Showing posts from January, 2009

Hypnosis 1

Hypnosis polarises people. Most are gobsmacked by its effects, others think it's all trickery. Others think the effects are real but result from deep-seated needs people have to obey authority, in this case the authority of the hypnotist.
Having dabbled in this a bit in recent years, and read Milton Erickson's extensive writings based on his research in the area (Erickson is deemed probably the greatest ever hypnotist, but was also a serious researcher), it seems to me that hypnosis is absolutely real, but is also at the same time not what others say it is. Including Erickson. But another day for that.
Here's a way you can 'hypnotise' yourself very quickly. We'll start with what's normally considered an advanced example of the art, just to show that this is all a lot easier than is sometimes made out. No staring into the eyes, swinging watches, not even any of Erickson's delightful verbal trickery. One of the hypnotic show-stoppers is arm levitation, havi…

Duelling Dualists

It doesn't take a lot of reading here to figure out I'm not much of a fan of dualism. Duality is fine, but once you add an -ism to things it's like pissing on a tree to mark your territory. You shift from "this is how things look, sometimes" to "this is how things ARE." So sometimes things look like they're split into two opposing halves, like good and evil, or male and female, or the fruits of civilisation and The Daily Telegraph.

But of course the minute you take a closer look, it all gets terribly complicated and categories seem to swap sides: best intentions lead to horrible outcomes; men grow boobs and women grow moustaches; and...there isn't a good example for The Daily Terrorgraph. Most of the time dualities are there for debating points.

Like Wolfgang Kasper in this piece in today's paper, titled with moderation and wit "Time to use a chainsaw on a criticall ill patient":…


It's confusing to see what would normally be perceived as respectable, clean and carefree middle class kids drawing a map of Australia on their bellies and the words "fuck off, we're full" in the middle of the map. For Australia Day.

Of course none of this is ever about class or being clean or respectable. But these kids are rarely interested in anything much above their mobile phone, Facebook and drinking, and suddenly they're passionate nationalists? Where did this come from?

It's always seemed possible that there's a darker side to that 'chilled out', carefree, travelling, partying behaviour that suggets these people are happy go lucky kids being kids. The first hint of it comes when you hear their extremely conservative views on social and political issues - they're like the Methodists reborn.

And the love of the flag! Draped around them, tattooed upon them. Teenagers, in this age, with a hard-on about the flag?

World's gone mad. Maybe the…

The Everyday (Part 2)

Finishing off some thoughts on the everyday.

The upshot of the always local and ultimately simple nature of all knowledge is that the everyday must itself have a type of knowledge. And it's not an inferior or simpler or dumbed-down form of knowledge, it's the most valuable and profound of all types of knowledge. Creating knowledge that has meaning for the largest number is the ultimate challenge. Not because they're dumb, but because this knowledge will need to somehow resonate with, make useful and valuable connections with, the lives of many, different, people. And this will be knowledge that isn't extracted from an isolated and controlled environment, but from the messiness and complexity of everyday living.

Everyday language and concepts will be the most pregnant with meaning, because so much will be required of them - they will need to weave themselves into so many different lives. This is why, as DH Lawrence noted, the novel is such a powerful form of knowing, beca…

The Everyday

I'm fascinated by the notion of the 'everyday'. The world of our every day, of going to work, being at home, chatting about things, gardening, etc.

There is no standard everyday life, each of us live different lives. There are a pretty large number of things that most of us do, like shop, eat, watch TV, commute, and so on. Are these the everyday world? It's a slippery notion if you start to peel it apart - for example if you work 18-hour days, then you could mount a pretty good argument that your everyday life was your work.

It all gets a bit easier though if you define the everyday as those parts of life that are common to many people. Everyday language is the language you need to use to be understood by the most people, like in the shops, even though you may have a range of different language forms which you use in professional or social settings. Everyday custom might include which side of the road you drive on, what sorts of clothes to wear. There will be lots of var…

Fetishes - Serres (part 2)

More on Serres, because he needs to be read!

Serres often reflects on the difference between knowledge as a fetish and knowledge in itself.

Knowledge as a fetish is basically knowledge as gossip. Not just your everyday variety, but any form of knowledge where the main focus is upon the group rather than upon the thing or object. So that what ends up counting is not how accurate or interesting some piece of knowledge is, but to what extent it silences critics, wins some debate etc.

It's possible to find all of that uncontroversial as an idea and retain the distinction between knowledge and the group, so that these gossip wars are still what the 'humans' do, and the knowledge is what they argue 'about'. But Serres decades ago saw that knowledge isn't like that at all. It's not about anything. It's a thing.

Knowing is an embodied, material activity. It's about bodies, instruments, chemicals, practices etc. Every fact is surrounded and produced by a variety…

Experiment 1 (Taking the iPod for a Walk 2)

Get up out of a chair your usual way.
Then sit down and this time, look at something in the room while you're sitting there, such as the TV, a spot on the opposite wall, your feet - anything. Then get up out of the chair while still looking at this object. Don't take your attention from the object the whole time, at any moment. 
Notice anything different in the getting up?

No Brainer

You have to pity the brain. Nobody really understands it, but it's like boys first trying to make sense of girls - a whole lot gets read into its every pop and crackle. Electrodes get attached to it, it gets prodded, dissected and scanned. (OK, the analogy breaks down there, unless you know boys who do those things to girls.)

And unlike everything else that gets called decent science, people go looking there for something they've already decided IS there. They try to find the site of emotion, of imagination, of visual imagery, of thoughts etc. etc. But anybody who's held any sort of brain, or even seen a picture of one, knows this is all complete bunkum. The brain is just a lump of flesh, like every other organ in your body.

I know neuroscience is now a highly complex science, with incredibly sophisticated theories and data and experiments to 'prove' that the brain is the seat of all of these fabulous things. But it's mostly crap science, because again it presume…

Binge Thinking

Australia, The Clever Country. Which idiot coined that one again?

About the only thing we top the world in is drinking, and that only because the Territorians swell the stats. And most of us disown them, and their crocodile fetishes.

We're binge drinkers, not binge thinkers.


Even with massive supercomputers, predicting most things is about as accurate as tossing a coin or just guessing that things will stay the same as they already are. I kid you not, this has been tested.

But I am impressed with weather forecasting, I think it's improving. Most 5-7 day forecasts are pretty good, where I live anyway. But then this might be an illusion - most of it isn't terribly hard to figure out. Basically if you get any wind from west through to north, it's hot, because that's where the deserts are. And wind from any other direction cools everything down, and if it's wet in the northwest then winds from that direction carry all of that monsoonal rain with them.

If you live on a small island like anywhere in the UK, or New Zealand, it's going to be cool and wet, because you're basically sitting in a bath already and at least something that evaporates from the oceans around you is going to end up falling out of the sky on your head, and the ocea…

There is No Such Thing as The Economy

It can make the main opposing political philosophies of the day feel better to talk about liberals and conservatives, free market ideologues and nanny states, etc. But at the end of the day you wonder if the name calling really gets to the root difference between these different camps.

Margaret Thatcher is often attributed with at least popularising the view that 'there is no such thing as society'. The basic assumption was that society is always just a collection of individuals, and anything bigger than an individual is in some way artificial and therefore restrictive of individual freedom. So the standard fare of a viral proliferation of shock jocks and commentators sympathetic to this point of view, of rampant and inherently inefficient bureaucracy, of the 'nanny state' intervening in all aspects of life, of family (i.e. individual) values, as opposed to public values, and so on.

Interestingly while for such folk society literally doesn't exist, the 'economy&#…

The Great, The Simple

The great and the profound are often trapped in metaphors of levels. They operate at a 'higher level' than the rest of us, or they see 'deeper' into things. Great work is often described as deep. So what great people do goes 'way over our heads' or is somehow deep beneath us. Removed from the everyday.

When you actually experience the greats with real intent, these metaphors crash and burn. What makes the greats great is that they're more plugged into the everyday. They see and experience everyday reality much more for what it is than others, because they don't wrap it in pre-conceived ideas and prejudices - they experience and describe reality more directly. And they are therefore more able to play with what they find, to weave different aspects together to produce something ingenious, more true, more inventive and unexpected. Not just artists and scientists, greats can be found in all parts of life.

Those who are not great assume, and will often say wit…

The Real Idleness

There have been many books and articles written in praise of idleness. (There's always a cheap shot to be had there about the effort needed to write the books and articles.) Normally the enemy is busyness (0r business - either will do), the mindless worship of work for its own sake. Nothing wrong with that really, except it at times seems a bit like running to the other end of some continuum that isn't itself necessary.
Idleness as it's usually spoken about is 'doing nothing'. Or doing nothing much. Lounging about, relaxing, chilling out. Collapsing, completely letting go, taking a break. So we're either thrashing about with effort, or slumped somewhere in a vegetative state (idle). At work or on holidays. You could evoke a Protestant work ethic and reactions against it here, if you wanted to sound important, but the practicalities are a lot more interesting. 
The really pretty amazing thing is, life can be completely effortless, supremely idle. Even the busy bit…

Crisis (Serres, part 1)

The easiest way to write a blog is to quote at length from great writers. Or even to copy great slabs of their effort without attribution. Both methods would get you a job as an opinion columnist in many respected newspapers.

My turn today. Michel Serres is off the charts as a thinker and writer. Completely incomprehensible to read at first, you might spend 10 years feeling like you're deciphering Linear B. But as a philosopher he writes 'algebraically' (his own description), meaning that he weaves together disparate ideas from the entire spectrum of human knowledge, and then removes all of the scaffolding. Just as you do in algebra, where you can make fast progress very quickly because the connections are all assumed. If you're knowledgeable in each of the different areas Serres chooses for his writing, his work acts quite literally as an atlas or map that immediately makes visible all of the pathways between our knowings. While for others it will read like, well, Line…

Precious Dears

In sixth class, the teacher sat us all down one day and asked a strange question. "Who's the most important person in the world?" We suggested a few, like the Prime Minister, Ronald McDonald, maybe the Pope (it's a long time ago). All wrong, as it turned out. The teacher paused for dramatic effect, and then said "it's YOU."

Well bugger me, I remember thinking, or words to that effect. This was the same teacher who had decided to teach us the skills of debating, and then had terminated our first practice run at a debate about 10 seconds in, followed by smirking and laughing with the deputy outside the room (we were obviously embarrassingly bad at it). And who'd given dux of the school to an under-achieving kid whose mother was a great friend. Kids see through hypocrisy pretty quickly.

Anyway, it's not difficult as an adult to see what he was on about, that the individual is noble and that we should value ourselves for who we are rather than who we …

Savant Idiots

I had to make a note of this so I won't forget it, from an investment banker called Mike Thomas (see:

The savant idiot, as opposed to the idiot savant. "The idiot savant produces substance out of apparent ignorance; the savant idiot produces ignorance from apparent substance." You could throw most economists and financial planners into that category.

Compulsory Voting

When you're in the business of helping people make decisions, you're both completely ignored (because the actual decisions and the people making them are, it's thought, all that matters) and in the driver's seat for observing the full range of wonderful stupidities and vanities. There's an art to decisions, getting the best ones in the quickest time. A mostly ignored and invisible art, except when somebody makes a Yes Minister, at which point the visibility rises, even if the same stupidities and vanities then perceive the art as mostly rank cynicism.

Those in 'positions of power' are often irritated by due process, except where it gives them an audience for prolonged windbaggery, after which they go ahead with what they'd already decided. (Interestingly, there is actually no such thing as a position of power, power can't be held, it can only be granted on an ongoing basis. As every flavour of the month pollie discovers when they're unseated.) Bu…

Taking the iPod for a Walk

I love to walk, being outside and taking in the sounds and sights and smells of the world. There are usually lots of other people out taking a walk too, and what strikes me is how many of them are plugged into some sort of music or media player. So the earphones are plugged in, and they're motoring along listening to music or the radio. And people of all ages do this, even the oldies.

This seems a bit perverse to me. To my mind one of the main benefits (and the major part of the enjoyment) of a walk is to get out of your usual box and smell the roses, as they say. If you're plugged into music or the radio then you're ignoring a fair chunk of what's actually going on around you as you walk, and you're like an acoustic turtle, taking the noise with you from home as you go. You may as well buy a treadmill and stay home.

It's probably fair to say that the plugged-in people are out there for 'exercise' rather than to take in the sights. So another 'busy&#…

Theories of 3D (Part 1)

I'm not sure the theories of how we see in 3D are right. In very general terms, we supposedly see in 3D because a slightly different image is received by our brains from each of our eyes, because of their slightly different position/separation in space. You can test this by looking out one eye, then the other, and you'll notice that the scene shifts slightly.

Using this theory looking with only one eye should therefore give you a 2D view of the world. But it doesn't - anybody reading this can test that for themselves. Everything seems 3D to me when using only one eye. And people with only one eye presumably more often than not function in full 3D. I suppose an explanation for this might be that the brain 'corrects' for the one closed eye. But the brain is always turned into a black box like that, to explain things people don't understand properly.

I won't go into an alternative theory yet, mostly because it's a bit half-baked. In the meantime, have a look…

2009, and Pointing the Finger

This year should be interesting. The uni is talking about merging with two others, but I think it's possible most peoples' lives, including mine and the uni's, will be swamped by the continuing toxic side effects of the economic 'boom' times of the past decade or so.

That last decade or so is interesting. There's plenty of talk about the mess we're all in now, in the present, but amazingly nobody seems to be saying (much) that the seeds of this disaster were actually people rushing like lemmings to believe that we were living through a boom before it. It's obvious we were actually running around a fantasy wheel in a hamster cage, with most of the 'economic' activity kept going by more lemmings borrowing, and borrowing some more. So based on thin air, really.

And then certain leaders of certain countries, like my own, took credit for creating this boom. And now nobody seems to be saying, "hang on, these idiots oversaw and encouraged a disast…

The beginning.

I'll be adding things here when I have the time, and when I feel like it. There'll be no common theme, just whatever seems worthwhile at the time. For my own benefit really, most of the time I'll use this place to elaborate on topics to help me think them through, for myself.