E-mail Dave : email@example.com
Dave's Diary : July 1996
Dave's Diary : September 1996
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I learn from the improbable Bruce that there are signs his six-week old Rosie has inherited his striking indifference to painful stimuli. Like her father, she just isn't keen on indigestion. Fortunately, neither Bruce nor his cute little offspring manifest the rare and physically dangerous condition of congenital anaesthesia. Instead father, and perhaps baby daughter, show an innate insensitivity to the subjective ultra-nastiness of pain. This "deficit" is much more important than its anecdotal status as a medical curiosity might suggest. If its neurological basis were understood, then the potential clinical significance could be far-reaching. On balance, I would prefer Bruce not to be sacrificed; though they do say you can never trust a utilitarian. Yet in one way or another he does belong in the medical research laboratories; and not in Epic Multimedia's systems department. For in the medium-term, there is one big practical obstacle to any biological program to eradicate unpleasantness as a generic mode of experience. This lies in the role that pain plays in the lives of very young children. Within a few centuries, drugs, nanotech and above all, genetic therapy will quite conceivably banish the spectrum of depressive states, defined much more generously than is today's practice. Eradicating physical pain for older children and adults should become ever-easier, too: prosthetic devices to warn of tissue damage, silicon etc bionic implants, genetic engineering; and customised, receptor-subtype-specific narcotics should enable our descendants to enjoy all pain's functional benefits. They'll just miss its phenomenal horrors. Young children, however, normally get their neural nets trained up in the familiar, nasty but effective way. They learn to respond to the world and avoid danger by going through painful lessons in avoiding noxious stimuli. Engineering functional surrogates for organic pain in infants may prove especially challenging. Obviously, newborns lack the intellectual ability to understand the sorts of potential monitoring software and signals that could alert more mature humans to danger. If Bruce carries some rare (and usually only mildly genetic fitness-reducing?) allele, then it will be interesting to unravel the effects it usually has on the organism as a whole. Alas, one can't just stitch in an allele "for" some desirable trait and then hope it will mind its own business and not affect anything else. Yet if human infants, and next the human germ-line itself, were to receive hypoalgesia-genes, or something like them and the proteins etc they express, then a lot of awful pain could be avoided. As it is, young children suffer intensely. This is a fact which our usual pre-linguistic amnesia allows us to downplay or neglect. To complicate matters, Bruce is not entirely typical of contemporary humanity in other ways either. Not everyone would be happy about discussing in front of his girlfriend whether he might be partially autistic, or at least have Aspergerish traits. [Autistic children may have abnormally high levels of endogenous opiates. They don't tell lies, lack a theory of mind, and are very literal-minded. Bruce is pathologically truthful; finds other people baffling; and there's no pun too dreadful for him not to find it excruciatingly funny]. Not everyone, either, would cheerily tell the world they wouldn't mind trying hard-core S-and-M (possibly because to Bruce it would just be like being vigorously tickled?). I suspect the "narrow content" of Bruceworld semantics is quite alien to mine. I'd actually quite like to know what "pain" does feel like to this sort of organism. For vexed, "private language argument"-flavoured reasons, I'm not confident I'll ever know. Bruce isn't in fact autistic. Nor is he an Asperger. He surely does at least deserve the eponymous flattery of a medical label. [Perhaps we all do?] More generally, the pain-pleasure axis in the broadest sense is fundamental to my conceptual scheme (and implicitly at least to everybody's?). I wonder sometimes if it will ever be transcended or superseded? To what end? "Why does the Universe go to the bother of existing?" asks Hawking. Quite. What would a world of totally affectless sentience in which nothing mattered be like? Why aren't we living in it? Much more plausibly, self-customised post-humanity will travel in the opposite direction. I think everything will matter fantastically. One day, I trust, every moment of existence will seem self-intimatingly worthwhile.
A Jewish vegetarian e-mails me material on the Nazis and animal experimentation. The canard that the Third Reich was some sort of haven for animals might scarcely seem worth rebutting ad nauseam. Yet it is a drearily popular rhetorical weapon among the ranks of those who are convinced that animal lovers must be human-haters. Even Himmler, in his notorious Poznan speech in 1943, recognised that it was the murder of young children that his top party audience had found hardest to justify. The prospect that our descendants might come to view our frightful treatment of functionally equivalent non-humans in the way we now view the youngest victims of the Holocaust is in practice a worry most effectively expressed by Jewish AR activists, not gentiles. Reading about the heroism of rescuers of the Jews in the war years leaves me stirring uneasily at the shaky and suspiciously convenient ethical utilitarian basis of my own comfortable legalism. Has it just been an excuse for defeatism and inertia? Young vegan pacifist activists and political prisoners, such as Keith Mann, serving decade(!)-long sentences in UK jails for campaigns of economic sabotage against hard-core animal abusers, are not obviously more immoral than murderers or serial rapists released substantially sooner. Nor is being sentenced to 14 years in prison by a practising bloodsports enthusiast likely to allay the qualms of anyone uncertain of the even-handedness of British justice.
I finally get around to registering a domain name for BLTC Research. "A Good Name Is More Desirable Than Great Riches" (Proverbs 22:1) Hmmm. I would have probably nodded sagely if assured that mastering the technicalities of DNS registration took 10 years training as a net god and Unix wizard. Instead, Cybar's wunderkind Technoid Tom demystifies the process for me. "Domainism" in cyber-jargon had previously stuck me as a faintly risible snobbery. Creeping on-line self-respect (or too much dep?) then left me feeling vaguely restless. Would the heavyweight digerati of the Net despise me as a mere twiglet of a twiglet in the new global pecking order? In the light of recent events, I suppose the portability argument for personal domain ownership is unanswerable. Quite why a nondescript and inoffensive cipher of an analytic philosopher should start feeling like a prospective fugitive from justice is something of a mystery.
Good news. My local service provider Pavilion and its adoptive parent Easynet (ah the gentle art of euphemism) are standing firm. The BFSS's [now rebranded as 'The Countryside Alliance'] latest legal shenanigans aren't yet proving enough to cow them into submission. For I learn that last night an after-office-hours fax was sent by their solicitors to Pavilion. In blustering legalese it promises imminent court action against Brighton UK's main internet service provider unless they censor the anti-bloodsports critique on their server by 4.00 p.m. today. Quite how and why the BFSS heavy-mob think they can carry off such an outrageous con-job is unclear. Legal buffs tell me, presumably translating from the mandarin legalese of some little-known parliamentary statute, that they "haven't got a leg to stand on". The original charge claiming the article was "a site passing off" as the BFSS has been quietly dropped, possibly in deference to the semantics of natural language. Now instead the accusation is directed at my HTML 3.2 W3C-inspired use of "meta" tags. This is alleged to have "misled" several search engines so that some if not others now impertinently list an anti-bloodsports file first. Indeed a keyword search on Alta Vista does reveal that the "Killing for Kicks" article now comes ahead of the quasi-pornographic celebration of violence against animals promoted in the name of BFSS "sport". My anxieties are eased on hearing of "Easy/Pav's" intent. I'm quite prepared to accept that the first court case centring on an ISP client's use of "meta" labels could provide a feast of fun for the lawyers. Tu quoque, as we say in Brighton. More gladiatorially-minded litigants, too, might enjoy the theatrical point-scoring of the UK's adversarial system of justice. Yet it would do little to promote the cause of HI, even if it further discredited the BFSS. One wants to win hearts and minds, not collect scalps. As a gesture of solidarity, Brighton's Cybar kindly offers to host the whole 15 Meg HedWeb site for free if my service provider loses its nerve. It is nice to feel loved and wanted. But it seems I needn't have worried. If they had wavered, I would have offered to indemnify their legal costs. Since my only financial assets are in the flat, this is not the sort of pledge one makes lightly. Happily, the peremptory 4.00 p.m. deadline of the BFSS solicitors passes without incident. With my usual weak-minded hesitancy (or, better, true-blue Brit sense of fair play?) I even wonder if I should be feeling sympathy for the defenceless BFFS - whose position is allegedly being hounded and then unsportingly torn apart by bloodthirsty techies. But then a most disturbing parallel springs to mind; and I go down with a bad case of compassion-fatigue.
I return to find a message on the answering machine from the managing director of my ISP, Pavilion. Could I possibly give him a ring in the morning? A fervent HedWeb admirer keen to discuss my analytical musings on the riddle of existence? Alas probably not. It seems a solicitor's fax from the ineffable BFSS has arrived at Pavilion HQ. I wonder what it contains. It would be nice to think it was an olive branch. Perhaps it's a cordial invitation to debate bloodsports in an open forum or a ringing affirmation of the principles of freedom of speech in a democratic society. One should never rule out Damascene conversions, even in Tunbridge Wells. Sadly, my gut reactions suggest otherwise. One's guts, funnily enough, support a surprisingly sophisticated network of millions of nerve cells. To describe them as bright might be stretching it a bit; but they're a reminder that not just invertebrates can have decentralised nervous power structures. Distributed power has its pitfalls, however. I sometimes wish my brain were less of a shifting coalition of ungovernable patterns and more of a benevolent dictatorship.
A correspondent offers thanks for my ringing endorsement of unbridled sensuality in John Eden's guest book. I mentally blush. I'd certainly stand by every word, but in truth my libertinism in principle is exceeded only my lifelong prudery in practice. It's just possible, too, that my judgement and desire to please might have been swayed by Mr Eden's kind words for HedWeb. It would be nice to think that depth psychology or whatever could uncover well-buried and complex motives behind one's childlike vanities. After all, introspection is notoriously fallible. Sometimes, I fear, its quite accurate. That's why it evolved. Ultimately, one's exteroceptive states are no more public than interoceptive ones. Both have adaptive value. The virtually public exteroceptive states of each organism's egocentric "real world" serve as the naturally evolved counterpart to digital cyberspace. The latter is growing fast and may one day supersede old-time DNA-driven VR in our workaday definitions of reality. At the moment, organic reality has a habit of intruding in one's life often enough to leave its replacement seeming some way off.
The normally progressive Observer leads with the shock exposure of an unspeakable monster of depravity. He is a parent and school governor who has been selling pictures of child pornography for cash. Steeling myself for tales of fresh depravities to follow, I learn instead that he is an ISP director who hasn't censored the alt.binaries passing through the Demon news-server. Now as an ethical utilitarian, I can scarcely pose as an libertarian absolutist. Or rather I can, but only for deviously utilitarian purposes. Yet this really is a shocking lapse of judgement on Will Hutton's part. I hope the Observer apologises next week. One of the tragic failings of Nature and the "natural", and a powerful argument for radical HI-style bioengineering, is that it doesn't allow people to choose their sexual orientation and love-maps. One might as well blame (or praise) someone for sneezing. There is some suggestion that by an early age many people have developed a sort of template of their notional ideal partner. Later, they will try and match it with various "real world" humans. Frequently they find not a perfect fit, but a amorphous blob-like shape of varying degrees of infidelity. If one is lucky, one's love-map will tend to approximate the norm(s) of one's particular culture. If one is unlucky, and some people are evidently very unlucky, they will be trapped in a role where they will at best be ridiculed and at worst reviled. IMO, there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-style sympathy seems more apt than choleric indignation. This is so even if the only remedy in extreme cases today is a hopefully benign but decades-long incarceration. In future, it may be possible to redesign love-maps to fulfil our idealised second-order desires. On the other hand, thanks to multi-modal immersive VR, within a few centuries people will be able to do anything they like and it won't hurt anyone. When designer realities become the norm, and meso-limbic mega-health is taken for granted, it's hard to see how to justify the existence of soul-police on the lookout for thought-crimes. Crowley's "Do as thou wilt" could then at last be ethically realised. Paradoxically, VR will provide a level of verisimilitude, and delicious super-normal stimuli, which is simply infeasible while one is awake in today's tawdry organic VR worlds. It will trump what passes for Real Life in the DNA-assembled psychiatric slums of the past. In future, one will be able to exercise a complete consumer's choice of perceptions and emotions. Anything and everything can be made loveable and/or sexy if neurally infiltrated in the right way. This exercise overtaxes my limited and hormonally sub-normal imagination.
I go to see Mission Impossible. It's most enjoyable. I can't say I find it very true-to-life. But who knows what tomorrow may bring.
A Reclaim the Streets demo in Brighton leads to scuffles, a minor police riot and a number of injuries. I am suitably indignant. I try nonetheless to retain a sense of perspective. More progressive (and fortunately off-line) friends would be appalled to hear me say it, but in recent years the police in the UK have done a lot to clean up their act. Most people arrested don't get beaten up in custody. Most British policemen don't take bribes. Policemen lie in the witness box as often as everyone else, but it's uncommon for wholly innocent people to be fitted up. [This may make naïve and galling reading for some victims of malpractice and worse. Apologies. Perhaps if I were a young black male I would have a different tale to tell. I am just generalising]. Reading about the U.K's NATO "ally" Turkey, where almost everyone arrested routinely gets tortured, and the methods of the security services throughout the world, can darken one's spirits horribly. It confirms my at times almost nihilistically bleak conception of reality prior to an HI-like global phase transition in consciousness. Heaven still seems a faraway place of which we know little. On a more mundane level, I listen later to post-mortems on the protest. My own uncompromising stand against the private car coincides with a stoical acceptance of lifts from friends on condition I can berate them on the evils of private motoring. I don't drive myself. My mind would wander in the driver's seat. Arcade-game experience suggests my performance at the wheel would bear a closer resemblance to Death Race 2000 than the Highway Code.
Wired kindly inform me that the Chief Press Officer of the BFSS has referred to me in language I'd blush to confide even to the privacy of my diary - or even on the more populated parts of HedWeb. [Semantic irrealism has it uses, so I don't feel too many distressful pangs of self-recognition. In any case, I have inner demons of my own devising too]. Would I like to comment? I mutter the most woolly-minded liberal platitudes I can think of. Until now, I've managed to get through life largely without making enemies. This has been achieved via being as self-effacing as possible rather than any qualities of saintly benevolence. I still mean well. So now I find it unusual to find be the nominal object of such ire. It's also rather alarming, given the bloodthirsty proclivities of some hunt fanatics. Rationally speaking, it is an intellectual limitation on my part that I don't straightforwardly regard them in the same way as I regard cats. Admittedly, cats don't have a theory of mind; whereas many hunters do. If I could solve the relevant equations I would see their behaviour as grimly inevitable. But I can't and I don't.
A guest inspects a bag of blue-coloured powder suspiciously. I don't think he is familiar with cactus fertiliser. Possibly his experience of the world is rather broader than mine in other respects. The bag gets patted and sniffed. My friends are vaguely aware HI contains a fair bit about drugs. Not all have had the dubious pleasure of reading it or my precise views on the recreationals. So the possibility I might be up to something vaguely exciting and illicit remains. Momentarily frustrated at my inability to convince the sceptic of the powder's innocuous nature, I solemnly assure him that one dab will leave him high for a week. Oh dear. Some sceptics are more credulous than others. I briefly wonder how I'd deal with the signs and symptoms of phosphate poisoning. Fortunately, no harm seems to have been done. Getting sued twice in one week might look like carelessness. Strange to say, I actually do have several hundred cacti. They deter burglars and are alleged to be hard plants to kill. This underestimates the harsh selective pressures of my particular flat. They are often splendid presents however. Flowers wither and die rapidly and with horrible symbolism. Cacti, on the other hand, will take ages to expire in any normal home so long as you remember not to water them. This is important, not least because the water down in Brighton is pretty toxic to cacti or anything else. Since the Government privatised its supply, the quality has deteriorated further. The foul effluent discharging from my tap would be disdained by the average meths drinker. My remedy is to have two kettles, one for people falling under the category of VIP and the other for VVIPs. I award myself membership of the latter. Less honoured guests are suitably flattered to be asked if they'd like coffee or tea with water from "the VIP kettle". The privileged few get their refreshment with the VVIP instead. This is the kettle full of bottled water which I've had to cart from the nearest Safeway. Water rates have soared in recent years. Directors of the newly-privatised utility companies are now millionaires after all their efficiency savings.
I learn that chocolate contains small quantities of anandamide. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain. Allegedly one would have to eat several pounds of the chocolate to gain any noticeable effects. As far as I know, the subtle yet potent effects of chocolate aren't fully understood. It's very odd. Our culture's favourite psychoactive cocktail offers more than a brief sugar high. The tryptophan and caffeine it contains can easily be obtained from other sources. The theobromine may modulate, but seems unlikely to determine, its distinctive profile. Apparently, eating chocolate releases endorphins, the body's endogenous opiates. These contribute to the warm inner glow. I'd guess the key ingredient is the phenylethylamine "love-chemical" it contains. Yet this is disputed. One reads that it is virtually all metabolised before it reaches the CNS. I'm sceptical this can be so; or if it is indeed so thoroughly broken down, then we are exceptionally sensitive to it in small quantities. Phenylethylamine is itself a naturally occurring trace amine in the brain. It releases mesolimbic dopamine. Taken in unnaturally high doses, it can produce stereotyped behaviour more prominently even than amphetamine. It has distinct binding sites but no specific neurons. One of its metabolites is unusually high in subjects with paranoid schizophrenia. There is even a phenylethylamine theory of depression. MOA-b, which I like to keep permanently zapped, has been described as phenylethylaminase. One of my nominal forebear's earliest memories is chocolatey. I was given a piece to eat on my first day at school. I discovered that I hated the taste. The piece was too disgusting to swallow. I was too shy to spit it out. So it slowly melted in my mouth. Many years later, my aversion as strong as ever, I decided nonetheless to explore chocolate's alleged psychoactive properties by trying it again. (Not for nothing am I known as one of the UK's most recklessly daring psychonauts). This I could only do by taking it in pill-like "M and M" form. I gulped down each little ball with a glass of water. I find the effect of chocolate is very pleasant. Conditioned aversion has turned into conditioned reward. I can now eat it like a normal human being. I feel a mild darkening of mood when it wears off. The drug bupropion ("Wellbutrin") apparently eliminates chocolate-craving among the susceptible. In low doses it's a very safe drug; though it is not prescribed for that purpose (in daily dosage regimens of above 400mg, it occasionally causes seizures). In the UK we lack any such "dopaminergic" antidepressants. This is a disgrace. Dopamine reuptake blockers can - at the very least - augment the effects of traditional mainstays of psychiatric practice. Nomifensine, for instance, is a very effective agent. It's far more potent as a dopamine re-uptake blocker than bupropion. Yet it is almost impossible to obtain by normal channels. It was withdrawn by the manufacturer when found to be the rare cause of a serious blood disorder. The risks of inadequately treated depression are IMO far higher.
I watch Independence Day. Complete trash from start to finish; and great fun. One hesitates to describe a film where most of the planet's cities get nuked or wiped out by aliens as wholesome; but human beings do come across as a basically decent bunch. (I hated Seven). One's feelings can be so easily played with. People like The X-Files, Invasion of the Body Snatchers etc because it is the sceptical scientists who are stupid (don't you realise you fool that of course it's a bug-eyed monster using telekinesis, one finds oneself thinking). In Independence Day, one is likewise soon steered into thinking for-christsake-just-nuke-the-bastards you namby wet of a president. Yes, I suppose 'wholesome' is a relative term.
Melissa now has an e-mail account at the Cybar. Until now, the avid young male admirers of her poetry have had to put a "to Melissa" on the subject line of my mail box. It is possible that this has had a dampening affect on their poetic ardour. One on-line poetry-lover requests that her Thought of the Week go daily. Melissa assures me she is up to the challenge.
I finally hack my way into the well-manicured lawns of Compuserve. The invite to join the Mind forum was last month; yet when it comes to comms software I might be described as accident-prone. Happily, Sam sorts it out. This isn't quite the audience I'd anticipated for HI. I am genuinely surprised at how open-minded a lot of people seem on my theme. I still feel a bit like Huxley's Savage in Brave New World; with my sympathies incongruously on the side of the Savage. On the other hand, 'Mind' forum members seem unfailingly courteous and polite. This is good for my delicate amour propre. Out on the digital badlands of the Internet, one never knows whether the next e-mail will bring tidings of love and joy or venomous fulminations. Until the advent of the Web I had never been fulminated at. It seems I've led an unduly sheltered life.
Mega-embarrassment. With the help of an infected floppy, I almost manage to give a virus to the Brighton Cybar. I wonder where the pestilential little beast could have come from. Luckily, their virus-checker detects it. I want to hide under the table and crawl away. I hope my hosts know I'm unlikely to be an agent of commercial rivals. My ineffectual other-worldliness could all be an elaborate facade. You never know.
Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 does look very nice. Alas it mangles some of my sloppily tagged pages. Navigator is more forgiving. By the end of the year, I suspect I will being managing both my analogue and digital virtual homes from MS Windows NT and probably the rest of my life as well. Yep, I love Big Brother.
A newsgroup posting from my chief BFSS persecutor suggests that the BFSS have tacitly dropped their charge of "passing off". Instead they've added multiple strings of "BFSS" - and a sinister litany of hunting terms - to their own "meta" tags. This should ensure that they continue to score well in keyword searching for a host of bloodsports-related topics. Were all this on-line jousting only a piece of petulant I-want-to-be-first one-upmanship, I'd be tempted to riposte with a few of the vastly more machiavellian tricks of the pros. The point, however, is to gain equal prominence for the forces of decency, not to point-score. Staying top of a digital dung-heap may satisfy some of the more murkily reptilian bits of one's brain. It doesn't help the victims of human atrocities. Ironically, given the fatuous "passing off" charge, the BFSS's governmental allies are currently running a sleazy poster campaign featuring a picture of Tony Blair. The Labour Leader, a practising Christian, is given the eyes of the Devil. Indeed an entire spoof Labour Manifesto was recently produced by Tory Central Office. It lampoons the Labour Party at great length, admittedly to somewhat underwhelming levels of media enthusiasm. I am uncertain how I would react if a keyword search for "Hedonistic Imperative" were to throw up a rival manifesto. Advocating the use of nanotechnology and genetic engineering for the diametrically opposed purposes of eradicating the biological substrates of happiness would be as evil a purpose as I can imagine. I wouldn't be wildly pleased. Yet somehow I think I'd muster the intellectual self-confidence not to panic.
I am enjoying the consistently stimulating mailing-list of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. It's actually quite exciting. Thanks to the Net, once taboo topics are resurfacing. One example - and I'm a great believer in promoting progress via tendentious redefinition - is experimental philosophy of mind a.k.a. the systematic exploration of psychedelic drugs, albeit only with concomitant mood-boosters or genetically pre-programmed invincible well-being. Good-bye Aristotle and hello Galileo. As far as analytic philosophy and cognitive science go, the sixties might never have happened. In some of the more sheltered groves of academe, perhaps they never did. Another topic coming in from the cold is naturalistic panpsychism. This rehabilitation is due more to the bankruptcy and incoherence of the metaphysical opposition than (IMO) any startling breakthroughs (as yet) in resolving the mind/matter conundrum. Encouragingly, however, panpsychist options are being canvassed by scientific pros with a deep knowledge of real physics and physiology. (Penrose and Hameroff are the biggest names here; though one should be very sceptical of collapsing wave functions). The debate hasn't degenerated into word-spinning by scientifically pre-literate philosophers. One of the more off-beat lines I've been pursuing (between watering the potted plants) is the connection between panpsychism and pure mathematics. The link isn't intuitively obvious. A physicalist mind/brain identity theory, however, entails that consciousness can be described by a set of equations. If, more broadly, panpsychism were true, and the description is universalised by QM, then the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" in the physical sciences is actually their unreasonable success in describing subjectivity, albeit under a different and bogus description. The link between numerical equations and the different values of subjectivity (tastes, tickles, unicorn-images etc.) might seem utterly remote. It may indeed be heuristically useless in arriving at the right formalism to describe the world. Yet if one's not afraid to be a radical and Procrustean monist, then a unification of the mathematico-logical, the physical and the phenomenological is potentially feasible; as pipe-dreams go, anyhow. Just supposing Russell is right and "Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true", then the reconception of maths as embracing the structural relationships between different values of subjectivity is neither more nor less bizarre than its application to the physical world as traditionally conceived. Certainly, for anyone who entertains the possibility that (with Godelian complications) a complete and canonical maths, physics and phenomenology are ultimately coextensive, then it's an interesting idea to play around with. So long as such conjectures issue in no testable new predictions, they are unlikely to interest practising scientists - or at least not in their professional capacity. Yet from the space of (ostensibly) logically possible worlds, the percentage whose true character could be divined by means of some decisive knock-down tests or predictions might be relatively small. It is a priori dogmatism to say that this world must be of the kind amenable to the empirical method. In any case, whether we live in a cosmos consisting of fields of proto-consciousness or not, an idealist world whose properties and field values were described by type-identical equations to those of QM is at least an interesting intellectual possibility.
I am pleased and nervously reassured to receive messages of support from the owners of other servers promising good homes for HedWeb if my ISP gets cold feet over the threatened injunction. Some of these homes are a long way away, but hey, this is cyberspace, it shouldn't matter. Not all my e-mail is quite so heartening. Issuing death-threats and lovingly recounting the gruesome ways one intends to kill one's victim is perfectly legal, so long the prospective victim of one's bloodlust isn't human. With gritted teeth, I slip into the truculent courtesy of my all-purpose respect-your-alternative-point-of-view-but-beg-to-differ mode. In fact, expressions of naked cruelty can occasionally come almost as a welcome relief. The laboured paradoxes of we-are-the-true-animal-lovers hunt apologetics can be hard to stomach. Human love can take some twisted and deranged forms. Sadly one knows that already.
I receive an e-mail from Nanotechnology Magazine's impossibly energetic Bill Spence. He has already provided Melissa with her shrewdly-chosen and tastefully illustrated Thought of the Week. Will I be able to complete the promised HI-inspired piece by the 25th? Stress. I have never yet met a deadline I couldn't break. Hence I try to avoid making self-refuting promises. My knowledge of nano-technology is matched though not exceeded by my knowledge of pico-, femto-, and atto-technology. "Nano" is nonetheless a pleasing little prefix. I believe it derives from the Greek "nanos", for dwarf. So I enlarge my vocabulary by adding "nano-" to as many words as I can get away with. In one sense, however, we are still thinking big; and in this field the megalomaniacs are the guys who think small. Whether a far-off civilisation of our distant descendants will engage in Planck-scale 10-33 hedonic engineering has to be described as speculative. Given that all the terrible things in the cosmos are "bad" vibrations at these scales and energies, messing around with the harmonics of strings (or whatever) might seem the logical course of action. The root of all evil runs very deep. Formidable practical difficulties would need to be overcome.
I attend a musical freedom festival in Stanmer Park in the grounds of Sussex University. The music is stupendously cacophonous to my uneducated ear. I'm probably out of touch; caviar to the general perhaps. For some reason my vibrating viscera feel as though they were liquefying as part of a military acoustic warfare project. Very odd. The festival itself is great fun. I don't know precisely what freedoms are being celebrated. If I did, I'm sure I'd approve. Dressed in suits, the participants wouldn't look out of place at a large pharmaceutical trade fair. Attendance at a cannabis information stall suggests that info-junkies aren't confined to cyberspace. The expressions suffusing the features of many festival-goers suggest deeper mysteries are being fathomed too. I have visions of writhing axons, shrivelling dendrites and millions of massacred cellular innocents. Less Timothy Leary and more Hieronymus Bosch. I reproach myself for being such a killjoy.
A faux pax. I receive a friendly but slightly pained message from a safari organiser. I had been suitably honoured if surprised in July to be invited to play elephant polo in the Himalayas. Though forced to decline, I had then used Alta Vista to find a suitable hotlink. Unfortunately Debrett's Guide to Modern Manners, always my daily bible for everyday living, does not record how to behave if one has inadvertently hot-linked the wrong elephant polo players' team. I have naturally no wish to cause further offence by delinking the other site. So I link both. Oh the sheer messiness of contemporary living.
An anxious phone call from my ISP. We exchange stirring quotes about freedom of speech from Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill [OK, I'm making that up]. My parents arrive. We go on our usual whirligig tour of downtown Rottingdean. My mother, I fear, is convinced that the expense of litigation will prove ruinous. I'll be left sleeping rough on the streets of Brighton as down-and-out dustbin-bag Dave. My usual sunny pessimism tells me that this is possible; but unlikely. Some people's lives may have narrative structure. I can't believe mine is going to be one of them.
A blood-curdling e-mail arrives from the Chief Press Officer of the British Field Sports Society. The raison d'etre of this perfectly legal outfit is the hunting and killing of other sentient creatures for pleasure. In suitable vein, the e-mail threatens a court injunction and legal damages unless Pavilion or I censor and remove Killing for Kicks from the server. Given the Society's passionate commitment to Freedom of Speech etc, I wonder if the message might be a spoof. Apparently not, though it is hard to be sure. It warns darkly of legal action on the grounds that the critique of hunting and the BFSS is "offensive" and "arguably libellous" and, crucially, amounts to "a site passing [itself] off as" the BFSS and thereby "illegal". The idea that anyone reading HedWeb's animated critique of the Society might come to believe (s)he was browsing a site sporting a BFSS propaganda tract does rather strain the imagination. I suppose nonetheless one should never underestimate the capacity of the finest flower of the English legal profession to pull off the most unlikely coup; and so might I for £200 an hour. I am told that with enemies like the BFSS, who needs friends? Yet, in all, I fear this will be one more distraction from more worthwhile HI themes. In view of the deception and subterfuge which the BFSS has been urging on its members in their bid to infiltrate the RSPCA, their less indulgent critics would doubtless be pleased if they really were hoist with their own petard. For there is reason to think neither irony nor a keen sense of the incongruous are two of BFSS's strongest suits. There are indeed plenty of genuine burlesque sites around on the Net. More seriously, there must be a worry that some of at least the smaller Internet service providers will be vulnerable to unwarranted threats and intimidation until their own legal status as common carriers is resolved. In future, as the Net matures, some powerful vested interests will doubtless resort to all sorts of ethically dubious means to stifle dissident voices. The temptation to buckle under, particularly rather than uphold the freedom of the cyberspace's more seriously controversial sites, will surely be very great. Not all of the Net's wilder outposts can in any case take refuge in HedWeb's real if at times tepid commitment to boring bourgeois legalism. Thus their future must at best be regarded as uncertain. On a happier note, I am pleased to note that Magellan describes HedWeb as "frenzied"; even without the aid of our long-promised clickable Java buttons. I suspect that with its quiet sense of its own dignity, however, the incorruptible Golden House Sparrow is unlikely to bestow its favour for less than another star.
I learn that the world's 350 odd billionaires own wealth equivalent to a group of countries accounting for over half the world's population. Other studies into the correlation between wealth and happiness suggest that gaining extra resources can yield a modest but significant increase in well-being amongst the worst-off 20% of western society. Above that, the correlation effectively vanishes. The joys of orthodox marginalist economics have been used to justify all manner of unfairness in the past. Sadly, the diminishing marginal utility of money doesn't seem to figure highly in economics education. Notions of "efficiency" are much more popular instead. Some doubtless dangerously simplistic solutions do spring to mind.
HedWeb's second Java applet takes wing. I am a little vague on how presenting click-happy net-surfers with the chance to play god with mutating biomorphs will add to the site's thematic unity of purpose; but since the applet's code is written in Java, it must surely be a good thing. Other matters are rather more pressing. I find myself fretting over the adverse consequences for the quality of personal relationships of the hundreds of thousands of ecstasy tablets taken each week even in the UK; most of them seemingly in Brighton. Simply to give an honest description of MDMA's effects is to run the risk of advocating its use; but dishonesty and muddle-headedness about drugs fuelled the current almighty mess in the first instance. For in the short-term E really does seem to be a wonderful life-intensifier. What other agent enables people to have fun and be simply so nice to others all at the same time - a heady cocktail of hedonism and altruism which deepens one's sense of self-identity while liberating an extraordinary sense of love, compassion and empathy for one's genetic rivals. E can abolish jealousy, insecurity and fear of rejection; enable users to feel strangely normal yet magically happy; promote (rose-tinted) emotional honesty; feel sensuous without being intrusively sexual; and awaken a liquid intensity of feeling that dissolves a lifetime's inhibitions and repressions. Alas cynics who feel God is both subtle and malicious are rarely short of ammo. The most insidious and under-reported social after-effects of MDMA-use, IMO, will be fiendishly hard to prove in well-controlled scientific studies; but may well be the most sinister. Ecstasy has been dubbed an empathogen. Yet perhaps the longer term changes it causes might be called anti-empathogenic (one can see why "anti-empathogens" might have military uses). Its after-effects may include (particularly in the two-week period of receptor re-regulation subsequent to the 48 hour post-E serotonin dip?) an abnormally high incidence of: relationship break-ups, overwrought personal arguments; emotional volatility, anti-social behaviour, paranoia, jealousy and rejection-sensitivity. Given the (controversial but reasonably well-established) serotonergic damage caused by MDMA and MDA use, such a behavioural syndrome might be predicted on theoretical grounds. Yet because many users feel more-or-less fine the next day (the half-life of amphetamine to which E is metabolised is around eight hours), and because our DNA-sculpted emotions are so cunningly encephalised, many E-takers often won't realise the subtler manifestations of what is happening. Even in a relatively benign scenario, imagine for instance what might be the effects of serotonergic damage which left millions of young users with an enduring 5% greater cognitive/emotional bias simply to find other people more irritating. (Greater irritability and proneness to explosive anger is one expression of serotonergic dysregulation). The societal consequences would be far-reaching. They would also be masked: for there will always appear to be an abundance of justificatory evidence to hand. So whereas the risks of ecstasy-use to personal health are becoming better known - depression, anxiety, derealisation and depersonalisation, mild cognitive impairment; reduced immune function and capacity to cope with stress, and so forth - the risks to (mainly young) people's long-term relationships with others have barely begun to be explored. Taking an SSRI (Prozac etc) after the peak experience subsides to prevent serotonergic damage might seem advisable; but this would be seen in official circles as (doubly) encouraging drug use. I'd hazard a guess as to one other long-term effect of E-use which may occur even at normal recreational dosages. Again it would be a hard hypothesis to test scientifically. E has been described as an entactogen - literally "to touch within" - and the overpowering emotional intensity, the reliving of the emotionally defining events of one's life, and the culturally-deviant emotional literacy it promotes are, for many users, the peak experiences of their lives. Yet over the long-term, it seems quite feasible that E-use exerts an anti-entactogenic effect. Serotonergic damage may lead to a reduction in the overall intensity of feeling similar to that sometimes (reversibly) induced by the SSRIs - things just don't matter so much any more. The central nervous system's capacity for "graceful degradation" may disguise what's happening. Admittedly, given the state of the world, I'd feel ambivalent about trying any genetic or pharmacological intervention which enhanced my own rawness of feeling. Yet a long-term evolutionary strategy for post-humanity will surely seek to enrich both the depth and range of emotions. For it's the texture of feeling that alone gives life any significance. A serious research program which aimed, not merely at genetic and pharmacological mood-enhancement, but gene-switched empatho- and entacto-genesis via the relevant sub-types of serotonergic receptor - seems preferable to the neurochemical anarchy rampant in the clubs and streets at present. Somehow it's hard to see the current UK government taking the necessary intellectual leap.
A day of catching-up on Medline. The service is an absolute joy to use. It should be available on every pub, club, and street-corner kiosk.
3 August 1996
I am reading Greg Egan's Distress. I aim to read one novel a year. This year I have already demolished two, more than enough to pass myself off as a literary intellectual in Brighton café society. I am told by those who know about such things that continental literati set their sights a little higher. Probably I'm a bit too literal-minded to appreciate the genre. Last year's choice, Egan's Quarantine, is often regarded as the best novel exploring the consequences of an Everett-inspired cosmology. Reading an Everett-predicated story entails combining the effort of struggling to believe the preposterous consequences of a QM formalism you fear is true with the effort of suspending disbelief in a work of fiction that you know to be false. This trick must be achieved via a natural language whose conceptual scheme is systematically misleading and without using the cheat-button of such sanity-promoting delusions as an enduring metaphysical ego. It's a lot less easy than it sounds and the underlying neurological details are obscure.
2 August 1996
A sleek and sexy item of techno-porn has thrust itself past my psychological self-defences. The Nokia 9000 Communicator is a chic and elegant mobile phone/fax/e-mail/calculator/diary/address book. It enables you to access your web-site while rushing around being busy and important. In principle, I'd prefer to occupy E-like states of cosmic harmony - hugging everyone and communing with Nature. Sadly, neither increased testosterone from DHEA, nor enhanced dopamine function from deprenyl, awaken that side of one's psyche. I do feel faintly hypocritical. How can one denounce the fetishism of intentional objects while salivating away at these technophiliac fantasies? Yet they are no more voluntary than sneezing. Unfortunately, like sneezing, they are also thoroughly anti-social. One may so easily pass on the infection to somebody else.
1 August 1996
I go to see Stuff the Jubilee at Brighton's Komedia. Superb. The portrayal of a foul-mouthed yobbish punk is an ideal vehicle for Steve's talents. Sometimes Steve's friends wonder why he asked to be written out of the hugely successful TV soap London's Burning. It was, after all, rather good at funding life's little pleasures. Yet to be constantly recognised in the street with a cry of "Hey, it's that wally Colin!" might be taken as a good test of one's pacifistic convictions.
DP Interview Dec. 2003
DP Drug Regimen August 2005
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