Monthly Archives: November 2021

Metamaunderings at the end of November

Every now and again I write out a metathoughts summary, for my own future edification. I’ve just finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock, which is more or less a speculative fiction take on geoengineering, and have of course been considering the Crises of the era/moment: epidemiological, ecological , climatological, technical, existential, politico-economical, socio-cultural, psychological and so on, the whole litany of -als … which are of course also dynamical, continuing to evolve, and with which we mess at our Peril. But one does wonder about the notion of Fixability.

The basic problem is that there’s nowhere to stick the Lever to alter one parameter without implicating other parameters: everything is joined in, only sometimes simply and obviously—more commonly, indirectly and even mysteriously. And even if one has some such Lever, let alone a place to stand, or a fulcrum…

So you have what we observe as this mysteriously organized Realiity, with vast numbers of internal connections whose dynamics are only imperfectly understood, through which course energy and information. One’s brain is a local manifestation of this architecture of Reality, and there are now billions of [human] brains in operation; but that operation is not upon independent billions, though the mapping of their interconnections and contingencies would be very complex indeed. And there are surely modalities of exchange amongst those brains [and the brains of many more billions of no-longer-extant individuals, not to mention other sentients…] besides the sight-and-sound that are readily perceived.

The Mechanism is … exquisite. And it’s more organic than simply mechanical levers and circuits. The animation is Life, which comes down finally to the processing, the allocation, of Energy, ultimately (?) stellar in origin. But what is it all for? Amusement of the gods, if gods there be?

The User’s Manual for that Reality is continuously edited, mostly in the direction of greater complexity of what we understand (as opposed to simplification).

And what I’m doing these days is spelunking in that grand territory, poking my nose into various corners of that land/thoughtscape to see and hear and touch what there is to be learned, just for the sake of learning’s pleasure and joy. What a gift, and opportunity, to live therein.

Never too far away is the “and so … what?” question, part of the idea that one might have Responsibilities, in the direction of what to do with that learning, beyond the pleasures of basking in it. If I do, I have no idea how to meet or discharge those Responsibilities, and presently find it satisfying to ignore them, or think of them as discharged in years of teaching [which were more years of learning] and librarianship. Am I writing a book? No. Though the 12 Blurb books are surely products of some of my explorations, and my pile of yellow pads tracks the last 3 years or so of adventures.

At the moment, the musical and photographic facets of my enterprises seem to be somewhat in abeyance, but may revive thanks to some nudge—perhaps the just-purchased Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World (Nina Kraus, on Kindle).

Obscure Sorrows

John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows arrived earlier in the week, and I’ve been enjoying it bit by bit. Here’s an entry that seems to fit with the ambient querilosity of the present moment:

LUMUS: the poignant humanness beneath the spectacle of society

Your culture never really leaves you. Its rhythms are encoded in your heartbeat, its music embedded in the sound of your voice. Its images make up the raw material of your wildest dreams, your deepest fears, even your attempts to rebel against it. So it’s hard not to get swept up in the spectacle of it all, absorbing its stories and values and symbols until you no longer question their importance. It’s as if there’s a circus wheeling around you all the time, so overwhelming that you keep forgetting it’s there.

But there are still moments when you manage to tune out the fanfare—taking time in nature, in solitude, or in some other culture entirely—getting away long enough so that when you return to normal life again, you’re able to look around with fresh eyes, and see how abnormal it really is.

You take in all the scenes and sideshows happening around you. It doesn’t quite feel like reality anymore, more like the worldbuilding of a fantasy novel. You have no idea who came up with this stuff, but you can’t help but be impressed by their tireless dedication to fleshing out even the most mundane details. The vaunted marble halls of politics and business and religion and the arts, each buttressed by its own rules and standards and practices, booming with the echoes of a billion conversations that everyone seems to take so very seriously. Rituals of status and fashion, the mythology of the markets, pop-culture think pieces, and waves upon waves of breaking news. You wonder how you ever managed to get so invested, following all these stock characters, and all their little dramas and debates. Who said what to whom? What does it all mean? What will happen next?

You’re struck by how arbitrary and provisional it all feels. Though it has the weight of reality, you know it could just as easily have been something else. You realize that all of our big ideas and sacred institutions were designed and built by ordinary human beings, soft-bellied mammals, who shiver when they’re cold, dance around when they have to pee, and lash out when they feel powerless. So much of our culture exists because someone was hungry once, someone was bored, someone was afraid, someone wanted to impress a mate, prove something wrong, or leave their kids a better life.

The circus is so big and bright and loud, it’s easy to believe that there’s the real world and you live somewhere outside it. But beneath all these constructed ideals, there is a darker heart of normalcy, a humble humanness, that powers the whole thing. We’re all just people. We go to work and play our roles as best we can, spinning our tales and performing our tricks, but then we take off our makeup and go home, where we carry on with our real lives. None of us really knows what is happening, what we’re doing, where we’re going, or why. Still we carry on, doing what we can to get through it. Even the roar of the city can sometimes feel like a cry for help.

Inevitably, within a few days or weeks at most, you’ll find yourself getting swept right back into the big show, even though you know it’s all just an act. That’s perhaps the most amazing thing about a society: even if none of us fully believes in it, we’re all willing to come together and pretend we do, doing our part to hold up the tent. If only so we can shut out the darkness for a little while, and offer each other the luxury of thinking that little things matter a great deal.

We know it’s all so silly and meaningless, and yet we’re still here, holding our breath together, waiting to see what happens next. And tomorrow, we’ll put ourselves out there and do it all again. The show must go on.

[Latin lumen, light, brightness + humus, a particularly rich and dark component of soil,
made of decayed organic matter]

If I was teaching Intro Anthropology, or Advanced Anthropology either too, I might use this passage as the Kickoff.

in the last month

A bit more than a month since my last post here, and 2 1/2 yellow pads of notes to oneself and transcriptions of trenchant passages from the still-growing mountain of books I’ve been in and out of as I work on library re-organization and explorations of subjects I’ve defined via explorations past and present. The Auxiliary Library in the barn has been the primary locus, warmed by the sun in the mornings and equipped with reasonable music-playing apparatus (though soon to be upgraded), and the succession of interests mostly traced on those yellow pads. If I leaf through them, here’s what I find:

That’s a pretty varied ramble and doesn’t include the various miscellany I’ve tossed into Zotero, which are awaiting examination

…or the Episodes watched, or video clips harvested and in storage, awaiting curation; and the blogstuff encountered that I’ve sent to a select few others, as seemed appropriate.