Liminalist # 25: A Micro-Organism of Meaning (with Peter Watts)

(Original photo by  Maria Nygård)

Here comes Behemoth-author Peter Watts, for the first hour of a roving and rifting conversation with Jasun about killing Jake (the One) and integrative therapy courtship, Lonesome Bob’s death ballad, Peter’s  marine biology years, the initial impetus, Peter’s childhood “Everyone can have their own aquarium!” epiphany, astronaut dreams, getting off the planet, Jasun’s views on space travel (again), a bleak ET future for mankind, the ultimate displacement activity, Interstellar’s message, space travel benefits, the military agenda, 2001: A Space Odyssey opposing views, the hope for higher intelligence, determinism vs. transcendence, rejecting the duality of spiritual-material, how neurons are purely reactive, fizzy meat, the psychology of determinism, response vs. reaction, selective perception, truth and survival, depression’s correlation (or equivalence) with reality-perception, God and the anti-predator response, three men in a jungle, how natural selection shapes us to be paranoid, how anxiety allows us to see patterns, the many doings of paranoia, shaping the outside to match the inside (the devil made me do it), seeking the perks of depression, how depression fuels creativity, a thought experiment, is removing the lows desirable, depression as a new stage in human development, the difference between biology and psychology, the psyche and Behemoth, the pointlessness of survival, he who dies with most kid wins, what science is missing, the hard problem of consciousness, the difference between intelligence and consciousness, nipples on men, the best kind of mystery, the language variable, what if consciousness is mal-adaptive?

Peter Watts’ site.

Neuro-Deviance (companion essay to this talk)

Songs: “El Mariachi”  by The Freak Fandango Orchestra; “Us Ones In Between,” by Sunset Rubdown; “That’s What I’m Talking About,” by Regis Turner; “Feeling Down” and “Great Big Roller,” by John Bellows.

10 thoughts on “Liminalist # 25: A Micro-Organism of Meaning (with Peter Watts)”

  1. “Existence is nothing but perception, and perception cannot be anything other than liminal and free (from Horsley Mind – the – Theory).”

    I haven’t listened to the podcast yet but am reading the 4 part essay, Mind – the – Theory, and was halted by the above quote to comment that today, while running in the field with the pond I noticed how boring and tedious my thoughts were and how intrinsically interesting and satisfying the sound of the wind, the sound of my shoes on the dirt trail, my breathing, the short sad chirps of a species of bird, the look of the clouds, the sound of tires on asphalt (that I try to cancel out), the waves of diaphanous heat mists rising off the leaves of foliage, the delicious flapping sound of startled grasshoppers…If only I could reside in that effortlessly interesting zone of letting the body be and being in the body. But I can’t do it but for short intervals; how many words does it take to reach silence?

    • I had a matching visceral awareness yesterday, how the language feed of “mind” has captured my attention and how utterly bogus is that capture; there are no cages on the bars of awareness. “Mind” is a fixation of the attention, a habit ingrained in the body by language, nothing more.

      You are free; now go and love some more.

  2. Wonderful.

    I firmly believe depression is prerequisite to transformation. Psychic autumn: harvest, death, winter, spring. Carl Jung is big on this, and reading The Red Book was my red pill out of depression. Though, it’s strange, because if you begin to believe this, to be grateful for your bouts of depression, in the back of your mind, you potentially invite them as a method of transformation. Which may just lead to pouting and disingenuous sulking…

    Funny you both jostled on free will. I just read Free Will by Sam Harris. I found myself disagreeing for the very same reasons. Sam Harris had a line that provoked: “What will my next mental state be? I do not know—it just happens. Where is the freedom in that?” Everywhere!

    We all (hopefully) know that state free of conditioning and neuronal weather patterns and genetics, all the rest of it. You described it as more of a response than a reaction. I experience this state often while improvising in music. I’d say it’s not even a response. Again and of course, words fail here (as they should). This state seems to be “free,” not in the sense that we chose for or willed it to be. Will has to be an illusion if the self willing is, too, an illusion. So, freedom can only be when choice/ will and self are both annihilated. And, you’re right, love seems to be the natural expression of freedom.

    And, these states (I think) are triggered when enmeshed in nature, as JorisKarl alluded to.

    • Maybe it all comes down to the idea of continuity being an illusion, something we mentally impose on existence by papering over the cracks of unconsciousness, those micro-gaps in which the entire universe collapses in on itself (goes into a state of superimposition?) before emerging once again from the void, whole & perfect and 100% new?

  3. In an honest mistake in the heat of discussion, Peter shifts definitions around when he says that consciousness has gotten the human species to a state of destroying the environment, the Earth, our habitat. Didn’t he say that it was intelligence that did that and therefore we cannot say that intelligence is not a mistake? [Dark Freudian spectre–survival is a mistake, Death as wish-fulfillment–life is the whimsical spirallings of a falling leaf]. I thought I heard an agreed-upon distincition between intelligence (or cunning–or just plain chance, luck?) as ensuring the “survivalest” fit to an environment resulting in greatest numbers of surviving offspring–and consciousness, rendering the latter mysteriously superfluous? In other words, intelligence was selected for and consciouness is just like tits on males, superfluous. If the distinction holds, then isn’t it consciousness that is the judge of mistakes; in other words, without consciousness there would be no mistakes and intelligence would not be recognized as such having been absorbed by the mechanism of natural selection. But which of the two–intelligence and consciousness–creates theories like Darwin’s?

    Mistakes and theories have no objective reality although they seem to have objective consequences–for example Special Relativity theory underpinning such commotions as an atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Looking more closely at mistakes–what are they? A mismatch between an intended and actual outcome? I’m thinking about plane crashes and the flap about flapirons floating around in the Indian Ocean.

    • Fascinating post. I found myself not sure what to think listening back to the conversation. It was perhaps a two hour demonstration of what happens when a tool (intelligence/consciousness) attempts to measure itself.

  4. Although I disagree with a lot of what Mr. Watts said, he is a very likable and engaging individual. It is also very curious, in my view, that such a creative and switched-on individual, who admits to the conspiratorial reality of the modern control system, would ascribe to such a mechanical, overly biological view of reality, especially since this view has largely contributed to the very Technocratic Atheism that is the driving force behind much of the conspiratorial Parapolitical corruption we see in our modern world.

    • Yeah, I was a bit taken aback a couple of times by his enthusiasm for scientific solutions to existential problems. But I took in in the context of a passionate writer of fiction, in love with scientific ideas and the thought experiments they give birth to.

  5. I completely disagree with the assessment that a scientific view of the world contributes to our worldly problems. Technocracy is not science. Science is a tool, an as an ideology it is in short, utopian progress.

    The scientific method is a progressive, anti-dogmatic, evidence based, self-critical and democratic ideology of positive infinite gradual reform (I call this Utopian) that benefits the well-being of conscious creatures when applied in such a fashion. Anything else is a corruption of the process by interests outside of the scientific ideal. And I’d like to point out that religions and dogmatic ideologies of all kinds have done nothing to make the world a better place and everything to destroy it.

    The technocratic world you speak of is the world of capitalist dogmatic ideology in which bankers and economists get to decide on policy. That is the world that reduces everything to numbers of value and thereby completely loses any interest in compassion. Whereas the scientific endeavour is not about profit, but about knowledge and progress in the interest of conscious beings.

    I understand the confusion, but it’s CRUCIAL to understand the difference between capitalism and the ideology of utopian science. One serves to maximize profits via technocratic reductionism, the other is a philosophical means to find truth (as to serve conscious well-being) and produces technology.

    • I’m not sure which point you are arguing against specifically, but the above strikes me as presuming that ideologies can be consciously chosen when in fact they are unconsciously embedded in us by the culture we are born and reared in.

      I am certainly not in favor of “an ideology of utopian science.” I am opposed to all ideologies. My researches has shown that some of the darkest and most destructive agendas are driven by just such ideologies (Huxley, Wells, et al)

      On the other hand I am all for the scientific method, but not if it’s shackled to some utopian social goal. Truth is to me an individual matter between the psyche and the universe. Not primarily a social question, IMO, tho of course attaining truth at an individual level has social repercussions, which is precisely why it is so violently opposed by all ideological systems (IMO)….


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