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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Friday, May 30

may we have the envelope, please

and the answer is...


Wednesday, May 28

reading between the synapses

This post is a little demo of what I call "reading bookstores." The shelf is more than the sum of its books. The store more than the sum of its shelves. The supply chain more than the sum of its outlets. Synergy. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition defines it as: "The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects." Something like that, but in a context where you weren't expecting it.

I had half an hour to kill this afternoon. This is how I spent it at the Boulder Barnes & Noble. I had never seen any of these books before today.

  • Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others
    by Marco Iacoboni

    Given the subtitle, I was surprised to find no entries for Attachment in the index. Lots for Autism, of course. I suppose it's naive of me to be shocked that the sales of so many science books these days are driven by the ever ongoing meme popularity contest. Perhaps attachment has nothing to do with autism, if the latter is a purely congenital aberration of neurophysiology. But it sure as hell has a lot to do with "How We Connect with Others."

    One Bruce Gregory writes a funny, less than enthusiastic review, including the parenthetic admonition: Don't anthropomorphize neurons; they hate it when you do that.

  • Relational Theory and the Practice of Psychotherapy
    by Paul L. Wachtel

    My Wish ListImportant! But unfortunately, at $38, also the most expensive of these three books. Informed by recent attachment studies and theory. Sadly, not much historical discussion, as far as I could see on brief inspection (aside from bib cites), of Steven Mitchell's work (e.g. Hope and Dread in Psychoanalysis and Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis). Mitchell is well represented in the author index, however. This one is strictly for professionals (hot tip: refuse to be discouraged by such caveats; be a professional).

  • Quantum Mind: The Edge Between Physics and Psychology
    by Arnold Mindell

    This one is the comic-relief entry. Whenever I hear the word quantum, I reach for my devolver. Of course, as in so many such cases, Jung is prominently invoked.

    From Mindell's Wikipedia page: "While in Zurich, Mindell became aware of the work of psychiatrist C.G. Jung and shifted his emphasis to study Analytical Psychology at the C.G. Jung Institute, where he graduated as a Jungian analyst."

    From the Amy and Arny Mindell website: The video linked below must be seen to be believed. Finally! Proof positive of quantum entanglement!  

    The attached short video sent by Susan Cogan is a brilliant and organic example of one of the most mysterious and wonderful parts of process oriented psychology: namely, the mystery of quantum entanglement and role switching.

    Multi-species Role Switching Video. (WMV file 3.9MB)
    (do not be drinking anything)

    Plus (no surprise here), the Mindells are among the growing horde of I'm-not-really-New-Agers jumping on Jill Bolte Taylor's brandy-new brain-damage bandwagon.
    Listen to what she says about her right hemisphere, it sounds like what we have been calling, dreamland's nonlocality and essence levels.

    Your Brain's Left and Right Hemispheres
    (or) Your Consensus Reality and Dreamland Minds

    Dreamland's nonlocality and essence levels. Right. Check.

See also:

  • The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex
    by Murray Gell-Mann.

    The author won the Nobel prize in physics in 1969 "for his contributions and discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions." The bit most relevant to Mindell's Quantum Mind is Gell-Mann's Chapter 12: "Quantum Mechanics and Flapdoodle." There he explains how many bogus New Age memes such as "nonlocality" -- (im)pressed into service to rationalize paranormal notions such as "remote viewing" -- are based on willfully brainless misreadings of Bell's Theorem.

and for
extra credit...

Sunday, May 25

better living through brain damage

isn't it just like a dream
sirens and people and everything
the driver tried to swerve
but he just didn't see ya
now you're buried 'neath the wheel
just like a tortilla

beck - sucker without a brain

“JILL BOLTE TAYLOR was a neuroscientist working at Harvard’s brain research center when she experienced nirvana.”

Thus begins an article in today's New York Times titled A Superhighway to Bliss. Significantly, it's in the Fashion section.

And appropriately so. She has spoken at TED. She was listed among TIME magazine's 2008 roster of The World's Most Influential People. She's been on Oprah, where it says that "her consciousness shifted away from reality... and into a place of inner peace and Nirvana." The intended inferences having been drawn, she's also been featured on What is Enlightenment?, the website of self-proclaimed enlightened master, Andrew Cohen. Here's a clip from that last one...

Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke one day...and paid attention to what was happening every step of the way, including sensations and insights that could only be described as mystical. Her powerfully moving story raises important questions about the relationship between the mind, the brain, and the nature of spiritual experience.
Thus, in Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, we have yet another book on neurotheology (or spiritual neuroscience), joining the likes of...

...and so on, ad nauseam.

No less august a journal than Scientific American chimes in with an article titled Searching for God in the Brain. Though the image depicting this is now evidently missing in action, the first paragraph explains that...

Supercooled giant magnets generate intense fields around the nun’s head in a high-tech attempt to read her mind as she communes with her deity.
Oh wait... I think I found that missing graphic.

I wrote this merely to go on record that I find Jill Bolte Taylor incredibly tedious and annoying...

("Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, the Singin' Scientist,
performs The Brain Bank Jingle!")

...even if she did go to Harvard.

Thursday, May 22

follow the money

Back in February, 2003, Daniel Dennett gave a talk at TED. You know about TED, right? If not, here's what the site's source code says:
<meta name="description" content="TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only event where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration..."
If you didn't know about TED, that's probably because you weren't invited. And that would be because you're essentially nobody. Me, I was never invited.

But moving on to Dennett's talk, which was titled Can we know our own minds? Here's a clip from a few minutes into it...

“ Rod Brooks was saying yesterday, what we are, what each of us is, what you are, what I am, is approximately a hundred trillion little cellular robots. That's what we're made of. No other ingredients at all, we're just made of cells, about a hundred trillion of them. Not a single one of those cells is conscious. Not a single one of those cells knows who you are, or cares.”

As far as I could make out, Dennett was talking about various ways your brain tricks you when you're really not there at all. In keeping with his method of demonstrating how this works, I have purposely misdirected your hypothetical brain by highlighting the word "conscious" in the quote above. Thus, I have tricked you -- as has Dennett -- into thinking this has something to do with consciousness. What the sleight of hand has made all but cognitively invisible here is the offhand reference to Rodney Brooks.

Having worked at the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute in the early '90s, I first encountered Books deep in the context of that particular <koff> scientific pursuit. And I've since kept track of his career trajectory, in an admittedly amateurish sort of way. For instance, I know that he was once the subject (among three others) of a movie called Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. Here's a still from the film...

I also know that, in addition to teaching at MIT, he is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of iRobot Corporation, the cute name a tip-o-the-hat to Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics. Let's recap those Laws, shall we?

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

It's pretty clear from this that the First Law is primary in more ways than one. Something about not injuring human beings, if I read it correctly. But who knows? I'm no scientist.

Here's a really cool robot iRobot makes...

As the graphic makes clear, this is the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle. But what about FCS? The iRobot page explains a bit more...

As a key partner in the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, iRobot is developing a next-generation SUGV, a portable, reconnaissance and tactical robot that can enter and secure areas that are either inaccessible or too dangerous for soldiers. SUGV provides real-time intelligence and complete situational awareness while keeping troops out of harm’s way.
So far, so good. Not injuring human beings or, through inaction, allowing human beings to come to harm. Fucking laudable.

But hmmm. The U.S. military is always more interesting than it first appears in the PR handouts. So google, google, look a little deeper. Now, these FCS guys don't look quite so harmless...

Nor does this explanatory graphic from an FCS/DARPA PDF.

Or try the "DarpaTech Future Combat Systems Communications Poster" from this DARPA page.

In conclusion, do not be led astray by ultra-hip TED presentations by Santa Claus lookalike DOD-whoring "philosophers" like Daniel Dennett, who would like you to believe that the hundred trillion tiny robots that make up your non-conscious mind are subliminally telling you to fund billions of dollars worth of not-so-tiny military robots. DARPA's robotics and artificial intelligence fantasies have always been about injuring a great many human beings, however much their sick dreams are couched in fancy-ass First-Law double talk. The following is from The Geeks of War: The Secretive Labs and Brilliant Minds Behind Tomorrow's Warfare Technologies (p. 125) in the chapter titled "Fitter Fighters."
"[A few years after the research was conducted], we reported experiments in primates showing that a brain-machine interface could, indeed, control a robot arm," says Nicolelis. "While this was a first-generation system, it proved to us that there was an enormous opportunity to pursue research leading to clinical applications. We are extremely grateful to DARPA for their vision in establishing a program that will provide the crucial support to launch this effort."

(graphic added)

And you thought that whole Cyberdyne Systems thing was science fiction. Guess again.


The following is from an excerpt of a new book by Nick Turse (thanks, Mike) called The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. It starts off talking about iRobot's consumer vacuum cleaner (pictured).
...Roomba's manufacturer, iRobot, takes in U.S. tax dollars ($51 million of them from the DoD in 2006, more than a quarter of the company's revenue) and turns them into PackBots, tactical robots used by U.S. troops occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and Warrior X700s -- 250-pound semiautonomous robots armed with heavy weapons such as machine guns, that may be deployed in Iraq this year.

In addition to selling millions of Roombas to civilian consumers, the company uses government tax dollars to make money on the civilian side of its business. According to the company's December 2006 annual report (which listed as its "Research Support Agencies" the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA], the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command, and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center), government funding "allows iRobot to accelerate the development of multiple technologies." Yet iRobot retains "ownership of patents and know-how and [is] generally free to develop other commercial products, including consumer and industrial products, utilizing the technologies developed during these projects." It's a very sweet deal. And iRobot is hardly alone.

Friday, May 16

they live

For best effect, start all three mp3s -- courtesy of Deepak Chopra -- in quick succession. Namaste, motherfucker!

Don't leave home without your Hoffman Lenses!

for extra credit: watch the full-length movie!