Saturday, 17 February 2007

The history and near future of the Western economy

Back in the 17th Century Descartes localised reality, making individual consciousness itself the only thing we can truly know. Ever since, Europe has led a growing subjectivism and individualization of consciousness – the strict hierarchies which had dominated our society previously were now recognized as ossified remains ripe for extirpation.

The move in general for the past four hundred years has been towards personal liberty, individual perspective and the right to self-determination. In the twentieth century this political idealism took its most aggressive form in the restructuring of culture along ideological lines in the birth of social orders such as fascism and communism. Very few would have guessed fifty years ago that the dominant force would become the consumerist capitalism which lacks any focus but the sating of individual hungers. In hindsight, it is perhaps obvious – the intellectual tradition of the West has degenerated, collapsed under its own weight and where before a culture could be united under the banner of 'the people' struggling for self-determination against an oppressive historical regime, it seems we have now given up: our lackluster democracies are populated by individuals too wrapped up in passively entertainment to take an active role in the guiding of politics; our governments are bound by dependence on dubiously-gained finance, finance which is essential to any party wishing to remain in power as the marketing tricks of sound bite politics are all the overfed masses are capable of comprehending; the ideological few who may still exist within mainstream politics see their best ideas ignored by the people, who are more concerned with the price of oil or a pair of jeans than in finding a sustainable future for the whole human race.

Has the common man/woman always been too nearsighted to see beyond their immediate comfort? Or is this development merely the embodiment of society governed by a species incapable of rising above our basest desires?

Our intellectual freedom, struggled for, died for by millions, has resulted in a culture where we've decided we can't actually be asked to think for ourselves (god forbid we should actually think about anyone else). 'My own corner's alright, and I happen to like these clothes made by the Gap; where else can I find nice trousers at a price which allows me to run my car, eat well, go out every weekend and do everything else I want with my life? I would buy them from somewhere ethical if I had the money' translates as if I could be asked to live morally without it impinging on my own lifestyle and the fact that we've all grown up expecting to have everything we want at the click of our fingers, then I would. Yes, consideration of others comes only if it's not at the expense of ourselves.

The question of whether these things are (1) necessary, or (2)making us happy, is not even asked.

My prediction is that within the lifetimes of everyone who's going to read this we're going to have that choice taken out of our hands: the luxuries that the western world has come to enjoy are basically the expectation that we can all live the lives that the rich and powerful lived in preceding centuries. These lifestyles are based on manipulating others to provide materials for our consumption: food, clothes, goods and services. The raising of everyone above the status of 'worker' to 'consumer' has effectively transferred that lower status onto other nations. But this trend cannot continue. The yearning for rights, freedom and self-determination follows in the nations which are currently the worlds' working class as a necessary consequence of the imposition of our socio-economic structures upon them. When the rest of the world realizes that it no longer has to be the powerless producers propping up the west's indulgence, the redistribution of wealth and lifestyle will become inevitable. And that means that a lot of what we take for granted is going to disappear.

The dual prong of consumerism is: (1) Dependence on someone else doing the hard work for increasingly little reward, and (2) The numbing of our spirits as a result of having everything provided for us: why bother thinking or challenging ourselves when we can just feed ourselves stupid? The constant need for more stimulation prevents us being able to stop and enjoy life for one moment: we become obsessed with getting and never giving; we suffocate as we refuse to exhale. We are so far distant (both spatially and in understanding) from either the source or the manufacture of physical objects we use in daily life, we no longer have any connection with the wider world. It is no surprise that we no longer respect the planet or the natural forces that have produced what sustains us. When we no longer respect and revere the very food which keeps us alive, as a holy gift, it is no surprise that we are the unhealthiest we have ever been, or that our bodies and spirits are rebelling against us with a host of internally generated diseases.

For the right-minded in the 'developed' world, the task now is also twofold: firstly, we must begin seeing the global consequences of our actions. This means understanding where the products we buy have come from, and understanding the economic forces that our consumerism supports. The 'cheapest bargain' often comes at the expense of other humans who are at the bottom of a long chain. The ethical choice may seem more expensive or demanding, but choosing the alternative which damages other humans, animals and nature as little as possible, is not just helping others in the world, it actively creates a world that is better, and more fair, for everyone. This is a daunting task, but one we must get used to, even if it happens slowly at first. Just because we can afford something, doesn't make it right to use it. Respecting food, alcohol, drugs, books, cars, petrol and electricity, respecting our own bodies and minds, is not just the moral thing to do: it is the sane thing, and will lead to much greater appreciation of our own lives and what we are blessed with. Because, to take one example, to overeat is just as damaging as to under eat. The correct path is to eat respectfully, without waste, using only what we need, and what will be best for our bodies, and actively supporting food that has been produced respectfully. The resources of the planet are not ours for the taking, they are gifts and if we abuse them, they will harm us (as we are now finding out).

Secondly, we must address the stagnation of our own spirit: We have become so lost in the mechanistic illusion that the idea of value above subjective enjoyment is now not so much laughed at as completely ignored. The belief that we are essentially biological machines with an accidental 'added extra' of consciousness has been damaging in the extreme. The joy of being alive, of living authentically and being an individual is something many seem eager to forget. But to respect ourselves as conscious beings means to live fully, to challenge ourselves and realize our own potential. It is not enough to simply seek enjoyment. In order to find fulfillment in life we have to step beyond our preconceptions. Break out of our bubble of assumptions about who and what we are. To know that we are in control of our own destiny, and imagination is the limit of what the future holds.

And this is the step towards humanity becoming what we were meant to be...


I read this story from Arun Ghandi, grandson of Mahatma Ghandi and thought it said so much about what we in the west take for granted. We can all be guilty of abusing the resources made available to us at the expense of others, especially when we're so distant from the actual means of production.

But it is important to realise that it is not some invisible, inconsequential 'other' who feels the effect of our actions - we all experience the suffering caused by such unintentioned 'violence', and we are all brought to account as humanity strips the planet in order to feed our ever increasing need to consume. If we think that we can continue to use and expend without feeling the effects then we are not just selfish but also blind.

"We have to remember, when we talk about violence, it's not just the physical violence that we see around us. There is much more to it than just physical violence. And grandfather made me aware of this one day when I was coming back from school and I had this little notebook, writing pad and a pencil. And I was about 13 years old at the time, quite an irresponsible 13 year old. Walking home absentmindedly I looked at the pencil. It was about 3 inches long, and I said I deserve a better pencil. This is too small for me to use. And I was so confident that grandfather would give me a new pencil that without a second thought, I threw that pencil away. And that evening when I went and asked grandfather for a new pencil, instead of giving me one he subjected me to a lot of questions. He wanted to know what happened to the pencil I had in the morning, how did it become small, where did I throw it away, and on and on and on. And I couldn't understand why he was making such a fuss over a little pencil until he told me to go out and look for it. And I said, "You must be joking! You don't expect me to go out and look for a pencil in the dark?" He said, "Oh yes I do, and here's a flashlight." And he sent me out with the flashlight to look for this pencil and I must have spent two or three hours searching for it. And when I finally found it and brought it to him he said, "Now I want you to sit here and learn two very important lessons… The first lesson is that even in the making of a simple thing like a pencil we use a lot of the world's natural resources and when we throw them away we are throwing away the world's natural resources and that is violence against nature. Lesson number two, is that because in an affluent country we can afford to buy all these things in bulk, we over consume the resources of the world. And because we over consume them, we are depriving people elsewhere of these resources and they have to live in poverty. And that is violence against humanity." And that was the first time I realized all of these little things that we do every day. I mean just think about it how many useful things we throw away every day because we have such a lot of it. How much food we throw away every day. How many good clothes we throw away because we have new ones. All of this, every time we throw away something and waste something is violence."

Arun Ghandi, director of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence.

I found the quote at Spiral Diner, a vegan restaurant based in Fort Worth, Texas (and whose name is inspired by the Tool song Lateralus!). Thanks to Nasaka for the pointer :)

Entropy in the Absence of a Closed System

Now, this is interesting.

If we consider reality constituted of the twin worlds of Matter and Mind (Logic being beyond reality), we can find a plausible escape from the Second Law of Thermodynamics thus:

Matter is an open system, affected and influenced by Mind, consciousness.

Mind is an open system, affected and influenced by Matter, facticity.

The only way we could understand the whole as a closed system is by viewing the polar twins influencing each other from outside (whereby they would become elements in a single system, with no outside "feed-source" combatting the increase of entropy) - but this is impossible, because there is no outside. We can only comprehend the system from inside, and from the inside of either Mind or Matter it is always an open system, being fed novel information from the 'black-box' of the second pole.

(this 'twin' language by the way, is a direct reference to the usage in Philip K Dick's Valis)

Here's some great quotes from Erik Davies' Techgnosis:

"Our society has come to place an enormous value on information, even though information itself can tell us nothing about value"

"Information emerges in the spark gap between mind and matter"

"The story of the self in the information age is thus the story of the afterimages of the psyche, of those reflections and virtual doubles that are exteriorised, or outered, into technologies"

Truth, Logic and Meaning in the World

Here I'm addressing the status of logic, material reality and the human mind in respect of their distinct natures and relationships.

Karl Popper (in his book Conjectures and Refutations, p266) divides all meaningful statements into three types:

1)Logical or Mathematic

2)Empirical and Scientific

3)Philosophical or Metaphysical

Logical statements are a priori, based solely on abstract reasoning; they rely only on correct thought. Empirical statements are 'facts' about the world, statements about matter, if you will, which are based on sense data. Philosophical statements are speculation/extrapolation, making strictly untestable claims based in the inner world of the human mind.

By means of example, a logical statement would be 'if all x are y then all x are z' (where 'x' and 'y' and 'z' can stand for anything we want: objects, statements, whatever). The rules for determining the truth of this depend on the rules of logic and the categories of maths, ie given the definitions of the terms used either the statement is true or it is not.

An empirical statement would be 'There are two swans on the lake', or 'The earth orbits the sun'. To discover if these are true or false, we would conduct an experiment based on observation (empirical data), to ascertain whether the world correlates with the statement.

The difference between logical and empirical statements may be more clearly understood if we use objects as examples: for instance, 'all rocks are heavy' is an empirical statement, as we must examine the objects which we call 'rocks' and see if they indeed all have the quality we call 'heavy'. 'All rocks are rocks' however, is a logical statement as whatever the objects we call rocks are, it is true that they are rocks.

Therefore we can replace the word rocks with a placeholder such as the term 'x' , as whatever we are referring to, it is true that 'x'='x'. All of the investigations in logic are based on working out equivalence. We can only find if a logical statement is true by working out if the terms used mean the same thing. In the syllogism used above for example, 'if all x are y then all x are z' it is true only if all y are z.

A philosophical statement would be 'All action is predetermined' or 'God exists'. This kind of assertion cannot be subjected to measurement in the scientific sense, and are generally considered irrefutable as they are not subject to testing. Rather, they express a sense of 'soft' meaning which affects primarily the way we approach the world, and our place in it. Newton's theory of gravity is as much a philosophical statement as the two examples given because while its predictions can be tested, the claim of gravity as a force within objects cannot be experienced: only its effects. We do not 'see' the force of gravity, we simply see events such as an apple falling, which happens to correlate with the postulation that there is a force attracting objects to each other.

So it seems clear that we can assign Truth to the categories in the following manner:

1)Logical statements have an Absolute Truth value, as they are either True or False, and only false when incorrectly formulated. There is no inbetween and when true they are absolutely True.

2)Empirical statements have Contingent Truth as valid statements can be made ('today is monday') whose truth value is dependent on the conditions present in the material world.

3)Philosophical statements have no truth value, as they are merely speculation; they have nothing to say about the world outside of the subject - instead, they are a framework by which we understand the world and our place in it. They are subjective, personal and irrefutable as they make no solid claims; what they in fact describe is an individual's approach to the world. They are generated from within, and tackle the interface between the mind and matter. This should be more clear when we consider that the two opposing statements 'God exists' and 'God doesn't exist' make no impact on the facts about the world around us: The chair I'm sitting on is green, whichever one is the case. There are still two swans on the lake, whether or not I believe in God, and even if I have a vision and change my belief while looking at the swans, the empirical data remains precisely the same (although my feelings about it may now differ).

Something interesting comes to light when we examine this: Philosophical statements make no claim on truth. They are metaphor, and their value is purely pragmatic. Empirical statements, while approximating truth, can never be True in a whole sense, as in approaching a precisely accurate representation of any state of affairs, the statement nears an infinite complexity: To say there are two swans on the lake does not come close to the actual material facts, as we have said nothing about their precise position; their size; their motion; the ripples on the lake, the wind that is causing them, the atomic interaction of the water with the feathers of the swans; etc. In order to accurately represent reality, the statement would need to be as complex (and as unbound by human category judgments such as 'swan') as reality itself. The term 'the lake' has no objective meaning: more must be stated about the subject's perspective in order to comprehend the intention behind the statement (for otherwise the statement is both true and false, depending on one's point of view - ie, the particular 'lake' we are looking at). The inclusion of this subjective data makes the statement more specific and therefore more accurate but correspondingly more difficult to formulate and thereby increasingly difficult to assess. Therefore empirical statements can only approximate Truth in the same way that objects can approach lightspeed, but find their mass increasing exponentially as they do so.

Logic however, stands apart from these two. The laws of logic are all tautological: they bear no informaton content. All logically true (that is, necessarily true) statements are reducible to the single guiding principle of logic, the Law of Identity. This is the axiom which no logical system can do without. It states "A=A". For if A is not itself, if A is not A, then no other statement can be understood to be either true or false. From this we can see how all logical truth is a restatement of this single axiom (Other logical systems may include additional 'unquestionable' axioms but these tend to be deviant logics developed with particular practical uses in mind). Wittgenstein claimed that all logical statements say the same thing, towit nothing (Tratatus Logico-Philosophicus 5.43), and we can see clearly now how this is the case.

So now we can see in our tripartite description, that logical statements have absolute truth, Truth with a capital 'T'; but completely lack meaning. Philosophical statements have no truth but are entirely meaningful. Empirical statements stand inbetween these two, their accuracy being in negative correlation with the amount of meaning (or unstated subjective background) they carry.

Although Popper originally postulated these categories as a practical means of testing assertions, it seems to me that reality could also be neatly divided along these lines.

1)Logic, the transcendent ideal which has no place in the world, but can be thought of either as generator or abstraction from reality.

2)Matter, the physical 'stuff' of perception.

3)Mind, the interior mental world of thought, emotion and experience.

Ergo, Truth is not of the world. The stuff of the world we experience is Meaning, which is in direct negative correlation to Truth. The more Meaning, the less Truth and vice versa. Truth stands above and beyond the world, being a single unitary transcendent; in fact even beyond time. Truth is Eternal; Meaning is Ephemeral, based entirely in the 'Now' of subjective experience.

This I think is the point I was trying to make in my earlier blog, 'Matter': Logic is a transcendent principle which can be seen as both generative and an abstract of matter. Matter and Mind are co-generative, standing as two sides of the same coin. As Minds cannot exist without Matter to work upon, to mold, so Matter cannot exist without Minds to imbue perspective into it.

As a footnote, I would ask Kabbalists and those familiar with scriptural exegesis to contemplate the similarity between God's self-revelation to Moses as "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh", I Am That I Am, and the single abstract Truth of A=A. There is a reason that the Kabbalists give Kether (the primary sefirah of the Tree of Life, known as Ehyeh) the alternative title "concealed of the concealed", and claim it as the primordial divine thought which generates all else in existence.

Programmable Matter

So, scientists are always complaining that their funding keeps getting cut, but when they do get money what do they spend it on?

Well apparently, new ways of manipulating elementary particles to create previously 'impossible' forms of matter...and then, they find ways to change the kind (and therefore properties) of matter, at the flick of a switch.

Okay, so it only works so far in two dimensions but i still think the ability to create 'artificial atoms' and change their structure at will is pretty impressive.

The practice (this isn't a theory. this is actually happening) draws on quantum theory, and also has significant applications for quantum computing as if we can control the structure and flow of electrons between these 'artificial atoms' then the size of silicon chips no longer limits processing power.

Computer scientists have placed the date 2020 as both the point when we will be unable to further enhance computer power by reducing the size of the components....and the point at which computers will begin, if their trajectory continues, to outstrip humans in both intelligence and humanness.

I should make clear at this point that the possibility of computers actually taking over from humans; ie, becoming self-aware and beginning to manipulate their own nature and therefore destiny, while being science fiction to most of us, is treated as a virtual certainty (no pun intended) by professional computer scientists at institutions actually conducting the research and defining the future of computers.

My own thoughts? Let's take a look around. Humanity faces some very serious decisions over the next decade. But it seems to me like we've already given up on progressing beyond our naive, childish phase, our bullying, judgmentalism and irreperably selfish ways will be the end of us. What makes me most sad, is that some people have been trying to show us our potential for centuries.

"A great miracle, O Asklepios, is man" said Hermes Trismegistus two centuries ago. Along with every other mystic, he (or whoever wrote the Gnostic treatise Asklepios) understood that divinity is not outside of is within. It is our own adulthood, waiting for us to mature sufficiently and take on the responsibility that this demands.

This is not an abstract, it is a fundamental to do with our own nature, and it relates to every individual on earth. We all have the responsibility of this decision - to grow up and become who we really are, or stay asleep, daydreaming and lost in transitory distractions...and let the mantle of evolution pass onto another, more willing entity.

You can read the article on programmable matter from Wired here.

You can read the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi here.

You can keep up to date with new developments in physics here (and you really should).

Occam's Razor

is not a law, I don't care how many people say it. It's a theory, and one that is demonstrably false as often as it is true. Rationalists tend to jump on Occam's Razor in every argument in order to underpin a reductionist-materialism, but the simple facts are:

1.The universe does not care how many parts or entities are used in any given system. Needless complexity is often present in reality.
2.The 'mental monism' of Bishop Berkeley et al (the idea that only Mind exists, that the appearance of matter is just a function of the true, incorporeal, reality) passes Occam's Razor better than any kind of materialism could hope to. This does not affect the truth or otherwise of a non-materialist viewpoint, and neither does it challenge the principle of the Razor. It merely establishes the theory's neutrality.

Now stop it, I don't want to have to say this again.

The discussion went as follows:

Nasaka: Your last blog was pro-materialism.


This one isn't anti-materialist; I was simply trying to establish that Occam's Razor does not always tow the rationalist-scientific line. When taken to its logical conclusion the theory would best support a completely non-materialist world view as the existence of mind (or spirit; or "geist"; or God) alone simplifies the universe far more than the multi-parted nature of matter can.

But like I say, this doesn't mean that anti-materialism is correct; because Occam's Razor, despite the way many people seem to use it, is only an Idea That Someone Once Thought Up. It has no grander significance than that, and is by no means either part of the structure of reality or a self-evident truth.


which do you personally hold to be true?


What I was trying to express with the previous blog ('Matter') was that neither materialism nor its opposite are wholly satisfactory. They are based on human perception and ideas, and the truth lies beyond the duality - the two are united on a higher plane of understanding, so to speak, where both matter and spirit are exposed as being different ways of understanding the same one thing, which is Being...or, Becoming.


nut butters, or jellies?


Jelly is made from gelatine. Nut butter all the way for me.

But my personal morality doesn't affect the innate structure of reality, if that's what you're trying to get at.


oh you british! by jellies I mean wobbly fruit spreads.


OK. I couldn't see the relevance of the original comment but now it's much clearer.


Just a small point: Berkeley's idealism endorsed the existence of minds and ideas. External objects exist (which is why it is an empirical doctrine), but they are maintained within a mind. This mind was explicitly cited as God's mind by Berkeley.

Occam's razor is quite useful in determining whether a scientific theory has practical applications by making type/token distinctions in the theory's ontology, i.e., by classing or grouping the entities of the theory. The more sophisticated a theory prohibits general application and testability.


A valid point about Occam's Razor. I would not question its usefulness, my point was merely that it is not something that can be thrown against any statement. Its usefulness is not absolute and is limited to the empirical sciences.

My understanding of Berkeley is that he sought to remove all non-empirically verifiable statements from philosophy (such as Newton's force of gravity, an internal property of objects which we have no access to) and replace all these causal mechanisms with the action of God in maintaining an apparently mechanical, 'cause-effect' universe.


And what Berkeley meant by "external object" is not "that which can exist unperceived". He meant collections of sense data or a single sense datum--which by definition cannot exist independent from a mind.