Working on new music, commercial, and also a new masterpiece…
But here is some recent stuff I’ve done in bands Cruise Elroy and Future Caveman which you may not have heard yet! Enjoy.
Working on new music, commercial, and also a new masterpiece…
But here is some recent stuff I’ve done in bands Cruise Elroy and Future Caveman which you may not have heard yet! Enjoy.
My perspective on the world is ever-changing; this truth-seeking philosophy itself seems to be at odds with my fellow man.
I consistently feel frustrated or just bored with the philosophy I find in those around me. I’m on the lookout for new circles, or new cities, or just new friends who share a love of truth and philosophy, and who generally avoid savoring those pop-memes, naive as they are, of the reigning culture of the moment. I don’t feel smarter, or better – actually, often the opposite, which just enhances my annoyance. I merely think, “Why’s that?” and “How am I wrong?” when most people seem content just believing they are small demi-gods in a loving world. How utterly boring and untrue!
I have been wrong about most of my deeply-help philosophies. In fact most philosophies are wrong. Nature is complex and strange – humans are new on the scene, and trying to make sense of it all. It is good to change points of view, to think, to wonder. I’m looking for people who think for themselves, and desperately want to know: what is all this? what’s going on? how do I deal with my own impending asplosion?
Subject to change, but these are a few philosophies I currently hold to be true, and which I’m lately very “sure” about…
Atheist. I believe all holy superhuman entities of any kind, or indeed any purported non-human, non-animal intelligence to have been invented by man. I believe that nature and reality has created itself through evolution, and likely other processes humans are just barely starting to understand. I don’t completely discount the idea of a creator (some super-intelligent alien race from a previous universe or something) but I find it unlikely, somewhat unsatisfactory (in that it merely changes the question ‘where did the world come from?’ into ‘where did the world and its creator come from?’) and boring (the idea of a universe which creates itself through a layered evolution of physics is supremely interesting and beautiful. It would be hard to go back to this idea of an all-knowing overseer planning things out for us for….. some reason.)
Politically independent. I see modern politics approaching the intellectual realm of religion. It creates group-think, it dehumanizes those who disagree, and it creates a large sweeping mental lock-in: you must subscribe not only to one special issue, but a plethora of issues which are claimed to be related in one specific way, but, on pondering, are related in many diverse ways, or unrelated. I prefer to think for myself. I change my opinions on difficult issues often. I feel that some issues are often purported to be much more cut-and-dry than nature would ever dictate. Politics turns otherwise thinking, educated, secular people right back into self-righteous, cynical haters, soaking with group-think. We need more love in this world – the Beatles kind of love. Optimism for humanity. Affirmation and respect to people with different opinions. I see little of that in party politics.
Pro-human. I like humans – at least, the concept of human thought, rational intellect, philosophy, civilization, science, art, culture. I love human emotions, scars and flaws included. These things are the real source of truth and progress. I don’t subscribe to popular ideas of the sinful human, or the fall of man. I do not believe the earth is ‘overpopulated’ by human beings. I welcome each and every creative being who pops his or her goofy, giant head up. Humans are not anti-nature – they are part of nature, and so far in our region of space, the most interesting beings from nature’s canvas ever created. I loathe any harm to Earth’s incredible biology, but humans and human progress is still important. I do not think there is any impending doom in human progress – cultures and myths have always predicted this, and yet, things only get better. We fear Armageddon, instinctively, and yet, we tend to solve problems coming at us slowly but surely. I have faith in human beings to understand nature, to progress technologically and ethically. We have just come down from the trees. Give it a moment! A few thousand years…. we will solve environmental issues as we progress, find deep truths about nature, invent worthy and striking works of art and civilization which will only continue to astound. I also believe that optimism, in the Karl Popper sense, is the only rational outlook for humanity.
Anti-group-think. As much as I love people, I equally loathe them in tribes. Horrid, dark things happen when people joust for social order. Our chimpstincts kick back in. The political, the cool, the sexy gain power. The rest cling on to the philosophy of the tribe, hoping to fit in enough to survive. As animals, we need a general life philosophy for survival, as we need food for survival – but instead of the tasty meats roaming the far-reaches of the mountains, most people are content with the berries and droppings they find scattered closest to the cave in which they were born.
I am a “Nature Realist”. I do not see Mother Nature as peaceful, warm, and all-knowing, a chubby and rose-cheeked caretaker cradling her creatures in a garden of eden, but rather, as strange, humongous, hostile, bizarre, and profoundly, darkly beautiful, an insane, skinny, blind artist, torturing her plethora of magical creations until they do new tricks for her. I obsess over reading biology and physics. I love astronomy and quantum physics. I tire of everyone’s insistence of treating nature as entitled and magical, and humans as dirty and destructive. I get criticized often for being anti-nature for merely reporting the truth of the situation. We exist because of millions of years of death on a rare blue planet, in an uncaring universe which is here from a billion-year explosion, still taking place, possibly over trillions of years of physical evolution. The universe is mostly strange, dark and freezing, or violent and incredible, but always mind-blowing. I don’t need to invent stories or fake narratives – nature has already provided me with the deepest mysteries, the most profound beauty, the most interesting reality I could ever hope to be a part of. Amazing….
Pro-science. I dread a world where we give science back to the political, which is happening often, always. Beware any philosophy which treats skeptics of that philosophy as less than human, or stupid. Skeptics of any true science are welcomed, even applauded. Religions and political groups are the only ones which must defend against scrutiny. Science, the art of figuring out what the hell is going on around here, is the only reliable telescope with which to peer into the space of reality. I am specifically a naturalist – I believe in a reality outside of human thought, a real reality. Yes, I just said a real reality…. and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Pro-art. I see art as important and transcendental. I feel it has great value to the human race. I hope this value will be mirrored in resources as humans progress their awkward civilizations. I see music as objectively important and beautiful, although, meaning itself is a philosophical obstacle. Which brings me to:
I deny “good” and “evil”. I see ethics, aesthetics, and meaning as human-made, but nonetheless super important and valid and even objective in a certain sense. I do not believe in some intrinsic, universal right and wrong. For example, nature invented and perfected murder, but humans have decided to make it wrong in an ethical sense. That’s good, and logical. It works with progress, and keeps sentient, rare creatures alive and happier. These are all objectively good things, and its ok for humans to invent new modes of ethics, new laws and rules. We just need to avoid treating these things as universal, or somehow woven into the fabric of reality itself. This is not accurate, and leads to dehumanizing. Humans make right and wrong, and we invent meaning as we go, and this is amazing and precious. We should keep going, and try to find modes of philosophy which are congruent with reality and nature. But to call someone “evil” for killing, or similar, is stupid, backwards thinking. It goes contrary to instinct, but I believe that nature has absolutely no moral compass, aside from one simple philosophy: survive. This single philosophy has dictated each and every planet, sun, galaxy, flower and animal in our observable universe, with one notable exception: man (who follows this as well, but has also invented new ethical modes.)
Did you read this? I just kind of wrote it.
I’m suffering from Lyme. Its brutal. I’m “better”, but at this point…. I’m so paralyzed, so darkened and foggy, so exhausted, all the time that “better” isn’t exactly the term I’d use. The worst part is that the IDSA and CDC are spreading this nonsense about Lyme being auto-immune, or very rare, or the nonsense of hysterics, etc etc. Lyme is real, its brutal and life-changing, it destroys the central nervous system, and science has a long way to go. But its caused by pathogens. They aren’t so easy to kill as everyone wants to believe. Nature…… survives.
Just a quick update. I am in recovery health wise and it’s steady – but slow. Some days I’m a frustrated heap of sick in a bed, but some days, and more often lately, I’m able to get some good work done on music.
I started with some 25 or so songs which have been accumulating. I’ve tracked them all over this Lyme fiasco, slowly and intermittently. Through it all, music is the one thing I can actually do…. there isn’t a concrete schedule and I can work when I can.
Here’s the weird thing – it’s turning into something magic and special. I’ve never produced something so intricately and carefully. I’ve had so much time to ponder and obsess about each track and then delicately sculpt away a little at a time.
I can’t even over-hype these songs. I think you will be blown away! I certainly am – it’s like these tracks are building themselves, I’m just channeling something from somewhere else. It’s a new sound, I can’t describe, except to say it’s very electronic, but also very organic. Everything has been tracked to perfection. This is my healing process.
My whole catalog under Chris Merritt has been about writing songs and releasing them raw, to various degrees, and letting the song be the thing. Some records are more produced than others of course, like Pixie & The Bear or the new Cruise Elroy album. But I always had the instinct that production is so long and technical, why even bother until I have the opportunities in studios with producers? I was always looking for the chance to have the right resources to create a true album. But those resources rarely came, and more and more resources are being dried up for experimental musicians and artists (don’t believe the web 2.0 crowd). So I’m finally reduced to…. ok, the hell with it, it’s time to produce the masterpiece myself. It’s pop, it’s rock and roll…. it’s blues. There’s electronic, but it’s pure rock music too…. there’s soul, every song will have your butt moving…. but its artsy and cerebral…. each song is under 4 minutes, but they are all compact little symphonies. It’s lots of piano and very Merritt, but also entirely new and almost a reaction away from much of my past material. Its also a call back to classicism in my mind, with each song being, at the same time, an intricately arranged, intellectual, chromatic math problem, and a minimalist punk rock statement of pure genuine emotion.
Ah, here I am again. All talk. I’m just excited, and its frustrating to be sitting on your best work 93% finished. Stay tuned… I’m trying to wrap a few of these up over the weekend, and be almost complete with an entire album of songs by the end of this month. Deadlines….. I need ’em….. but lately, its all subject to change. My vocals on some days are manageable, but often I can hardly speak or sing.
You can see signs that our culture is searching for truth (as people have always done) but are hitting something of a brick wall. Our usual solution has been taken away: usually, we just deceive ourselves. Just make something up. We fill in the gaps in understanding and existential/philosophical matters with stories of gods and magic. Our modern info-saturated world is having trouble making sense of these old nonsense beliefs. We used to be blanketed in blissful darkness. We used to believe we’re smaller, so that the world might appear bigger.
The world is big. But here’s the truth. We’re the most interesting thing around. The only designing ever done, EVER, in our region of space has been by us. Probably the only rational thinking in 15 billion years, in our galaxy at least, has been done by us, on this little, amazing, extremely rare and impossibly stable planet.
My message is not one of despair, but of hope. We are our only saviors. We must admit what we do not understand before we solve anything. Life, nature, the universe – the truth is, there may not be any reason or salvation or plan at all. We may be entirely unique! Biology on this planet may be a completely new mode for physics. Maybe life exists somewhere else, but surely it’s unique in its own way. Nature takes paths, and then branches off from those paths, and then branches off.
I can’t shake this recent conviction that all of the world is evolution. It becomes harder and harder to me to imagine any explanation besides. Physics in our universe is pretty complex and specific to the way things behave, including biological life. Imagine trillions of universes with varying physics – most blink out or explode or freeze within seconds, with the electromagnetic force set way too high or low for anything exciting to happen. A handful of universes develop for millions of years, a very rare few stay stable for billions, spawning new and completely unique modes in which physics can emerge and self-organize. Our universe is but one example.
Looking at chemicals on the internet earlier. Certain chemicals, a carbon diamond say, create beautiful shapes as they converge over time. Patterns are beautiful (in this case) because some physical, quantum process created a mode of chemical expression which creates a repeating set of examples: an organization (perhaps with slight variations over time due to some effect). And as human beings, made of those same chemical processes in the same universe, we appreciate its beauty, which itself is beautiful beyond words. Beauty is entirely relational, but objective in a sense.
Anyway, true beauty, according to nature, seems to be organization, and emergent novelty, or creativity. The beauty of nature, as you peer your head further down the rabbit hole, reveals itself to be more and more dark, more and more subtle, more and more stunning. Complex made from simple – rare gems in oceans of darkness.
Anyway, that was all beside the point. But I was worried this evening that people have ethics all wrong. There’s something “unethical” about criticizing religion. It’s considered “good” to be positive about life. We value stoicism, positivism, being social etc but I have a fear…. that these are likely all just human conceits, and bear no weight outside our little survival-driven, social-obsessed minds. There is no god, none whatsoever, and even our hard lines of good/bad are often just the tools of social climbers. This stance is not only more ethical, its our only hope at solving things ourselves. In a world of god, why worry? But in a world where you are utterly alone and there is no precedent or parent, you better figure things out for yourself.
The only progress we will make as a species comes from deeper understandings of the complexities of nature. Eastern medicine and thought has become a trend of the elite in the western world. It feels good and healthy and soulful to be excited about it for some reason – but it’s a dead end. Science gets a bad rap, and will always tend to – science is describing nature, which is a never-ending task, and the answers will almost always be something unexpected. But this does not mean give up! It does not mean despair! Western civilization had some dicks in it? So what? It also showed us the solar system and universe, cured many diseases, created democracy. Keep pushing! The bacteria are fighting back! They evolve faster than us! But we have reason and science! They have no brains! They are a culture but cannot express! We have the advantage! Press on! Biology has had 3 billion years to invent and create! It is complex, but not intractable. We get scared when we see how deep the rabbit hole is. We retract. Our culture thinks the modern age has solved most disease, for example. “We’ve done it! It’s all solved! We’ll probably live forever!” Except for the millions of people with unexplained, untreatable diseases, and an entire population who can plan on, without fail, getting old and sick and dying, usually horribly. Just as many people are suffering from illnesses today than ever before in history. We’re turning a blind eye. The only real disease is genetic: human denialism.
Religion is poison. Dear humans: save yourselves, love yourselves, give respect to having the lucky role of the eyes and ears and soul of the universe itself. Learn about yourself.
My brain does something very strange. It asks “why’s that?” after literally anything is perceived by it. The universe has unraveled itself somewhat for me over the course of this strange existence, but with every unraveling comes more questions. Most perplexing to me is the fact that so many things are in fact unknown. We live in a perpetual mystery… but what could be more engaging than a mystery? Here are some questions which I think are incredibly important for our species to try and understand, but which have no answers currently. Following the questions I posit my layman, wannabe science-philosopher’s speculation on the subject. Disclaimer: my thoughts are very free flowing and unspecific here, as well as extremely speculative and poetic… my wish is not to say I’m right, but to present some interesting patterns and general concepts I see coming up over and over again in the world.
– Why are the laws of physics ‘finely tuned’ in our universe to allow complex, novel structure?
Our universe contains specific properties, such as the speed of light or the strong electromagnetic force. It turns out, if you changed these forces very much, complex structures would not form, at least in the same way; matter, or suns, or solar systems, or people, wouldn’t be able to form. So why do we find these perfect numbers in our world? I think evolution can be the only answer. We’re used to thinking about evolution in terms of biology, but I believe that no other process in nature besides “trial and error” can explain the complexity and flexibility of the physics in our universe. I think, as humans, our notions of time are completely small-minded. We barely just got our heads around the universe being around 14 BILLION years old, but I believe, more and more, that we must be the result of possibly TRILLIONS of years of physical evolution – perhaps we are one in a series of universes. Why not? Another explanation could be a god or designer, of course… but those aren’t even explanations in any sense, and seem more and more unlikely and uninteresting to me. Lee Smolin has an interesting theory on cosmological evolution, of universes that “reproduce” in a sense through black holes. I don’t believe in a quantum multiverse theory anymore either, with every possible quantum configuration existing somewhere. It seems too magical and convenient to me lately. We live in a physical world, not some ghosty infinity of overlaying quantum worlds. Whatever the specifics though, it seems clear to me that no other reason besides some kind of evolution, or selection process, or trial and error can explain the complex “finely tuned” physics we see around us. We must come from a long line of evolving physics. We must, this is something I feel more and more certain of.
– Is there a God?
I just threw this one in to clarify the previous question, because I think we do have the answer to this. Unless I hear otherwise, I see no reason to assume any kind of creator or god at this point in my life. I think, with evolving physics, we don’t need to have a creator involved. Why couldn’t we have just come into being over bazillions of years of trial and error? We see that happened with biology on earth. Why is it a stretch at all to imagine the rule applies over everything? I started life as a question-asker believing mightily in a god. In fact, it took me twenty years to get over the fact that god isn’t needed in the equation. Life is most probably very strange, and without reason, and without design by a certain being or collection of beings. But it IS in fact the “design” of trial and error – a much more beautiful, mysterious, and interesting concept. The world is the product of self-design – physics evolve, become more dynamic, evolve some more, create new ways of expressing themselves, evolve some more. Nature is evolution – and so the future is unknown, and unknowable. This is why everything is made of unique variations! Nature is the randomness of throwing different crazy physics together, mixed with the conforming properties of the same physics, until something exciting happens. Look at the planets in our galaxy – all different, novel, unique, beautiful for different reasons…. how amazing. Interesting mash-ups – when crazy physics and chemicals meet overall constraints such as gravity. Things self-organize, until they can self-organize on a new level of complexity – heavy elements, galaxies, life, human cultures.
Can we get rid of this god question already? I hate to offend. But why is it offensive? I used to be offended by disbelievers… but I can’t even remember why. I guess I’m saying, life is a bit dark and temporary, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. I can see that. But can’t we be courageous enough to face the reality of our bizarre, grim situation? Because here’s the thing; as soon as we do, we will be able to make life more livable, more enjoyable, more interesting than we can even imagine. Our superstitions and social jousting mostly bring us to hurt ourselves! I mean it!
– Has life evolved elsewhere in the universe? And how rare are we really, as reasoning sentient beings?
I suspect we are exceedingly rare, and completely unique, but not completely alone. It’s become trendy to assume life is all around us in the galaxy, just waiting for us to make first contact. I dunno. It seems so strange to me that we have absolutely no evidence yet. The universe is beyond ancient. If life was hanging around, it is likely to have been around for ages before we humans came on the scene. There would be some trace, somewhere. However…. we observe nothing but silence and cold physical reality for billions of light years in every direction.
But also, when I look at evolution on our planet, I can’t help but notice this seeming motivation of physics to self-organize. Very near the beginning of our planet, life got started. If it was really that difficult to create life on a planet, wouldn’t earth have been barren for a couple billion years first? Life survived mass extinctions. It evolved to be multi cellular. It experimented with body plans, got smarter, and has taken millions of forms. (Humans have even evolved reasoning and science – we are the sentience of the universe. We are the eyes and ears and minds of the universe itself!) So it seems like life is at the very least possible, and at the most, it could represent an underlying motivation of the universe to self-organize.
With complexity, and limitations, comes organization. Is it a system’s limitations which force the need for it to organize itself? For example, the gases on Jupiter have different densities and layers, and are forced to self-organize into columns of air movement, creating cyclones and other interesting structures. Human roads are a local example which struck me the other day driving – with the limitations of resources and space on the 2D surface of our planet, we tend to self-organize our transportation into systems of efficiency – roads and highways. (By the way, these systems rarely prove to be completely efficient due to feedback mechanisms… once a river has eroded a track in the earth, it’s less likely to change course. Hmm…..)
So anyway – the point is this. It seems that there is in fact some kind of impetus for the universe to self-organize. Paul Davies in his book “The Eerie Silence” claims that he thinks we are the only sentient life in our observable universe… and remember, this guy like, runs SETI, and has been dreaming of ET his whole life. And he still regretfully concludes that we’re IT. So it’s hard for me to argue with such a smart guy, but I would argue the following: if we are indeed hyper-rare, why are we seeing lots of stable, unique, beautiful solar systems with projects like the Kepler telescope? If we were in fact one-in-a-trillion, wouldn’t we expect stable solar systems be more rare? I don’t think it takes complex chemicals too much, on a universal space/time scale, to self-organize in interesting ways. I would expect at least unicellular life to have formed on the surface of at least a handful of planets in our galaxy – and with simple life, eventually comes more complex life. Reasoning beings? Science? Perhaps those are different matters entirely…. but I expect we will find evidence for life of some sort on another planet. It will have similarities (probably carbon-based) but will have evolved along its own unique and beautiful path.
– What the hell is going through other people’s heads? What is the brain and the mind?
It has become popular to assume that artificial intelligence is right around the corner. I find this philosophy to be unfortunate and self-delusional. The human mind is far, far from being understood. Kurzweil’s AI predictions are too oversimplified.
We may create intelligence artificially at some point. I’m not against this idea for any inherent reason. But far from being unemotional and logical, I suspect eventual AI will be emotional, unique, and creative. Our notions of creativity and intellect are completely off base, and the notion of the sci-fi android, a la Data from Star Trek, will seem silly and crude in ages to come. The world around us isn’t some math equation which our brains hap-haphazardly interact with and interpret – our minds are a collection of concepts, like bubbles in a glass of beer. They overlap and come together and engulf each other. They work WITH the universe, they ARE the universe.
A person is their philosophy of the world.
Each person is unique, individual, and creatively painting a conceptual picture of the world in their own minds. The world cannot be represented by a series of numbers and equations, as I thought for many years, and many people hold to be true (this error in philosophy is the downfall of our current computer-obsessed culture – the world has no intrinsic math…. that’s just the god deception framed in a different way). In actuality, our minds create a picture of reality which is grossly abstracted, far from a digital image, and instead a series of overlapping concepts. Our memories are crap, but our conceptual abilities are extraordinary.
Artificial intelligence will need to be similar; dynamic and changing, updating its concepts. Creative in its interpretations. Feedback mechanisms to self-organize its own abstraction of itself and the world around it. Emotions, far from the weaknesses they are popularly perceived as, are in fact highly complex symbolism taking place in our minds. The process of learning and growing, like the universe evolving new modes of physical abilities, is each person learning new concepts which allow for higher and higher levels of understanding: also known as wisdom.
Sure, there are animal elements left over from the brutality of biological evolution. But emotion produces, or perhaps is a name for, updated and highly complex concepts.
Computers do not follow the same laws the universe does. Our universe is entropic and dynamic. Computers are static. They are an illusion of a word created by tricks of computation – so each computer must release entropy in the form of heat. The illusion of a world created by math is so absurd that to construct such an illusion gives off lots and lots of heat. My laptop is burning my lap as we speak. This is the universe getting its allotment of entropy one way or another.
Artificial intelligence, in our current day and age, is far less interesting to me than human intelligence, as it should be to everyone. Human intelligence is beyond amazing. We should be obsessed with it. Humanism please. I suspect lately that our minds are more like musical instruments, pulling information from various neurons like notes into different interacting webs of concepts, like chords. Far from the notion that MRIs can show where in the brain certain things take place, I find it more likely that the whole of the brain is working together with each concept we have, like notes on a guitar working together to create chords. In fact, I believe this similarity in music, the web of context and relationships which represent a piece of music, is what makes music so pleasurable and natural to human minds. (If I had to bet, I would say artificial intelligence will intrinsically love music.)
– What exactly is space and distance?
I think space is merely an abstraction or an organization of some deeper process. I think it has to do with limitations on a quantum level. With limitations comes self-organization, and power to create novelty. I bet something on the quantum level is limited in its interactions, which forces this illusion of space. Perhaps that is even part of the process of the Big Bang – when the Universe became transparent to radiation in the recombination Epoch, perhaps in a sense this was also space as we know it being created as matter became decoupled with photons.
Well…. as usual, I started ranting much more than expected.
These are just the first unanswered questions which popped in my head – I shall try to list more in the future.
Thanks for all the get-well wishes – Lyme totally sucks, but I have encouraging IV antibiotics ahead, which many people say cured them. I’m hopeful this will work wonders, and I’ll be back to living my life in a few months hopefully.
Don’t pray for me. Instead, just spend a few moments reading about Lyme disease. We need to get smarter and start living without pathogenic killers! The first step is better detection for bugs inside of us!
I find myself struggling more and more with the insidious “Lyme disease” as it is known…. although I suspect that human beings in a couple hundred years will have another name for it.
I’m in a fog night and day. Some days I can manage to get up for a few hours. On a day like today I feel like I’m trapped in a smoke-filled bar after too many drinks. Reading is a difficult chore. Emails are Mt. Everest. Life is darkness. This blog post is a shout of desperation, and a desperate explanation.
I think the hardest part about the disease is the mystery. We’re social animals. What others think of us means a lot, deep down, to everyone. I don’t necessarily think this leftover instinct is healthy or good for us, but it is there, and it is hard to ignore. With Lyme, I’m a miserable, low-energy, confused, forgetful mess. And yeah yeah, wasn’t I always a scatterbrained artist? This Lyme thing though is an entirely new ballpark…. in fact, I’ve left the ballpark and I’m headed to another solar system. The incredible lesson, actually, is that so many things I thought I lacked, such as memory, were actually incredibly fine-tuned and extraordinary. I always considered myself lazy, for example, but now, to truly know a life with no energy, with only sickness every day, the events and albums and songs and adventures I had over the last ten years seem like the impossible dreams of a hyper-energy super-being.
But now I’m stuck in bed, mostly.
And the hardest part isn’t having my life taken away, or my money taken away, or my sanity and mind and personality taken away: the hardest part is the frustration with my relationship with the rest of the world.
Why the hell is there so little information on a bacterial infection inflicting literally hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone? Why has it taken one year of begging to finally schedule IV antibiotic treatment?
Why do people assume it’s psychosomatic when its Lyme? Why? What possible motivation could I have to leave the city and friends and world I loved (and worked hard for years to finally get) just to come back home to a broken family, awkwardly trading bedridden-times between mom and dad’s place, trying to avoid running into anybody?
Why did I pay 11 doctors over the course of 2014 good money to spend 5 minutes with me and diagnose me with completely different and incorrect diseases ranging from allergies to depression? How come they get to be rich and self-assured, while I’m sick and broken, and how come I’m not allowed to kick them all in the shins?
I’ve done an incredible amount of research on Lyme over the past year. There is a plethora of evidence that a few spirochete bacteria are prevalent in the population (now and as far back as tens of thousands of years ago) and severely hurting lots and lots of intelligent, good people. Why does the US medical system not recognize chronic Lyme? Its happening to me, and its scary, and its real… and physiological, not psychological – it feels like having a bad cold or flu all day, every day. It isn’t this hard-to-pin-down, mysterious illness that people paint it into – thousands of literate people on the internet are reporting “brain fog” – a pervasive, difficult, strong fatigue, with memory and personality and energy loss, with stories of losing jobs, lives, marriages, family.
We aren’t talking “I don’t feel like getting out of bed toady.” We’re talking “I would do anything to get out of this godforsaken bed for fifteen minutes today but I can’t because A BACTERIA IS LITERALLY EATING MY BRAIN.” Thoughts of suicide plague many with chronic Lyme. It sucks your life out of your eyeballs. It takes your mind and soul and heart and leaves you wondering what the hell is even left.
Will I recover? No one can tell me. How long? No one can tell me. Aren’t these the rights of people dealing with chronic illness? But instead, I’m denied. Denied by doctor after doctor, denied by my insurance company, merely tolerated by family. I don’t think they really understand. I can’t move or think most days. I’m disabled and living in a nightmare.
But….this is America, isn’t it? I thought we gave patients the benefit of the doubt? I thought we were on the leading edge of medicine?
I thought I was living in the modern age. Are we still crude and just climbing down from the trees? We think we know more than we do – in fact, this may be the most important characteristic of the human being. Here’s what we’re told: “The modern age has solved most pathogenic disease. We’re on the verge of solving even the toughest medical mysteries.”
Here’s the reality, as I’ve had the fortune to find out: We are just barely peering through the veil of ignorance at the marvels and terrible, hostile complexity of evolution. We’re just finding out that bacteria are much more numbered and complex than we ever imagined. We have no idea what is inside our own bodies. We are all unique, too. We have no idea how many families of single-celled organisms, how many branches on the tree of life there are. In fact, we’re just realizing that we’ve probably been way off. And we’re living in a health system which is broken and inhumane, unless you fit on a list of currently understood and accepted illnesses. It hates innovation and treats people like cattle. But….. the system is supposed to be for us, remember. That’s why it’s there… isn’t it?
We need a new mindset. We need leaders who get excited about solving the difficult problems of disease and biology. With an understanding of the intense complexity and depth of our situation comes motivation to learn, to solve, to get creative. We don’t really understand biology at its most basic evolutionary levels. We gotta get IN THERE, we need diagnostic tools that can tell someone what’s inside them. We need hope, we need love. We need our brains.
I need my friggin brain back.
Yesterday, I talked about the balance and battle between technical prowess and creative rebellion in art, music, technology, and society.
I ended by making the claim that our culture has become technical-heavy and has lost it’s ability to judge works by their intrinsic value. We’ve lost cultural context, and the evidence for this is our obsession with the visual, the organized, the computational, the nostalgic, the over-produced, the safe, the socially relevant. We’ve reverted to this state because we have no cultural context that allows us to judge works based on individual expression or depth.
It could be my imagination, but it seems more than ever that a technically-stunning photograph, for example, is praised on the internet more than something unique and expressive. In our new internet-trumps-all confusion, we’ve lost our context for judging worthwhile art for human beings – our culture has become one of nostalgia, and judging things on a technical level, because we have no other culturally relevant tools with which to process things. How much honesty is in this song? How much personal expression went into this film? Does this work speak to me on a human level, and give me something new to ponder and apply to life? Is it challenging me? Is it interesting, besides as an impressive technical achievement?
We’ve become something of an autistic-savant culture. In our worship of all things binary, we respond to things well produced. As we flutter through our troves of data, looking and listening to things for mere seconds, and we respond to things with no depth – we don’t have the time. We respond to things which are overtly well-made, solidly produced, and things which fit well into our accepted memes and ideas of tradition, and social fads. That’s all we have to go off of – god forbid, we love something because it’s unique but flawed, it actually interests us, speaks to us, we keep coming back, it keeps giving us something new every time.
Modern music is a great example. As we’ve “improved” production technology, we’ve become over sensitive to vocals being slightly off pitch, beats being anything but exactly on the beat, production being anything other than compressed, electronic, loud, bright, and predictable. It’s sad, really – we end up with boring 4/4, computerized midi beats, robotic, inhuman, less expressive vocals, and conformity and lack of dynamics in production.
I’m not conservative. I despise people who say things like, ‘classic rock is the only real music’, or classical music snobs, or, as I’ve alluded to, jazz purists. I hate that stuff. I want to progress, don’t get me wrong here. I’m anti-conservative. I want something new.
I have friends who assume my criticism of current musical and artistic trends means I don’t want to move on – they say, we’re just not culturally relevant anymore (a topic I want to criticize in a coming post – I think its time to bring cultural relevance to adults).
If I felt offended by today’s music, I would tend to agree. But I don’t feel offended. I just feel bad for artists and young people who have forgotten how to make interesting music. They’ve cornered themselves. There is nothing but dead ends everywhere. How far can you push dubstep? Over-produced pop? With a focus on the technical, everything becomes conformist, inhuman, inexpressive, and boring. It works as an initial buzz. It’s impressive – but that’s only valuable to human beings in one dimension. It gives us a buzz – it’s ear candy. That’s great, but there’s more we can do. We’re limiting ourselves accidentally.
Great music is about rebellion. Progression. New modes of thought and feeling. Unique human expression.
Current music sits well with mom and dad. That CAN’T be a good sign.
Current popular music works well in advertising – in fact, turn on the TV and wait for the commercials – it’s indistinguishable from that cool new song on the radio. That CAN’T be a good sign.
In movies, the technical has taken over. Great frame rates, great resolution, 3-D, blu-ray, bla bla. Video games have become all about graphics, but already, the gaming world is starting to see the dead end of that progression with next generation consoles failing to create much interest. Graphics? So what? Give me a valuable experience, from the heart, from the deepest part of the human mind.
Good technical skills are not useless. I don’t think that at all. I too get a buzz from incredible CGI. But I think it’s about a balance.
We’re conceptual creatures. We don’t need insane resolution or production or technical mastery to enjoy something. In fact, as conceptual creatures, we love to fill in the gaps with our imaginations. For example, I just downloaded the classic old PC game System Shock II which was on sale on Steam. I’d never played it, so I’m giving it a whirl as I’m sick in bed mostly. Even with atrociously outdated graphics, the game stands the test of time and is being talked about quite a bit lately. Great graphics, in fact, can even detract from a gaming experience… again, it’s about filling in the gaps with our imagination, our abstract thinking abilities. Need further proof? How about literature? That has absolutely no graphical resolution – it exists as a purely conceptual medium. In fact, we owe our conceptual superpowers to language, and the evolution of language, and probably vice versa as well. And a great novel is….well, timeless, beautiful, life changing.
When will the focus again fall on individuality and expression? Progressive thought, rather than social massage? We’re oiling each other up, rubbing each other’s bums. We’re all trying to fit in. We’re all confused and have no cultural context. We’re settling down, we’re giving up, we’re becoming critical of skepticism.
Art is this interesting battle between creativity and technical skill. So is technology, science, and society.
And it all starts with philosophy. Our bad philosophy of Digital Maoism (as Jaron Lanier calls it) is subverting our ability to be critical of our horrendously boring media culture. The time is now! We have the technology! Let’s make big, great, weird stuff! Let’s allow CHALLENGE back into the domain of film, art, gaming, politics! Let’s bring back individuality! Let’s love and celebrate our differences – that’s what the universe is all about, after all.
Sometimes it seems to me that there are two distinct phases or categories of artistic achievement – the technical and the creative. There’s technical prowess, which consists of learning and refining certain fundamentals and skills, and there is true creativity, which consists of truly unique innovation from the artist.
The two are naturally in conflict. Technical ability, such as learning the traditional methods of jazz improvisation, for example, consists of hours of learning scales, getting complex harmonies and modes under your fingers, and learning the established lessons of the respected masters. Creativity in jazz is more about a unique and personal take, or a reinvention in a certain sphere of the music, or even a rebellion against accepted traditions – the amazing Brad Mehldau comes to mind as a rare recent example.
I used jazz music as a random example, but it fits the point of technical vs creative conflict – jazz became “institutionalized” over the course of the 20th century – the focus became on the technical aspects as time went by, as opposed to the individual, emotional, and expressive aspects. Few relevant voices have emerged in jazz of late, outside of circles who appreciate and love the mastery of jazz technicality. Even when artistic voices do emerge, such as the superhuman jazz drummer and composer Dave King, it isn’t rare to hear criticisms from within the very jazz circles who should be holding them up as their new king (um… no pun intended). Teaching songwriting at a music camp one summer, I talked to a famous jazz drummer who was there, also doing clinics (I won’t say his name here). We discussed Dave King, and he dismissed his playing as “too comical”. Um… because jazz has to be super serious, right?
But his focus is on the technical. Not that he isn’t expressive – but he is mostly within the confines of accepted traditions, and his playing revolves around the pursuit of technical perfection. He’s famous among musicians, but it’s doubtful that his profile will go beyond being a sought out “pro”. (I’m not judging – I love me a good pro – I’m just pointing out the differences between a tech and an artist).
Creativity is going against traditions sometimes. It’s finding your own, new, novel solutions to things. Why does an arrangement have to be like examples A B and C? Is it consistent with what you’re trying to express, or are you just falling into established patterns?
These two modes are in conflict, in art, and also in technology and society (Steve Jobs was a rebel and an artist of design – but his teams of hundreds of programmers and technicians implemented his design and made it viable…but, look at what happens when they take over….). But also I think, the two modes or “left brain, right brain” amplify each other, and the battle between disciplined skill and rebellious expression is what makes great stuff. The creative mind wants to subvert tradition – the technical mind wants to uphold it. If someone learns the “proper” way to play jazz voicings and spends years becoming a technical master, to a degree it actually becomes more difficult to apply their own artistic creativity to novel solutions for voicings; they have become so refined by the “correct” way to do things, that they always play solid, respectable voicings, but they’re always predictable, traditional, and on the worn path.
I find that most men and women in the arts, or in anything, really, find greatest pleasure in the technical aspects of things. True innovation comes from those who have the stubbornness to defy these instincts.
Also, however, mastering your skills can advance your creative art as well. When new modes of rote skill or production or knowledge are learned, this can allow the artist to do things he couldn’t do before. But it’s a strange sort of back-and-forth, not even a balance, but a war. I can’t quite pin down in my own artistic journey how these two things work exactly, but they need each other, they hate each other, and they amplify each other. Creative drive motivates technical learning – I want to practice scales in order to reach new heights in composition and performance. Technical skill inspires creativity (in me anyway)- I want to rebel against it.
I find that on the technical side, I really have to force myself to work. But I also find that whenever I do, I’m usually rewarded down the road. However, I’m always looking for a chance to jump off the path – I’ll work on a Bach piece as long as possible, but I’m constantly distracted by interesting ways I could defy his chord structures. I force myself to stay on the path as long as possible. After being in professional advertising and production, I’ve been forced to learn good mixing and production technique, which allows me to push my music further, for example.
I notice that our culture has turned its emphasis of late towards the technical. It has become unbalanced! We’re obsessed with technical skill, because we forgot how to appreciate individual expression. Technicality is socialist – creativity is anarchy. Both are needed for great things, but it’s time for things to swing back to unhindered, beautiful, bold, crazy artistic expression.
But I digress – I will write more about this tomorrow! Stay tuned for Part II
(And if you’re thinking, but Chris, there has never been so much creativity in culture ever! Look at this link and this link and look someone made computers that look like different animals! …. no, no, you’re already lost. Stay tuned and I’ll try to save your soul….)
Waking up today was especially hellish. The Lyme has become worse, apparently, and waking up feels like death. Words fail me in describing this illness to people. Basically, doing anything besides staying in bed staring at the ceiling has become painful on some level. My left eye has become inflamed, red and angry. My face seems to be swelling, and the random muscle twitches are more intense. My head is always throbbing, ears always ringing, but both of these things have become such permanent fixtures that I don’t notice them unless I try to move. My left ear seems to be losing hearing and I often get these scary tickles in my ears, like bugs are running around inside them. But mainly, it’s this horrible loss of energy. Thinking is hard. Reading is like doing situps, but gets hard after 30 minutes. Writing can be done in small bursts. It hurts to try and do …anything. My life is on hold. I wake up and try to meditate and motivate myself – no matter what, I say, today I will get something done. And then I attempt, and try, and immediately fall to the illness – whether that means throwing up, passing out, or seeing spots and laying back down.
And yet, I will get through this.
Why have I been given this struggle? Didn’t I have enough problems to deal with? This must go through the minds of others who get chronic illnesses, or worse. I wanted to help others, I just wanted to do great things and make great things. I’m an idiotic fuck, sure. I hurt people by accident, and I can be an asshole… but I have enough passion and intellect for ten people. And I did all that could reasonably expected of me by mother nature, who gave me no explanations and a strange, maze-like environment. I tried to maintain faith in art and music, and reason and love, and learn from my mistakes. But it wasn’t enough. I can’t do this. I can’t go on like this.
I WILL get through this. And I’ll be a better artist for it. And I’ll be a little bit less of an asshole in the end. And after this crap is over, every day that I wake up, hearing the birds singing without ringing in my ears, feeling my brain boot up and feel actually rested and happy will be a glorious gift. I’ll never take life for granted again.
But I fear that my distaste for humanity may increase somewhat. I’m pretty surprised at the lack of empathy and support. The lack of depth and interesting thinking from my fellow man-chimps. I’ve learned that my family doesn’t really understand me for who I am… my music is seen as frivolous nonsense to them, my deep thinking merely an offense to their shallow, religious, tribal ways. I always assumed I just misunderstood them, but more than ever, I’m learning I’m on my own.
But that’s ok. That’s good. I’ll be stronger, more resilient, more victorious.
I will get better. I will finish this half-done masterpiece that I so desperately want to share with the world. I will create the music in my head, I will encourage the culture I want to see, I will make a dent on the metallic shell of idiocy that is human conceit.
I will bring my message to the people in bigger ways. No more laziness. No more excuses. I’m on my own – we’re all on our own. In fact, I’m lucky enough to have a handful of incredible friends (and one extra special, beautiful girl-soul) in my life who believe in me. You can’t trust almost anyone, I’ve learned – but when you CAN trust someone, you realize all the more how lucky you are. I also have fans of my work and musicians I’ve played with who all support me on levels I can’t even believe. I’ve gotten some awesome notes of support from people.
I need to persevere. We get one chance at life. One, measly play-through. No guarantees, no fairness. No restarts. And if the wizards in the cave level curse you, you have half HP and lose your magic sword.
I have had the chance to peer into the reality of human existence on a level I’ve only theorized, not viscerally experienced. I’ve been given a small glimpse of the struggle of many millions of people – life-changing illness. And I have it easy compared to some (although Lyme is pretty insidious for certain reasons, like being relatively unknown). But people get cancer. “Rare” diseases, of which there are so many, are actually pretty common it turns out. People get sick, and are denied by their friends, their families, and modern medicine, in denial of the atrocities of life. We turn away, we don’t want to look. We can’t handle it, because most of us aren’t very deep, aren’t very aware of the true reality in front of us – life is short, and often, nature is brutish. I’ll give away the ending to this comedy – we learn that we’re not special, we get sick, we watch our loved ones suffer and die, and then we die. All of us. Do you get 80 years? 50? 39?
Our lack of depth is killing us. We invent religions in order to deny the hard truth. We hide within the warm blankets of social games.
We need to start looking nature in the face, and solving the hard problems. I’m convinced that a change in philosophy is our only chance to alleviate suffering on a huge scale.
I don’t think we really understand biology.
Our new internet-obsessed, Kurzweil culture wants to believe we’re on the verge of discovering all these easy fixes to disease. It’s nothing but hiding – we’re just shying away again. Nature is weird and hostile, and there are oh-so-many unknowns out there, just waiting for answers. I’m crawling my way through a medical book on immune-pathogen response and the evolution of these systems – and on every page are incredible discoveries and a handful of unanswered mysteries. Why this connection between genes for depression, stressful environment, and disease? Why a connection between pathogenic disease in mothers and autism in children? What IS autism? What ARE bacteria really doing? Did you know they work with enzymes which encode new genes and can “update” each other with new genes for defense? Could we program our own to destroy them? Well why not? We need to get serious about solving some of these – Lyme disease is being swept under the rug by our society, for example (on both sides of the controversy, by the way) but in reality, its an opportunity to learn. We should be funding Lyme research for the sheer fun of learning and discovery.
The blood test for Lyme has huge controversy surrounding it. It turns out, the bacteria for Lyme is impossible to culture in traditional testing methods. So the tests look for certain antibodies created by the body in response to the disease. But these are only 30-60% accurate, according to who you ask. There are multiple tests, all with varying reliability, which are hotly contested in the medical community and within Lyme advocacy groups.
How is this ok on any level, in 2014? Why isn’t this a giant opportunity to develop new, novel ways to detect pathogens? Where’s all this awesome nanotechnology I keep hearing about? Let’s develop real-time testing with 99% accuracy. Let’s develop methods to immediately see what’s going on inside a human body. I know it sounds overly-simple to say it – but we need to have this philosophy change first. We need to start asking WHY can’t we do better? What are the problems? What’s really going on inside the body’s many systems with these diseases? Where’s the medical tricoder from star trek? So easily we guffah at this kind of suggestion, but why? We’re all living in darkness with disease around every corner – why not pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and start getting the bottom of it? Difficult? Hell yes. Mother nature has been developing these special tortures for millions of years, so they’re obtuse and complex. Impossible? No way! We have a gift – creativity. Intelligence. Technology. Our philosophy is so screwed lately, and its our philosophy which informs our motivations – we need to be solving these problems, or at least WANTING to. At least ACKNOWLEDGING that we HAVEN’T solved many things. At least WANTING to discover and solve things. Disease has no sentience or intellect, no language or process of scientific advancement. We have the upper hand!! Let’s get deeper. Let’s question our current models. Biology is completely lost on us – there’s so much left to discover. It’s there, the answers are there. THE CURES ARE THERE, one or two creative discoveries away. There is a physically possible way to disrupt and reverse the progression of many of these illnesses… and even if it turns out to be completely impossible to cure something, even that knowledge itself would inform science, medicine, and humanity beyond words.
The enemies of progress have been rearing their ugly heads. Denialism, this need to look the other way of ugly truths. Stoicism, this social construct imbedded in our genes to deny our struggles in order to AVOID people looking away form us. Superstition, this mode of thought which embraces social and reproductive concerns over all others. Bias, our extreme instinct to believe we’re right, to believe our tribe is right, to never be self critical, to have innate self-confidence no matter what.
Start reading. Start asking, “why’s that?” Start questioning the things you hold most dear.
If we start to do this, anything is possible.
I promise. And I also make you this promise: You are about to witness, in me, a courageous victory as I claw my way out of the depths of hell into a glorious life and career that will make this fucking planet a little better – the most stubborn comeback ever. I shall prevail. Fight with me. Let’s inspire and encourage each other – what is your fight? What seems insurmountable? Believe in yourself – be yourself – we can do this!