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Real? Rant. Religion. Rocephin.

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.

 

robuts

There is lots of hype about AI and robots of late. I think it is misplaced – anyone who spends a bit of time reading some philosophy and science of the mind and the human brain may start to feel the same – we’re not even close to recreating creative general intelligence in the digital domain. Not even kind of close. We haven’t even scratched the surface.

I say this as a huge sci fi fan, and a lover of all things robotic. Through reading and pondering, however, you come to realize just how much more interesting the reality is: us pink genius apes still have no idea what’s going on with consciousness. It isn’t metaphysical or supernatural; just incredibly complex and beautiful, the result of hundreds of billions of years of evolution on our planet.

The human capacity for creative intellect is beyond amazing. We create abstract concepts, we’re creating patterns and philosophies with every passing second. Our mind contains trillions of neurons, which activate in sequences to create uncountable connections. We use emotions to conceptualize the world as well. Nature is not digital – we still don’t understand biology.

I find the truth more fascinating than: “The robuts are coming!”

And also, there’s a potential religious danger in believing that AI is “just around the corner.”  We’re misplacing our worries – I look forward to a time when our culture realizes the astounding and obvious sitting right in front of them:  we have barely scratched the surface of understanding the natural world around us, and a deeper understanding leads to an easier time for everyone.

unanswered questions of the universe (and my suspicions)

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!

the unknowing world.

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.

 

The War of Technicality vs Creativity: Art As Battle Wounds – Part II

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.

The War of Technicality vs Creativity: Art As Battle Wounds

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….)

SICK OF IT

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.

No.

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!

Pass it around!

Here’s a clip from Anthem For Evolution from the new Cruise Elroy record.

Show your support and pass this baby around!  We’re proud of this song.  And don’t forget to buy the new full-length album – you can get it at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, to name a few!

Lyme denial – what gives??

This was taken from the Wikipedia entry for Lyme disease:

The term “chronic Lyme disease” is controversial and not recognized in the medical literature,and most medical authorities advise against long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease.  Studies have shown that most patients diagnosed with “chronic Lyme disease” either have no objective evidence of previous or current infection with B. burgdorferi or are patients who should be classified as having post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome(PTLDS), which is defined as continuing or relapsing non-specific symptoms (such as fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, and cognitive complaints) in a patient previously treated for Lyme disease.

Since being diagnosed with Lyme a little over a year ago, I’ve seen nothing but strange controversy and inhumane treatment for victims of a horrible, and very real disease.  It’s a bacterial infection that can make it’s way into a person’s neurological system and live there, munching away.  The truth is, Lyme becomes chronic in a significant number of people – and despite the “medically accepted” evidence, in my own research (in valid, published, reviewed scientific literature), I’ve seen a plethora of findings that say the complete opposite.

I’m no hypochondriac.  I’m the kind of guy who gets a flu and is in denial for a couple days.  I’m not superstitious, either.  I’m a naturalist.  I believe in what has evidence.  I’m obsessed with science, and I read physics and biology – for fun.  I tend to be the last to fall prey to pseudo-science, although I’m skeptical even about my own powers of skepticism.  I’m a self-questioning person who can admit they’ve been wrong about four billion times.  I’m always ready to have my paradigms turned on their heads.

Noises in my ears.  Muscle spasms in my legs and arms every ten minutes.  Pervasive drowsiness at all times of day, despite ten hours of sleep.  Trouble focusing and thinking – imagining being drunk or stoned without the euphoria.  Painful headaches come with neck soreness and sexual symptoms.  A change in personality….. are these things normal?  Are people expected to function with these symptoms?  (of course not) Why am I being denied, by my own doctors, and even some immediate family?

I’m not the only one – upon meeting a fellow Lyme sufferer, I’ve more than once seen someone burst into tears upon hearing my version of the Lyme story – it’s emotionally overwhelming for them to have one single human being who affirms and shares their bullshit plight.  One single human being who doesn’t think they deserve to have their life taken away in a slow, subtle, invisible way.

I can sympathize with doctors:  they’ve been taught that chronic Lyme disease isn’t real.  The issue has become so politicized and stigmatized that it just isn’t financially or socially worth taking people seriously who have the disease.  And people are often hypochondriac weirdos, and medicine is hard, and illness is everywhere.

But how is our system possibly denying so many individuals and their life-changing plight?  Especially when the evidence keeps rolling in?  How are so many people saying, “I have these terrible neurological symptoms” and not getting any answers?  Why is all the research being done by victims on online forums and renegade researchers?  I’m confused and horrified.  I’ve been misinformed, ignored, misdiagnosed, and downright been called a liar, along with literally thousands, in my quest to do one simple thing:  feel better and get on with my life.

That’s all I want.  I hate being sick.  I’ve always been a low maintenance person – I’m an artist.  I don’t like relying on anyone.  I hate taking medicine.  I was bedridden yesterday – even reading a book was difficult.  Today I can get up and write.  It’s always a surprise, and it’s always worse than anyone seems to know.  People still expect the same out of me, even when I try to explain.

I hate excuses.  I’m driven.  I have music to finish, things to do, a life to live.  Lyme is not an excuse – it’s a goddamn brick wall.

And I’m not the only one.  The heartbreaking cases that I see in waiting rooms can’t be exaggerated – people who can barely walk.  Young people who can’t get their life started, or middle aged people who have had it taken away.

A friend recently showed me a documentary featuring Le Tigre singer Kathleen Hanna called The Punk Singer – Watch this clip to understand what I’m talking about…
A small quote from that clip;

Lyme disease is a silent epidemic in the U.S. inflicting more people than AIDS, West Nile Virus and Avian Flu combined.

– Center for Disease Control

Um….terrifying? Another quote from Hanna’s doctor in the film;

“It’s like…. if you were Superman, and you met Kryptonite…. that’s what Lyme disease is like.”

Does this surprise you?  Does this scare you?  It scares the hell out of me.  I thought we lived in a humane society – I thought the US had state of the art medical technology.  I thought we lived in a culture which gave patients the benefit of the doubt.  I knew politics affected medicine to some extent, and people had biases – but I thought in cut and dry medical emergencies, help, science, and above all, empathy would shine through.

And I certainly thought that if I was infected by a crippling brain disease, someone, somewhere, would care.

Welcome to the idiotic world of Lyme disease.

Overpriced CDs?

The fact that the music industry was much healthier in the preceding decades does not sit well with folks who have adopted the worldview that free music, detatched from the shackles of cold capitalism, sounds better and survives better.

I have recently read a few articles which claim that “the price of CDs was inflated in the 90s.”  Prices may have increased slightly during the 80s and 90s, but at most should be small complaints.  Paying for music is noble; it’s fun, it creates value, and all things considered, it’s always worth it.

Our new culture continues on thin ice.  As we tiptoe into the 21st century stubbornly defending our newfound internet-trumps-all philosophy, we’re forced to  deny the evidence as it yells to us from the shore, desperately waving.  We’re forced to justify certain inconvenient realities.  How exactly did those primitive, apelike beings in the 80s and 90s luck out with such an “overly-healthy” music industry?  The most fantastic and apalling explanation I’ve run across is that CDs were “overpiced” in the 80s and 90s.

I’m confused by this worldview.  Let’s compare even “inflated” album prices to other examples of cultural brain-food: films and video games.

A movie costs twelve to twenty bucks.  It’s hit or miss, and yet we gladly pay it.  Of course we do – films are something of great value to us and our complicated, content-hungry, imaginative brains.  There’s no replay value when you see a film in the theater – show’s over.  Movies on other mediums such as streaming or DVD have varying replay value (I’ve seen The original Tron and Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life uncountable times) but generally once you’ve seen a movie, you’ve seen a movie.

Mainstream video game prices have started to approach sixty bucks or even more.  The experience is also quite a risk, with the quality of games ranging on an enormous spectrum from doo-doo to life-changing.  The replay value is generally much higher than film, but with notable exceptions (Dark Souls, anyone?) I find myself petering out with a new game after a couple days to a few weeks.

When buying CDs was a common activity one would expect to pay around twelve to fifteen bucks (maybe close to twenty in some cases) for an album.  But a great album, as we’ve all experienced, is a gift that keeps on giving.  I have records I can pick up and put on now, even after years and years, and still enjoy like sex and drugs had a baby.  Afer hours and hours with Cake’s Fashion Nugget, miles and miles in the car with Radiohead’s The Bends, years and years with The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, I still can’t get enough.  I’ve spent more time listening to Frank Black’s Teenager Of The Year than the guy probably spent writing the damn thing.  Sometimes the water gets deeper and deeper.  With each new friend I get to experience the album again through new ears.  It’s a magical, spiritual, empowering, theraputic, and social experience unlike any other and it cost me a measly 20 bucks.

The risk with buying an album was lower, too – you generally had sampled a song or two, whether on the radio or elsewhere, or you knew the artist already.  That’s not to say I haven’t bought plenty of stinkers – but again, that’s not some kind of justification for not paying for something.  That’s how art works.  It’s a risk, and you’re paying for the experience. You’re paying for the love of music.  You’re paying to involve yourself in something creative, mysterious, and maybe even challenging.

I don’t want to over-emphasize the specifics of pricing vs. risk and reward though.  With art, those arguments tend to be nebulous.  The point is this:  it confuses me to see people arguing against paying for music when we gladly fork over the cash for any other form of cultural exchange.

I’ve been open to the new methodology of digital music – in fact, I recently read an interview from 2010 where I seemed much more positive and hopeful about this new internet world.

But I am more and more skeptical as the evidence rolls in.  The value of the music industry has been cut in half since 2000, despite more avenues for music than ever.  I see a stronger 1%, taking up more of the airways, not less.  I see a weak, struggling, and dying “middle class” of musicians, not a stronger and more varied one.  Remember genres?  Metal?  Ska?  Everything has conformed into a strange social anthem – a mix of electronic, dance, pop, and commercial rock that sounds repulsive to anyone still awake.

But no one seems to be awake.

The only “controversial” voices in music are people like Dave Grohl – as much as I dig the man, I think that points to the problem – why are the only relevant musical voices left over 40?  Why are the only movers and shakers bands I was listening to when I was 12 years old?  That shouldn’t be the case, folks.

Buying albums is fun.  It’s our vote.  It’s the most fun act of goodwill you can participate in.  It’s rewarding.  And in my opinion, it’s the only way we can sustain a music culture that creates these beautiful collections of songs, from unique, creative artists.  It’s the best way to support teams of musicians, producers and engineers who make truly great albums possible.

Enough!  Enough of this entitled justification of getting what we want for free.  Enough of this idea that albums have become super cheap to make.  It isn’t as true as you think – trust me, if you value my own experience at all.  Also, more important than the costs of production are the costs of sustaining human beings through production, sometimes for a year or more. Buying records needs to become culturally relevant again – how?  I’m not sure.  But it’s the only way to bring back a vibrant universe of varied musicians, a “middle class” if you will – where the focus is a little more on innovation, poetic honestly, artistic integrity.  Not a huge pop star, or a lousy wannabe, but a skilled, committed artist, facilitated by a team of technical experts, creating a sonic world for you to take with you as you go through life – always loving you, always bringing out the hidden magic from the seams.