Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Toward a Recreational Pharmacology Industry: Understanding The "Fourth" Drive

Some wise fool said once that life is all sensation. Seeing that we are humans with the capability to consciously alter our experiences and in turn our life, it would be natural or inevitable for us to develop ways of altering, optimizing, or enhancing our sensations. Not surprisingly, much of human behavior aside from basic survival (which most people in this society don’t worry about) deals with this endeavor. Some may see it as reducing boredom or making a moment more interesting. Unfortunately, with the numerous ways of altering our sensations/perceptions, some happen to be against the law; these are the illegal drugs, for which all nations around the world (in some form) are waging a war on their own populations. These wars a fought in the vein of stopping a perceived threat to humanity as a whole: drug abuse. I’d like to show how this kind of reasoning, making drugs illegal because of the possibility of abuse, would be like making sex illegal because of the possibility of disease, or food illegal because of diabetes/obesity; it is impractical and immoral in a society based on individual civil liberties. Moreover, I’d like to show how in a drug tolerant society, a recreational pharmacological industry could be established and integrated into the economic system as a whole, ultimately benefiting society by allowing for the research of these substances for their most effective uses.  

The phenomenon of recreational drug use, more specifically defined as non-prescription psychoactive usage. 

Although both humans and animals have used mood/mind altering substances (Siegal, 2005) there are laws forbidding people to ingest certain compounds, not because of health effects (Nutt, 2012), but because of a combination of xenophobia and ignorance (Block, 2013). Even though most people have used or use drugs- whether it be through caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, prescription medications, or lifestyle supplements- most see a clear distinction between drugs and their own culturally sanctioned substances. This distinction is cultural and has no basis in chemistry or health (Nutt,2012).

Despite the war on drugs, drug use is expected to rise (Travis, 2012) 25% by 2050. Currently more people- this includes people over 50 (Levine, 2013) - in the US are partaking in illegal drug use than ever before (Mann 2011). In short, the war on drugs is failing in its aim to perturb people from using illegal substances. There seems to be no stopping the demand for illegal drugs. Criminal legislation, propaganda, and alternatives to drug use have not dampened the drive to seek and use substances. What is it that causes people to seek and use mind/mood altering substances?    

In order to better ask what the behavioral etiology of non-prescription drug use, we need to understand exactly what a psychoactive substance is and what makes it different from some other substance or phenomenon that can alter mood or consciousness. According to most dictionaries, a psychoactive drug is a substance which is taken into the body and influences metabolism through crossing the blood-brain barrier and directly altering neurotransmitters. In essence, psychoactive drugs are exogenous neurotransmitters because of their high affinity and similarity to receptors in the synapse.

Moving on, there are two major psychological theories which attempt to explain why people use and seek mood/mind altering drugs or substances; they can be broken into two basic groups: Learning theories and inadequate personality theories. The former (McAuliffe,1975; Bejerot, 1980) deals with the idea of positive and negative reinforcement. So for example, someone seeking a drug does so to either feel euphoria (positive reinforcement) or to combat withdrawal symptoms once addicted (negative reinforcement). The problem with this explanation is that it fails to account for why people who have never felt the drug's effects seek it, or why some who use fall into either habituation, occasional use, addiction, or abstinence; the theory also fails to explain the use of non-physically addictive drugs like psychedelics or cocaine. Therefore the learning theory is insufficient as an explanation for why people seek and use non-prescribed psychoactive drugs.

The latter group of theories account for non-prescription psychoactive usage with a defected, inadequate, and/or pathological personality. That is, this kind of drug use is done by someone as a defense mechanism against their own feelings of inferiority (Ausubel, 1980; Wurmser, 1980). Traits such as low self-esteem are seen as primary motivators for people ingesting psychoactive substances. Although recent research (Goode, 2002) has shown that low self-esteem is not a good indicator of drug use as people with high self-esteem use as well. Nonetheless, other inadequate personality theories postulate the trait of conventionality-unconventionality (Jessor&Jessor,1980)  as a surefire way to separate and explain the behaviors of psychoactive drug users. This idea, that conventional people do not seek or use psychoactive drugs that not prescribed to them, will be addressed in more detail later.  

Interestingly, a newer personality theory for this kind of drug use claims that people who are more prone to take risks are more apt to use. This theory is quite different from others as it puts people on a spectrum rather in discrete categories of user/non-user. Rather, the spectrum says that most people fall in between taking many risks and avoiding them altogether. Those who fall on the more extreme side of the scale are more likely to abuse drugs, those in the middle are likely to experiment and cease use eventually, and those on the mild side of the scale don't take any non-prescribed psychoactive drugs at all. The problem with this theory is that it still classifies this kind of drug use as deviant to natural behavior. Yet some researchers (Sunstein, 2003) have shown that people who take risks and who are unconventional contribute greatly to the wealth and progress of culture. Knowing this, could these kinds of drug using behaviors be a part of normal curiosity and development instead of being solely pathological?

These theories being thirty or more years old have been challenged by threads of inquiry/investigation in the fields of public health policy, psychopharmacology, and neuropsychopharmacology. First and oldest is the public health policy of Harm Reduction. It represents a third approach (Marlott, 1996) to drug use and abuse- the other two beings the moral/criminal and disease models of non-prescription psychoactive use. Its basic aim is to treat this kind of drug use as any other kind of high-risk behavior (sky-diving, driving, bungee jumping, etc) and develop strategies and methods which reduce the harm associated with it. Harm reduction offers pragmatic and compassionate ways of dealing with the problems of drug abuse The major assumption of this health policy is that people will always be drawn to and use these kinds of substances, no matter what society has to say about the matter. The implication here is that drug use is a natural behavior that must not be made deviant. It aims to normalize (Crofts, 2012) what has been demonized by society and culture.

Second, the US psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist Ronald K. Siegal published the 2nd edition of his book on the culmination of his research into human and animal non-prescription psychoactive usage. The title gives a clear picture of the conclusion of his life's work: "Intoxication: The Universal Drive for Mind-Altering Substances". The main thesis of the book is that the kind of drug use discussed here represent a "fourth drive" after the drives to acquire food, shelter, and sex. In other words, over twenty years research lead him to believe that people seek these kinds of substances not because of any deficit, but because it's a part of their natural biological drive to do so. He cites examples from animal and human studies to show how this drive is at the heart of behavior, not at the periphery. Radical in its presentation, but sound in its methodology, this book gives us a clear picture as to why the so-called drug epidemic is so pervasive: It's our natural inclination to seek these substances!

Third, the psychopharmacologist Carl Hart has written a book entitled "High Price". The books serve as part auto-biography part scientific work. Using personal examples and scientific studies as foundations for his claim that the stereotype of the drug user as violent, irrational, and non-functional is fictional. He points out how most people who use non-prescribed psychoactive drugs are working competent adults who pay their taxes and besides their drug habit, obey the law. The book supports the claim that not only the search for drugs but the use of them can be integrated with ordinary society, because of the fact most drug users behave like average law abiding citizens. He also shows how the racial disparity in drug arrests and that drugs are not to blame for poverty and violence. It's pointed out how politicians use the drug issue as a cover for more legitimate issues which are left untreated. His book helps the average person shake the decades of misinformation about drug users and the effects of drugs, for a more nuanced and evidence-based view.        

Finally, comes the work of David J. Nutt, a British psychiatrist, and neuropsychopharmacologist. Ironically he worked for the UK government as a drug policy advisor before being fired for giving his advice and disagreeing with the then current UK drug policy. The main thrust of his work and his recent 2012 book: "Drugs without the hot air", is that drug harm can be on par with harm in other parts of life. One of his most famous studies (Nutt, 2010) shows a graph of how drugs like Alcohol and Tobacco are more harmful than illegal or restricted drugs like Cannabis, LSD, Ketamine, Amphetamine, and MDMA. Knowing this, it could be speculated that what brings people who are conventional to not seek drugs is not the conventionality itself, but rather an inflated/false conceptions of psychoactive substances and their apparent consequences.

Knowing that non-prescription psychoactive usage may be a consistent aspect of human behavior, what are the implications for our current illegal drug policies? Some have argued for legalization while others fear that such a move would only increase usage and the problems associated with it. The latter group believes either decriminalization or toning down of hard penalties is sufficient. What these two groups fail to consider is how research on these substances will affect the way people use and abuse them. Consider the following scenario.

In much the same way medicinal drugs are carefully researched for their effects and are replaced by newer generations of drugs with more of the target effects and fewer side effects, a recreational or responsible adult use pharmacology industry would do the same. Many of the currently illegal drugs will become more or less obsolete as alternatives with fewer side effects and more desirable effects become available. However, this kind of industry can not emerge overnight. It could only come after a ten year period of mere research and no legal availability for personal use. This time is to work out what are the effects of these substances devoid of political or social biases as to their moral value. During this time personal use will be decriminalized but still illegal. After this period, the substances will be obtainable but not regularly marketed- no ads will appear in any public places (more restricted than erotic material or cigarette advertising). People interested in such substances will, more often than not, come to it by their own volition. Information about their safety and proper usage will be freely available to anyone wishing to partake.

Any of the ill effects such as addiction or careless use can be circumvented by medical and community support programs which will treat these afflictions with compassion and pragmatism (dealing only with the most pressing issues affecting health and well-being- not use in general). This is a much better alternative to our current policy of criminalizing users. The amount of money to treat people in intervention and maintenance style programs is just a tiny fraction of the money needed to incarcerate someone for a year.  Also, addiction rates of drugs show that only a small percentage of people using drugs end up afflicted. This may be due to personality traits of the person rather than the substance itself.

It becomes clear, considering that non-prescription psychoactive use is an expected part of the human experience, that making drugs illegal because some people may abuse them is illogical. Most behaviors have a degree of risk to them- so there is no valid reason to arbitrarily pick out these kinds of substances as illegal. Cars can cause crashes, love can cause insanity (for a while), knives can cut, eating can impact health negatively, and taking psychoactive without a prescription can lead to addiction. There are many cautions, but considering how the war on drugs has affected the world for the worse, a better approach would be to accept these behaviors as a natural part of life and work accordingly to reduce the personal and social suffering of people- not with criminality and harsh legislation, but with knowledge and respect for people’s civil rights regarding their personal decision making.    

Philosophies are like Bodies.

Personal philosophies are like bodies. Everyone needs a body to act in the world. But only a select kind (physicians) of people are able to understand it in more depth (technically). The same is with philosophy; everyone has one. But some are knowledgeable of its technical aspects (academic philosophy). So in the same way everyone uses a car but is ignorant to its parts and function, so are people ignorant as to the details of their own philosophy- some to the point of not recognizing they even have one. This is akin to a person born in a car, never knowing the car was present, but assumed it to an extension of their body.

So what is the benefit of knowing your own approach to life or philosophy in more detail? Well just like having more knowledge of your body or car, it puts you in more control over it- you can recreate your philosophy rather then using someone else’s. Having autonomy increases personal power. With this power, however, comes being responsible for your philosophy and its effects on the world.

Are you willing to take the step to greater autonomy over your view of the world and things in general? Or will you withdraw to philosophies others have constructed without your input?

The idea is simple, we all have philosophies shaping how we approach and view the world. But for many of use, we have inherited philosophies like one would receive hammy-downs of their siblings clothes. They got to choose them, not the person receiving it. In order to become fully autonomous and think for ourselves, we must take the step to understanding our individual philosophies deeply. This is done through questioning it and examining other philosophies.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

What of it? (Science is Art)

Science is the art of the probable physical.
-Terrence Mcekenna

The other day, me and one of my cohorts from the psych program were discussing the limits of science and its epistemology. He would remind me of the incompleteness theorem and how it applies to all knowledge. But we are both training to be scientists, so why bother with this way of knowledge if everything has limitations? Well of course its because of how conventional science is- almost everyone agrees with its authority- and how efficient it is- people love their technology. Granted, we live in comfort because of science. But I cant help to think that history would have me in some past situation under the rule of a king asking similar questions about the crowns authority. I can imagine a fellow subject pointing out to me all the positives we’re experience- asking me if I wasn’t grateful for the following years harvest, or the fact we haven’t had a war in such and such time. Yes, I could picture something just like this. So now I ask: what’s the difference? Coming back to the conversation between me and my cohort, I posed this issue to him. He responded that science is most accurate, unlike creationism for example which states the earth is only several thousand years old. True, no one is going to get away from this one. The real answer to the question of how old is the earth, if we all agree on the definition the terms, is around ~4 billion years old. No way around it. So therefore our conversation reached a conclusion on the matter: science is the way to go because it answers questions most accurately. I would also add because of awareness and consideration of its own axioms.

But later it came to me. Its not over yet. Why would the answer to the question matter? The answer to that would be its effect. But its effect on what? This is where pragmatism takes a step in our epistemology. We choose the effect. This choice is made intuitively; it is not deduced from some general principle out there in the world. Rather our choices on what effect we want from the answers to our questions (e.g. accuracy, consistency, more technology, better health, peaceful world, etc) come to us by our hunches about the world. We feel inside, this must be right. But there is no way to test to see if what you feel is the right feeling, if we define right in the same we would a math problem or in a science article. So we start from our own axioms and move outward- building on them.

Thinking back to the creationist argument, the answer given by that belief system could have an effect which feels good to believers. It could give them a sense of security or comfort. There is no reason to say that the intuition of believing empirical data as the only valid or best form of knowledge is any inherently better then believing that the words of some book hold all the knowledge worth knowing. In the end, it’s the effect on the person and their own evaluation of the answer which matters.

This notion is radical because it takes the floor of “truth” out from under us. It makes us take responsibility for our beliefs and attitudes. There is little use in justifying one’s answers to their questions because it’s objective or most accurate. These “measures of truth” are our assumptions about the world, not something that is fundamental to existence.

Science is just a very complicated art with many rules and procedures. Its values are accuracy and consistency. This art has brought much joy into the world. But it is not the only kind of art.

Monday, September 16, 2013

God or Infinity: Is it Fractals or Turtles all the way down?

Which is greater? Are they the same? Does one explain better? Does one feel better?

Sometimes I think to my self: “I don’t need god, there’s infinity.”

Not sure quite what I mean. I feel like it has something to do with thinking about the totality of the universe and its origin. Sure I could postulate some force or power capable of generating everything, even itself. But it seems to fall into an infinite regress- who created the creator god and so on. Or if one subscribes to the notion that god’s self creation is no contradiction, there’s still the problem of a schism- between god and creation- which begs the question of its nature and origin as well.

Infinity… it just keeps going on and on. Could this give use more closure in thinking about the nature of existence then a creator god? Existence is there because infinity allows it to keep going on and on. Am I deluded in thinking that infinity can have a property of its own outside of the quantity of something? As if it was a principle which allowed the potential and expression of everything we know and perhaps much more. That is, infinity is the reason for why there is anything. This needs clarification… or maybe calculation?

Things have continuity. There’s a spectrum in everything that exists. We could think of the whole world like a never ending fractal pattern. Its like a shape which never ends and can be magnified without limit. What allows the pattern is the reiteration of the fractal equation. The pattern itself is based on a kind of equation which feeds the answer back into itself. For example, the equation x + y = z, when reiterated will have the answer z used as the value in x, and the equation is done again. This process repeats an infinite number of times with a fractal pattern. Bridging the analogy with reality, we can see that the equation represents the stuff of existence, and the infinite reiteration of the equation symbolizes infinity itself. This way, in the same manner the equation repeated makes the whole pattern, the basic stuff of existence repeated with infinity creates all that we know and perhaps much more.

But here we are back at a dualism: that between the stuff of existence and infinity. Well, what infinity did do was take creation out of the problem of existence. So this dualism is more tolerable. Unlike the dualism between god and creation, stuff-of-existence and infinity are not in causal relation to each other- one does not create the other. I think this difference is what makes infinity a superior idea in postulating the reason for existence. It feels better as it jives with science and modernity in general. In this way we can see how god as a postulate for the existence of the universe is as useful as saying existence is turtles all the way down; at least this fractal idea don’t need a creator.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Technology and The Singularity

One trade mark of the human species is not only our ability to create technology, but to have that technology evolve and progress through time. That is, we not only make tools, our tools refine over time, improving themselves and merging with other tools. If we take the broad definition of technology as anything which a person creates or utilizes to further an end, then we can see how this technological progress follows a pattern: the removing of steps between the initiation and the completion of an end. An end is just any goal or task a person wishes to complete. Therefore in this sense, technological progression is that which helps removes the steps or shorten the procedure in the furthering of an end. Tools are the objects or skills themselves that are utilized in this process.

To understand how technological progression is the production of tools or skills which remove steps towards goals, some examples are useful. Some of the first tools humans utilized were stone axes. At first the tools were sharp but uneven. The next tool to come along worked on the original idea, and improved it by adding straighter edges. This addition helps one cut better, thereby removing the steps in order to complete the task of cutting. Therefore a pattern is seen, a tool emerges to help facilitate a task- like cutting- and as time goes on, the the tools are refined by the usefulness in removing the steps toward an end. Another kind of progression technology can go through is the merging of tools. This is best exemplified by today's smart cell phone. This device is an amalgamation of many different tools like a camera, mp3 player, web browser, etc. Therefore, not only do tools progress, they merge- helping remove the steps from multiple ends at once.

Considering this point of view, a question arises: would there be some point in time where our technology effectively removes all steps between initiation and completion of an end? Can technology become so efficient so as to remove any time between the thought of a goal and its attainment? Can all technology converge into a single tool that can do it all? Would this be the singularity the trans-humanists hope for? This is the idea that humans and technology will merge, causing an effect so novel, it is incomprehensible to think about at this time. I feel this potential state is exactly the point of us achieving the fully optimized technology explained above. The time in which out tools will remove all steps between us and our goals, we will reach a singular state where all things are instantaneous. This must be the singularity: the state where all goals are instantly accomplished through technology.

If humans do reach this point, what is left for them to do? If technology cuts all the time down and coalesces into single tool, then how would we act? What would happen to our desires and hopes? This is what makes the singularity so incomprehensible. We are so defined by our pursuits of goals, that if all was immediately attainable, our identity must cease and recreate itself. Much or maybe all of what we do now would be unnecessary. Perhaps this progression would go backward when people start to miss the delayed response of working toward a goal. Maybe some would regress toward tools which add more steps, thereby adding a sense of meaning for those who felt they lost it all with the lack of steps towards goals. Or would these people be deluding themselves by denying a life of possible perpetual bliss? It's hard to say for sure whether or not this progress in technology will prove to be ultimately satisfying for humans. It could either become a trap or a blessing.

Is the logical conclusion of technology a single tool which does helps towards any end instantaneously? Is this what would make the singularity incomprehensible to us now? As of now we cannot know for certain what it will bring, but what ever may come, it is enviable.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

DMT, The Pineal gland, and The 3rd Eye

DMT is a neurotransmitter which is produced during normal human metabolism in the body. A neurotransmitter is a chemical used for communication between areas of the brain. Its function is unknown at the time, but its speculated that it is released in the brain during three specific stages: birth, death, and dreaming. There is speculation that DMT is responsible for visionary phenomenon like dreams, alien abduction, and near death experiences. If one would to ingest DMT as a vapor or in a brew with an MAO inhibitor, they would experience a psychedelic state which most describe more akin to visiting a place rather then a kind of intoxication. There are much higher reports of people encountering aliens or beings then on other classic psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin. Although DMT works on serotonin like the other classic psychedelics do, it produces these intense and unique otherworldly/alien experiences. Many have said that the drug allows one to cross into other worlds or dimensions. Many of the anecdotal reports support this sentiment.

Some scientists believe that DMT may be synthesized in the pineal gland. This is a gland which resides at the center of the brain. Interestingly, the tissue its made from does not resemble any of the other brain tissue. Its most well know function is producing the sleep hormone melatonin. The hormone is produced because the gland is light sensitive and requires darkness to begin the synthesis. The function of its light sensitivity should not be limited to its current use. In our ancient evolutionary past, the gland was connected to an eye, and is still like so today in so called “living fossil” reptiles. Therefore it was originally designed to take in light from the outside and convert it into mental images or dispositions rather then just melatonin. Knowing its possible for this gland to registrar light, its not far-fetched to see how the stimulation of it may produce it to take in more light then usual, thereby eliciting visually images. Increasing DMT in this gland may bring out is older sense organ properties.

The mythical and spiritual 3rd eye known to many metaphysical and esoteric belief systems represents a kind of inner or intuitive vision one gains after mastering a practice. Could it be that the otherworldly encounters known to the DMT experience really be another reality picked up via a light source beyond the visible spectrum? That is, could it be that what one sees under DMT is actual light being picked up from some part of reality we normally don’t see because the concentration of DMT in the pineal gland is usually low, but increased during external DMT use? I find it possible that an increase of DMT causes the usually low tuned pineal gland to go into overdrive and not only pick up light to create melatonin, but also to transform it into visual images and perhaps other kinds of sense data as well, thereby disclosing that part of light/reality we normally cannot pick up on. perhaps this does unlock perception of either another world or a kind of parallel continuum we normally cannot pick up. Granted this theory is highly speculative; nevertheless it gives us way to think about these three phenomenon and how they might relate to each other.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Double Standards: Oppressive For Females?

The idea of a double standard between the sexes has sparked a lot of debate in the post-modern era. Feminists insists that it is a form of oppression on women by subjugating them to activities like household chores and other traditional female roles. They see their side of the standard as a form of objectification which debases the female. The whole system is seen as only benefiting all men, at the cost of all women being subjugated in life. This idea is facile as it fails to regard how the gender roles emerged from environmental and anatomical conditions from our past.

The truth is one role is not more significant then the other. Rather, both are necessary but make up different parts which accompany each other in very complementary ways. Males are forced to defend the home and provide resources for it- a very dangerous job. Females are supposed to care for and maintain the home- a very difficult job. Although the modern age has liberated us from these roles, we still carry the psychological and anatomical baggage of our past- which shapes our behavior and minds. Our inherited cultural customs also reflect our past conditions. Therefore, its not surprising that many social institutions like marriage are crumbling in the wake of our self-sufficiency and individualistic economic system. In the absence of direct genetic intervention, it is unlikely that humans will drop their inherited gender differences. Yet it is possible with conscious intervention to work on these behaviors and acknowledge them for what they are: ways of adapting to the environment, and not a general form of female slavery. This way, people can make rational decisions on how to alter their behavior depending on their surroundings, not subscribing to a false dichotomy of either being an agent of oppression or a victim of tradition.

What gives us a double standard is our history in relation with the environment. Men were resource providers, while women were resource stewards. Each role is necessary for survival. Any perceived imbalance in value stems, not from the roles themselves, but the upstarts who seek control over other people through either violence or coercion. It is they who inflate one role over the other (their role) as a way to justify their power. They announce that it is because the role they assume is superior that they have the right to oppress others. Although most tyrants in history have been male, it does not means most males were the oppressor. Rather, most men throughout history have been the ones oppressed along with women. The fact of the matter was, if one was not apart of a powerful family or clan, then one was very likely to be oppressed by one. Cases of males with lesser status or class maltreating any woman was not due to the role itself bringing out this kind of behavior. Instead, those males have taken the twisted view of the inflated role from the very tyrants oppressing them. As there only view of power does not come from cooperation or compassion but oppression, they have no other ways to think of their role. This confines males to a inflated view of their role because of their ignorance about other views. Its plain to see how what makes the double standard in gender roles become oppressive is not anything inherent in it, but the tyrannical forces which shape the social view of these roles- making the male inflated over the female.

The modern age has given us the tools necessary to transcend previous boundaries and restraints. Nevertheless, we carry around bodies which were designed for the past which represent over 95%-99% of human history- the era of foraging. This era required each gender to perform a certain and critical role because their biology was optimized for it. Only with the advent of tyrants and social structures like divine kingship and royalty came the oppressive qualities which would be juxtaposed on top of the already existing roles, thus rendering one to become inflated over the other. The inflation acts as a cast to indoctrinate minds with these kinds of values. It is only by acknowledging this double standard of gender roles as a way to adapt to the environment and not as an intrinsic tool of oppression, that we can improve the schism between the sexes.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Phase Transitions: Habit, Novelty, and Emergence

Why are humans so different from the rest of nature? 
Is the progression of the universe just a chaotic march without direction?  
Or does the unfolding of the universe follow a pattern? 
If so, how do humans fit into the pattern?

Life is known for its diversity. Evolution has produced a myriad of organic forms which we call the web of life. Throughout all this variety, there are underlying commonalities which bind everything under the classification of life; these commonalities include things like reproduction, metabolism, death/birth, genetic makeup, etc. But for some, there seems to be an organism unlike the rest. Granted, all organisms are unique in their own right, but this animal is unique in a way that is different from all others. This organism is unique because it has inhabited a space in nature all of its own. This is the space of mind which the human is defined by. The homo sapient means the one who knows or wise one. This act of knowing constitutes a new kind of landscape or territory that no other organism inhabits, filled with symbols, abstractions, meaning, and purpose. However this process of opening up new frontiers is not unique to humans, for that procedure is inherent to the universe, and represents a phase transition between biological life, and teleological mind.

The cosmos, as chaotic as it may seem, has an underlying rhythm or process to it. Since the big bang, the unfolding of the universe has followed a specific pattern: more novelty and less habit over time. That is, at the start of the universe, things being very simple, habit is at its peak; the low organization of matter in the early universe lacks the variety necessary for novel or new things to emerge. As the universe ages and grows in complexity, novelty is allowed to emerge, actualizing the potential of matter. Novelty is then seen as the continuous development of new forms of matter and energy, which add to the totality of existence in the universe. Novelty is that in the present moment which is different from what came prior to it in time. In a nutshell, habit is/are repeated processes, while novelty is/are the new variation on those repeated processes.

Its clear to see how the growth of the universe is one from mostly habit (nothingness) to first a little, then an exponential growth of novelty through new forms and complexity. The novelty as it grows, finds itself nested within the repeated process of habit; an example of novelty nested inside of habit would be a a kind a of variation on a repeated process. This kind of subtle intrusion does grow over time, leading a habitual process to become something different altogether in time. But as novelty grows within habit, habit does not disappear; instead habit acts as the base for variation and novelty to grow upon. Therefore, for every novel form, habit stands as its base providing the stock to alter into new forms. To illustrate novelty nested in habit, one would think of phenomenon like the combining of base parts in DNA, genetic reproduction and mutation, or staple foods and the varied spices/flavors. This means that there is no super-novel state in the future where all habit is atrophied. Rather, novelty will continue to grow, but with habit at its base. The same is for habit: at the start of the universe, the big bang itself was the novel event within the habit of nothingness. This makes sense as the two are defined by contrast with the other. Novelty is always based on or nested within habit, although the former can outweigh the latter.

As the universe progresses to greater and greater novelty, it undoubtedly goes through changes. Things like new chemicals, life forms, elements, etc, all represents changes comprising the leading edge of novelty. Changes happen constantly, but there comes a time when a change is so radically novel, its emergence adds a new layer to existence. That is the novel is so radical, it constitutes the new base habit for all novelty thereafter; this radically novel change we can call emergence, adding a novel tier or level to existence. For example, when the early universe only contained subatomic and atomic particles, any novelty was confined to the domain of pure physics. It was only with the interaction of atoms that the novel layer or tier of chemistry emerged; novelty was then after bootstrapped to the level of chemical interactions. This makes sense as what makes physics and chemistry differ is that the latter is concerned with the interactions of the parts, while the former is only concerned with the parts and their make up. Biology emerging from chemistry brings in a force against natural entropy; this brings a change so radical to the make up of physical chemistry- anti-entropy as metabolism and reproduction- biology becomes a new tier or layer on reality. The emergence of new layers or tiers of reality continue on- from physics to chemistry, from chemistry to biology, and currently, from biology to mind. Each novel layer becomes the base habit in which new novelty emerges.

The concept of emergence comes from systems theory. There are two kinds: strong and weak. Weak emergence refers to any kind of complexity which can be easily reduced to its parts. Strong emergence on the other hand, refers to a whole which is not directly reducible to its parts. This lack of reductionism is what constitutes a new tier or layer to reality. Therefore, each level strongly emerges from the other; this act of emerging novel layers is called a phase transition An example of strong emergence can be seen in the phase transition between physics and chemistry: both the elements hydrogen and oxygen have properties very different from water. Having its own properties, water is made of two elements which do not resemble any of its properties. This fact illustrates how the properties of water can emerge from two elements which have no continuous proprieties between them. Thus every phase transition is a strong emergence in which the prior proprieties do not relate to the novel form on a one to one basis. Simply, the whole is not the sum of its parts.

Some argue that a whole can only be made up of its parts. What they fail to see is that what makes up or organizes a whole is much more then its parts; what a whole leaves out constitutes it's form as much as what it's made of. As things become more complex or novel, they adopt constraints which limit their freedom; that is, the more freedom a system has, the less structured or complex it is. For instance, in order for an engine to work properly, its parts need to be restricted in their movement. The more freedom the parts have to move, the less the engine can work properly. Hence freedom in any system mean less organization, and the lack of freedom helps organize the form. This makes sense as complexity is a restraint on potential freedom. What's missing in turn structures the form as much as any part of it could- this is how something can be made up of more or perhaps less of what its parts are.

When it comes to humans, we represent another novel layer to reality because of our unique kinds of consciousnesses and what it reveals/adds to the environment. Because of our animal drives and bodies, some may forget that they are much more then an animal, or then any biological life form all together. Although its true that the human is an animal, it is also much more. A quick glance at the ecology of the earth shows one species to be the most pervasive, as if it was an invasion. Homo sapiens have controlled the environment in a way unmatched by any other life form. On top of that, humans inhabit a novel space in reality made up of symbols and abstractions inaccessible to the rest of life. It's as if humanity's environmental niche is not anywhere in the physical environment, but rather inside the minds, society, and culture of each person. This gives humans an obvious advantage in the evolutionary game. With the power to abstract and make symbols, a new landscape or territory emerges that is available to all humans. This extra/super space which makes up the new layer or tier of reality for novelty to emerge from, naturally becomes a zone of concern for humans. Because of this, humans have concerns unlike all other life forms. Whereas most organisms only concern is either the fullness of their stomachs or the propagation of their genes, humans have a whole slew of involvements and anxieties altogether removed from the physical environment; their concerns deal with abstracts like time, death, love, honor, justice, etc. In essence, the emergence of human thoughts and cognition in general represents a new direction for novelty; cultural evolution has taken the novelty baton from biological evolution; the human mind deals with multiple realities.

Part of what makes the human more then a biological creature is not only the mind, but the evolving technology it creates and utilizes. Most of what makes humans unique is their tool use. Tools and technology in general are very broad and involve any innovation from language to stone axes. Humans not only create technology, they are shaped by it; that is, if one removes technology from a persons development, they will not come close to behaving or being human. Take for instance the tragic stories of feral children who grow up empty of human language and culture. These individuals are unable to participate in human society or culture. Because of this, they are restricted to lives with concerns of bodily sensation and its immediate feelings, just like many animals. Its plain to see how without culture or language, a person ceases to be just that, and assumes the existence of a sole biological organism: an animal- not a human. Cultural evolution’s is were the emerging novelty is situated at this time. Therefore, if someone is not able to participate in cultural evolution, they cannot be apart of the landscape or territory were the emergence of novelty is taking place. Humans thus represent a interdependence of different process (biological, social, cultural, technological) which facilitate the emergence of a new tier to reality: a teleological or purposeful layer added to existence.

If there was a pivotal moment when the human species first phase transitioned, it was perhaps when a key component was added to the human diet. This aspect is what started to separate the humans from other hominids. This ingredient must have provided the catalyst for the human imagination to grow and move in the direction of novel territory. That is, this food may have been the push in the direction of the novel landscape, territory, layer, or tier of reality for the human mind. Perhaps, before this push, the human mind occupied the same space as other animals. The question remains: why did this ingredient only produce this change in humans and not other hominids or animals? This can be so because of chance: perhaps the human brain or body acted like a puzzle piece, with the food acting as the other fitting piece; both pieces are unique so they only fit each other. This is a possible explanation which leaves it all up to chance and gives a reason for humans exclusive transformation. It seems that this specific kind of food acted as the catalyst which propelled the human mind into novel territory or landscape in reality.

There is good reason to believe that the key ingredient must have been a group of mushrooms which contain a psychoactive chemical called psilocybin; this chemical is a psychoactive one meaning it affects mood. This class of drug/compound is known as a serotonergic psychedelic- works on the serotonin neurotransmitter. First, these kinds of mushrooms are found all over the world, making them very accessible to foraging early humans. Second, they are ready to eat in their natural form, requiring no preparation, making consumption very easy. Third, the chemical is readily metabolized in the body and is virtually non-toxic. Fourth, the compound is very compatible with the brain, working with it to produce the changes. Lastly and most importantly, the psychological effects of the chemical facilitate a feeling of portentousness; this pertains to a feeling of experiencing more then one can comprehend. This creates significance toward things beyond immediate appearances. This feeling lays the seeds for all kinds of cultural and abstract sensibilities to be developed and elaborated. The feeling of portentousness helps open the door for uniquely human concerns by shifting attention from the biological plane, and into the teleological or purposeful plane- the new layer on top of biology. These reasons show how the chemical in these kinds of mushrooms may have provided the catalyst for human thought and behavior to leave the domain of pure biology, and into the novel landscape of symbols, abstractions, meaning, and purpose.

A rough outline of how humans went from biological hominids to teleological humans would start around 200,000 years ago, when anatomically modern humans first appeared. Archaeological evidence shows that human uniqueness as culture began around 70,000 years ago. Between these periods, humans must of lived like many other hominids. The encounter with the mushrooms must of happened in different locations at different times during this period. Upon first experiencing the effects of expanded consciousness and feelings of portentousness, people in awe must of rushed to describe their ineffable experiences to each other; this is much like today and through history, people always have painstakingly attempted to convey their mystical or expanded states of mind, despite their ineffability. Because of this drive to share their experiences, people started pushing the power of what language could communicate. The push for new metaphors and phrases created the space for thought to inhabit when concerned with unique human aspects like purpose, meaning, time, justice, morality, religion, etc. Then as people were expanding their use of language, they probably became settled in a single spot to either obverse its significance, or to share their experiences. Another possibility has the psychedelic effect of synthesia-blending of the senses- may have provided the guide to link abstractions with mouth noises- helping develop language. It's important to note that the oldest human settlement was created before the advent of farming (Göbekli Tepe). Therefore the orthodox idea of farming first then settlements may be wrong. People may have been establishing settlements because of their experiences of portentousness and their effort to share their experiences with others. As time went on, people settled in one spot may have encountered others who where still nomadic. These settlements may have been a place to share tips and could have been where the idea of farming was first mentioned and spread from. This shows how cultural evolution emerges from biological evolution as novelty is bootstrapped into realm of memes. The reason human thought and consciousness have emerged into a new landscape of reality is because psilocybin acted as a catalyst, propelling the human mind into new territories of meaning and purpose.

Many evolutionary biologists admit that humans typify an anomaly of natural processes. Factors like the doubling of the brain size, progressive tool use, language and culture, our stark difference relative to other primates, our motor and thinking ability, the rapid development of the changes, etc, support this idea. Using this model of emerging novelty from habit, which adds layers to reality, with humans representing a new tier of reality- a new landscape or territory- the anomaly ceases to be so. Reality has progressed from psychics, to chemistry, to biology, and currently, teleology. The growth of novelty will continue as another novel layer emerges from teleology. Till then, the human species is at the cutting edge of the universe's drive toward greater novelty out of habit.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Liberty and Security: The False Dilemma

Minarchism, not anarchism, is the way to liberty!

Liberty is one of the foundational beliefs in American political philosophy. It represents freedom in our choices. A libertarian is someone who thinks liberty is the highest political virtue.

Lately it seems we have forgotten that the USA's main political end is liberty. But some see the idea as more of a danger then a necessity. Hoping to prevent another terrorist attack, many are willing to give up their liberties in return for physical safety. What they fail to understand is that protecting liberty ensures the greatest security. Many have the wrong idea of safety, relating it to only their physical security, rather then their potential to express freedom of choice- expressing their liberty to act. In accordance with this idea of safety, the federal government should decrease drastically in size becoming a minarchistic state also known as a night watchman state- with a few additions pertaining to social services for the under privileged. Gaining liberty does not mean giving up security.

Many think- as shown by the loss of our privacy and civil liberties- that the relationship between liberty and safety is an asymmetrical one. That is, more of one causes less of the other. If liberty represents our freedom of choice and from oppression, then security should not interfere with it. Security means to be free from harm or threat to our potential, not just our physical bodies.

At this point, it may seem reasonable to assume that a restriction on liberty ensures some safety by reducing the potential of an attack. This view of safety is skewed. If safety means a restriction on personal potential or liberty, then by that logic, we should all be in prisons, because its only then that the individual is virtually free from harm; yet, there seems to be something wrong with living in a prison, even though its safe: our lack of free choice. True security is the protection from harm to the potential of the individual. This means a person is most secure when they are able to exercise their liberty or potential to the fullest. A security of this kind would focus on threats to the liberty of the person, rather then the blatant physical safety which leads to oppression via a police state. The negative about protecting physical safety over liberty is that it leads to oppression, and people are not able to thrive. If a society is not able to thrive with their liberty, then no matter how free from physical harm they may be, the society is still worse off then if the physical safety of the people was compromised but liberty was fully protected. This is because that society would have a tyranny that is much worse then a vague possible threat. The security state will unavoidably overstep its bounds. As long as people are able to thrive, there should be not much reason for people to hurt each other. Most crime is done because the criminal lacks something which is made up with the crime.

One concern is that some people think a society which upholds libertarianism would leave people without social assistance. This concern ignores the two fundamental kinds of liberty: positive and negative. The one most are familiar with is negative liberty. This is the liberty or freedom from outside forces and oppression, as long as the person does not violate other peoples liberty. The lesser known kind, positive liberty, means the liberty to have the resources and potential available to fulfill one's choices. Therefore, people who are in poverty, or have a lack of education, or are sick, do not have positive liberty. In order to have positive liberties, these kinds of social ills must be dealt with so as to allow people to thrive with their freedom. Therefore, with these kinds of liberty in practice, the concern of people who are underprivileged can have a chance to better there situation and thrive with their freedom.

A misconception is that libertarian and anarchist are synonyms. This is not true; in order to secure these liberties, there must be some form of collective authority- validated by voluntary convention- to protect these liberties. Because of this, a limited form of government is needed. So in contrast to an anarchist a minarchist is one who believe government should be restricted to protecting people from aggression, theft, breach of contract, fraud. The only government organizations would be police and fire departments, courts, legislative and executive branches. I would add- because of positive liberty- the services of healthcare, and education, because if a person is sick or undereducated, they are able to exercise their liberty to the fullest. These social services need not come from tax money, but can come about though voluntary measures like tax credits or encouraged incentives. Hence, a libertarian society does not have to resort to anarchism, or ignore the needs of underprivileged people.

Familiarizing oneself with both kinds of liberty, one can see how the common misconception that liberty means giving up security or social assistance is a facile one. It ignores how broad liberty and its philosophy really are. This is because people see safety as only physical safety. Once the true definition of safety is learned- that it pertains to the potential to exercise liberty and not only physical safety- one is ready and able to understand how upholding and protecting liberty should be restored to the forefront political concern in the united states; a minarchist form of federal government would best uphold and protect the liberty of the people.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thoughts On Entering Graduate School And “Escaping The Real World”

I’m about to enter graduate school this fall. I am going for my masters in psychology, which I hope to act as a steppingstone toward my acceptance in a PhD program in social-cognitive psychology, perhaps with a specialty in human evolution. Some feel that the choice of a PhD is an alternative to life in the “real world”. A life outside of direct concern for markets and finance. An idle life of contemplation, not bothered by the worries of ordinary reality. Some might say an escape. 

With that said, my career goals are not exactly clear for most outside of academia. Most upon hearing my choice of study immediately begin to ask me to evaluate and diagnose some person they know, who is alleged to be anything from slightly odd to completely insane. I usually try to cheerfully tell them I’m not going to work in the mental health field. That ordinarily sparks the question of what I actually do then. I then explain I’m more of a scientist/researcher and not a medical professional; I would mainly conduct experiments or research and write papers on them. 

Most have no idea that this is what many in the field of psychology do; its not all mental health. Part of the reason for this ignorance is that our society is driven by market economics. If the job is not either high paying or in high demand, its not seen as too important. Increasing GDP is the name of the economic game. 

I once had a conversation with a graduate student while I was an undergrad about entering graduate school. He told me that most feel that the choice is one of leaving the “real world” of practicality and entering, to put it lamely, a fantasy. I snapped at him and questioned if a person acting as a paper pusher or corporate lackey bent on increasing GDP in an environmentally unsustainable way is better then what we are trying to do: then discovering the dynamics of human behavior for the benefit of others? Of furthering understanding of our nature and actions towards others? Of helping others come to know their situation in more optimal ways? This is lower then being a middle manager at a pen company? Or an administrator at a corporate firm? I told him that is nonsense, and that the people who have that opinion are brainwashed by a consumerist media bent on keeping them entranced by a never ending shit-stream of useless novelty products clogging up the worlds landfills, and enslaving the 3rd world to make it for them. I told him that what we do is not insignificant but to the contrary quite important. But not to get full of our selves, we are reminded that what we do is to ultimately to serve all of humanity. After I strongly explained this to him, he seemed agree, perhaps out of fear because of my stern tone.      

Graduate school is a difficult and noble goal to purse in one life. If you consider this path, do not let anyone convince you that you are escaping into an irrelevant part of life. Rather you are going deeper into it all, and discovering new aspects of reality; this is no evasion of reality, not the slightest. 

Relative and Absolute Self-Esteem: Removing The Jerry Springer Effect

All lives are trade-offs of each other; no one life is any better then any other: no one has it all.

Scandals, gossip, drama, and the like. For many people, stories and events having such themes make up a huge portion of their entertainment diet. They watch with vicarious excitement at the next outrageous issue or dilemma troubling some person or group. This kind of humor at others problems is similar to the comedy of slapstick. Its obvious that people find amusement in the problems of others when they are at a safe distance from those troubles. The question then emerges: why do people like to see the misery of others, preferably, from a (spacial and mental) distance? Although there may be other explanations, I believe this is because people use others problems as ways of either justifying their own issues or to provide themselves a relative frame work where there own problems fit into a context where they perceive their troubles as “not that bad” in the light of those “worse” problems. Because of this, people in our society build their self-esteem on the backs of others. I suggest another way of creating self value which does not rely on marginalizing others and creating a sense of superiority over them.

The building of self-esteem on top of the perceived troubles of others can be named. I prefer to call it: The Jerry Springer Effect (JSE). This is based on the talk show with the same name. The talk show serves as a prime example of this way to prop-up self-esteem. The show's main premise is to host guests who's problems are deem outrageous by the status quo. This includes things like: finding out your significant other was born the opposite sex they appear to be now, or that ones spouse was cheating on them with their parent, or that a family member is a prostitute and proud of it. These extremely taboo and uncommon (we hope) issues are they key to why the show has been one of the longest running on TV. For most people watching, the problems of the shows guests are so far removed from their daily lives, it gives them more then sufficient psychological and personal distance from the guest's troubles. Because of this, people use this show to frame their own problems. They may say to themselves in the back of their mind: “John not washing the dishes is annoying, but at least he's not sleeping with my mother.” The shows overly shocking guests give most a reason to see their troubles as not so bad, thereby raising their self-esteem. In a sense, they proper their self-worth on the backs of the show's guests.  

Although there are many ways of increasing self-esteem, many find it hard to do so in an ethical way. It may seem that one can only prop themselves on the backs of others to elevate their sense of self. Some may argue that gaining self-esteem can only be done at the expense of others, like a kind of social food chain or hierarchy. This point fails to acknowledge that there are two basic ways of gaining self-esteem: absolute and relative. The argument that self-esteem comes at the expense of others fits into the absolute category. Absolute refers to the idea that there is an objective measure to which everyone can compare their situation. Self-esteem becomes dependent upon ones opinion or perception regarding their place on that objective scale. The people they perceive to be below them on the scale represent the base on which one props their self worth on. One looks at those below them with a range of emotions from pity to contempt. While they look at those higher then them with feelings like envy or admiration. On the other hand, relative self-esteem acknowledges that all people are on a level playing field when it comes to self worth. None are more valued then others; there is no social ladder or objective scale to adhere too. Rather, people see each other as equal by virtue of the fact no one can have it all. That is, although from a distance another self-esteem or life-condition may seem desirable and superior, but the law of habituation ensures that all lusts lose their shine, and all novelty becomes habit. In other words, people get used to what they have, turning it into the mundane banality of day to day life. Because of this, a relative self-esteem sees all self-worth and life-conditions as trade offs of each other; each one has something positive and negative about it, thereby neutralizing it and evening all of them out. Its plain to see how relative self-esteem is the more ethical choice, but are the various self-esteems really even?

It can be hard to imagine how the life of a CEO at a fortune 500 company can be a trade off of the life of a homeless person. Its obvious that the CEO has a lot more money and is thereby able to get the necessities and wants of life which are denied to the homeless person. The poverty of the homeless person seems to stand as an obstacle between them and any kind of happiness and security. Although this may be a common view, its a facile one. Consider the case of a self made millionaire who after gaining his fortune, returns six months out of the year to the life he had before his riches: that of a hobo. He leaves his big house, prestigious job, and lovely wife, to live a life “off the grid” as he calls it. For him and perhaps many others, there are perks to living a homeless life free from stagnate commitments and responsibilities. He talks with great fondness about the feeling of watching the stars from a freight train car, or feeling excitement about what the next day brought. I would like to make note that although all lives may be trade off of each others, it does not necessarily justify keeping people in positions of poverty or oppression. What a trade off signifies is that although one understands that all lives have their good and bad sides to them, it does not mean that one’s life-condition or self-esteem must stay in the same place. Counter-intuitively, there may be good sides to poverty like a lack of boredom or an absence of existential nihilism; but it does not mean a poor person would want to stay poor. Part of the possible good sides of being poor may be the hope of a better tomorrow, which colors their present moment with a positive/optimistic mood. Appearances are deceiving by leaving out most of the story. We let our superficial assumptions hinder a complete view of these “undesirable” kinds of lives.

To clarify this a bit further, consider a hypothetical scenario involving a real world person. In the MTV reality show Rob & Big a commercially successful skateboarder (Rob) and his bodyguard (Big) perform various outrageous activities, usually at the command of Rob. For rob, everything is paid for, from his house utilities to his clothing are all provided for him by his skating sponsors. Many see this as an ideal life. One does what they love, gets attention and fame for it, and lives free from bills and others adult responsibilities. The show itself perhaps attracts most of its viewers because of a kind of celebrity voyeurism. Although some see this as the perfect life, its worth mentioning some drawbacks that would make this life unbearable for the person as any poverty condition, notwithstanding whether the distress is physical/external or mental/internal. Its well known that skateboarding can lead to various moderate and serious injuries. But a deeper, maybe more agonizing pain, would be the fact he needs to stay within the contracts issued to him by his sponsors. If for example he hears or sees a skateboard which is much better then any he has access to now, but is patented by another company, it would defiantly become a problem for him. Another possible issue facing Rob would be the lost of interest in his sponsored activity. If for any reason he feels he does not want to skateboard anymore or finds that he hates it, he would be forced to continue, or face losing the ideal life so many cherish as their dream. Its clear how although at fist glance a life may seem more valuable or have better self-esteem then another, with a closer look, the negatives come out, ultimately evening out all lives because of this balance between positive and negative aspects; no one has it all.

Its important to addresses the issue of people, for some reason or another, who have rob, are violent, commit theft, are con artists, etc. Some would ask how a life which is devoid of these kinds of negative behaviors be equal to a life filled with those kinds of habits. The answer is simple: relative self-esteem is subjective, in that the good and bad aspects are defined by the persons own feelings and thoughts. The good and bad aspects of live are not measured from outside. Because of this, a person who lives a life of theft may have the negative of being a few steps from prison, but may also have the positive of lots of quick money and the excitement of a big heist. The aspects are subjective. This is important for self-esteem because it does not allow one to use the absolute style by propping their self-worth on top of those they perceive to be bad or evil people. A relative self-esteem acknowledges that although actions may be hurtful to others, those committing them are ultimately equal because all people are products of forces they themselves are not in much control of, if at all. Again, a relative self-esteem does not mean to allow negative behaviors, thereby allowing people to be arrested. The point is that one does not build their self-esteem or worth on others who they perceive to be worse then themselves.

How does one derive their self-esteem, if not by relation to others perceived either better or worse then oneself? It seems second nature to feel good about not being this person, or trying to become that person. But what is lost is a focus on the self and its own abilities. That is, when one has an absolute sense of self-esteem, they spend their time in a kind of fantasy running away or toward imagined ideals or icons of others. No attention is given to the good and bad aspects of one's self. With a relative self-esteem one understands that their good and bad aspects are like light and dark aspects. When it comes to self worth or value, if one focuses on themselves, rather then on others, they can become more familiar with these two aspects of themselves, altering them in turn. Focusing on one's light or good side for example can lead to thought over what one sees good in themselves. This helps to have the person develop these good qualities, expanding and enriching them. The same can be said about the negative aspects but in reverse. The person can help themselves to lesson the bad aspects and help either accept and integrate them, or replace them with better aspects. Its with a relative self-esteem that one can help to progress their self-development through focusing on their good and bad qualities, rather then the qualities of others. In short, absolute self-esteem encourages stagnation and stratification because one feels in a perceptual middle between the better and the worse, and one perceives others in different levels on a hierarchy of good and bad. While a relative self-esteem encourages production and growth because the individual, in focusing on their own qualities, is able to fix or expand on them.

Like many things in recent human history and society, there has been a change in how we relate the multiplicity of things in the world, including each other; we have gone from a absolute to a relative understanding of the world. For example, culture used to be thought of in the in an absolute sense where all cultures fell on an hierarchy with western civilization on top being the most advanced. Today a relative understand is favored, with the difference that all cultures are seen as equal and unique in of themselves. Another instance of moving from relative to absolute is evolution. People used to talk of humans or other animals as higher or better then others, but now most researches are stern to point out that there is not vertical ladder of better and worse in nature, its all equal. Perhaps the most personal case of this change in understanding is with morality. Most people in our society today believe that people are entitled to their own morals. They wouldn't consider that their morals are inherently any better then others, maybe just suited better for them because of their familiarity to it. But more traditional societies understood morals to be absolute and would use the law to enforce moral codes on people. Granted today’s laws are kinds of morals, but they are much broader and allow more freedom then anything that has existed before. Therefore, the change from an absolute to a relative self-esteem is not alone in that process; many aspects of our society and understanding of the world and each other have also undergone the same absolute/relative change.

A common habit of ours is to build our self-esteem in an absolute way. We prop ours on the backs of others, deriving our self-worth and mood from our difference, whether better or worse, to others. This way is not conducive to a society where people learn to respect each others differences and see one another as equal. Rather it fosters a society which keeps people in a vertical line caught between the ideal and the undesirable, causing them to see each other as different and more antagonized by their differences and shortcomings. A relative self-esteem can fix this by helping people grow through self-development and cultivate a sense of unity in diversity by virtue of everyone not only being equal but unique as well.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My religion: gnosticism with a small g

gnostic with a small g

My religion is gnosticism, which makes me a gnostic.

Its main notion is gnosis

This term means, that which pertains to knowledge.

Gnostics believe that everyone is striving towards gnosis, which makes up all the motivations and goal directions of their behavior. But what signifies a gnostic as distinct from other is their awareness of and drive to immersion and acceptance in striving toward their gnosis. All gnostics believe in the liberty to choose ones own gnosis and to respect other people’s gnosis, not interfering with them. Gnosis can be liken to one's personal meta-narrative or overall story of life.

What does it mean to strive toward gnosis? It means taking all the loose facts and ambiguous judgments about life and connecting them into a coherent, personal, and unique picture, meta-narrative, or story, we call gnosis. This picture serves as a motivator toward a specific pattern of behavior that is perpetual. This is the striving aspect of gnosis; that is, a striving toward the meaningful and holistic picture of existence that we created. We are driven to become a reflection of our unique meaning, which we strive to continuously create in the world.

A quick definition of religion has nothing to do with the supernatural, and much to do with one’s attitude toward life: mainly one’s purpose and motivation. In this sense we are all religious. And our religion is the total of our purposes and motivations, our approach and attitudes toward life, weather we are aware of it or not. Everyone is a religious person in that respect. With that said, all religions whether organized or not have three parts: doctrine, ethics, and ritual. Now as this is cleared up we can move on.

The doctrine of gnosticism can be summed up with the term gnosis and our relation to it. gnostics believe that everyone including themselves are searching for gnosis in life. This is the whole aim of our existence and nothing more or less. Gnosis means knowledge. So we are all looking for knowledge. But what is knowledge? On the face of it, knowledge is understood to deal with blunt facts. But the actual definition is much broader then most think. To define it easily, knowledge can be broken up into two kinds: procedural and declarative. The former is knowledge of how to do something, while the latter is knowledge of something. So you have a procedural knowledge of how to ride a bike, and a declarative knowledge of what the capital of franc is. This way, knowledge becomes much broader then how most understand the term to mean. In this sense, knowledge becomes includes all human activates.

There are many kinds of knowledge that people strive to know or learn. The gnostic sees everyone’s actions as striving for a particular knowledge state. A knowledge state is state of mind either immediate or imagined, which brings some kind of closure to the person, while allowing for a furthering of progress in their behavior toward that closure. The knowledge state could be like a carrot at the end of a stick which drives us but ultimately is unreachable because of its very nature to motivate us. A simple analogy to illustrate this idea would have the closure as the purpose and the striving toward the purpose as the motivation. Therefore, we are motivated toward our purpose. It’s important to note that the person may or may not be aware of these motivations and purposes. Nevertheless, their behavior is geared in such a fashion because if it was not, there would be no other force propelling them to be any different from any other animal. Therefore, all people are all determined to reach a certain knowledge state called gnosis which brings motivation and purpose, tying up the all the facts, to life.

When it comes to ethics, gnostics understand liberty, self-awareness of one’s short comings and a full acceptance/complete immersion into their striving toward gnosis to be the three highest moral virtues. They believe understanding one’s limitations and personal/social biases helps one become more sensitive to the word and others, in turn increasing empathy and allowing for consideration of multiple perspectives. It is only through knowing our own limitations that we can become humble toward existence and find a place in it by following one’s own gnosis. Free will is thought by gnostics to be the state of mind in which one is fully aware of their own bias and limitations of their perceptions and understanding of the world. This helps one control the problem of ambiguity in life’s situations by allowing for it and finding within it one’s own unique of expression of it; this helps one in their striving for gnosis. The only constraint on social behavior is to respect others liberty to chose and pursue their gnosis, without the threat of one interfering with another’s endeavor. The gnostic also believes that the awareness of ones humility and ultimate ignorance helps deter negative behavior toward others, not with punishment, but with an awareness that can not only, perceive the world, but feel for it. The sense of ecology grows with this kind of self-awareness; one becomes integrated with the grander scheme of things by balancing the smallness of their perspective and understanding, with the grandness of their own personal striving toward gnosis. The personal striving aspect toward gnosis also helps in one’s behavior toward others by focusing on their own understanding of knowledge of the world, which puts their priorities in building and giving to the world, rather then taking from and destroying things in the world.

The ultimate ethical goal of a gnostic which separates them from others who are not gnostics, but nevertheless follow their gnosis, is to reach a mental state of acceptance and immersion into their striving toward gnosis. Acceptance means to want to follow the gnosis one has without any doubt that this is one’s own proper gnosis. This means not performing ones gnosis halfheartedly or with a divided attention filled with distractions. Immersion refers to fully engaging one’s self into the activity of striving toward gnosis. This means that one’s mind becomes lost in the experience, so as to feel a sense of “flow” or what some call “being in the zone”. This state of mind is very healthy and shows the pinnacle of a successful activity. This sate of mind allows a fuller and richer emotional experience of happiness because one’s sense of purpose is complete and accomplished.

As for ritual, gnostics simply follow or discover their gnosis and strive for it. This aspect is related to the ethics described above, but with the difference that ritual is focused more on personal transformation/striving, then on moral imperative or duty. That is, this aspect regards the individual’s own striving for gnosis, and not how the individual relates to others. The ritual one performs as a gnostic is to pursue their gnostic endeavor at all times. One is responsible for creating and applying meaning to their daily activities which directly reflect their striving for gnosis. This means that whatever gnosis one strives for, they need to make sure each activity they perform is related toward the gnosis. Nothing should be done that is not a part of their striving, no matter how trivial it may seem. Failure to do this can bring distractions which make one lessen their concentration on gnosis. Therefore, although the only ritual to be performed is one simply stated and broad, it required constant diligent engagement, so as to not falter in their concentration and striving.  

A gnostic fantasy of the ideal world would be one in where all people strive for gnosis in two basic ways: technology/science and  artistic/expressive endeavors. This would be a world where people would strive toward discovering the world through observation and experiment, or to use that knowledge to create new technology. Another group of people would peruse gnosis related to artistic expression. These areas also mix and overlap, creating many people who purse gnosis which blends aspects of the before mentioned endeavors. An example of an individual’s gnosis may be their will toward finding new ways of bettering or performing a particular sport. Another example may be a person’s love and wish to understand the biology of a living cell. One’s gnosis can be broad to include several activates. Take for instance the person who loves a particular sport, they may perform many different actives related to that specific sport or group of sports. One may pursue to learn the art and technicality of cinema; learning both how to use their intuition to create, as well as the mechanics of the cinematic process. Whether or not the ideal world is reached, it does not and should not infringe on a persons ability to follow their gnosis. The personal ideal always trumps the collective ideal. This prevents gnostics from ushering other to be like them.

There are countless possibilities for gnosis; all that is required is that the individual is fully immersed and accepting of their particular gnosis. The process of discovering one’s gnosis is simply a course of trial and error. It involves learning from others and trying out different activates or pursuits. This is all done by experiment: trying out different actives until the right one is found. This would take place in childhood and would be the equivalent of schooling. After discovering what the individual is right for, they pursue the activity as their occupation. With regard to changing gnosis, the beauty of finding the right gnosis is that with the proper understanding, they can apply their current gnosis and connect it toward a new activity, whilst reaming within the theme or category of the original gnosis. This is achieved through one’s creativity and the fact that all knowledge is connected and contingent on each other, although we may not be aware of this fact overtly. The possibilities for and endless array of gnosisi unsurprising considering that gnosis encompasses all human activities and behavior.    

An important note should be made addressing the word/term gnosticism itself. It is already used in the religious world. It is the name of the oldest Christian sect. gnosticism with a small g is not directly related in any way to Christianity. Rather, the choice of the term gnosticism is the definition of the word itself, meaning knowledge. gnosticism is always written with a small g to empathize this separation. The strict use of the small g also signifies humility by not giving the name the importance of a capital letter so as to not let the word become an icon, shadowing the practice of striving toward gnosis itself. This is meant to help people not to confuse worshiping the idea of gnosticism rather then fully immersing and accepting their own gnostic endeavors and pursuits.  

The purpose of human existence, to a gnostic, is the ongoing learning and application of knowledge toward their gnosis. It’s easy to see how the human being unlike any other animal is capable of not only transmitting genetic information, but cultural information and memes as well. This capability far removes us from the realm of pure animal, and stretches out our identity between some kind of biological creature and a tool or piece of artificial technology. The gnostic sees this drive to transmit cultural information as the process of striving for gnosis itself. Everyone is involved in the transmitting of culture, whether conscious of it or not. One of the main benefits of a gnostic awareness and lifestyle is that one becomes aware of their role as a transmitter of cultural information, and in turn become more considerate of it, careful not to cause negativity. To the gnostic, humans are the part of the universe which is reflected back upon it, so as to make the universe appear to itself. Questions of the nature of nature, and whether there is anything beyond it, are open to speculation and debate for gnostics. But our role in the universe and nature is very clear, striving toward gnosis through transmitting cultural information to oneself and others.

This concludes a brief overview of the dynamics of this new religious position, gnosticism and their followers, gnostics. Although the topic has not been exhausted in this essay, it has been/will be fleshed out in older/new essays.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

We are predators

We are tireless predators

Our greatest prey is each other

This is why as a species we have conquered the planet, literally bringing it to the edge of catastrophe.

We, unlike any other life form, can shape our environment with our imaginations.

A piece of pop culture which is a perfect illustration of our predatory nature towards each other is the zombie killing spree meme.

Here we have a human devoid of personality
But it is a human one can kill without a second thought

This image fills the void where the enemy of a culture once stood, in the traditional societies.

But today’s global cosmopolitan society cannot tolerate to have another peoples fill that void

So we substitute peoples with mindless zombies as the enemy of a culture and society. Requiring and ultimately enjoying their slaughter.  

We are an invasive species. We hunt too well.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Whole hole

An Incomplete wholeness.

Our missing pieces are anchors through time,
Tying us to the yet to be.

Moving forward means leaving a piece of us to chance.
Where we cannot come close to it in time, feeling, or certainty.

Progress requires an empty space,
A hole,
Where the gasses of anticipation and anxiety settle.

The need to see forward,
Takes a piece of us
And throws it in front of our eyes and out of our reach.

Striving perpetually in forward motion.
Treading threads of hopes and fears,
Hoping to bring the space between you and it to a close.

This incomplete self stretched out through time feels fragmented,
Yet unaware of its true wholeness.  

Masked by the pains of running the game of progression,
A true nature remains veiled to ensure the proper pace is kept.
We march to this beat for the sake of itself.

A wholeness unseen.
A wholeness unfelt.
Nevertheless, a true wholeness.

A w-HOLE-ness incomplete.

You don’t need psychedelics for…?

What are unique about the subjective effects psychedelic drugs?

Some people say they these effects or states of mind can be reached without the use of them. They point to techniques like meditation, fasting, sensory deprivation, pain ordeal, and others as being sufficient.

I ask, what exactly is being reached in these states for us to say that the drug’s effects aren’t unique? I like to think that these drugs have unique effects which cannot be achieved otherwise. The most obvious unique effect is the sensory distortion. I can’t think of any other state of mind which processes sense data in the same way. Another unique effect is the way one handles thought. The mental chatter and imagery we normally experience is altered in a way that none of the claimed “substitutes” can achieve. An additional unique effect is the reliability of repeating the experience with different people. The other techniques may or may not produce any effect; but with the psychedelic, one is guaranteed of having an effect be felt. It’s clear how psychedelics should be understood to be in their own class of effects because of the intensity and repeatability of the experience compared to the alternative given.  

All of the previous mentioned techniques do alter consciousness in general, but they are usually in much less of a degree. For example, a person attempting sleep deprivation may see very mild sensory alteration like colors or halos of light after a few days. But a person who has dosed some LSD will not only see extra or heightened colors, but geometric shapes, lattices, patterning, breathing textures, flowing grains, magnified details, etc. Or consider a meditator who experiences a change in the way they understand person identity. After a while they reach a state of mind where he or she feels to have lost their sense of self against a backdrop of pure emptiness or void. An individual who has taken some psilocybin mushrooms may also feel like their sense of self has dissolved into the world, merging with it; but they are able to be awake and interact with the world, thereby adding much more to the experience by not being tether to the same mediation position. Without a doubt, the alternatives offered do not come close to match the immediacy of the effects of psychedelic compounds, because that sense of urgency is not common to them.  

These intensified effects do have their price. Psychedelic drugs are notorious for being very mentally abrasive, with negative effects leaving an imprint long after the metabolism of the drug has finished. However, the opposite scenario is also true: a person may experience long lasting positive effects. Another drawback to their use is the fact the effects are temporary, with only pieces remaining to help foster insight. In much the same way like everything else, psychedelics do have their less then helpful features.  

Saying these drugs effects are unique does not give them a flawless potential for use. They have problems like anything else, but they are also unique in their own right. So when it comes to psychedelics, things like meditation, fasting or sensory deprivation may seem like substitutes, but they are not. The effects may overlap, but it must be treated in its own class distinct from other non drug ways of altering consciousness.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why I listen to noise music

It’s the postmodern era

All our feelings are fake
They are Social constructions which perpetuate themselves though our behaviors and feelings
They’re the selfish memes: creators of normality

Noise is not music
Music is this
Not that

Acquired tastes, what’s with that?
Darwin, how do olives, beer, Noon Chai and weird art fit in your scheme?

We are controlled, this is music
Not that

Social engineers behind the curtain dictate
Made of memes devoid of personhood

I listen to noise
It sounds like music to me

The normative bias assures us what the signal to noise ratio should be
This makes us programmed
Popular culture: the cul-de-sac of creativity

I know you cant market this
And for that…..

I know my feelings are real
I know they are unique
I know They are not a product of your creation
Of your propagation

They are real, not your fabrication

My tastes are independent of the market machine
This is what I discover in noise music

This is why I listen to noise music
Noise Music
Thank you for validating my taste by showing me its not tethered to market economics
To the social engineers, to the machine

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Confessions of a Drug Enthusiast: Picturing a Recreational Pharmacology Industry (BETA)

This is the introduction to an essay I have in the works. I'm putting it up because I feel it efficiently summarizes my main points for the subject, although each point isn't fleshed out or exhausted to a degree which I would think decent for an actual persuasive essay.

Confessions of a Drug Enthusiast: Picturing a Recreational Pharmacology Industry

Some wise fool said once that life is all sensation. Seeing that we are humans with the capability to consciously alter our experiences and in turn our life, it would be natural or inevitable for us to develop ways of altering, optimizing, or enhancing our sensations. Not surprisingly, much of human behavior aside from basic survival (which most people in this society don’t worry about) deals with this endeavor. Some may see it as reducing boredom or making a moment more interesting. Unfortunately, with the numerous ways of altering our sensations/perceptions, some happen to be against the law; these are the illegal drugs, for which all nations around the world (in some form) are waging a war on their own populations. These wars a fought in the vein of stopping a perceived threat to humanity as a whole: drug abuse. I’d like to show how this kind of reasoning, making drugs illegal because of the possibility of abuse, would be like making sex illegal because of the possibility of disease, or food illegal because of diabetes/obesity; it is impractical and immoral in a society based on individual civil liberties. Moreover, I’d like to show how in a drug tolerant society, a recreational pharmacological industry could be established and integrated into the economic system as a whole, ultimately benefiting society by allowing for the research of these substances for their most effective uses.      

Monday, April 22, 2013

Why is most personal drug use considered criminal?

In the 1800s, products made from cocaine and opium (morphine) were widely available to virtually anyone. The patent medicine industry of the day was reasonable for this. Unsurprisingly, people had addiction problems back then with theses compounds like they do now. The differences today are that the activity has not just become illegal, but criminal. But why?

Back before the dawn of modern pharmacology and medicine, cure alls and vague tonics were the common remedies for illness. We had very little understanding of the precise behavioral and chemical effects of these compounds. All that was known then was that one would take X to get rid of feeling Y without more or less hurting one’s self (or dying). There was little thought regarding addiction and toxicity in the long run. Naturally, this era was the birth of the “snake oil salesman”. Nevertheless, when addiction arose, it was treated as a medical problem and not a criminal one.

So who’s idea was it to take the chemically dependent and turn them into criminals on par with thieves, murders, and rapists? To investigate, one needs to search back to when and how these drugs evolved from patent medicines to illegal substances. Taking a look at alcohol, in the 1800s it had a segment of the population locked in chains of its dependency. In order to relive this problem, some doctors at the time had the idea to substitute their addiction with another one (a process we still do today but with much more “sophisticated” drugs). Hence one went from having an alcohol addiction to having one of cocaine or morphine. By the turn of the last century, most of the opiate or cocaine addicts were lonely housewives or men in opium dens, a population trend similar to today’s addicts. Therefore, for most of the white population in the US at that time, the problem of cocaine or opium dependency was no more significant then it is now, with alcohol being the dominate social drug problem, like it is today. But what about other parts of the population?

Although alcohol is widely used in most societies, each culture has its own unique array of recreational and medicinal (most of the time these two categories are the same) drugs. Some of the immigrant and black populations had their own kinds of recreational drugs. The common examples were Mexicans with cannabis and the Chinese with opium. Unfortunately, systematic racism at the time was high, and as the immigrant populations grew, laws were enacted to restrict the freedoms of these groups with the likely intent of driving them back to their respective countries, and/or to marginalize them as second-class citizens. Many individual states started to pass laws against exotic cultural practices, such as like Chinese men having long hair and the drugs which these minorities used. After spreading through the states with significant immigrant populations, the drive to make these exotic substances illegal joined the awareness of these substances holding on a small part of the white population in dependency; this latter awareness came about because of the 1906 pure food and drug act which made it mandatory to list the ingredients of all products made for human consumption. Consequently the conjunction of drug awareness with the xenophobia of the time resulted in the passing of the national Harrison narcotics tax act, making it illegal to deal or use cocaine or opium products without a prescription.

It becomes plain to see how when the issue of drug use was within the context of the mainstream white population of the time, it was either treated medically or not at all. But when the issue involved minority populations, the reaction was to pass laws making it criminal. However, the federal ban and criminality came from a combination of the ramped xenophobia of the time and a newly acquired awareness of drug ingredients. This is why personal drug use (for the most part) is seen as a criminal activity: not because of any harm, offense, or corruption, but because of ignorance and historical circumstance. Is this what we want to base out public policies on?

Today we inherit these drug policies from the past based on a lack of knowledge available today. Is there any good reason to go on treating the chemically dependent as criminals on par with violent and malicious offenders? What else would make one a criminal then doing harm or offense to directly others? This kind of behavior is missing in the addict. One may argue that suppliers and producers should only be considered criminal. But this idea ignores the fact that what creates the black market suppliers/producers is the illegality itself. Its time for us to learn from our past, consider it as pretext, and start to reevaluate and change our drug policy, grounding it in science, compassion, health and human rights.