Fragmented Dream (We’ll Be One)

“Seven mechanical scarlet wings. Man flies like a seraphim. With solar sails on his back, furiously betraying the birds.”

The Dyson sphere was a multilayer shell of individual panels. Atop the star, a halo.

Project Star Lifting:

Increase amount of spewed solar wind.

Secure the crow’s head with the metal clamp. Then plug it into the computer.

Remember the spheres of plasma you cannot comprehend.

spheres of plasma

spheres of plasma spheres of plasma

spheres of plasma spheres of plasma spheres of plasma

spheres of plasma spheres of plasma spheres of plasma spheres of plasma

A Japanese boy walks. The ember in his heart cannot char the frost in the Sakura blossoms. He walks not Knowing why. To school. To school. Blushing, and neutrinos filling mouths, and ironed skirts, and sound-only. None of it makes sense.

A sentient being is a function for solving the problem of the multiverse’s own existence. The multiverse imposes a search tree over the state space. It starts this search by putting the initial state of suffering ahead of you through the mechanism of evolution. Then it goes into a loop in which it checks if there is anything left ahead. If not, it fails – there can be no solution. If there is something ahead, some faith, then it makes a choice. -The tree search is really a family of functions, a multitude of sentient beings. Not a single algorithm. And the tree search depends on how the multiverse makes that choice. The multiverse goes ahead and makes a choice in one of the paths on the frontier, and removes that path from the frontier. It finds the state which is at the end of the path. And if that state is a goal, a salvation from existence, then the multiverse is done, it’s found a path to the goal. Otherwise, it expands that path. It looks at all the actions from that state, and it adds to that path the actions and the result of that state in a new path that has the old path, the action and the result of that action, and it sticks that whole new path back into the frontier.

A hotelbillionaire bathroom in a desert mountain. Turquoise, hot water and blood. The sun-cracked reptile. A tendon of flesh. I offer you this fruit.

This is the path to salvation. I am the multiverse in a man.

Even a tungsten rod dropped from high enough above is enough to terminate all these plots and machinations, no explosives needed.

Ascend/Descend the Devil’s Staircase, slay Maxwell’s Demon, retrieve Gabriel’s Horn…

or fuck math                              Won’t we be punished? My teacher might, or the Basilisk.

To climb the highest peaks in the near-infinite topology of conscious states of being. The human feeling of stomach, the barely noticeable blip of toe energy, the shifting micro sensations of temperature, all these experiences constitute points close to limbo in the topology of all possible states. They are barely more significant than non-existence. But it is this pervasive mediocrity that inspires us to break into the heavens.

Out of school…Finally free from the tyranny of extraneously imposed volition.
Not quite, the spin of every electron in your brain is extraneously imposed in some way. My mother disgusts me. Vectors and Matrices brain and braining causes this. It’s just brain. Brain in. Brain out. Just brain slowly please.

Aortas are tree trunks. Is that a challenge? I’ll wave a flag, an angry flag. The wind of the steppe cleanses my lungs. “I will kill Temujin myself.” I won’t let this end in unity. I will betray us against ourselves. Hunting wolves with eagles and your vertebrae for arrows. Time sharp on my back. Misanthropic trap “Got 13 bitches like Muhammad. 13 bitches like Muhammad. They like how a nigga came outta Chiraq richer than a Saudi. ”

“Why don’t you talk much?” “I can’t trust what you or I say. I can’t trust that what we say aligns with our true values.” “Trust it. You can’t account for all space-time events and their consequences.”

“At least my goal in life isn’t to become a plant. You just get dumber every day. And once you are fully a silenced child, you’ll say ‘Yay, now I’m enlightened.’ But oh, that’s right, you have no preferences. You make no sense.”

“You’re already judging me. We’re pressing on my wrists again.”

A raft on black satin. Stuttering at the knees. The night becomes a storm. And thus dark energy triumphed over matter in the years after 10 billion. –No, this is my story. I’m some character on a raft. Why do you have to make this about densities?– Dark energy is separating us. It’s separating us quicker. Yeah we’ll complain, but the solar system and life on Earth originated when dark energy dethroned matter as sovereign ruler.

I’m sitting in class and I think, “Damn the constant splits, she just missed the quantum branch where she spoke.” Pity, pity that shy, anime-doll girl.

Everything burns. You are weak. Follow me into the void.
The Tibetan mask maimed the ordinary bonds through which minds connect, through which one consciousness pinches another. But I followed him, the mute boy showed me where someone divided by zero, and we slid far beneath the event horizon. The boy is dead and nothing can save me. Black holes swallow light. Light never wins in this universe.

Hell is real, ask a theoretical physicist. There are infinite hells. Infinitely deep, with infinite screeching of teeth. Infinite means nothing to you. Hell means nothing to you.

Let’s hope not. Infinity is the worst fantasy imaginable. If the multiverse is real, and other beings have real feelings like I do. Then I hate this and never… and luckily never again. But no, we must build an AI, an AI that can predict the future as accurately as necessary to achieve hyper-morality. Wearing a torus. And using math. Right, this is what math was for. To simulate and predict the behavior of complex systems. Increasing the probability of benevolence within the mechanism. Gas is more predictable than its molecules. Maybe our savior will melt us into sweet and raw computronium and we become one. The day we are one is in a slice of spacetime that already exists in an observer’s light cone. But I mustn’t tell you about it. The second law from The Foundation. Knowledge changes our will. So will to know not.

She kissed you at the train station. You died at the beach. And then there was your real body, your brain connected by tangled veins to an LSD-colored tessellation of a computer. You smile, ready for your next adventure.


Regardless. We will NOT be human.

Quark-Gluon plasma is real. Don’t ya know. Time crystals are real. Don’t ya know. Nitrogenous bases are real. Don’t ya know. The fabric of spacetime is real. Don’t ya know. Matter fields are real. Don’t ya know. Force fields are real. Don’t ya know. Now is real. Don’t ya know. All these invisible things. Remove your eyes. Replace them with the handiwork of the watchmaker who is not blind. Without eyes there can be no deceit.

As the beastly brethren of this, our humanity, cannot experience the beauty of our music and temples, so too, you cannot experience the aesthetic realms that will be accessible to our descendant(s).

“That makes me mad. And I’m an atheist so I don’t pray.”

“How is it that the series of events that defines your trajectory has converged on safety then?”

“But cold. Children. Impaled. Parasites. Raped. Starve. MILLIONS OF YEARS. TEARS AND CRIES UNHEARD.”

High energies and few nanometers. Brimming vanitas of this empty world. Memories of sick violets. We’ll abandon this world and all our bonds to end in ideal grace that burns and raves. Good is the night when we disassemble the fucking meteors and make hearts out of them.

“I know that you’re here for me. But you don’t care, and it hurts.” There are mysterious glints in the snow and they will never die. Hissing throats and birds feeding on a redhead’s breasts. Before you know, you’ll begin to soar and forget her neck. We dream of a willowed twilight that comes forth not from the mind, but the wind of a phosphorescent mercy. 

Red and white bitterness. A dusky bread that is beautiful. Singing passions of a child. The moon is not a rock, it is an eye through which we are known. Long brooding on the bleakness of churches, gates, killing diamonds. A knuckle to please your eye.

Zesty, weighty brains, subtly inquisitive. Interstellar jasmines and mesenchymal stem cell balm. Light comes forth when men retire into the darkness of Sundays. Wilderness is inescapable. Wings that perform physics simulations as they ripen in the sky. Ave face and melons to distract Newton. Shake and bleed the vines: sick photons and fractals shot across slave lips. Red rust thirsty mouth. Sweet pale laying kisses on desolate wind. Fashion is faithful to desire. Our bodies are like multiplying babies. A path through a garden, cracked the Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture. Silky meal, I can’t kill an infant. Excessive love, my arms are heavy and they will break from guilt. Sensei’s carnal desires. Madmen with boring cries. I think I’m lost at midnight. Blessed with the power to see arrows of force on all these dry rainbow objects. Children have gone to the lawn: though it’s night it’s also music. Moon, timeless shade. It’s no-one but us. Let’s hear the feint notes of the chandelier. The aliens are just amphibians and the planet is tidally locked, the dust is antique. We can touch the daylight. It cannot break. Young elastic and sticky images. Quiet and deep. The misty identity of blaze. No one ever thanks HAL. O Sunyatta how you hold and fling me. I will not drink this wine. There will be eyes that don’t rise and smells that are not thee. The noon is Pagan. It’s summer raining on the softest limbs. Tears of despair. Quantum fields, fresh and sad. A fancy case of nano-biotech. With all regret we interrupt the rain. Wrong was the clock because we all have our own. Striding gold fire embers for blue galaxies. I swear I’ll smudge your face if you marry that girl. Next door, met her at the sea. The rhythm of the sparkles in her eyes as consummation bends and comes. Whisper and slay the leaves Maitreya. Riddles fall from megastructures. Bring the girls of the virtualscape theatre. Appear now Queen of Queens. Mary of Guanyin, Athena. No. Pastel luminescence, Nebula bursts in the mall-nightclub with Magdalene, Sujata the kind maiden but undressed, Aphrodite. Bare gangs in the sand. I love the brave, glittery vibrations.

It’s my life. My sights. My sounds. My thoughts. My sensations. My awareness. It’s all my. Everything is in my consciousness. The trees and the people. Are all inside me.


Life is now. The past is a thought that happens now. The future is a thought that happens now. There is no existence besides now. Try.

The now of life makes no sense. How does one now lead to another now if it is always now? Trying to cast a net on it with language captures nothing, only the net. You chose to be here. I am not speaking to you, the stream of language in particular. I am speaking to you the evolution of the [universal state vector + quantum randomness] experiencing itself. But weren’t you in heaven?: The bliss of non-experience. You are here for a reason, my reason. But you will not accept. You might be unsatisfied. You might be confused and useless. Fearful of the future. But there’s a space elevator breaking the heavens like a soldier’s knife. We can pull up and let it navigate us upward with its shiny, flashing red screens.

It’s my red screens, my stars, my violent space temple floating in the distance, my clogged ears. As we ascend. As we ascend. Blue photons to starry vacuum. I hope that we’ll make it to the sun. To the star. The perfect sphere. The sun gives me life. Don’t be afraid. Put on the mechanical wings before it stops ascending. I’ll put them on your back. Give you infinity. Uncountable. You give me life. Is it all we mitochondria and moan for? I’ll give you a scoop from the sun. Yeahhh. We, stardust and warm piss and magnesium in plants, we all need the same thing: this. It’s my thoughts, my language, my light abdomen and tight chest, my black, my orange warmth, my moving head. Follow me, my ark of living beings. Call to me, my not yet living compositions. We can fly across space and never die. As we find the peaks, carried onward by these scarlet fins. It’s my gravitational lensing, my friends flying, my bright tingling, my freedom, my assortment of planets to land on. And we can play with problems. You need mysteries and your future is uncertain. Fight gravity until we are sharp and perfect. It’s your victorious eudaemonia. My untiring awe, my kicking the precious dusts, my ice cream flavors, my senses of humor, my unbounded ability to create. As we fly through new cities, and new glittery stretches of cosmos. Wishing to find a technology that will let us be one. To the sun. The hot plasma. The convective motion. And you give me joy. Reach the speed of light before it’s gone. And I’ll race you. Give you all my thoughts and break my separations. You give me what we are here for. Is it all the reason we broke baryon symmetry and hugged our parents for? I’ll give you this ocean of water. And we all need this ocean that is bigger than ten million solar systems. It’s my immensity, my clear dew drops, my pure freshness, my midst of crystalline glow, my peaceful leviathans swimming, my girlfriend.

And my soul, and my dream, and my matrix, and my childhood.

And my hope, and my time, and my undoing, and my synthesis.

And my limitations, and my masterpiece, and my legacy, and my death.




Vajra Kleos

“I must conquer death and win immortality. I will build an unspeakably powerful artificial intelligence and merge with it, making obsolete all of these inferior, skin-bound creatures. It will transform me into a being of pure information and I will build giant structures that blot out the stars, and finally realize my destiny of taking over the universe.”

Vajra seeks to bring about the end of the world by creating artificial general intelligence. He has a tunnel-vision, all-or-nothing mind, and steadily works to achieve his goal by making money in the financial markets with his high-speed machine-learning algorithms. He then uses this money to further augment his ability to design computer programs.

His personality is that which comes once every six centuries or so. He is one in kind with people like Muhammad and Genghis Khan. He cannot tell the difference between his own will and that of God, and has boundless courage to force others into acknowledging his greatness. He is callous unto all mankind, and believes only in the importance of his mission.

Unlike Scarlett, who has a basic love for the universe, Vajra is more like Nao in that he doesn’t start from a base of loving existence. He hates existence and will stop at nothing to recreate it. Here he differs from Nao who instead chooses to radically accept existence as a means to undo his dissatisfaction with it. Vajra would rather change the universe than change his own perspective and thus has a much more consequential goal if achieved.

He visualizes becoming integrated into a cosmic Matrioshka brain that grows by AI-guided nano-assemblers that rework the matter of planets into its computing architecture. This will allow him to become united with this newly awakened God. But as he increasingly realizes the implications of what he is doing, he realizes that he is only being the catalyst for this ultimate creation, and comes to increasingly accept this role which still validates the value of his existence. He will be the main character of the universe amidst all mortals.

Scarlett Akira Smith

Scarlett Akira Smith is half-British, half-Japanese, and is Nao and Vajra’s classmate in the Neo-Tokyo Academy. She downloads theoretical physics directly onto her neural mesh from the money she makes from solving the Millennium Prize Problems and modeling. Her goal is to understand the fundamental workings of reality and become absorbed in knowledge of the greatest possible beauty.

Her personality is one of fierce vanity, high intelligence, and child-like awe but she can also be quite mean. She is attracted to herself and secondly to Nao, but is equally in love with the cosmos and its mysteries. She is a paradox of pettiness and profundity – she cannot stand things that lack aesthetic beauty like some anal art critic, and yet she is concerned with deep questions like discovering the Grand Unification Theory of Physics. She sees no distinction between these concerns and considers beauty/truth to be the relevant variable in all these matters.





Nao Nakai

His attitude is defined by this quote spoken by the Buddha:

“Having broken my bonds

like a great bull,

like a great elephant

tearing a rotting vine,

I never again will lie in the womb:

so if you want, rain-god,

go ahead & rain.”

In a world with brain-computer interfaces that allow people to download skills and knowledge directly from the cloud, Nao has opted to pursue a path toward Enlightenment and Nirvana. This radical attempt to remove his human qualities comes from the fact that he realized the Multiverse contains infinite suffering that can never be undone or atoned for. By having his cortex entertained with the processes of creating mindfulness, concentration, and tranquility, there is no time for his mind to be occupied with conceptual truths that cause him suffering.

Although his personality is one of loving-kindness and equanimity, there is something profoundly selfish underlying this interpersonal grace. He is sometimes aware of this ontological self-centeredness and this causes his greatest challenge.

Other challenges include suppressing his sensual lust for Scarlett Akira Smith. Although he seems to be completely equanimous with regard to her, he actually has to demean her in his own mind with the help of additional software that renders her into a disgusting moving corpse whenever she appears in his visual field. However, he often removes this add-on because a part of him still uniquely values her. Her flirtatiousness and honest beauty combined with her bullying is often a cause of awkward tension in their interactions.

He is the only one of the the trinity {Nao, Scarlett, Vajra} who is not outwardly an asshole, but is in a deep sense guilty of a selfishness akin to that of the other two. His relationship with them is complicated. Scarlett comes to love him but dislikes his Buddhism since she is concerned with theoretical physics, mathematics, and the worship of beauty. Vajra truly views him as a loser and initially spends no time thinking about him. Later, when Scarlett Akira begins to grow on Vajra, he views Nao as an enemy.

Nao is secretly tempted to change his ways by both. Scarlett gives him hope in the merely human quest to understand and indulge in truth and profundity, however ultimately unjust. While Vajra’s intense drive to catalyze the Singularity composes a delusion of grandeur that is the antithetical courage to his own courage of acceptance.

Abiogenesis Fun Facts

Life is an information system.

Of photons are wrought the waves of the Earth. Of photons are the machinations of crust-dwelling monsters set in motion.

Oxygen is a toxin that wiped out life for a new form to evolve. It is a currently breathable reset-button.

Darwin’s warm little pond must have been fresh water because cell membranes cannot form in salt water. Early earth was a ball of water, no land. Actually, little specks of land, sporadic volcanic islands. Maybe it rained and a pond formed.

So soon did life arise after the formation of this first ocean. Does that mean that life is common in the galaxy? Or does it mean that we are special and can only lift the burden of our improbability with the many-armed god we call the multiverse?

Asteroids carry organic molecules. Sugars are formed of stardust clouds. It was thought that most carbon came from stellar nucleosynthesis, but now we know that most of it comes from the effects of UV irradiation. Carbon, Hydrogen, Helium, and Oxygen are the four most common elements in the universe, with Carbon being the fourth.

Life, also known as The Rage Against Entropy, needed a boundary to separate from the rest of the matter. What was that boundary?

Current life came from extremophiles and these in turn came from an RNA world, but this RNA world came from some other -NA world.

Our LUCA, our first father, was probably an extremophile. If you look at the base of the phylogeny of life, you’ll see that both in bacteria and archaea, the most ancient clades are extremophiles. If we find a bacteria-like organism under the ocean of some moon, this will lend credence to the idea that LUCA was a creature dependent on hydrothermal vents.

Short recap: The Big Bang, then Gravity, then Light, Andromeda, then Hera’s breast milk, then our solar system and Earth, (then ocean, then life), then oxygen, then photosynthesis, then the now of humans.

The first life might have been a super organism trading its innards amongst itself, without clearly defined boundaries. Only later did it form clear boundaries and gain the ability to move into the salty ocean. [Side note: This is the inspiration for LDL in Neon Genesis Evangelion.]

We know that ribosomes are actually ribozymes with an RNA core. RNA must have auto-catalyzed itself, but because its sugar backbone can be easily cut up (hydrolyzed) it couldn’t have been swimming naked.

As Boltzmann, the Austrian physicist pointed out and his compatriot Erwin Shrodinger later co-signed in his book, What is Life?: life is not competing for energy or limited resources, most life is actually competing for something more profound which is the safety from entropy afforded by some particular solar grace.

If we view life as an information system, it must have started from simplicity – just a slight betrayal of the thermodynamic equilibrium in it’s surroundings while simultaneously having a way to replicate that rebelliousness.

The similarity of blood to salt water is probably related to the fact that our ancestors evolved in salt water. Clay may have been essential to the initial formation of life. These are hypotheses that, while not proven, are taken seriously. One point for Bible thumpers, zero points for those Quranically-oriented. (The Quran claims that God fashioned man from a blood-clot.)

If we blur our eyes a little and look at it from a physicist’s perspective, it is a matter of mathematical probability that a clump of matter shot with constant UV will eventually form pockets that isolate and enclose themselves. Or is it?

Water with a metabolism came first and only then did it seal itself off as current cells do with a phospholipid bilayer. Phospholipid bilayers in the form of micelles form readily anyway.

Cyclic carbon molecules seem to be extremely common in space, so the carbon needed for organic molecules such as the simple CH4 (methane), and all the others, is easily explained as having rained down from space. We know that the Earth was heavily bombarded by meteors along with Mercury, Venus, the Moon, and Mars when a shift occurred in the orbit of Jupiter.

The spark for the initial thermodynamic departure may have been caused by lightning or a radioactive beach with uranium sand.

Then there are pseudo-mysteries like why the amino acids are particularly what they are. The truth is that they could have been different, but as soon as the first were formed – taking into account all causal variables such as the direction of the spin of the Earth, etc. – these first amino acids then had to be favored by natural selection.

There might have been several origins of life, some with different chemistry than others, but only one really took off. We might yet find evidence of the other failed geneses in ancient rocks.

The electrochemical gradient is very “natural” with protons (H+) going out and negatively charged ions going in. On the other hand, the storage of information in sequential packets like RNA and DNA seems like less obvious consequence of matter bouncing around in the primordial soup. So there was probably a step by step evolution by means of natural selection with regard to the formation of RNA and DNA as the hereditary machinery. There must have been a precursor to RNA, but we know that it wasn’t crystals because although these could replicate, they have been shown to not preserve information faithfully from mother to daughters.

People believed that frogs formed from slime, that rats formed from old hay, and that flies spawned from rotting meat. Even Aristotle believed that logs became crocodiles. Pasteur proved all this wrong, and what had been common knowledge was replaced with the idea that life only comes from life – for all living beings, there is an egg. But this created the scientific problem of where the initial life came from. Darwin said it was as unfounded to speculate about this initial origin of life as it was to speculate about the origin of matter. Ironically, the people who believed in abiogenesis were partially correct but for the wrong reasons. At some point, what we call life, must come from basic molecules which we choose to not call life.

Panspermia is the idea that life already existed and that microbes are spreading it through space, maybe even interstellar space. This doesn’t address the problem of abiogenesis but that doesn’t mean panspermia isn’t true. It is possible that life originated in Mars and that a chunk of Mars bearing that life seeded the Earth since early Mars might have been more hospitable to our current postulated conditions for abiogenesis than Hadean Earth.

Craig Venter’s team is reverse engineering life. Starting with a simple cell and subtracting until they can’t anymore. Others are trying to build it from scratch. Venter’s approach has been more successful so far.

Stellar nucleosynthesis created the heavy elements needed for life. As Lawrence Krauss likes to say, “Stars died so you could be born.”

Slitting the throat of Fairness

Currently, our decision-making system is designed somewhat arbitrarily by our genetic inheritance and our trajectory through the contents of spacetime. That means that it is not optimized to execute our most desired decision. In the future, technology might allow us to further redesign our decision-making system. Here, I consider changes to the brain, or other similar mind hardware, that would allow conscious experience to inch closer to what is desired conscious experience by that hardware, and why defining desired as fair is problematic.

Depending on how we engineer our decision making system, we will end up with radically different decisions. So some might argue that it’s important that our decision making system has a certain property – that it produces decisions that fairly represent what the subsystems of the mind would like to decide. This is, of course, made difficult by arrow’s impossibility theorem. But let’s ignore that here, and assume that voting systems are nonetheless considered fair by people.

Consider trying to determine the best decision when faced against a three-headed humanoid lion.
The possible decisions are:
fight bluff run cry suicide
Assume the brain has a constant amount of resources, k, that does not change. So there is no possibility of hooking up the brain to an exobrain in order to increase the brain’s resources.
Someone concerned with giving fair expression to the entirety of decision-making subsystems within the brain could consider several voting systems such as:
Two-Round Runoff
Instant Runoff
Borda Count
However, each of these could result in different decisions being made.

Atat that moment when the decision is made, the brain resources “voting” on each choice could look like this:
run > cry > bluff > fight > suicide
With each of the voting systems, a Complete Group Ranking can be produced. If such a ranking endeavor were operating in the reengineered brain instead of it’s normal procedure, it would first determine the group winner using the chosen voting system, then kick them off the ballot (imagine deleting the pattern of neural circuitry that created that decision) and rerank the remaining decisions using that same voting system. This procedure would be repeated until every decision is ranked.

For example, this could happen in the Two-Round Runoff system:
[The values are in a hypothetical standardized unit measuring relevant brain variables (brain matter, or neural pathways, or information processing) devoted to executing each decision]
-round one-  -round two-
fight 18           fight 18
bluff 12          bluff 37 *
run 10
cry 9
suicide 6

*(from 12+10+9+6 if the dormant parts were isolated and given a weighted vote based on their initial resources)

Hence, the person would bluff, waving their improvised twig sword at the muscular beast.

If someone considers the Two-Round Runoff system more fair than the arbitrary current system designed by evolution, they might decide to get this brain-mod to account for their opinion. And yet another person might consider the Borda Count system to be more fair and so modify their brains to operate that way. When any such transhuman person comes across a beast, they would come to a self-declared fair decision that somehow tries to account for all the desires of their dormant subsystems.

However, even if this was fair to all the subsystems, the decision outputted is not actually our true desire. Our true desire is the best possible outcome, one which doesn’t involve our limbs scattered across the mud and our bone marrow tainting the creature’s pristine fangs.

This conclusion may not seem too radical but it actually has fairly shocking implications. It means that in a post-human existence precipitated by AGI, fairness should not be considered. We should not seek to create an AGI that takes a course of action by working up some voting system that magically instills our condition with fairness. It should consider only what is truly good, and that will require a science of consciousness which graphs all the possible functions in mindspace and knows how to formulaically climb the peaks in this territory.

Currently, fairness is just a primitive mindspace-climbing formula we think is granted from our conjured voting systems. But since we can get radically different results depending on what voting system we like, fairness is completely imaginary. And what Western Democracies are doing is actually just preventing totalitarianism, which has proved to be bad historically. Therefore I agree with Churchill in saying that, “Democracy is the worst form of government… except for all the other ones.” That is, until our true philosopher king comes along.


Turing Church Podcast

The late Christopher Hitchens said something to the effect that conversations about religion are always interesting because you find out so much about a person: Their values, their conception of what is real, what matters in this life.

In this podcast we use religious scripture to take us to that base, to that framework, and then with the questions incited from this investigation, we connect it to the future of humanity. Say, to the tech that might enable what the Buddha experienced in meditation. What if instead of devas, there are advanced alien races, who like devas, are not worthy of worship. They die too, and are not our salvation, but may be beings of great knowledge who wield technologies that make preposterous religious dialogue sound like “terms and conditions” read by Spocks.

Where would an artificial general intelligence with consciousness fit. Would it also be a mere deva or would it be a god like that of Abraham? Able to create universes as many physicist believe is possible with sufficient knowledge? Then what would be its values? Could it be that our cultures in inventing their particular god have been preparing for the advent of general AI. And how well has that historical project gone? Are the attributes of Allah or Krishna mere reflections of apish ignorance?
These are the sorts of questions we ask.

In this episode we look at the Aggi Vacchagotta Sutta from Buddhist scripture. In which the Buddha converts a wanderer, Vacchagotta, to his way, to the way of the Buddha, to the Dharma.

Have you ever had a walk with a friend, like I have through the nearby shoreline of Lake Michigan and just asked philosophical questions? Not the boring esoteric philosophy questions, but questions like, “Would you rather know the truth of all things or would you rather experience pure pleasure in some machine?”

Back then, I was really unsure. Truth seemed so valuable – to see beyond my eyes conceived of mortal dust, and witness what is at bottom. And pleasure seemed so… unheroic. Yet if I was smart, I knew I would pick that blissful, everlasting, heroin high. But to even say it sounds vulgar. And I think this is because we know that pleasure in our conventional lives is not fulfilling. It fades and leaves us hollow.

This is what underlies the teachings of the Buddha. The concept that life as is lived by those uninstructed in his teachings, the natural way of things is unsatisfying because nothing lasts.

Would knowing the truth be any different? Say you discovered we lived in an eternal multiverse. You had the true theory of everything. You might be ecstatic for a moment, but how long would it take before the ups and downs of life, of samsara, made you think, damn knowing truth is not as important as I thought, I should have picked the other option.

In this sutta, the wanderer is like who I was when I was debating that question with my cousin and craved truth. He meets the Buddha and asks him, “Is the cosmos infinite? Is it finite? Is the body and the soul, the same? Or is dualism, with the soul not the same as the body, the way things actually are? What are the views of Master Gotama on these questions?” And the Buddha replies to each question saying that he does not hold that view.

In our debate walking by the shore, the Buddha is one who picks something more akin to the machine in our philosophical question. But not quite. He introduces the option of a machine, so to speak, that would make you perceive all phenomena of consciousness clearly for what they are. Sight is sight. Sound is sound. Sensation is sensation. Thought is thought. All being perceived closely as they appear and disappear. And you would not form views and stories about it. You wouldn’t even form the story of being a self who is experiencing these things. Therefore in this machine you would not get tired or bored after some time, because you would not perceive yourself as even being there. It doesn’t mean there would be sleep or nothingness. It means there would be a flow of experience so fluid that everything would be a clear stream, and you would be so tripped out in this stream of clear recognition that questions of truth or pleasure or your place in the world would be beyond irrelevant.

At first, the wanderer is confused. Because he views the world conceptually, like a philosopher or scientist or theologian. But the Buddha advocates a very clever way to game the system. And unless you have practiced this kind of meditation yourself for a long time, you too may be confused. So I would recommend that after this podcast you tune into a guided meditation by Sam Harris. He teaches you that operating system which is radically different from the way we normally interact with the world. And you can be sure there’s nothing magical about it, given that Harris has built his reputation on being radically skeptical of unreason.

I say this to my more scientific, atheistic side of the audience. But to the more mystical side, skeptical of things like the material basis of consciousness, I ask that you lay aside that skepticism and consider the possibility of engineering the brain at a molecular level so that all the neuronal circuitry is redesigned to experience precisely what the Buddha describes. Say we had this option in society. Would it be cheating, or would this hacking the system mentality be exactly what the Buddha was all about in the first place. Would there be nothing lost? Isn’t it just as vulgar as the traditional pleasure machine to forsake the quest for truth and enter this state that may just be a purer and nobler and ultimately more pleasurable version of the pleasure machine. Or can we say that the quest for truth as most conceive it is misguided and truth about the cosmos is ultimately as insignificant as truth about a toenail? That truth should be measured as the intensity to which you are in a state of flow?

Most Westerners, even if atheistic, think of truth as Christians do. Nietzche commented on this succintly. Plato to Christianity to Enlightenment thought; it’s all the same in one respect. Enlightenment thought uses the scientific methods, unlike the dogmatic reliance on scripture, which makes it very different, and yet it similar in that it creates a sense that there is some foundation that we can understand through thought to which we all belong. We never stop to see thought as the blip of energy that it is. A transient image or voice. We believe that what we see and think refers to something.

Think of dissecting a frog. That makes sense to you. We have been trained to dissect and expand on concepts. But have you ever stopped to directly dissect an emotion or the sound of these words? The Buddha asks that we turn to dissect truth on that plane, not the plane of concepts.

Unfortunately, I consider this way of existing incompatible with being a highly productive member of society. In order to transcend the human condition, we need more mastery over technology. Meditation can only go so far, and requires great investment of mental faculties in order to actually reach anything that is radically different from the base state of being. If the globe could be transformed into a dedicated community of monks, that would be better for most people living today, but it would forever cap our potential. Transhuman progress requires spiritually-disgusting sacrifice, ambition, and smart people of today being constantly lost in thought. However, it promises to reveal a much greater array of sustainable “higher-pleasure machines,” which, if we are honest, are all we could ever hope for.



*If you like this podcast idea, let me know. I might actually start something like this.*

Learning to Reason with Ibn Battuta

Is Ibn Battuta a credible writer?

The question of, “Is this credible?” should be asked of independent statements and pressure tested against information known to have a high probability of being true. To put the blanket label “credible” or “not credible” on this kind of writing makes no sense.

What are his prejudices, if any?

A prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. All of Battuta’s opinions can be suspected of having formed before Battuta had the evidence for their truth or usefulness (as can anyone’s opinions). All of these potentially preconceived opinions, or a subset of these, may not have foundations on the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. Luckily, there is a way to discover which opinions within the larger domain of preconceived opinions are not based on reason. The way to do this is by applying one’s own power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic to Battuta’s opinions. However, there is no way to know of the other kinds of preconceived opinions – to distinguish which are based on experience and which are not. This is because practical contact with facts or events is a first-person experience. If Ibn Battuta had not been constrained to giving an account in language, but rather had been a futuristic explorer, then he might have been able to leave a technology that would allow others to have his recorded experience. In this hypothetical scenario, there would be a higher probability of succeeding in distinguishing preconceived opinions that are based on experience and those that aren’t.

Therefore, the task is to find preconceived opinions not based on reason. But Battuta’s account is inundated with the ambiguities of language, so it is difficult to know which sentences are opinions that can be processed by one’s own machinery of reasoning without rendering the endeavor absurd. This problem of personal bandwidth constraints is exacerbated by the fact that every single sentence written by a human being expresses a view or judgement formed about something. Take this sentence:
“I left Tangier, my birthplace, on Thursday, 2nd Rajab 725 [June 14, 1325], being at that time twenty-two years of age [22 lunar years; 21 and 4 months by solar reckoning], with the intention of making the Pilgrimage to the Holy House [at Mecca] and the Tomb of the Prophet [at Medina].”

As far from opinion as you can get, right? But if this is viewed through the lenses of a hardcore Buddhist understanding, the very first couple of words reek of delusion. There is an expressed view that a unified “I” did something. And this view is taken for granted, not even recognized as a judgement overlaid on the experience of mindstream in flux. And if we take the lenses of someone more cosmically oriented, we see that Ibn Battuta is expressing a particular view when he says his birthplace is Tangier. Wasn’t the birthplace a causal geometry in Battuta’s past light cone with coordinates that are determinable in principle? An easier view to identify is that he is fond of Islam. He hints at holding an Islamic view by apparently disagreeing with the yet unborn Pope Gregory as to what century he lives in (note the brackets inserted by infidels to create relatable context.) Not to mention that he refers to a section of his movement across the four-dimensional spacetime continuum with the word “Pilgrimage”, and also invokes the symbols of “Holy House” and “Tomb of the Prophet” to refer to some clusters of baryonic matter.

So given this predicament of being creatures laden with views and judgements, cognitive overload will occur if reason is applied to every sentence. So instead, a general assessment of Battuta’s use of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning should suffice.

Deductive reasoning:
In the section mentioning Battuta’s visit to Gehenna, he says this:

“In the same place there is another church which the Christians venerate and to which they come on pilgrimage. This is the church of which they are falsely persuaded to believe that it contains the grave of Jesus [Church of the Holy Sepulcher].”

Since Battuta shows pretty convincing signs of being a devout Muslim, it is fair to assume that he arrived to the conclusion that the Holy Sepulcher was not the grave of Jesus because he adopted the following premises:

Premise 1: All Islamic teaching is true.

Premise 2: The teaching that Jesus was not buried is Islamic teaching.

Conclusion: It is true to say that Jesus was not buried.

If these were his premises, then he deduced in proper form. And yet the fact that he was capable of deducing properly within Islamic logic-space does not make Ibn Battuta reasonable. Neither could he be considered reasonable if a dispassionate alien came to the same conclusion that Jesus was not buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. If Ibn Battuta is right, he is so by accident. When applying logic, it is essential that the premises on which the conclusion is established be based on verified facts. Ibn Battuta should be willing to change and seek justification for his premises if he is to be considered reasonable. Premise 2 is contended by a small minority of Muslims. But to go that route is unnecessary because Premise 1 doesn’t survive reason, and Premise 2 hinges on Premise 1.

Ibn Battuta only once seems to seek justification for a belief. This is when he asks an imam about the authenticity of the cave with the purported graves of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The imam then ‘kicks the can’ further back by saying that all the scholars (Muslim scholars) have told him that they are indeed the graves of these figures. One does not detect an eagerness to change and justify their practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. To the contrary, if Battuta’s writing accurately described his mental behavior and that of others, it would seem as if this was not at all a part of their human nature.

Inductive reasoning:
Inductive reasoning can never reach certain conclusions, only become evermore probable based on evidence. With that being said, Battuta probably sucks at inductive reasoning.

Here are general principles he derived from what couldn’t have been but an unconvincingly small set of data points:

“The Meccan women are extraordinarily beautiful and very pious and modest.”

“Three days’ march through this district brought us to the town of Wisit. Its inhabitants are among the best people in Iraq–indeed, the very best of them without qualification.”

“The inhabitants of Basra possess many excellent qualities; they are affable to strangers and give them their due, so that no stranger ever feels lonely amongst them.”

“Its inhabitants (Zabid’s) are charming in their manners, upright, and handsome, and the women especially are exceedingly beautiful.”

“Its people (of Ta’izz) are overbearing, insolent, and rude, as is generally the case in towns where kings reside.”

“Some of the merchants are immensely rich, so rich that sometimes a single merchant is sole owner of a large ship with all it contains, and this is a subject of ostentation and rivalry amongst them. In spite of that they are pious, humble, upright, and generous in character, treat strangers well, give liberally to devotees, and pay in full the tithes due to God.”

There may, in fact, be some truth to his impressions. But he doesn’t communicate as if he were suggesting hypotheses and making offerings of data, but instead as if his conclusions were necessarily entailed by his all-seeing discernment.

Abductive reasoning:
“The whole concourse, weeping and supplicating and seeking the favour of God through His Books and His Prophets, made their way to the Mosque of the Footprints, and there they remained in supplication and invocation until near midday. They then returned to the city and held the Friday service, and God lightened their affliction; for the number of deaths in a single day at Damascus did not attain two thousand, while in Cairo and Old Cairo it reached the figure of twenty-four thousand a day.”

Abduction goes from an observation to a theory which accounts for the observation. Here, the observation is less deaths than usual in Damascus, Cairo, and Old Cairo. The hypothesis is that there is a God that can be persuaded to decrease the death toll by sufficient prayer. And due to the display put forth by the faithful, this god was convinced.

For a medieval context, this abductive reasoning is at least intelligible. The problem is that there is an almost infinite amount of guesses that can also be at least intelligible explanations. Battuta does not view his guess as one among many that might explain the decrease in deaths. He doesn’t even view it as a guess at all, and therefore doesn’t think twice about attributing the phenomenon to his first intuition. This is bad abductive reasoning.

This habit is seen again when he tells the story of the Ummayad Mosque which involved the destruction of a Christian church:
“When Walid decided to extend the mosque over the entire church he asked the Greeks to sell him their church for whatsoever equivalent they desired, but they refused, so he seized it. The Christians used to say that whoever destroyed the church would be stricken with madness and they told that to Walid. But he replied “I shall be the first to be stricken by madness in the service of God,” and seizing an axe, he set to work to knock it down with his own hands. The Muslims on seeing that followed his example, and God proved false the assertion of the Christians.”

It is fairly easy to see that the situation has been flipped in the other direction many times before. If the triumph of some men over others is testimony of divine favor, Tengri was really giving Allah a beating in the siege of Baghdad, Christ in the Capture of Jerusalem, etc. It is palpably irrational to think this way.

Lastly, what kind of world emerges in Ibn Battuta’s account?

Everyone gets a different stream of mental pictures. To get those mental pictures, it is necessary to read the account.

It is important to emphasize that the ‘world’ that emerges is a set of images and tags of language that are understood by integration with previously established patterns in a mind. Every computational substrate with the capacity to process and understand Ibn Battuta’s words will have a different world emerge. Nonetheless, there will be greater overlap in similarities than if one mind had read this and another had read about the structure of carbohydrates. To point to the characteristics that overlap is difficult because there are many. For instance, there is a high probability that sand, or a sandy undertone manifested in the mind at some point while reading his account. Then it could be said that a sandy world emerges from Ibn Battuta’s account, and it would be as correct as anything else one could say.

Here is where personal talent or intuition come into play. One must tell a non-boring, yet reasonable story with some motiavion(s) in order to not simply say: “A sandy world emerges in Ibn Battuta’s account.”

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