E-mail Dave : firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave's Diary : May 1996
Dave's Diary : July 1996
I enjoy the early hours of the morning at a friend's party. Sipping genteelly from my coffee cup like a trendy vicar on missionary work among inner-city pagans, I decline the profusion of pills and powders on offer to complement the hard-core fags and booze. What a boring self-denying puritan this guy is. For once, I don't launch into my off-the-peg rants on the dirtiness and inefficiency of our culture's mainstream recreationals. For in practice, unless one is handing out something rushier instead, one is likely to get politely ignored. Also, sermonising makes me feel ancient and responsible. I have reached an age when I would prefer to be thought wild, young and reckless. Moreover the glories of the English legal system mean it would be technically illegal for me to hand out some neuroprotective post-E SSRIs which might actually minimise the axonal megadeath in prospect. Animal models - how I hate that term - suggest their subsequent one-off post-E use could actually avert the serotonergic damage presaged by the rigours of the night. The tempo indeed now hots up. How do I keep going without drugs at 4.30 a.m? one reveller asks me as I discreetly self-caffeinate. Clean living, wholesome thoughts and being naturally high on life, I assure her. Later I cat-nap back at the flat and repair the deficiencies of Nature with my usual breakfast of nutritional supplements. Chronopharmacology (another splendid "ology" for the connoisseur) is a fascinating new field; and there's so much still to learn. In my case, I'm also combating a genetic tendency to hypersomnia. This has never amounted to frank narcolepsy - certain people shouldn't be told that its sovereign remedy, amphetamine, is available on the NHS, though waving a prescription for speed would doubtless excite admiring murmurs from the more dissipated party animals last night - but it shows what a dopey bunch of genes I'm stuck with. Later, I catch up on the national news. I read that the RSPCA, Britain's oldest and most staid animal welfare organisation, is in danger of losing its charitable status due to the machinations of the murderous BFSS. The breadth of my human sympathies is again strained. The privileged third-person ontology of materialist science encourages our tendency to see not just non-human animals, but often people, as mere "things"; whereas in objective fact they are fields of intrinsic subjective awareness in their own right - as real in their subjective aspect as this here-and-now. The elementary muddle between the two senses of "subjective" is distressingly common; and, I think, morally pernicious. On the perhaps delusive notion there exists such thing as moral progress, I often ruminate on what our descendants will think of our own moral practices. The standard reaction of any later age seems to be a sense of incomprehension that the barbarities common even a hundred years ago were ever tolerated. Of course, even at the respectable end of the fortune-telling market, it is hard to avoid merely extrapolating, or drawing out the implications, of what we already believe. Radical discontinuities of moral sensibility or, just conceivably, some form of outright amoralism, are possible - but ridiculously hard to anticipate. Yet if, as I suspect, we really do start to regard the animals we presently torture, hunt and butcher in the light we currently see toddlers and babies, a question arises. What on earth is the appropriate response right now if one knows that the functional equivalents of toddlers and babies are being tormented down the road? Pious regret? Just turning a blind eye? Naïve, if-only-the-Fuhrer-knew style indignation? Or perhaps a reiteration of one's faith in the institutions of liberal parliamentary democracy and a confidence that wisdom and good sense will prevail? In the longer term, genetic millennarianism of the kind I advocate - and predict - may supplant the frightful anachronism of biological nastiness entirely. The moral question will then be redundant. In the meantime, most of the planet's creatures don't need liberating in any literal-minded sense any more than toddlers do. They need looking after. From the perspective of a God's-eye felicific calculus, the ALF (if not its minuscule non-pacifistic offshoots) may in fact do more good. I don't know. I find my own tepid legalism hard to justify in the face of certain particularly wanton sorts of atrocity. (Mentally swapping the word "baby" for "animal" when some especially odious practice is being defended can concentrate the mind alarmingly.) There are occasions when being law-abiding requires courage. Present-day society isn't one of them. I'm never sure whether my legalistic niceties, and the motives which underlie them, don't reflect just a weak-minded love of the easy life.
I awake from the bad but fortunately not very lucid dream of the past few days and go to browse at Blackwells. I note that the shop-front might as well have been bought up by the Indonesian tourist board. Is the digital world really going into convulsive spasms of excitement at the thought of learning the mind-numbingly tedious code whose variations are sullying the good name of my favourite beverage? I know this is a cognitively dysfunctional attitude, particularly if I'm aiming to learn the wretched stuff, so I try and snap out of it. Welcome Change As An Ally or some such mantra is called for. One was brought up to ridicule American self-help manuals. Personally, I wish I'd internalised some of them, before I knew any better. Normally in life, one looks for the quickest, neatest and most effective way to achieve a goal. In the case of achieving maximal mesolimbic dopamine stimulation, we are pursuing the longest, most circuitous and inefficiently Rube Goldbergish way of (not) achieving it. In promoting the HI, I perhaps overstate my horror of wireheads and crack-crazed rats. For I'm not convinced that our own hedonic treadmills are more than rococo retreads of structures common to our savagely persecuted cousins. The inexorable rise of Java is all the more galling as I have been enjoying my first bona fide commission to set up another firm's website. Though styling myself "Webmaster" on the strength of knowing 20 odd html tags could be construed as pushing it a bit, the thought that I might soon be relegated to the role of semi-skilled apprentice is bad for my virtual ego. More happily for this mythological beast, I am pleased to get a kind note from the author of the most unusual Big Fun Glossary [alas no more?]. Cyber-tourists here in HedWeb's most primitive textual outpost are so scarce that a sighting always arouses my curiosity.
I go to the Cyberbar in Buckingham Palace Road, London. Meridian are shooting their new cyber-series on the premises. This will be my first and quite probably my last encounter with the traditional electronic mass media. What on earth am I doing, I wonder? This adventure must be strong presumptive evidence that my brain is in the grip of a bizarre but unnamed psychosis. For it just isn't the sort of thing DPs do. I'm already vastly exceeding Nature's design-specifications for so sickly and primitive an organism. Surely some non-destructive testing of its psychological limits would be preferable instead. What would it be like to believe one literally had a guardian angel?, I pensively reflect on the journey to Victoria; but alas I'm not on that sort of drug. My inveterate sense of role-distance is greater than ever; but my purely nominal allegiance to whatever brain and body get up to has never been a recipe for avoiding guilt by association in the minds of others. I briefly meet my two interviewers before the ordeal commences. Both seem remarkably amiable - and encouragingly, neither of them strike me as self-flagellating martyrs to the puritan work ethic. Had I been expecting a display of horns and the Mark Of The Beast? I log on at a Net terminal while the Big Breakfast Show personality who precedes me is greeted with a ragged chorus of "Show Us Your Pants". Perhaps this indicates that the series presenter is not aiming to strike a note of overawed solemnity at the mysteries of cyberspace. In any other context, I'm sure I'd approve. Sadly I'm still none the wiser about what I'm going to be asked; I suppose anyone a bit more media-savvy would have insisted on finding out. At least the café appears not to sport any mirrors. My organic avatar is of emaciated and cadaverous appearance, and its rictus, village-idiot grin - which I prefer to conceive as a friendly please-don't-hurt-me sort of smile - is scarcely designed to evoke the unearthly delights of pleasure I foretell (Oh Melissa, why couldn't you stand in for me? All I need is a bit of eloquent pulchritude). Being wired in the manner of a police informer leaves me feeling instead like a broken-down marionette soon to be galvanised by terminal death-spasms. And then "..action!" (or whatever; probably not. I forget). Oh no. A high-calibre machine-gun [a camera?] whose futuristic contours would gratify Duke Nuke 'Em is prowling millimetres away from my nose. It soon occupies most of my brain's processing power. Any spare capacity that remains seems to be taken over by the twin worries that one's saintly mother may soon be watching - a powerful disincentive to say anything which might be misconstrued as interesting - and the ill-defined image of a fastidious academic eyebrow raised in disdain at my descent into ignorant populism. Kicking into autopilot and then surrendering oneself to whatever the speech-generating mechanism comes up with is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Yet the alternative is to say nothing at all. As it is, I can't recall saying anything very penetrating; indeed given the state-dependence of memory I can't recall saying anything much at all. I fear the serious ethical point of my work - the abolitionist case for eradicating suffering - will be lost amid more colourful digressions. I do recall, however, that the word "drugs" was mentioned. This might encourage people to dig a little deeper, or maybe go muck-raking for evidence of scandalous chemical depravity in HedWeb's seedier precincts. Just as I refuse to complain about being poor while there are people living on the streets, it's tactless to complain of a baptism by fire when I know many people would willingly take my place. I still think it likely that, in common with most if not all of the planet, my impact on the world, good or ill, will be due to the butterfly effect rather than any capacity for planful competence. The problem with deterministic chaos if you're a utilitarian is there are situations in which one's input might just as well be random. I'm reminded of the action of a nineteenth-century octogenarian grandad who in late life - most responsibly - acknowledged paternity of his illegitimate child. This act ensured that Adolf Schickelgruber manqué grew up as Adolf Hitler. As William Shirer notes, it is almost impossible to imagine the Germans in the 1930s chanting "Heil Schickelgruber". Though one knows that, statistically, one is unlikely to set in train anything so catastrophic, it's chastening to be reminded how oblivious to the real significance of one's actions any individual may be. On the other hand, one may be so chastened by the awful miracle of existence that one may be inhibited from doing anything at all. I can see why messianic delusions might just rarely be genetically useful. I'll probably never know whether HedWeb's purpose of promoting the option of ubiquitous sublimity (a "strange attractor"?) as a long-term option has been served or hindered by this site's existence. Intuitively, one feels it is simply likely to be negligible and irrelevant in the great scheme of things. Even if it isn't, then on any consequentialist ethic, one never knows if what one is up to is morally correct; one might simply be a liability to any cause one espouses. At any rate, I fear I might muddle my dates in telling friends when my brief sub-Warhol slot is scheduled; all those drugs, no doubt.
England is in mourning. Melissa and I go to listen to Pablo's great little band at a spit-and-sawdust pub. We order drinks. I get a very quizzical look when I grab the orange juice and Melissa starts drinking the pint. Chalked on the blackboard is the edifying reminder "But We Did Win Two World Wars!" Possibly the sage behind the bar is a dab hand at post-modernist irony.
A day spent suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after the Big Crash, and pre-traumatic stress disorder before Friday's Meridian interview. In the light of HedWeb's own use of down-market props to keep its hit-count and vital statistics healthy, I can scarcely complain if the series' producer decides a focus on Weirdos In Cyberspace or Drug Fiends On The Net will make for better viewing than an exploration of the ethical implications of negative utilitarianism. Sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind does spring to mind. Oh dear. In the evening, I am dimly aware from the fluctuating decibel levels of nearby bars that a football match is taking place. I believe "we" are playing the Germans. Apart from speciesism, nationalism is the ideological "ism" with the highest kill-rate this century, so I'm not overly fond of it. The reaction of any civilised spirit to most of the things done in "his" country's name can only be a horrified cringe. The English popular press, not perhaps the finest ornament to our civilisation, has worked itself up into jingoistic paroxysms of xenophobia that would have been over-the-top had the dastardly Hun been bayoneting babies in Belgium. A certain culturally-conditioned reticence forbids most of us from beating our chests bellowing "I am the greatest". Yet a switch from the first-person singular to the first-person plural apparently turns chest-thumping expansiveness into an acceptable gesture of social solidarity. I am left to infer the run of play from the ebb and flow of cheering. The quickening salvos of excitement suggest the game has gone to penalties. Eventually a deathly hush settles in. Perhaps this indicates a respectful silence on the part of the home team's supporters for the gallant losers.
Last night Gatey suffered a major system crash. Pre-dopaminergic Dave would have first passively sat there in shell-shocked silence; probably fumbled for the phone and with quiet dignity cried "Help!"; and then regressed into a state of infantile dependence while some just-sit-next-door-so-you-won't-distract-me techie sorted everything out. I have a theory my testosterone-count isn't high. Unfortunately, in my new amped-up mode of existence, I've developed an almost normal sense of human agency. Rashly, I even decided to try and remedy this particular computer-problem myself. In consequence, I succeeded in corrupting the registry file. Windows 95 can be a bit funny about such things; and complications ensued. Now it really was time to summon the pros. Microsoft, happily, have absolved ordinary technophobes from the stigma of user-incompetence. However unforeseeably daft one's errors to any mortal intelligence, they can easily be hidden simply by cursing Windows 95 as loudly and publicly as possible as an unbelievably useless operating system. This never fails to trigger off an uncontrolled chain-reaction of denunciations from Brighton's army of Microphobes; and thus diverts attention from any human frailties nearer home. I actually find Bill Gates rather endearing; but this is apparently not a universal sentiment. In any event, early this morning Gatey (my computer; not Big Bill) was at best still deeply comatose. I recall how a while ago, devotees of a late Indian holy man maintained as the weeks went by that their guru, despite the unfragrant aromas emanating from his corpse, was not dead, but had merely entered a deep meditative trance. Were my hopes for Gatey's imminent resurrection no less shakily founded? Naturally, like any prudent and intelligent person, I had made back-ups; or would have done, as soon as the opportunity arose. Fortunately, this odyssey of woe has a happy ending. No important data appear to have been lost. In the afternoon, Bruce comes hot-foot from registering his new baby (Rosie Leigh!). He successfully reinstalls Windows 95. Ever-obliging and seriously hard-core Sam arrives in the evening and successfully jury-rigs a connection to the outside world. HedWeb lives again.
A cheque arrives by post for a rather handy £50 000. This is in principle good news. A certain worldly cynicism leads me to inspect it a little more closely before abandoning teetotalism in favour of an impromptu champagne-celebration. Sure enough, one's unlovely suspiciousness proves justified. It transpires from the small-print that the quoted sum is the amount I will have notionally won if my name is picked in a prize-draw etc.etc. So into the bin it goes. Some years back, the exasperated recipient of one of these spoof cheques decided to bank it. He was presumably rather surprised when his branch proceeded to credit his account with the relevant sum. He then promptly withdrew it. HedWeb is committed to a (flexibly implemented) policy of uncompromising bourgeois legalism. It might nonetheless be an interesting exercise to test one's financial integrity with a similar sort of challenge.
I learn that the sinisterly ill-named British Field Sports Society [now mutated into the ill-named Countryside Alliance] has been successfully encouraging its members to infiltrate the Royal Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals (RSPCA. As a rule, the bland pieties of the ultra-moderate RSPCA invite all the excitement of announcing one is against sin; minus only the controversial theological commitment. Hence the news that a really quite nasty outfit on the seamy underside of English life is trying to subvert the Royal Society for its own nefarious purposes comes as quite a shock. My knee-jerk response is to upload an intemperately worded protest of the sort one knows one may afterwards regret. If, as is not impossible given the file's heading and title, the piece's opening lines spring up near the Society's unsavoury propaganda page in keyword searches by the Net's spiders, than I fear some robust expressions of opinion will soon be heading my way.
I am reading Food For Thought. How what you eat affects your mood, memory and thinking by David Benton. (Penguin 1996). A life-enriching book. This is an area of more-or-less fringe science where the marginal is starting to become mainstream. Some people actively relish their status on the wilder outskirts of academic orthodoxy, or even beyond the intellectual pale altogether. I, on the other hand, entertain merely the modest hope that a biologically ubiquitous sublimity will become not so much mainstream as an absolute presupposition of sentient existence.
I have lunch at Sussex University with inordinately ogled but utterly unassuming Hilary. The pervasive sexism of our language and society, from which HedWeb is fortunately immune, may be gauged by the tendency of certain males of my acquaintance to refer to various computers as "sexy" and much-desired women as "a lovely bit of kit". I suppose this is slightly less appalling than it sounds given the immensely high regard that they have for computers. The knowledge that one has oneself never been compared to anything more exalted than a clapped-out 286 is not especially good for one's ego.
I enjoy my first chance to inspect Rosie, Bruce and Fiona's baby. If I were female, I'd certainly lay claim to a mothering instinct. Indeed I'd quite happily gaze at the little mite and go "coo" or some similar hot-housing technique for hours on end. Of course, as an ethical negative utilitarian (absolute principle: minimise suffering), I don't think the poor creature should exist in the first place; but I feel this isn't the most tactful comment one might make to a nursing mother. Nor somehow does my pop-sociobiological party piece on selfish genes, mother-child genetic conflict, and intra-genomic rivalry seem appropriate chit-chat as the little bundle of bodily functions gurgles away. Cold-headed and gene-jaundiced cynic or not, I suspect that if we could reproduce like budding hydra, a mode of reproduction more consistent with my crashing prudery, the ethical resolve on my part never to bring any misery into the world might weaken. So perhaps I am a pretty normal sort of fellow after all.
A day filled with an ill-defined sense of foreboding. Until some six months ago, DPs had pretty much tried to be as invisible to the wider world as possible. This was not exceptionally difficult. My station in life is not such that hordes of paparazzi would otherwise be disposed to beat a path to my door. Nor have I been readying myself in training to man the barricades a la Petrograd 1918 in anticipation of the late-capitalist meltdown predicted by certain Trotskyist acquaintances. Moreover so long as one makes no claim on state funds - in which case some velvet Torquemada will probably subject you to a three-hour inquisition - one is likely to be simply ignored by the rest of the planet. The realisation that Net publishing could just conceivably get the otherwise unpublishable electronically publicised stirred me to stick my head above the digital parapet. Even this act can be relatively safe and anonymous (though one recalls that the last words of one besieged British general in nineteenth India as he defiantly raised his head above the battlements were "There's no way the guns can reach us h...") It now appears I may get the chance to be interviewed (on the HI?) by Meridian TV for their impending cyberseries. I know that if one is serious about a cause, then one can't duck these chances. I suppose, too, that it's unlikely in practice I'll be introduced as The Man Who Wants To Give Drugs To Your Kids. But the trouble is one never really knows...
A day of adventure and discovery. It's probably good that most people don't keep on-line diaries. There is not merely the worry of carefully scrutinising one's prose to protect the privacy of one's nearest and dearest; or the fear that the on-line jottings of certain fierier spirits might ignite defamatory flamewars. It's also that total soul-baring honesty can be excruciatingly boring to others unless one has a startlingly interesting soul to bare. My greatest excitement of today, for instance, was learning, contrary to received textbook wisdom, that tyrosine hydroxylase often isn't saturated. This isn't quite as sad as it sounds. Precursor-loading with tryptophan or 5-HTP together with eating a diet rich in carbohydrate rather than high protein can enhance serotonin function. The thought that mood- and cognition-modulating catecholamine function, too, is amenable to manipulation (as when tyrosine is combined with a low-protein diet) I find of potentially great practical interest. I'm aware, however, that such a view is not very widely shared.
WebMaster magazine arrives by post. I flush with a rather ridiculous sense of self importance. If one is going to have to internalise one of society's labels for one's existence, then "Webmaster" does have an agreeable ring. My access to a free subscription is not based on the kind of sworn affidavit that would satisfy a court of law. Like many people, I retain a semi-superstitious reluctance to say anything that is actually untrue; but when dealing with official forms, one isn't always as careful as one might be in avoiding entries which might mislead a casual page-flipper. By contrast, my nominal, angst-ridden adolescent forebears cared far more about The Truth than frivolities such as happiness or personal convenience. These days, however, the scandalous philosophical failure to naturalise semantic realism can sap one's commitment to awkward philosophical abstracta. Neurophilosopher and arch-reductionist Patricia Churchland, no less, says we are going to need a "successor concept" to truth. But giving up folk-psychology and folk-semantics in homage to an all-conquering natural science is not to be done lightly.
I am reading The Road Ahead. It's beautifully written. I suspect that the knowledge that its author happens to be the Digital AntiChrist Incarnate may have clouded some reviewers' judgements. Alas, my esteem for Big Bill would probably not be reciprocated even if supernovae noticed minor asteroids. Exegesis of the finer textual subtleties of copyright law has never been one of my strong points.
The extraordinary Bruce Creature has just become a father. Bruce's eccentricities include a complete inability to grasp the noxiousness of pain. To him it's just another tickle. His union with Fiona, a wholly human Epicurean, and now the production of a daughter, Rosie Leigh, is just the sort of genetic experiment which wouldn't pass an Ethics Committee. Nature has chosen not to wait on such deliberations. And just as there are "tigons" and "ligers", the English language will need to accommodate this wondrous new phenomenon. One's conceptual resources are challenged.
I find for some obscure neurological reason the TV-commercial slogan "You can't resist...Walker's crisps" is playing over and over again in my mind. This condition is evidently some distance away from the Ideal Cognitive State to which I notionally aspire. Exploring the full implications of superstring theory is evidently going to take some time. To stand a better chance of propagating my mouth-wrangling negative utilitarianism amid the Meme Wars of cyberspace, I decide I too need a magical phrase - or perhaps a song-and-dance Javan jingle chanted by a bikini-clad temptress - that will induce similar mini-epileptic seizures in its target audience - and ideally epileptic-style automatisms to match. For I do keep buying Walkers crisps. Rationality is all very well as fantasies go, but all ideological warfare is basically (bio-)chemical. It just sometimes gets waged in phantom propositional guise. One reason the War On Drugs is so unsuccessful, in spite of its heavyweight political allies, is that the biochemical changes its messages induce are so localised and feebly neo-cortical. "Recreational" drugs, on the other hand, can gain direct access to the limbic(!) heartlands of the soul. My own less savagely contested War On Bad Drugs faces similar problems. Once a subject has tasted quick fixes, sudden rushes and near-instantaneous highs, (s)he'll generally have little patience for pursuing the longer strategic route of gene- and receptor-reregulation. Eventually of course, even the most advanced tools we use today will have all the cachet and perceived sophistication of glue-sniffing. In the meantime, we sniff on.
My very herbivorous friend Kieran is finally moving back to Brighton. This follows his stay among the delightful but unintelligible Scottish tribespeople of the pre-Indo-European north. Like the Bhagwan, who kept 80 Rolls Royces as a way of showing his contempt for materialism, Kieran retains a wicked sense of irony. Sadly for his more than willing female fan club, he doesn't always share a cult guru's way of showing contempt for the pleasures of the flesh. More relevantly for the purposes of promoting Cosmic Happiness via HedWeb, I've been wondering if even the full financial muscle of BLTC Research can stretch to hiring his computer expertise. The answer appears to be yes, though only for a long afternoon. So given the current overheated Wall Street climate for IT stocks, perhaps we should start running up a few serious financial losses, stick a few zeros on the company's nominal asset values and alleged financial prospects, and then issue a public share prospectus...
I am left in a somewhat subdued mood after studying the excellent Nizkor site and watching a BBC programme on the gruesome history of the Roman Coliseum. Before switching to a regimen of life-enriching mood-brighteners, even these fitness. Thus when sentiments are expressed at times and on occasions which contemporary gene-and culture co-evolved society deems inappropriate, their perpetrators tend to be pathologised by the medical profession ("incongruent affect") and demonised by the media. Yet if any feeling of pure happiness stands in need of justification, then IMO it will always be "incongruent". For even if the ethical project of HI were implemented in its entirety, then it might still be the case that the "ubiquitous" happiness everyone celebrated was unwarranted because of the horrors taking place in other equally real here-and-nows that we treat as elsewhere and elsewhen. Hence I fear that the notion that suffering can be expunged from the world - as distinct from in one temporal direction - stems from an illegitimate "Objective Becoming"-style conception of the nature of time. This unalterable horror is sometimes so painful I try to force myself to believe the block universe paradigm is wrong. Yet if happiness doesn't need to be justified, or if it is self-justifying and self-transparently worthwhile, then perhaps the issue resolves itself. In some ways, the question is academic. In a moderate-to-severe depressive, no amount of intellectual rationalisation can induce the belief that the universe is good. Conversely, upon reaching a certain level of personal well-being, nothing can convince the mind/brain that reality isn't fantastically wonderful. Since I reckon my sense that life is worth living may be a drug-induced illusion, I've obviously a fair way to go. I recall reading of an intoxicated cocaine user exclaiming "Crack is God!" In that state God must seem very good indeed.
I am reading The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick. One normally thinks of the sciences as making discoveries, but the humanities as dealing in free creations of the human spirit. Thus it is said that if we encountered an alien civilisation, we might recognise their science but not their arts. (This reassuring thought isn't easy to reconcile with Arthur C. Clark's observation that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic). Yet any claims to originality are apt to mislead. The finite number of interestingly different states open to a human mind/brain include The Man In The High Castle, this diary, the latest hit-movie and quite a few others. Their features are no less an intrinsic and reproducible property of matter and energy than those of the benzene molecule. One's namesakes in both temporal directions ring the changes in tiny parts of this finite state space of options. But one could no more "invent" anything new than one could create a new game of naughts-and-crosses (US: tic-tac-toe); or a brand-new integer.
A surfer, hopefully showing evidence of power assisted-steering, asks me when the unassumingly entitled On Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing will appear. Oddly enough, my November ticket to Stockholm remains unbooked. Cyberspace is full of unredeemed promissory notes as well as the usual fake currency (and these days even the formerly austere discipline of philosophy is no exception). For the most part we are all too wrapped up in our own sites, plans and projects to keep each other honest now we've cast off the shackles of censorship and editorial control. One can get the impression that everyone is trying to impress everyone else in a desperate zero-sum game. It's said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Yet I suspect there are a lot of non-consensual inferiority-complexes gnawing away out there. I try and remind myself of the purpose of this site when I find myself getting worried about how staid and "uncool" (yuk!) HedWeb's becoming compared to the bleeding edge. Then I'm struck by how impressive a little applet of dripping blood-puddles might look in Armageddon.
I am wrestling - or more accurately these days toying in a desultory kind of way - with the notion of infinity. In childhood, the notion made me predictably dizzy. Then one learned that the universe might be finite but unbounded. Knowledge of the visualisable two-dimensional analogues to this property, and a dismissal of mathematical platonism as unnaturalistic, seemed to banish one's disquiet. But the problem has now returned with a vengeance. Models of the very early universe suggest that spontaneous symmetry-breaking phase transitions led to an era of exponential growth. A solution to the "graceful exit" problem showed how this family of models could be made physically realistic. But Linde and his co-workers have convincingly argued that on a wider scale altogether inflation (very crudely, a kind of "antigravity") never stops. For there is nothing to stop it. It exists without end; it always will; and perhaps it always has. I find the arguments for a "block universe" scenario in our own parochial universe pretty compelling. But a regime of "block" eternal chaotic inflation which is (tenselessly?) infinite in all directions? I feel intellectually overwhelmed.
Two friends have fallen in love and are shortly to get married. Given my knowledge of the groom's views, the ceremony will have all the dignity of a Christmas pantomime. I'm sure they have their reasons; large quantities of presents from excited relatives for a start. Falling in love is the culturally-sanctioned equivalent of hard-core drug-abuse, with substrates and statistical outcomes to match. So my enthusiasm for news of other people's romantic entanglements is always somewhat tempered. A DP version of the ideal marriage ceremony would owe less to the liturgical rituals of the Christian church and rather more to the recent study of prairie voles. For in different species of vole, at least, and quite possibly in a far wider range of taxa, the physiological basis of monogamous pair-bonding seems to lie in arginine-vasopressin. Release or antagonise it, and you reverse the ecologically adaptive monogamous/polygamous mating habits of a prairie/mountain species. At the moment, given our gene-driven tendency to fall in-and-out-of-love and hence to philander, then statistically one of the cruellest things you can do to anyone is to fall in love with them, mutually or otherwise. By way of remedy, a much more wholesome version of the holy sacrament would involve lovers exchanging latter-day love philtres in the form of sustained-release depot preparations of arginine-vasopressin - pure, shameless romanticism, I know, but why not? One day it might be interesting to concoct a dopamine/oxytocin/serotonin/phenylethylamine/opioid etc mix (yum yum yum!) and saturate the whole of one's virtual world with a madly sensuous eroticism. Applied with greater selectivity, neurobiology promises that absolutely any suitably infused cortical excitation/intentional object could seem incredibly sexy, not least the cross-culturally unsexy signs of old age (ghastly selfish genes again). All sort of opportunities for hotlinks to the racier sections of the Net arise here. But HedWeb's uncompromising devotion to an aesthetic of the chaste and the pure will prevail; hit-counts permitting.
The British Summer has arrived. I go down to Brighton beach with Melissa, part of my continuing bid to impersonate a normal human being. Normally, I would shun the sunlight with the caution of one fearing radiation-sickness in the aftermath of thermonuclear war. Yet my generally enhanced levels of dopamine function are turning me into a devil-may-care risk-taker. We adjourn later to the Cybar to meet up with friends. Watching people do keyword searches on their names, one realises just how starved of recognition most of us are in the years intervening between birth and death. Legions of academics, for instance, sacrifice years of their lives pursuing scholarly trivia in a generally doomed struggle to acquire an intangible "reputation"- traditionally conferred by "their" name occurring obscurely somewhere in print - in the face of an indifferent world. It's a pity people can't just pop magic "reputation pills" whose instant "rush" makes us feel universally loved and respected. (Alas the notion of our really holding each other in such universally high affection and esteem is a far more fantastical scenario demanding a different order of imaginative resources altogether). An interesting effect triggered by the drug MDMA ("ecstasy") - and one reason why safe long-term analogues should be researched and synthesised - is the way it enables born-again ecstatics, not just to love and empathise with each other, but to love themselves too. This love doesn't take the form of hard-edged, self-aggrandising ego-worship as promoted by cocaine. Jocular everyday allusions to large egos aside, the phenomenon of self-love in the purest and most literal sense appears to be rarer than often supposed. I've noticed a high correlation between how much people (dis-)like themselves and the (un-)willingness to have photos of their notional organic body appear on-line. Like victims of the Indian caste system, most of us are constrained in our dealings with others by the roles ascribed to "our" body-representations - images we didn't choose and will one day be able to disavow in favour of options bounded only by the imagination. In the meantime, we use these tacky icons to do duty for each other in a way which disguises and negates (IMO) the ontological primacy of first personal experience. (A belief that what-it's-likeness is the wrong sort of stuff to satisfy the equations of physics is rarely matched by any appreciable argument as to what the "right" sort of stuff should be). A world in which, by mechanisms unknown, we really did conceive of each other as fellow subjectivities rather than as mere animated objects rendered tractable by the intentional stance would be a nicer one to live in too.
The British Government's continuing moves to block all EC business unless the Europeans agree to consume toxic British BSE beef products leaves one reeling in disbelief. If the Tories are going to try and wrap themselves in the Union Jack before an election, one might have guessed they'd have the wit to chose a slightly more realistic source of popular UK pride than contaminated victims of the death-factories who'd been forced to cannibalise each other. CJD is a frightful disease. Simply from the perspective of amoral self-interest, one's risk-reward ratio when contemplating eating the infected flesh is staggeringly bad. In the nineteenth century, Britain went to war with China in the name of Free Trade to force the Chinese government to let us sell opium to their populace. This is hard to imagine today, but only because it would involve the ruling UK regime aspiring to a previously alien consistency of principle.
I am reading Michael Fossel's Reversing Human Ageing. It is too ambitious in time-scale, IMO - but interesting. Switching on dormant telomere genes will allegedly enable us not to just to retard the ageing process, but functionally to reverse it. I recall how the six-year-old DP was not merely going to set up a global welfare state for animals. He was also going to become a molecular biologist and find a cure for ageing - and all before he was 18 too, after which the loss of a few thousand brain cells each day would herald a rapid decline into senile dementia. This odd little creature's main worry, I seem to recall, was how far down the phylogenetic tree the rescue process could go. The higher mammals were in. Insects, regrettably but realistically, were out. Saving rodents and rabbits, on the other hand, posed formidable practical difficulties. Yet they definitely needed to be rescued so they could live happily ever after, albeit with compulsory family planning. One smiles at the naivete of such ambition - incongruous, perhaps, in one whose adult namesake only recently made heavy weather of fitting his first household plug. (Admittedly I smile; but I also wince inwardly at the implicit dishonesty of my diary's choice of authorial voice - for to convey a wryly amused detachment at the foibles of the world rather than a sense of compassionate moral urgency violates my conviction of the fundamentally horrific nature of Reality). Happily, the generic DP practical incapacity is not universally shared. Next century's nano-scale bodily and hedonic bio-repair jobs foreshadow - I think - the cut-and-paste construction, atom by atom and psychon by psychon, of billions of naturalistic paradises. Every single pattern of functionally organised sentience should eventually be lovingly tended, nurtured and treasured. Tragically, at present nobody could care less about most of them. The results are pretty grisly. In future, even the most simple-minded brain can, and should, be treated with the exacting concern for precision-engineering currently squandered on designing a prestige Rolls Royce. The outcome of all this gung-ho scientific reductionism may be quite paradoxical - and not in a way congenial to the militantly atheistic. For with piquant irony, nanotech and genetic engineering will play an indispensable role in opening up modes, intensities and exotic refinements of spiritual experience. Most of such modes are either rare or unattained by our species at present. For the human genome codes for the restrictive state-spaces of primitive hunter-gatherer minds. So even the most god-intoxicated spiritualist isn't prepared for what's ahead once selection pressure against purely spiritual states has passed. Electrode studies and the symptomatology of temporal-lobe epilepsy strongly suggest that the substrates of mystical experience and religiosity lie in the temporal cortex. Quite soon we may hope to achieve a formal, chemically-specified understanding of the metabolic pathways which the extraordinarily diverse textures of ethereal other-worldliness somehow express. After these structural shadows of the first-personal reality have been mapped out, then the roots of the phenomenology of spirit can be amped-up, tweaked and systematically varied. This can be done in ways akin to how chemists and psychopharmacologists (pre-eminently Shulgin, until he was banned) now systematically explore the properties of a reference compound and its congeners. Our descendants will be able to grow psychochemical epiphanies in vats. These marvellous states can be physically enlarged and stripped of irrelevant extras and contaminants left over from the evolutionary past. Perhaps they can be implanted in silicon etc robots, or even in everyday objects and cornflake packets to charge up the spiritual density of the world. In the longer term, more radical and currently inexpressible evolutionary transitions of numinous awareness may be feasible. This may occur, for instance, if the contents of our genetic legacy of skull-bound solipsistic prisons are allowed physically to interpenetrate each other. For if cerebral hemispheres can be connected via corpus collosa why not ultimately connect different cerebra too, reversibly or otherwise? At present, mystical All-Is-One states of enlightenment are very private affairs. The status of mystical states of consciousness themselves is currently low in materialistic Western culture. Yet considered truth-valuelessly as exotic types of experience, and not as embodying (unnaturalisable?) propositional content, then transcendental modes of consciousness deserve to be savoured and explored in the way we may listen to a symphony without endlessly wondering if its notes also have semantic properties. (Of course, the occurrent belief that a mystical revelation is in some sense true can itself be an important aspect of its phenomenology). One specific type of exalted condition, theomania - the belief that one is (a) god - seems to be a quite natural extension and sub-species of extreme euphoric mania. Conversely, a nihilistic denial of one's own existence is a mark of depressive psychosis and good analytic philosophy. Conceivably, in (distant) time a normal and mentally healthy self-esteem may be reckoned to entail the self-ascription of god-like properties of self-worth. Prototype models for such egos already exist. And if, speculatively, the distant and (chilly!) future of the universe is occupied by physically ultra-cool and QM-coherent megascopic supermind(s), then perhaps false modesty would in any case be out of place. Of course, how much of the cosmos we may actually want suffused with a naturalistically derived sense of its own divinity is a moot point. One's opinion may be unduly influenced, not merely by one's own levels of spiritual awareness (zero in my case without psychedelic catalysts), but by one's fluctuating personal relationships with individual anti-materialists. On the unproven assumption that intentional objects have a long-term future, however, then harnessing spiritual types of intentional experience is one way we might choose to encephalise raw mega-watt pleasure if we don't simply wish to design some convulsive Cosmic Orgasm. On the other hand, instantiating a vast Cosmic Orgasm, or even faking it with a modestly galactic one, might be quite fun.
I add lots more animal rights quotes and photos to A Home Page for Herbivores. It is possible, I suppose, that there are too many delightful elephants and koalas and not enough warthogs. Perhaps one day lookism, a phenomenon whose very existence one finds hard not to scare-quote, will be regarded as on a par with racism; for it probably causes as much misery. Indeed until medical science offers us a complete discretionary choice of biological host bodies (and the "us" here alludes to mind/brains, not discarnate souls), then perhaps one shouldn't even compliment someone for looking beautiful for fear of implicitly damning someone else for looking ugly. With serious VR only decades away, however, then perhaps cyberspace offers a better medium-term promise of beautiful body-images for all. In a civilisation of pervasively interactive VR, one might no more ask what someone "really" looked like behind their glorious digital persona(e) than one might today expect someone to remove "their" skin so one might inspect the authentic flesh beneath. A foretaste of the more distant future is given by the wonderful but neurotoxic MDMA ("ecstasy"), at least on its initial use before enzyme-induction or whatever sets in and takes away its most magical edge. For what's in prospect centuries hence are realms and intensities of sheer unearthly beauty - sensual, spiritual and emotional - that simply defy the contemporary imagination.
I have been following with interest the controversy over l-deprenyl on sci-life-extension. Alas all but the most ardent Net devotee would have to concede that newsgroups are a poor substitute for peer-reviewed journals. I'm even struck by a most unDave-like pang of nostalgia for their access to hand as the temperature of debate rises and its information-density falls. If one uses deprenyl for purposes of cognitive-, mood- and drive-enhancement, then its controversial anti-oxidant and life-extension roles are incidental benefits - and, even then, only if one subscribes to traditional gene-driven conceptions of personal identity. From the (IMO untenable) perspective of an orthodox enduring metaphysical self, however, then by far the best bet for a very long life is to stay consistently under- but not mal-nourished. Calories are the real killers (all those toxic free radicals), and currently the best recipe for extreme longevity is to cut down drastically on their intake. Unfortunately, most people in the world who are undernourished are also malnourished. Moreover, the less one eats, the more effort is required not to risk some sub-clinical deficiency disorder. The longevity-enhancing properties of caloric restriction seem to apply, however, in all animals where the issue has been studied and controlled experiments performed. On a restricted diet, chosen with the same care now reserved for consumer trinkets, life-spans of 150 or so for humans would be routinely achievable. The reason at present why such dietary schedules are not pursued by all but the most ardent life-extensionists is that it's pretty unpleasant to feel hungry all the time. Feeling hungry can be physiologically stressful too, for it triggers the release of anxiogenic noradrenaline (Another good reason not to promote self-starving recipes for life-extension at a time of anorexic chic is the danger of worsening the epidemic of eating-disorders gripping contemporary society. Possibly restricted diets, by compromising serotonin function, actually promote the body-image dysmorphic conditions that inspire them in the first instance). I nonetheless have a Dave Theory as well as a cunning Dave Solution which would enable one-and-a-half century life-spans to be commonly reached without genetic engineering or any hi-tech medical heroics. Tryptophan is the rate-limiting step in the production of serotonin (since tryptophan hydroxylase is usually unsaturated). Serotonin (or rather the post-synaptic intra-cellular cascade triggered by activation of some of its receptor sub-types etc) mediates a sense of sociability, relaxation and well-being. Impaired serotonin function is correlated with depression, irritability and anxiety. The normal effect of a carbohydrate meal is to allow more tryptophan into the brain, because the insulin release thereby triggered sweeps competing neutral amino acids out of the bloodstream. [Or at least that's the usual story. Things may be more complicated] Thus the price of life-prolonging under-nourishment at present is to make us feel bad - wired, crotchety and perhaps even depressed in virtue of diminished serotonin function. But this trade-off isn't inevitable. A feel-good daily dietary regimen involving a moderate degree of tryptophan-loading on a low-calorie but deliberately tryptophan-rich diet ought to enhance well-being as well as longevity (low dosage SSRIs would offer another but "non-natural" option here). Serotonin itself induces feelings of satiety. Newly-introduced designer fake-foods which the body can't absorb ought to ward off any hunger pangs. Perhaps, given the temper of the times, I will author a dancing Java-animated text full of such nostrums. Its title page will sing "LOOK YOUNGER LEANER and FITTER. HOW to LIVE to be 150 and FEEL GREAT". But let's hope HedWeb doesn't succumb to the ruinous adjectival inflation endemic elsewhere.
Timothy Leary's death leaves me feeling strangely ambivalent. I'm not actively distressed - on any block-universe, scientific world-view Tim hasn't somehow disappeared from space-time, for he (tenselessly) exists with his spatial and temporal boundaries unchanged. My thoughts are more on his 1960s heyday. The potted tributes may give the illusion that LSD can be slotted into a laundry list of the world's features. It can't, but I would have mixed feelings about evangelising for a compound which can sometimes trigger such hellishness. On the other hand, its cognitive significance simply cannot be underestimated. Intellectual integrity and ethical responsibility rarely pull so violently in such opposing directions. Curing the root pathology of primordial Darwinian life, namely aversive experience, and replacing its limbic substrates with pleasure-gradients of sublimity to motivate us instead, ultimately has to take priority if one aspires to be a moral agent. But when we have definitively awoken from the Nightmare Era, then having one's ordinary sense of self and reality effaced by something unimaginably different will always be an exquisite pleasure. On the other hand, perhaps the pleasure-pain axis is just so fundamental to our present conception of reality that any variations on unbridled wonderfulness could count as mere detail.
Chris comes round to put finishing touches to June's inaugural Spike. My mongrel and hand-tagged html serves as his inspiration. I've told him I don't think such reliance is altogether wise. Digital midwifery nonetheless proves less difficult than I'd supposed. In spite of my ideological qualms about some of the orchids (and weeds) flourishing in annexes off HedWeb, I think there is abundant justification for a totally hands-off, non-editorial DP role. It is quite conceivable, and IMO desirable, that by the (second?) third decade of the next century, possession of the equivalent of a personal server - bundled with domain name ownership and effectively unlimited bandwidth - to propagate one's views/public persona etc will be accounted as basic a part of democratic citizenship as the right to vote. Such a facility will be of far greater individual significance than the right to a once-every-five-years cross on a ballot paper. (Many older people may choose not to exercise their citizens' prerogative, just as many people nowadays choose not vote. Yet denial of the right globally to assert one's existence, and to express and propagate digitally one's views and chosen identity, will increasingly render today's rationalising legal fictions of equality and democratic participation unsustainable). The technical and bandwidth obstacles that loom large at the moment should be quite rapidly soluble with state-sponsored investment in a mature infostructure of fibre optics and ATM. And modestly extrapolating from current trends, the voice-activated friendliness (and soon no doubt folksiness) of web-site authoring packages, and future menus of idealised on-line avatars, will overpower all but the most hidebound technophobes. Later in the century, I imagine ubiquitous Net access will lead to the mass consumption - and opportunities for pick-and-mix modular production - of proliferating software libraries of immersive multi-modal VR applications. These new realities may be quasi-consensus and interactive i.e. implicate sentient others elsewhere, or they may be quasi-solipsistic. Unlike some technophiliac visionaries, I don't see this transition as radically life-enriching in the absence of a single all-important precondition - the functional abolition of the age-old hedonic treadmill. In the short-to-medium term, its existence will continue to blight the lives of the simple-souled savages whose lives it animates. But we live in interesting times.
DP Interview Dec. 2003
DP Drug Regimen August 2005
Social Media (Facebook etc) 2012-2023