telling us. Up until now the self we are wants to respond to the pain we feel. But this other, suggesting self, takes upon itself the decision to do nothing. Pain is associated with unthinking response. When we rule out response - in meditation, or maybe confusing response by the simultaneous multiple minor pains of acupuncture needles, or an outside hypnotist - we rearrange the organization of our experience, reevaluate importance of information so it does not lead to the report of pain which is inapplicable if there is to be no response. That re-organization can be near immediate. If this is possible, there is no actual lying going on.
- What do you do?
- I write stories.
- That's why you're so smart. I've got to go to eat. See you later maybe.


- Interesting.
- Are you with the Doctor?
- Yes. I have to go.
- What did you find interesting?
- The reality of pain like everything else is a matter of perspective.
- Is it a matter of perspective if the Defense Department, currently funding brain research to determine the best techniques of persuasion, uses the results to lie more persuasively to us?
- If the government tightens up society that is a natural thing. We are social beings.
- Are you serious? You don't mind having your life completely controlled?
- We already are all controlled. We just don't think of it. We act by instinct.
- We are both social creatures and act by instinct. If we are persuaded by our government to kill the Jews and everyone else we don't like, and set our instincts free doing it, that's fine, you're good with it?
- I didn't say that.
- What did you say?
- We just think we are free.
- We have no consciousness.
- Consciousness is an illusion.
- The professor talked about the difference between using charts to gather information, showing simply the effect of one or a few measured features on a few other features, and taking so called "global" pictures with MRI scans. He didn't go into this, but for example in researching new drugs it is common to begin with a gene responsible for a disease, identify the protein it directs the production of, and then attempt to counteract the effect of that protein. It is not necessary to understand how the disease actually develops, and use that knowledge to stop the process. We need only to take before and after pictures and look for change. Now, this is the problem. The brain is organized as a network. Each node has its own history and disposition, and responds to the other nodes. We can see globally all the nodes and their interactions together in a picture, but we miss the story of one node's disposition, the story of how its past history affects its present response to the other nodes.* What looks like a lie from the global perspective can from the local perspective look like a reasonable reorganization.
- How?
- You heard the other UCLA professor's talk about his project, rather than simulating brain network activity in a computer program, building a model of brain network directly?
- No. I must have missed it.
- Working directly with molecules, after "culturing" them to fall into network arrangement, he figured out how to create a chemical switch at the nodes, which turned on after a number of visits from electrical current. That gave the nodes a memory of past actions on it from other nodes, and similarity to how our brains work. When connected to a current videos show concentration of activities in one region after another, similar to what is seen in human brains, as an open passage facilitates more passage. What if when we tell ourselves we aren't going to act, we turn off the current as it were, then turn it on again, letting a spontaneous reorganization occur something like what we can see happening in the molecular network? From the history of the individual that reorganization would not be a lie at all.
- We can't turn ourselves on and off.
- Not if we aren't conscious. But if we are conscious, turning ourselves off is simply to stop and think. Stop acting, start reflecting.
- Reflection is acting too.
- It is the action of ourselves thinking of ourselves.
- Caused by outside influences.
- Such as hypnosis?
- Yes.
- And if we hypnotize ourselves, as many can do?
- We are caused to do that.
- What if that is just how it looks like when you take pictures, scoop up the data, and don't follow the history of each path? I asked the brain engineer afterwards what he thought the social implications were of his work. He said it has been suggested there was some connection to Buddhism. What? I asked. The individual losing his identity in the group, he said. No, I said, god in the group? In the network? That didn't work. That was all body. All causality. No spirit. God was not in the network, but in the guy who made it. He was the god of his network.
- What did he say?
- He smiled. Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan project that developed our nuclear bomb, famously said, quoting Indian Scriptures, We Have Become Gods, or words to that effect.** The pain sufferer who "lies" to himself that he feels no pain is being god to his network, turning it on and off, allowing it to reorganize itself more appropriately. That god-like action, seen in before and after maps of brain activity, is only a lie, and perhaps the success of the lie. Studying however how the network works from the perspective of the individual tells a different story.
- But we are not gods to ourselves turning ourselves on and off.
- We are turning our attention from outside to inside. In fact we do that for reasons coming from outside, but once we turn away in what the spiritual call conversion our own history determines our choices.
- I've got to go.
- If you've got to go you've got to go. God be with you.
- You're not funny.
- Say hello to the doctor for me.

Further Reading:
Bird Song & Machine Talk
* More people living in democracies say they are happy than those that don't. Does that mean democracy creates happiness? Impose democracy on unhappy people and it doesn't last long. Then does happiness lead to democracy? Obviously not, since many of the countries with more people who say they are happy don't live under democracy. Historical, intellectual, cultural factors apply. But in general, happiness is related to democracy, and it may be true, in general, both that happy people will eventually get democracy, and that eventually more people living under democracies will be happy. The "global" relation of happiness and democracy is a matter of probability, which is good enough for certain kinds of decision making. It is good enough, for example, for machine translation of one language to another. It is not good enough for machine production of language, except when that is only the translation of the language of the machine into human language. It is not good enough to know what makes people happy. Happiness, which the productive (creative) use of language relies on, is a confidence that means are at hand to achieve the ends of the moment. No general picture of the state of the world will be able to answer the question whether those means are supplied the individual. Democracy isn't going to make people happy if they don't know how to use it. Happy people are not going to make democracy last if the economic underpinnings of the peoples' happiness are removed.

** "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another." - J. Robert Oppenheimer

Bird Song & Machine Talk

- I'm famous, you know.
- I don't recognize you.
- I'm the poorest person in Beverly Hills. I'm the Pope Of The Poor, quote unquote, front page story in the Times. Come to my house, I'll show you the paper.
- And I thought I was the poorest person in Beverly Hills. Where do you live?
- Above Whole Foods. The only federally subsidized low income retirement housing in Beverly Hills.
- How much do you pay?
- 200 dollars. Actually less.
- Why are you the Pope Of The Poor?
- I give classes in improvisation, I do videos: interviews, documentaries...
- About what?
- Being old and poor in Beverly Hills. Come to my house. I'll show you.
- Will they let me in?
- Why not?
- I'm not old.
- Are you saying I'm old?
- How old are you?
- 74. Do you think that's old?
- I was at an conference last night at UCLA where the name most mentioned was that of a 84 year old.
- Who?
- Noam Chomsky. Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, retired.
- Is he married? Is he rich?
- Not married. Probably rich.
- How do you know?
- His wife died recently.
- So he's probably still active. He can marry again.
- You can ask him yourself. He answers email from everyone.
- Write down his name.
- I'll say it slowly. N-o-a-m C-h-o-m-s-k-y. Memory needs to be exercised. You don't want to get senile.
- You're not funny.
- Why does the Pope Of The Poor in Beverly Hills want to marry a rich man?
- Why else? She's poor.
- Well, Pope Of The Beverly Hills Poor, after living 74 years aren't you tired of all this Beverly Hills talk about money? Of the endless calculations of what you have to do to get money, of who you have to know, of how you have to sell yourself? Aren't you tired of everyone sitting alone in their houses calculating? Do you know what I do when I'm alone?
- Are you married?
- I had a Hungarian wife a couple years. I still could be married. I'm not sure.
- That's impossible.
- It's possible. If you were married to a Hungarian you'd understand.
- I was married to a Hungarian.
- Really? What happened to him?
- I divorced him. He was obsessed with pornography.
- That's not what I do alone. Though some might say there's a similarity. Every morning I cause about a million messages to appear on computer and phone screens across the world when there owners log into their social media accounts. It takes about 15 minutes, about 100 messages sent to about 10,000 social media accounts. What comes back to me are statistics saying about 1,000 times people have clicked on the message links and been taken to one story or another I've written. Something is happening with all this language, all these machines put into action, but I don't think it is communicating. Do you ever go to the UCLA campus?
- Sometimes. What about it?
- The conference I attended was both on device art - artwork that incorporates machines - and on the work of the federally funded big time UCLA team researching bird songs. According to its director they are within one month of proving birds use a language like our own.
- Bird language research, art machines: what's the connection? Besides they cost a lot of money.
- Maybe that is the connection. I don't know what the people at the conference said, I came late and didn't get around to asking what they were getting at. My guess is something like, if we are to successfully integrate machines, computers included, into our lives, for good not bad, we need to know what computers can do and what we can do, where the beginnings of one end and the other begins. We don't want computers degrading us by making us like them, and we don't want our limitations as living beings stop us from taking advantage of the strengths of a computer. Anyway, the most popular device art sitting on a shelf waiting to be put on by us guests was an apparatus you could put on your head, covering your eyes, that projected sound focused in a single direction. If you were close to someone wearing the device you could feel a wave of vibration move over your face as the wearer blindly swiveled his head in your direction. You'd feel something like birds feel when they use the same high frequency sound for echo location. I think the statistics I get back out of the my message sending are such an echo location.
- Is anyone really reading?
- Maybe, but again this bird like call and response activity I'm executing is not what I'd call communication.
- What would you call it?
- Thinking with language. Language is used for thinking before it is used for communication.
- Everyone in my building talks to themselves.
- I believe you. Every morning I send out messages like a bird greeting the morning with song. I'm operating a device, the internet. I play with it. As if language were a machine I play with language. In return there's this echo of statistics sweeping over me. It feels good. There are people out there, I'm sending out messages, I know messages are going out there, their echo comes back to me as part of the morning. I greet the morning like the bird sings its song. But messages don't change the world.
- Why do you want to change the world?
- That's what human being do.
- No one can change the world.
- The world can be changed but messages can't do it. Something else can.
- What?
- Practices. Practices that are of a kind that help words be understood. Practices that transform thinking into communication.
- You need to practice your messaging. I don't understand you.
- Ok. You're the poorest of the poor in Beverly Hills. In Westwood Village there's this tall, always hooded old man, his grey beard a foot long, who at a crawling pace pushes one at a time, in relays, one quarter block at a time, two carts overloaded with black trash bags themselves overloaded with recyclables, paper and plastics cups mostly, never redeemed. They represent to him his treasure, like jewelry for other people represents their wealth. A morning not long ago one cart was on the left of the entrance to Extreme Pizza, he was passed out in its shade, and on the right side of the entrance was his other cart. UCLA students were strolling past unconcerned. I slowed down, asked a student who passed me didn't he think it was a sign of the times that people take an interest in extreme pizza but not in extreme life? What extreme life? he asked me, confused. The old man dying unremarked on the street as hundreds of people go by, I said.
- What did he answer?
- Nothing. He didn't get it. To understand, to sympathize, there has to be shared experience.
- Of dying on the street?
- Of doing things with other people in a way that creates community.
- Helping.
- Helping each other do things together. The doing things together is as important as the helping.
- People don't do things together. I see kids my grandchildren's age in restaurants. They are on a date but they don't look at each other. They push buttons on their phones.
- Say I'm like one of the artists at the conference. I make a device, not to help people communicate, but instead send them to each other to build things with each other. Suppose I advise the world that to save itself it needs to set set up a social media site where each member, after submitting profile information, is greeted going on the site with the question, what do you want to make? A school, a labor union, a political party, a house, a toy? And asked, do you want to find someone to work with you interested in doing the same?
- That's cool. Why don't you do it yourself?
- To take that step I'd need people to step out with, right? And I don't find them and they don't find me.
- You need to have the site first to find them.
- So it seems.
- So you send out one million messages a day, including I assume some about that site?
- Yes.
- And you receive back this wave of bird transmission-like echo of a thousand reflecting clicks. You know there is something out there. You've sung your song to it. But that isn't communication. What is it?
- It's song. Thinking without communication. No one has done anything with me, and no one wants to. I'm singing to the morning. I'm doing echo location, talking to myself, I'm locating my position in the world, I'm reassuring myself something is out there in the world to start my day with, that some possibility awaits.
- Maybe that's what the bird thinks too.
- Maybe. The UCLA language study worked by identifying a thousand different phrases in the song of one species of bird, and then letting the computers do their thing on the data, looking for connections. The result was that some phrases were found to be significantly more commonly followed by some others. Bird language has a hierarchical structure, as Chomsky had argued our language does.
- Chomsky. The rich guy.
- Your future husband. He famously argued that language couldn't be learned just by doing what the UCLA computers are just beginning to do with bird language. There had to be an inborn facility, a language organ, to recognize the structure of language, to tell us where to look for significance. Maybe no one found bird language before this study because no one knew what to look for. We were like babies with no inborn knowledge. UCLA decided to look for what we do with language without having to learn how to do it, and they found what they were looking for.
- What is a language organ?
- A kind of machine that processes information. A word is a kind of habit, and a habit is the operation of a machine. Our habits instruct us: when the world is like that, do this. Habits can influence the development of other habits, their strengths. Habits are invisible machines, and we play with them like the artists at UCLA intend us to play with the devices they make. When we speak we go word by word, each choice influencing the later choices, but unsure of how exactly the sentence will be completed. The words, being habits, "want" to be spoken, and we choose between them as they vie for our attention. If, that is, there is attention, because we can also make a habit out of how we speak, a habit of our choice of words. That's why there can be communicating without thinking, the bird mechanically warning of danger, if that is all it is doing. Just as there may on the contrary be thinking without communicating, which is what I'm doing when I sing to the morning my million messages. I'm starting a conversation, but the response is only an echo, telling me something is going on out there but whatever it is it is not communication.
- Why not?
- People out there in the internet world can't reconstruct the choice between words I've performed, and that is what is necessary for understanding.
- Why can't they?
- Because they are not practicing themselves this choice between habits. Instead of making a web site that sends people to each other to do things, they make a web site to help people meet all on the same page to discuss political and social and work issues. But this is like the bird warning of danger. It is something that's "to be done" according to instructions. A habit. Something mechanical. It is communication without thinking. No artist works the device. The professor was talking about this, actually. Waiting for the lecture portion of the evening to begin a small group had gathered in a circle around him. I stood a little distance away and listened. The uncertainty, he explained, in deciding whether communication involved thinking was brought out by the Turing Test. Would a computer answering questions inside a closed room be able to fool someone outside that it was human? In other words, was there something other than communication involved in being human? In another thought experiment, "The Chinese Room", a man puts himself in the position of the computer in the Turing test. He is given instructions in English for translating one Chinese text to another, an operation that can be done without him knowing Chinese by simply looking at the shape of the characters. To the Chinese speakers outside the room it seems like a question they've asked in Chinese has been correctly answered in Chinese. The implication is that we can't tell from the communications alone whether consciousness is behind them.
- Did the professor think birds were conscious?
- He said no one, including him, has been able to solve the Turing test. I told him I could.
- You can? You really are an egomaniac. You should seek treatment.
- I'm getting the treatment now.
- Whatever.
- I said that computers have programmers who made them, but computers don't have the same kind of connection to their makers that a human being does to the past self that made his present self.
- What past self?
- A self with different habits of speaking. At this point in my exposition the professor turned away and went back to talking with the others.
- He didn't know what you were talking about. I don't either.
- Computers don't have direct access to their programmer. However they can, and computers used for research already do, learn to program themselves. On the basis of the new results of their latest experiments they construct new hypotheses and reprogram themselves to investigate them. Got it?
- Pretend I do.
- Now human beings have something like a programmer. We call it the unconscious. I was taken as a guest to a self improvement seminar the night before the UCLA event. Gurus of these cults make a good living helping people dredge out of their past what they "don't know they don't know". That is, something from the past they don't know about that is stopping them from learning what they need to know to get what they want in the present.
- A mental block. Repressed trauma. Among my other lives I was a psychotherapist.
- Like you were married to a Hungarian.
- I'm telling you the truth.
- Guests and members in attendance were offered three autobiographical cases, the testimonials of three satisfied paying customers. The first told how she'd stopped loving her father, he was dying then, and she'd wanted a new start with him. The second wanted to move back to LA from Sacramento, had looked but couldn't find a good job here like the one he had there as a corporate lawyer. The third wanted to know if it was right for him to risk his six figure paying dream job in the music industry to work on a start-up without pay which would give him the life he had before his dream job became routine. The cult leader goes at their vanities, their pride and confidence from doing the same things in response to the same circumstances, shows the first her block was fear of disapproval of her father, shows the second it was unwillingness to lower himself to going door to door looking for jobs, shows the last it was his forgetting his love of risk. One person finds his old habits of love, another finds his old love of risk, another finds old willingness to play. One puts pride aside and really talks with her father, just in time before he died. One takes himself less seriously and goes door to door looking for the right L.A. job, and finds it. One takes a chance on the start-up and becomes a millionaire. Each with the help of the cult leader strengthens abandoned, disused habits of their old selves. The computer doesn't have access to a separate past. It reprograms itself out of the elements already part of its operation, like the invented machine an artist creates is made out of any available part. Whereas the cult members, instead of reprogramming themselves with new ideas of what to try, hypotheses which are build out of experience already incorporated in their "operation", instead of this they return to an old path, revive a branch on the hierarchical tree of habits that had become a dead end. I realized, talking to the professor, there might be a way to test for this happening. What question will the computer and human answer differently?*
- How should I know?
- Let's go back to the cult. Tens of millions of relatively wealthy and well connected people have paid to take courses from whichever business or spiritual guru is in fashion. Why isn't the world a better place? Why don't the program graduates at least make the part of the world immediately around them into a better place?
- Maybe they do. They treat their friends and family better.
- The daughter expresses her love to her father before he dies, the lawyer gets the L.A. job, the six figure music executive does the start-up and a year later sells it for millions: they've made their lives better, but not the world better.
- So?
- Imagine a computer could be programmed with a fictional past that could mimic the reprogramming that the cult provides for its members. But there would not be a real block, a real wall separating the conscious present and unconscious past. That block represents the two worlds we live in: the machine like computational present, and the dark world of our habits in abeyance that has the potential to drive us towards an unknown future. We don't aim to recover our ability to express words of love to a father before his dies, we aim to love. We don't aim overcome our rigidity to get a job, but to play and recover clarity of sight. We don't aim to take risk for its own sake but to know the importance of recovery from everyday life back to a beautiful life. We move from dark to light, find the disused habits that hide in the dark of our past and letting them free move toward the brilliant light in the future. We find community when in our search for the light our habits of life align with the habits of life with others doing the same. We respond to the world together. We live at ease together and in appreciation of those who've we've spoken well with, we are at peace when we manage with our habits to say something, see something, do something we like, think is beautiful, judge to be true. The Extreme Pizza students: they live completely in the reprogramming world. The unconscious is not dark and the conscious is not bright. All is defined. They don't know what it is like, don't know when they see it, to struggle across the barrier, to draw out from the dark of themselves a future world that attracts with its brilliance but is unknown to them. They've never done it. They think the guy dying on the street is practicing a life style: a reprogramming of life we call a style of life. They don't understand that guy went behind the barrier and couldn't get back. He couldn't make a community. Invisible in the dark place he's in, he receives no help getting out. At best he's offered cult reprogramming, choice of a new life style that will keep him in the light of day.
- You think that simply by creating communities we will care about each other?
- No. Community is our means to the end of moving from darkness to light. We don't want community for its own sake. It's nothing to us.*
- It's nothing to you.
- We shouldn't, neither me nor you, insist on any particular state of the world, even community, for its own sake. That's the mistake of seeing the world of classes and divisions, descriptions and definitions.
- You lost me again.
- I'll give you another example. A few years ago a philosopher wrote a book rigorously defining the concept of species and then claiming that our perception naturally worked by identifying species. And so naturally we identify races, nationalities, tribes. Therefore prejudice, fear, hatred, mutual incomprehension were natural between groups. The problem is, a soldier trained to hate his enemy in battle when the war ends can very soon live amicably with his former enemy. Class hatreds are the product of establishing relations between classes, not vice versa. End the class relation, the hatred ends with it. The philosopher didn't make this simple test by thought experiment because he himself lived within class relations that made such testing unnecessary. In that world there is not another world always waiting to show its influence and create an unanticipated world. Rather his goal was to be found entirely within the world of academic relations, the rewards were there in making the proposal itself, guessing it to be satisfactory to conservative leaders looking for philosophic justification for injustice and inequality. The philosopher theorized like the computer reprogramming itself creates a new hypothesis to be tested, like the machine artist creates his machine but without art, the new hypothesis working efficiently with the relations of class already established in the professional career of an academic philosopher.
- Academics make a habit of rearranging then repeating the same words. I should know. My ex-husband was one.
- Future husband too. The philosopher never crosses the barrier between dark and light, never gets out of the world. He speaks for himself, to obtain the rewards of his profession, he doesn't communicate with, is blind to the particular people he actually lives with. Nothing new to us that is in a way already ours will ever come out of nowhere in his kind of life: it is when and if that happens that the problem of the Turing Test is solved. Nothing ever comes out of nowhere for a computer.
- As long as he's rich I'll marry Chomsky.
- See? You remembered his name.
- You can go to hell. You're in love with darkness.
- The way you talk about money: are you sure you aren't in the same position as the philosophy professor? Same words are spoken in the same conditions. All light, no darkness. Sometimes a new hypothesis arises: marry top dog Chomsky. Reprogram. But what about all the other words waiting in the dark with me in hell, the hell everyone experiences when deprived of security? Take a look at this chart I printed from the internet:

Look at all the different economic and social possibilities. The market economy in which we live is one way among many of organizing our social and economic lives. We can also form cooperatives, barter, create our own money, give things away within a reciprocal or central organization or individually, etc.
- Alright then. Some want to make a community, some don't. Don't dictate to me what I should want.
- The rewards of these alternatives are in the movement from dark to light which they allow, not in building any one kind of community. We don't look ahead to a social or economic structure but to a feeling of peace and gratitude to others for allowing us to make this transition. Such feelings are invisible to those trapped in the market. They feel something else, something illusory: a force moving them, like the electricity that sets the computer going. The electrical force they feel has a direction, but it is nothing more than habit being exercised, each repetition producing a greater disposition to be repeated again. The electrical force they feel seems to accumulate a reservoir of power within them, but that force is nothing more than the relief and security of regular results from repeated action in regular circumstances. Those trapped in the market must repeat the same actions with the same people, and with the same kind of people, as only the right kind of people can perform the repetitions reliably. Thus their hatred of the wrong kind of people. In the presence of the wrong people they feel negative energy, loss of force and direction: they realize the weakness of where they start from in an unfinished world. Whereas envisioning life with the right people electrifies them, leads them on looking ahead to the strength they'll have when they get to where they are going, the world of only people like themselves.
- And we definitely don't want that, me included by the way Mr. Philosopher. We have enough of prejudice and hatred.

Further Reading:
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
We Make Brains
* A computer in the Turing Test might conceivably still fake in its responses a discontinuity of behavior between before and after reviving disused habits. But a human being in the Chinese Room, given the task of imitating the reported behavior of passage from before to after, would be acting fully in character as a human being, and the test of the thought experiment passed. Though computers may be able to imitate all human behavior, we know how to describe something human beings can do and computers can't and which is a sign of consciousness.
*Two Kinds Of Mystery

Bad Technology

(George Orwell)


- We've talked about the technology of good.* Is there a technology of evil?
- There is. Technology is knowledge of the world that we use to make things. We also have knowledge of people that allows us to make social things: governments and institutions, customs and habits. Institutions can be creative, but usually they are ritualistic.
- Meaning?
- Knowledge ritually learned is learned without conscious awareness. Rituals can be deliberately constructed, or occur without conscious intention.
- How are rituals deliberately constructed?
- By eliciting passions, and creating a situation where there is only one direction for everyone to go.
- Starting a war, everyone is angry, everyone gives up material comfort and does what he is told without complaint.
- Right.
- So evil is social technology, constructing rituals to manipulate people?
- When deliberate. But it's complicated. We don't always know what we are up to. Remember what we said about doing for the sake of doing, making money for the sake of making money, power for the sake of power?** Would you like to know what is happening behind this seeming circularity?
- Tell me.
- Orwell in his novel 1984 *** says that leaders of totalitarian countries maintain inequality for the sake of power. But I'd say it works the other way around. We use our power for the sake of establishing inequality. We don't want power for its own sake. We don't want to control nature, don't even really want to possess things. We want to operate our social technology. We want security in our lives with other people. Inequality provides that security, in a perverse way. In 1984 the party leaders spy on and torture the led not only for the practical purpose of maintaining order, but more importantly to get practice in, to perform a ritual of inequality in the most extreme form.
- Perverse. When we do something for the sake of doing it, make money for the sake of making money, we are practicing a ritual. What is the right way to practice social technology?
- Creatively. With love. The act of conceiving and instituting ritual produces inequality: the operator of the ritual operates on the operated, the leader leads the led. Apes making faces at each other are operating a social technology, instinctively created. We can experiment with this technology, creatively invent new rituals. Orwell argues that if a totalitarian government is to be stable and last, leaders have to be free to re-invent rituals, and in the work of reinvention keep partly self aware, alert to the world and able to deal with incipient rebellion. However they could not choose not to do that job assigned them: being assigned the job is ritual operating on them, and they unconsciously learn they must accept the job.
- Who established that ritual assigning them the jobs? Who operated on them?
- No one. Or they each impose it on the others. I've described**** how antique dealers sometimes are able to set "market" prices: sharing the same profit loving character, each demands 200 percent profit from a resale. Because anyone wanting to sell to them meets the same low offer from all, a "market" price granting high profit is set without any conspiring between dealers.  In Orwell's novel the idea of rewriting history is hit upon as a means of protecting the effectiveness of ritual subordination as the world changes in inapplicable or unanticipated ways. Just say it didn't happen, an idea immediately occurring to anyone with experience of forgetting himself in ritual practice, to anyone self-consciously aware of his ability to create ritual. With this shared knowledge and experience, everyone agrees to accept changed history, the bad guy is now a good guy, black is white, because the result, as long as everyone agrees, is that it works. The power of the ritual is regained. Anyone who breaks ranks falls from the category of leader to led, from the creative instituter of ritual to passive consumer and victim of ritual. The mental possibility of accepting the contradiction relies on the fact that only one term in the contradiction is the product of a voluntary process of thinking, the two opposing "beliefs", the ritual and the independent, operate each in their own sphere.
- But if the leaders' participation in ritual assigning them the job of rewriting history is not creatively modified, won't the totalitarian government fail, according to Orwell's ideas? Leaders, he wrote, have to act creatively if they are to maintain alertness to threats of rebellion.
- Yes. The government won't fail from individuals making what freedom they can for themselves, becoming more and more independent, but by the incompatibility of rituals to the real conditions in the world, since the world is not controlled by rituals as people are, is not in fact changed by rewriting history. We have global warming, danger of natural disaster from nuclear weapons, etc.
- We have allowed technology to be used to construct ritual by people themselves in the grips of ritual. And, as you say, it is not necessary. We don't need to apply social technology to ritual.
- Ritual is a possibility inherent in our species nature, not a destiny. It is a deviant path.*****
- We could creatively construct creative societies.


- What stops us?
- From what?
- Creatively constructing creative societies.
- Assume Orwell was right. Oppressive governments oppress not for sake of control over things but control over people, Totalitarianism aims not for power in the abstract, but to maintain subordination. Surveillance and torture are practiced not primarily to discover secrets, but to give leaders opportunities to subordinate the led. If this is so, then conquering totalitarianism is not a matter of changing relations to things, of spreading them around more fairly, is not a matter of economics at all. If subordination works by creating fear and the repetitive group action in response, then it can be defeated by substituting stability and cooperative creativity for the artificially produced fear and group repetition. Provide people with enough of things, and an opportunity to work creatively and cooperatively together and they'll care more about making things than possessing them.
- But you said that wouldn't happen. The government is on its guard to prevent it. And anyway, to people with neither enough of things nor an opportunity to cooperatively create things, such a proposal is to exchange what they know provides security, for a freedom they haven't experienced.****** We can't sit by idly and wait for an environmental catastrophe to wake us up.
- The prophet hopes he stirs the imagination and memory of those he warns and they act to stop him from being proven right.

Further Reading:
Liars And The Free Market
Einstein And Intellectual Physics
The Search For Evil

The Philosophical Life (Epilogue To The Technology Of Good)

Epilogue To The Technology Of Good

- Do you really live with crazy people?
- Yes.
- You take care of them?
- No. They take care of me.
- What do you mean?
- Financially, since I don't pay.
- You know Foucault's idea* that we didn't know what a crazy person was until we started locking them up in hospitals and trying to cure them? That we didn't have a sense of justice until we start locking up criminals?
- What did we have?
- You know this very well, stop pretending. We had immorality, we had the weakness of giving in to our inclinations.
- And what changed?
- We began to make claims to knowledge. We became specialists in criminality, experts in insanity.
- And according to Foucault any claim to knowledge becomes a source of class war.
- Yes. Tell me why, if you can.
- Knowledge becomes class war because of two factors: leadership, and property. Those who know, it seems reasonable, should lead, and those who are led become a kind of property of the leaders.** But it doesn't have to be this way.
- Knowledge without leadership and property?
- Exactly. You know, I actually met Foucault. I was working on this idea when I was 19 and sent my college thesis to him. He invited me to visit him in Paris.
- What did he like about your idea?
- That I had worked out his idea. You've seen Foucault's debate with Chomsky?*** Foucault says even the oppressed fights the oppressor for power, not justice, because justice is just an artifact of class relations, of knowledge turned to power. Chomsky argues there is justice, approximate but real, based on knowledge. Foucault denies there is justice independent of class and power.
- And how did you work this out?
- By accepting both sides of the argument. I imagined, in the tradition of Plato's Republic, the construction of a state, beginning with the assumption no one knew the nature of humanity and therefore there could be no central authority. Groups were voluntary and diverse, could decide for themselves the rules about what harmed human nature and what didn't. Right to property in some views would be tromped by right to life, in other views it wouldn't.
- No leaders exerting force. No assumptions about property. Voluntary associations, and voluntary association between associations, I suppose. 19th century anarchist theory, with some philosophic analysis thrown in. I can see why Foucault liked it. The question of what we know of human nature is avoided, agreed upon knowledge is not there to become the basis of power, yet the analysis of force and property**** allows justice in by the back door, as it were, for those who're interested.***** So you've had philosophic correspondence****** with both Foucault and Chomsky. And you live with, are taken care of by crazy people. You have to be the best argument against taking philosophy seriously I ever heard of.

Further Reading:
The Debate
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice And Its Influence On Morals And Happiness

Foucault Interview
** Principle Of Sharing + Exception Of Private Property + The State = Class War
*** The Chomsky Foucault Debate
**** Freedom & Property
***** Declaration / Woman Of My Dreams,
The Art Of The Possible
****** Noam Chomsky & Mental Things

UCLA 2014

- You hear? The screaming carries all the way up to the top of the steps.
- I was talking about it with my son - this is my son. I have a friend who's dream was just realized - his son matriculated to Annapolis.
- The Navel Academy. Is that your dream too?
- No. My dream is for my son to go to UCLA. He's starting this year.
- The square down there is the most public place on campus. When I was in school the military cadets had their ritual humiliation done to them in private. Now both the humiliating and humiliated proudly enact their indoctrination in public.
- They have their own culture.
- You call that culture? How is it culture? Culture is building on knowledge and passing knowledge down between generations. The screaming down there is what apes do. The stronger make faces and shake their fists at the weaker who learn to back down rather than get in a losing battle.
- Yes. But the military protects our country.
- Armies function perfectly well with elected leaders, or with the reasoned cautious obedience of employees in a hierarchical corporation. Look at the Israeli army, their officers, many or most mild mannered doctors, lawyers, engineers, are obeyed.
- Maybe you're right.
- Of course I'm right. You're not afraid you're looking at your son's future down there? A professor at the law school told me her students were afraid to say what they really thought. Afraid that what they said somehow would end up on the internet and when they had to get a job employers would see and that would be it for them, their future would be 100,000 dollars in debt and no job.
- What can we do?
- Let's walked into the ranks, walk right into their faces. Show them not everyone has given in.
- No. You go. We'll watch from here.

Declaration / Woman Of My Dreams

To wake up and discover you are still a child and have what the child wanted, dream and reality together. (From The Memory Book)

- What's new?
- Well, at Starbucks, these days, on the left side and the right side of the entrance are two men who talk to themselves, there used to be just one.* They don't speak to each other. Or, needless to say, listen to each other. And there's the young guy at Beverly Canon Gardens who has set up shop selling, tastefully framed, the original American Declaration Of Independence.
- That's rare.
- Yes. He's willing to offer a good price, though on the internet it's going for three or four billion dollars.
- Is he selling anything else?
- He might have a couple more in his suitcase. Remember the watchmaker from Switzerland I told you about?** Tonight I saw him sitting at the document seller's table, arms crossed in a significant fashion, the document seller doing the same. Turns out they are masonic brothers.
- How do you find these people?
- They find me.
- Anything else happening?
- I  have this recurring dream in which I know there is a friend, a love, someone from my past who I can't remember but who is going to reappear and save me, get my life back on track.
- What's wrong with your life?
- It's stuck. You know how in science fiction stories what happens in a dream world affects the real world, or sometimes the other way around, what happens in the real world affects the dream world, or sometimes both?
- Yes.
- Well, that is not what I mean. I mean that I had my dreams, and for the first half of my life had absolute contempt for reality. I didn't have the slightest wish to change reality, and wasn't at all afraid that reality would deprive me of my dreams.
- And the second half of your life?
- I saw that artists could make make a reality that incorporated their dreams, but I wasn't an artist. So what was I to do?
- Make an art out of life.
- Yes, make an art out of life, but how does one do that?
- Romance and adventure. Get into trouble, fall in love, get out of trouble and get the girl.
- And if you are too shy to throw yourself into love and adventure?
- I don't know. What's left, if you're not an artist and not a hero?
- What used to be called philosophy.
- Are you admitting to being a philosopher now?
- I'll tell you a story. Or rather, go on with the one I was telling. I had this recurring dream of a forgotten friend or lover reappearing and saving me...
- From a life you can't be a hero in or make art out of.
- Yes, reappear and save me from my incompetence. And last month, out of the blue of my computer's screen comes an email from the Swedish girl I was in love with when I was in my 20s.
- How old was she?
- 19. She was really wild, we went travelling, she disappeared. A few years later she reappeared, she was living in San Diego. We met for a day, she disappeared again. I tracked her down a few years later, she was living in London. We went travelling, she disappeared again.
- I sense a pattern.
- And last month, the pattern reasserts itself, and after an interval of more than 25 years, she reappears again. The dream become a reality, with the friend I had forgotten reappearing.
- To go by the past, not for long.
- I was most curious to know how she remembered me, that person I was 25 or 30 years ago.
- She probably remembered a dreamer who didn't see or care about patterns.
- You're right. I told her how I was living, and she didn't believe me. A dreamer like me needed money, and needed social class to protect him. If I had neither money nor social class...
- Why did she think you had money?
- When we met I was living and working with my father. He was wealthy at the time, had a successful business.
- Go on.
- So, according to her, if I had neither money nor social class to protect me for my life of dreaming, I would either have to stop dreaming or be dead. Since I wasn't dead...
- You were a liar. What was your answer?
- Maybe you'll like this. My answer was that I'd figured out how to get dreams to directly change reality without ever being separate from reality.
- And of course you're going to tell me how dreams change reality.
- They do it by existing within reality, by opening it up, finding possibilities that were already there and setting them free.
- And how do you do that?
- How else if you're not a hero and not an artist?
- By philosophy.
- Think about the accusation my Swedish friend made against me. I must be lying, because dreams were not reality; because my dreams required money; because my dreams depended on inequality in social relations, on a class structure. If possibility existed in physical reality, of a different understanding of the physics of things that included both alternatives of a world seen as a whole and of individual, separate things; if possibility existed in economic reality other than exchange between enemies, of instead gifts between friends; if possibility existed in political reality, in which the reality of economic generosity became the means of political organization, and the end aimed at of political organization became gaining sight of a physical world of things seen without separation,*** then?
- Then your dreaming would have remade reality. Did your dreaming remake reality? Physical, economic, political reality?
- You see me here before you, still existing, still alive.
- But judging by your constant complaining, maybe not for long. Do you claim your mere thinking of these possibilities actually changed reality so as to let you go on living when otherwise, I agree with your Swedish recurrently absconding friend, you should be dead? Or did you in actual fact act on your thinking?
- I acted. Though I didn't except ridiculously have adventures, I got married and I did a kind of business,**** I talked and thought my way through such that my romantic and heroic incompetence was overcome.
- Philosophy opened up possibilities in economic and political reality and kept a dreamer like you alive and in your dreams. Really truly?
- You see the evidence before you, living and breathing.
- You live to tell the tale. I don't have to believe it.
- I'll work on telling it better. Until then, here's a reading list:
On Stories:
You Have To Have A Story
On Physics:
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
On Economics:
The Tools To Remake Our Lives
On Politics:
When We Love

P.S. The woman of my dreams wrote: "You and what we call reality don't seem to be on the same page. Normally, this is something that I quite like. (Really.) But it does require absolute freedom and funds. Without freedom and funds, not quite understanding reality can and will always result in complete disaster. So - you see - it's a bit scary. For real. Have you ever heard of the term "slumming"? This is what you were doing. Checking out poor people like some sort of sociological study." See: Desiree's Child  Listen: Dreamer

You Crazy, Man!
** Enclosure
*** Means & Ends
**** Married To The Business Of Buying

What You Can Expect When You Shop At Whole Foods Market, Beverly Hills

As you enter you see painted on the floor in giant letters "VALUES: No artificial flavors, additives, preservatives". But maybe your value is no artificial people? Sorry, you'll have to shop someplace else. Look to your left. Behind the counter is the surveillance staff, watching you enter, watching their screens. They watch you as a possible loss of income or a possible gain. They don't know which. They have to watch. You have your values, they have theirs. You value additive free food, they value humanity free profit and loss. They're allowed. It's a free country. Or no, not so free. Not if you don't want to be hunted while you shop by the surveillance staff. And not if you don't want to be subject to the empty politeness of customer service staff. True, the ritual respect of How are you today, sir? makes for a more efficient shopping experience than being hunted by the surveillance staff. But there is, or was, another kind of experience than shopping? Was there? What was that?

Further Reading:
When We Love

When We Love


- But why do you warn me against reading Plato's 'Republic'? Isn't it good? Why do people talk so much about it?
- It's more than good. It's a masterpiece. That's the problem.
- How can a masterpiece be a problem?
- It says more than people are ready to understand.
- What stops them?
- Propaganda, indoctrination, conformity.
- Brain washing.
- Propaganda works by assimilating the moral to the political. As in advertising a product comes pre-sold with a way of life*, like a word fixed in a sentence, in propaganda the moral word comes complete with the political sentence.
- Is that what happens in Plato's 'Republic'?
- Yes. It pretends to be an attempt to understand the moral from the study of the political.
- Should we try to understand the political from the moral?
- That's just as big a mistake.
- What's left?
- Understand how they work together.
- Don't we need to understand what they are individually before we understand how they work together?
- No. We can't determine our political life on the basis of knowing how we should live morally. We can't determine our moral life by knowing how we should live politically. Our moral and political experiences can't be used to explain each other.
- Why not?
- Because our moral life is without content, and our political life is experimental, improvised, instrumental. We can't construct a political life on the basis of "love" because love does not have any of the components political life is put together with. We can't construct our moral life out of politics, for the reason that love has no parts at all. It is an experience of wholeness.
- Then?
- Plato's 'Republic' is politics that is supposed to explain morality, and it does, but it is a really terrible morality. Remember what we said about why nations fail?**
- Remind me.
- An individual, in his own life, has a goal: love and sympathy. To reach that goal he experiments on various public practices until he can stop acting, relax in peace and feeling at home.
- An individual has a personal politics?
- Yes.
- And the individual uses a personal politics to reach a personal morality?
- A personally experienced morality, which is, in fact, the same kind of experience for everyone.
- And morality doesn't teach us our politics, we experiment, and our politics doesn't teach us our morality, that is indoctrination, destroys our creativity, instead we seek out morality and know it when we find it and anyway it is the same for everyone.
- Yes.
- Go on.
- So we saw that political cycles of increasing and decreasing freedom share an element in common with economic cycles of increasing or decreasing concentration of wealth.
- You said the violence inherent in trade for profit leads into the violence of the political attempt of the few to despoil the many, a violence against human nature to sympathize.
- The word "economy" has its origin in the Greek for home. Our moral relation to people which should be of love and understanding is instead trade for profit, and that mistaken morality infects our politics, leading to injustice and rule by the rich.
- Morality influences politics, and politics influence morality.
- Exactly like it does in an individual's life.
- So the state that Plato describes does not illustrate our moral life, but is an extreme form of politics that corrupts our moral life.
- Right.
- And Plato in writing 'The Republic' is showing how our political life can be corrupted by our morality? But because we're brainwashed we don't understand we are not meant to follow in his ironically pursued path?
- Right.
- But what morality is politics corrupted by? Can you tell me?
- The most general, and the most alien to Plato's view of the world: looking for good or bad fixed in our action, either in our lives as individuals or as a group.
- Where should we look for morality?
- When we stop acting.
- When we love.


- Say you wanted to do more than read a book of philosophy, you wanted to go and start a revolution. How would you apply this discussion?
- Ok, let's have some reality here. We poor indoctrinated souls, in the Middle East, in the Ukraine, stand up to authority, fight the government and win our revolution. And then nothing really changes. One undesirable form of politics replaces another. That's because, according to our discussion, we've assumed that our politics includes morality, that all we have to do is change politics and the good of life will take care of itself. Or we think that like in the 60s if we make a moral revolution, political problems will go away, that a political solution is implied in our morality. But instead we get the reaction of the 70s, the "me generation", greed, speculation, hyper-monopoly, empire, government surveillance...
- And propaganda.
- To make our revolution we keep in mind that our politics is not in our morality. and our morality is not in our politics. We can't rely on either morality or politics alone. To make our revolution we'll use our politics to create conditions conducive to morality, keep our eyes open to whether our politics make it easier or harder to be good.
- And how are you going to get the millions of indoctrinated to join you in your revolution?
- I'm going to defy you for one, your ban on Plato, and remind people of the beauty in life by encouraging them to talk things through and read good books!

Further Reading:
Street Politics
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
You Crazy, Man!
** Why Nations Fail