I have now been entirely sober for a month1. Not a drop has passed my lips. Now, I don’t want to suggest that I normally drink like a son of a bitch, or that sobriety is a complete stranger to me, but – let’s just say – like many Brits, most months I’d definitely drink on more days than not.
During Purity January (as it is known round my way) I have overcome all the trials that might challenge my resolution
So I feel truly rightous and also, truth be told, a little bored now. Not drinking is far easier than i thought. And it’s nice to get home and be able to read / think clearly / use power tools. I’m even wondering if i need less sleep when i’m staying sober (they do say alcohol disrupts the slow wave component of sleep). But…But…I’m not going to stick with it. Enough of the experiments in living, i’ve de-toxed in Purity January. Roll on Re-tox February
1 Erm…nearly a month. I think i started on the second of january, technically
It’s when we do this foolish, time-consuming, romantic, quixotic, childlike thing called play that we are most practical, most useful, and most firmly grounded in reality, because the world itself is the most unlikely of places, and it works in the oddest of ways, and we won’t make any sense of it by doing what everybody else has done before us. It’s when we fool about with the stuff the world is made of that we make the most valuable discoveries, we create the most lasting beauty, we discover the most profound truths. The youngest children can do it, and the greatest artists, the greatest scientists do it all the time. Everything else is proofreading.
Philip Pullman in the Guardian about the basics of teaching writing
…yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all nothing and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing…
Gerrard Winstanley, ‘A Watch-word to the Citie of London’ (August 26, 1649)
Between about 1920 and 1970 a good proportion of psychology involved studying how animals learn associations – conditioning. A lot of this stuff is still true (for what it is) and relevant, but has never made it into electronic archives. If i ever want to know something about _any_ detail of classical or operant conditioning, no matter how small, i assume it must have been done by someone. Fundamentally the hypothetical result i’m thinking of will be out there already, i just need to find out where.
There’s a very senior professor in my department. I go and ask him. If he doesn’t know, he refers me to this book:
Mackintosh, N.J. (1974). The Psychology of Animal Learning. Academic Press.
Discussing work on the neurobiology of decision mechanisms (in which they find that the signal used to integrate the evidence in favour of a particular action is represented in the same area as is used to represent the action itself), Shalden & Gold speculate:
This intention-based architecture seems to take the hard work of consciousness away from the homunculus. However, another, equally mysterious mechanism seems to be required. If sensory information flows to circuits where it can exert leverage on intentions, plans, and rules, what controls the flow? Which intentions, plans, and rules are under consideration at any moment? The need for a homunculus has apparently been replaced by the need for a traffic cop.
We speculate that, unlike for the homunculus, we already have insights into the brain mechanisms that serve as traffic cop. These are the same mechanisms that allow an animal to explore its environment; that is, to forage. Foraging is about connecting data in the environment to a prediction of reward through complex behavior (Gallistel, 2000). However, in principle, the mechanisms of foraging, like the mechanisms of decision-making, do not need to be tied to overt behaviors. The same principles that apply to visits to flowers could direct the parietal lobe to query the visual cortex for evidence needed to answer a question about motion. More generally, foraging might be related to the leaps our brains make to replace one percept with another (e.g., binocular rivalry), to escape one behavioral context for another, or to explore new ideas. For cognitive neuroscientists, these ideas inspire research on how reward expectation influences sensory-motor and higher processing in association areas of the brain. For the philosopher of mind, these ideas provide an inkling of how properties of the brain give rise to agency and, perhaps, free will.
Shadlen MN, Gold JI (2004) The neurophysiology of decision-making as a window on cognition. In: The Cognitive Neurosciences, 3rd edition. (Gazzaniga MS, ed): MIT Press. [Preprint][Proofs with color figs in back]
It’s always surprised me that the top search term that leads people to this site is “fallen angel”. I’ve only mentioned the phrase once. But a google image search shows that most of the matches for ‘fallen angel’ are rubbish, and i’ve got a photo of Banksy‘s stencil on my site, so maybe it’s not too surprising…
Vaclav Havel, one-time czech dissident and playwright, writing samizdat in the days of communistic eastern europe, talked of the ‘post-totalitarian’ system – a system of governence not so much based on overt violence, but on fear and more subtle controls. It’s always struck me how relevant that voice from behind the Iron Curtain and thirty years ago is to this place, this time…
Despair leads to apathy, apathy to conformity…The more completely one abandons any hope of general reform, any interest in suprapersonal goals and values, or any chance of exercising influence in an “outward” direction, the more his energy is diverted in the direction of least resistance, i.e., “inwards.” People today are preoccupied far more with themselves, their families and their homes. It is there that they find rest, there that they can forget the world?s folly and freely exercise their creative talents. They fill their homes with all kinds of appliances and pretty things, they try to improve their accommodations, they try to make life pleasant for themselves, building cottages, looking after their cars, taking more interest in food and cloth and domestic comfort. In short, they turn their main attention to the material aspects of their private lives.
Clearly, this social orientation produces favourable economic results…In the interest of the smooth management of society, then, society?s attention is deliberately diverted from itself, that is, from social concerns. By fixing a person?s whole attention on his mere consumer interests, it is hoped to render him incapable of realising the increasing extent to which he has been spiritually, politically and morally violated.
Yet these same authorities obsessively justify themselves with their revolutionary ideology, in which the ideal of man?s total liberation has a central place! But what, in fact, has happened to the concept of human personality and its many-sided, harmonious, and authentic growth? Of man liberated from the clutches of an alienating social machinery, from a mythical hierarchy of values, formalised freedoms, from the dictatorship of property, the fetish and might of money? What has happened to the idea that people should live in full enjoyment of social and legal justice, have a creative share in economic and political power, be elevated in human dignity and becomes truly themselves? Instead of a free share in economic decision making, free participation in political life, and intellectual advancement, all people are actually offered is a chance to freely choose which washing machine or refrigerator they want to buy.
In the foreground, then, stands the imposing fa?ade of grand humanistic ideals … and behind it crouches the modest family house of a socialist bourgeois. On the one side, bombastic slogans about the unprecedented increase in every sort of freedom and the unique structural variety of life; on the other, unprecedented drabness and the squalor of life reduced to a hunt for consumer goods.
In “Dear Dr. Husak”, 1975
The post-totalitarian system, after all, is not the manifestation of a particular political line followed by a particular government. It is something radically different: it is a complex, profound, and long-term violation of society, or rather the self-violation, or rather the self-violation of society. To oppose it merely by establishing a different political line and then striving for a change in government would not only be unrealistic, it would be utterly inadequate, for it would never come near to touching the root of the matter. For some time now, the problem has no longer resided in a political line or program: it is a problem of life itself.
In the democratic societies, where the violence done to human beings in not nearly so obvious and cruel, this fundamental revolution in politics has yet to happen, and some things will probably have to get worse there before the urgent need for that revolution is reflected in politics.
In “The power of the powerless”, 1978
It really is not all that important whether, by accident or domicile, we confront a Western manager or an Eastern bureaucrat in this very modest and yet globally crucial struggle against the momentum of impersonal power….all of us, East and West, face one fundamental task from which all else should follow. That task is one of resisting vigilantly, thoughtfully and attentively, but at the same time with total dedication, at every step and everywhere, the irrational momentum of anonymous, impersonal and inhuman power – the power of ideologies, systems, apparat, bureaucracy, artificial languages and political slogans. We must resist its complex and wholly alienating pressure, whether it takes the form of consumption, advertising, repression, technology or clich? – all of which are blood brothers of fanaticism and the wellspring of totalitarian thought
In “Politics and Conscience”, 1984.
I’ve just put up some more pictures from december and new year’s eve. Including this one I quite like of the Mind Hacks social – my brother trying out the crossed hands illusion while one of Vaughan’s friends reads from the book:
There’s also this one of Matt that i like too
In other news, I now have wireless internet at home…Woo-hoo!
—– Forwarded message from TOM COMMON —–
Date: Sat, 08 Jan 2005 19:59:05 +0000
Subject: COOLING THE TOWERS
GO sheffield here, still in love with this city. Hope you’re all well.
we’re running a competition to redesign the sheffield cooling towers, near
meadowhall. We want to reuse them, to make them represent sheffield as the
post-industrial utopia we all know and love. We want them to be our angel of
Please see the attached press release for information, plus a template for
your designs (draw your own should you wish). The deadline is 31st January.
We just want your ideas, anything goes.
* * *
Excerpt from Press Release:
COOL(ING) THE TOWERS
INTERNATIONAL DESIGN COMPETITION,
to redesign the SHEFFIELD COOLING TOWERS
The cooling towers are one of the first things people see on arriving in Sheffield from the north.
They are graceful, enormous and unused. Currently, they mean industrial collapse, defeat, it’s over.
We want to make them a symbol of post-industrial Sheffield, as well known as Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North in Gateshead, to make them represent Sheffield: industrial past, creative today, green future.
To make them mean, SHEFFIELD ??????????????
THE BEST CITY FOR LIVING IN THE WHOLE WORLD
THE BRIEF: to redesign the two cooling towers next to Meadowhall. Any medium, at any price.
Redesign, cut them up, statues inside, light out of the top. Anything.
THE PRIZE: 20 ?UROS
And the chance to do something amazing for a lost northern city.
I’ve put a few new pictures up at www.idiolect.org.uk/pics. I can’t promise they will interest anyone apart from the people they are of, but there are some shots of a cute puppy dog, and this one of Dan I quite like:
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.
– Edmund Burke
Over at The Straight Dope, a reader writes:
Various health and yoga websites claim that iceberg lettuce contains chemicals similar to laudanum, morphine, or other opiates. There are also reports of people being admitted to hospitals after injecting themselves with lettuce extracts, and papers about smoking lettuce. I have found no information about the chemical constitution of lettuce that mentions morphine or opiates. Are there such things in supermarket lettuce? –Curious Lettuce Eater, via e-mail
You’re thinking: How can iceberg lettuce be a drug? It barely qualifies as a food. Little do you know. While the stuff from the supermarket isn’t likely to do much, lettuce generally speaking does contain psychoactive compounds. Enough to get you high? Hard to say. Judging from available evidence, the stuff might do nothing, give you a buzz, or kill you. Here’s what we know:
Read the rest at The Straight Dope
Rose gave me Arundhati Roy’s new book of essays for Christmas (thanks Rose!). I liked this bit:
Our strategy should be not only to confront empire but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness–and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling–their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
And speaking of mocking empire, here’s a good example:
Papua New Guinea tribesman to explorer Bruce Parry:
I don’t know where your tribe is, but it must be rubbish. You can’t do anything. You wear these funny clothes, you can’t climb trees, and you don’t know the flora and fauna. Wherever it is you come from, it is obviously crap
Oh the joys of a clash of cultures. Reminds me of mongogo nuts
The ringing calls to opposition on the part of the readers of small left-wing magazines do not impress me, nor do I believe that America is secretly a left-wing country that is simply awaiting the clarion call. That was a Ralph Nader and Howard Dean fantasy, and there?s no evidence for it. That?s why I don?t think the lesson to learn from Kerry?s defeat is that he should have been more left-wing.
I agree with Colin Greer about being oppositional, but it has to be oppositional in a way that?s persuasive to Americans. My belief is that getting out of the sealed rooms and gated communities of the left and doing politics with people who are unlike you is to participate in the essence of politics.
(via OpenDemocracy.net, via Dan)