The Stoics: Excerpts from Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius

“Say thus to thyself every morning: today I may have to deal with some intermeddler in other men’s affairs, with an ungrateful man; an insolent or a crafty or an envious or an unsociable or selfish man”

-Marcus Aurelius

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“As soon as you have devoted yourself to philosophy, you will have overcome all disgust at life, you will not wish for darkness because you are weary of light, nor will you be a trouble to yourself and useless to others…”

-Seneca

 

“The beginning of philosophy is to know the condition of one’s own mind.”

-Epictetus

 

“You may revolve such thoughts as these, about the nicest delicacies of senses: about food, this is the dead car-case of fish, a fowl, a hog: about wine, this is the juice of a little grape: about your purple robes, this is the wool of a sheep, steeped in the blood of a little shellfish: about venereal enjoyments, they are the attrition of a base part of our body, and a convulsive sort of excretion of a mucus…Thus we should employ the mind, in all parts of life: when things occur, which, at first, seem worthy of high estimation, we should strip them naked,  view their meanness, and cast aside these pompous descriptions of them by which they seem so glorious.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“We must take a higher view of all things, and bear with them more easily: it better becomes a man to scoff at life than to lament over it. Add to this that he who laughs at the human race deserves better of it than he who mourns for it, for the former leaves it some good hopes of improvement, while the latter stupidly weeps over what he has given up all hopes of mending.”

-Seneca

 

“Each man’s life is flying away, and thine is almost gone, before thou hast paid just honor to thyself; having hitherto made thy happiness dependent on the minds and opinions of others.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“A philosopher’s school is surgery: pain, not pleasure, you should have felt therein. For on entering none of you are whole.”

-Epictetus

 

“Evil only comes hard upon those who have lived without giving it a thought and whose attention has been exclusively directed to happiness.”

-Seneca

 

“If you are in Gyaros, do not let your mind dwell upon life at Rome and all the pleasures it offered to you when living there, and all that would attend your return.”

-Epictetus

 

“Hence men undertake aimless wanderings, travel along distant shores, and at one time at sea, another by land, trying to soothe that fickleness of disposition which always is dissatisfied with the present. ”

-Seneca

 

“Let nothing which befalls thee from without distract thee; and take leisure to thy self, to learn something truly good. Wander no more to and fro; and guard also against this other wandering. For there are some too who trifle away their activity, by wearying themselves in life, without having a settled scope or mark, to which they may direct all their desires and all their projects.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“If you have given way to anger, be sure that over and above the evil involved therein, you have strengthened the habit, and added fuel to the fire. If overcome by a temptation of the flesh, do not reckon it a single defeat, but that you have also strengthened your dissolute habits.”

-Epictetus

 

“Everyone hurries his life on and suffers from a yearning for the future and a weariness of the present. But he bestows all of his time on his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the morrow.”

-Seneca

 

“Let silence be your general rule; or say only what is necessary and in few words. We shall, however, when occasion demands, enter into discourse sparingly, avoiding common topics as gladiators, horse races, athletes; and the perpetual talk about food and drink. Above all avoid speaking of persons, either in way of praise or blame, or comparison.”

-Epictetus

 

“We should suggest to ourselves on every occasion this question; is this necessary? But we ought to quit, not only unnecessary actions, but even imaginations, and thus, superfluous actions, diverting us from our purpose, would not ensue.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”

-Seneca

 

“.. But one man is possessed by an avarice that is insatiable, another by a toilsome devotion to tasks that are useless; one man is besotted with wine, another is paralyzed by sloth; one man is exhausted by an ambition that always hangs upon the decision of others, another, driven on by the greed of the trader, is led over all lands and all seas by the hope of gain…”

-Seneca

 

“The deified Augustus, to whom the gods vouchsafed more than to any other man, did not cease to pray for rest and to seek release from public affairs; all his conversation ever reverted to this subject—his hope of leisure. ”

-Seneca

 

“What agreeable leisure does he procure to himself, who takes no notice of what others say, do, or intend; but, attends to this only, that his own actions be just and holy; and, according to Agathon, that there be nothing black or ill-natured in his temper.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“Don’t form designs as if you were to live a thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while you may, become good.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

“It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author , and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar.”

-Seneca

 

“Never call yourself a Philosopher nor talk much among the unlearned about Principles, but do that which follows from them. Thus at a banquet do not discuss how people ought to eat, but eat as you ought.”

-Epictetus

 

“Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this is only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less one who died long ago.”

-Marcus Aurelius

 

Mu: A Koan Meditation

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The passages in this series of blogs are not examples of genuine satori or even especially clever answers to the koans.  They are merely records of my first serious attempts at incorporating this form of meditation into my daily routine. What I have gleaned from it thus far are examples of the useful but ultimately shallow insights aspirants may dwell on for too long. The path to enlightenment is narrow, the road of delusion is wide and covers its slender brother on both sides.

Eventually one realizes a tremendous capacity for discernment must be developed in order to avoid falling deeper into the throes of self-deception.  Although I have read books on Buddhism, I intentionally avoided read any commentary on the koans I selected lest they interfere with my experiment. I see now this was an unnecessary precaution. The rational mind recedes while it is playing with these timeless picture puzzles. It is merely a distraction. The first koan I chose has a special place in Zen, it also appears to be the source of more scholarly debate than any other. It is as cryptic as it is memorable:

One day Joshu was asked, “does a dog have the Buddha-nature?

The master replied “Mu!” (No/Nothing/It does not matter)

I did not use the story itself, but a question that arose from it: what is Mu?

My answer: Mu is the absence of distance.

How did I arrive upon it? That morning I woke up to a song. A chorus was playing, an acoustic guitar was strumming, and a rudimentary bass beat tagged alone.  Although this has happened before, this was the first time I kept the recording in my mind long enough to rise, turn on the computer, and begin writing the verses. I attribute this clarity of mind to reading a third of The Three Pillars of Zen the day before. Before clearing my thoughts I thought of a few musical acts that I would never see and the many things I could never hope to do in a single lifetime, the many meetings that will never be had, the deplorable ignorance all sentiment beings must toil under, the many opportunities that will be forgone out of time constraints or ignorance of their very existence, and, of course, the undeniable insignificance of every action.

The lion’s share of human angst seems to come from feeling separated from a time or place.  One can happily sit still because there is no need to grasp. Everything is within reach. Everything has its own significance, or lack thereof.

 

 

 

The Two Faces of Aging: Cancer and Cellular Senescence

Originally published on Radical Science News.

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Aging, inflammation, cancer, and cellular senescence are all intimately interconnected. Deciphering the nature of each thread is a tremendous task, but must be done if preventative and geriatric medicine ever hope to advance. A one dimensional analysis simply will not suffice. Without a strong understanding of the genetic, epigenetic, intercellular, and intracellular factors at work only an incomplete picture can be formed. However, even with an incomplete picture useful therapeutics can and are being developed. One face is cancer, a number of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell division. The other is degradation, which causes a slue of degenerative disorders stemming from deterioration in regenerative capacity.

Now there is a new focus on making Geroprotectors which are a diverse and growing family of compounds that assist in preventing and reversing the unwanted side-effects of aging. Senolytics, a subset of this broad group, accomplish this feat by encouraging the removal of decrepit cells. A few examples include dasatinib, quercetin, and ABT263. Although more research must be done, there are a precious handful of studies accessible to anyone with the inclination to scroll to the works cited section of this article. Those within the life extension community and a few enlightened souls outside of it already know this, but it bears repeating: in the developed world all major diseases are the direct result of the aging process. Accepting this rather simple premise, and you really ought to, should stoke your enthusiasm for the first generation of anti-aging elixirs and treatments. Before diving into the details of these promising new pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, and gene therapies we must ask what is cellular senescence? What causes it? What purpose does it serve?

Depending on the context in which they are operating a single gene can have positive or negative effects on an organism’s phenotype. Often the gene is exerting both desirable and undesirable influences at the same time. This is called antagonistic pleiotropy. For example, high levels of testosterone can confer several reproductive advantages in youth, but in elderly men can increase their likelihood of developing prostate cancer. Cellular senescence is a protective measure; it is a response to damage that could potentially turn a healthy cell into a malignant one. Understandably, this becomes considerably more complex when one is examining multiple genes and multiple pathways. Identifying all of the players involved is difficult enough. Conboy’s famous parabiosis experiment where a young mouse’s system revived an old ones, shows that alterations in the microenviornment, in this case identified and unidentified factors in the blood of young mice, can have be very beneficial to their elders. Conversely, there is a solid body of evidence that shows senescent cells can have a bad influence on their neighbors. How can something similar be achieved in humans without having to surgically attach a senior citizen to a college freshman?

By halting its own division a senescent cell removes itself as an immediate tumorigenic threat. Yet the accumulation nondividing cells is implicated in a host of pathologies including, somewhat paradoxically, cancer, which as any actuary’s table will show is yet another bedfellow of the second half of life. The single greatest risk factor for developing cancer is age. The Hayflick Limit is well known to most people who have ever excitedly watched the drama of a freshly inoculated petri dish. After exhausting their telomeres cells stop dividing. Hayflick et. al astutely noted that “the [cessation of cell growth] in culture may be related to senescence in vivo.” Although cellular senescnece is considered irreversible, a select few cells can resume normal growth after the inactivation of the p53 tumor suppressor. The removal of p16, a related gene, resulted in the elimination of the progeroid phenotype in mice. There are several important p’s at play here, but two is enough for now.

Our bodies are bombarded by insults to their resilient but woefully vincible microscopic machinery. Oxidative stress, DNA damage, telomeric dysfunction, carcinogens, assorted mutations from assorted causes, necessary or unnecessary immunological responses to internal or external factors, all take their toll. In response cells may repair themselves, they may activate an apoptotic pathway to kill themselves, or just stop proliferating. After suffering these slings and arrows, p53 is activated. Not surprisingly, mice carrying a hyperactive form of p53 display high levels of cellular senescence. To quote Campisi, abnormalities in p53 and p15 are found in “most, if not all, cancers.” Knocking p53 out altogether produced mice unusually free of tumors, but find themselves prematurely past their prime. There is a clear trade-off here.

In a later experiment Garcia-Cao modified p53 to only express itself when activated. The mice exhibited normal longevity as well as an“unusual resistance to cancer.” Though it may seem so, these two cellular states are most certainly not opposing fates. As it is with oxidative stress and nutrient sensing, two other components of senescence or lack thereof, the goal is not to increase or decrease one side disproportionately, but to find the correct balance between many competing entities to maintain healthy homeostasis. As mentioned earlier, telomeres play an important role in geroconversion, the transformation of quiescent cells into senescent ones. Meta-analyses have shown a strong relationship between short telomeres and mortality risk, especially in younger people. Although cancer cells activate telomerase to overcome the Hayflick Limit, it is not entirely certain if the activation of telomerase is oncogenic.

 

MMTP

SASP (senescence-associated secretory phenotype) is associated with chronic inflammation, which itself is implicated in a growing list of common infirmities. Many SASP factors are known to stimulate phenotypes similar to those displayed by aggressive cancer cells. The simultaneous injection of senescent fibroblasts with premalignant epithelial cells into mice results in malignancy. On the other hand, senescent human melanocytes secrete a protein that induces replicative arrest in a fair percentage of melanoma cells. In all experiments tissue types must be taken into account, of course. Some of the hallmarks of inflammation are elevated levels of IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α. Inflammatory oxidative damage is carcinogenic and an inflammatory microenvironment is a good breeding ground for malignancies.

Caloric restriction extends lifespan in part by inhibiting TOR/mTOR (target of rapamycin/mechanistic target of rapamycin, also called  the mammalian target of rapamycin). TOR is a sort of metabolic manager, it receives inputs regarding the availability of nutrients and stress levels and then acts accordingly. Metformin is also a TOR inhibitor, which is why it is being investigated as a cancer shield and a longevity aid. Rapamycin has extended average lifespans in all species tested thus far and reduces geroconversion. It also restores the self-renewal and differentiation capacities of haemopoietic stem cells. For these reasons the Major Mouse Testing Program is using rapamycin as its positive control. mTOR and p53 dance (or battle) with each other beautifully in what Hasty calls the “Clash of the Gods.” While p53 inhibits mTOR1 activity increases p53 activity. Since neither metformin nor rapamycin are without their share of unwanted side effects, more senolytics must be explored in greater detail.

Starting with a simple premise, namely that senescent cells rely on anti-apoptotic and pro-survival defenses more than their actively replicating counterparts, Campisi and her colleagues created a series of experiments to find the “Achilles’ Heel” of senescent cells. After comparing the two different cell states, they designed senolytic siRNAs. 39 transcripts selected for knockdown by siRNA transfection, 17 affected the viability of their target more than healthy cells. Dasatinib, a cancer drug, and quercitin, a common flavonoid found in common foods, have senolytic properties. The former has a proven proclivity for fat cell progenitors, and the latter is more effective against endothelial cells. Delivered together they they remove senescent mouse embryonic fibroblasts. Administration into elderly mice resulted in favorable changes in SA-BetaGAL (a molecule closely associated with SASP) and reduced p16 RNA. Single doses of D+Q together resulted in significant improvements in progeroid mice.

If you are not titillated yet, please embark on your own journey through the gallery of encroaching options for those who would prefer not to become chronically ill, suffer immensely, and, of course, die miserably in a hospital bed soaked with several types of their own excretions―presumably, hopefully, those who claim to be unafraid of death have never seen this image or naively assume they will never be the star of such a dismal and lamentably “normal” final act. There is nothing vain about wanting to avoid all the complications that come with time. This research is quickly becoming an economic and humanitarian necessity. The trailblazers who move this research forward will not only find wealth at the end of their path, but the undying gratitude of all life on earth.

Blagosklonny, M. V. (2013). Rapamycin extends life-and health span because it slows aging. Aging (Albany NY), 5(8), 592.

Campisi, Judith, and Fabrizio d’Adda di Fagagna. “Cellular senescence: when bad things happen to good cells.” Nature reviews Molecular cell biology8.9 (2007): 729-740.

Campisi, Judith. “Aging, cellular senescence, and cancer.” Annual review of physiology 75 (2013): 685.

Hasty, Paul, et al. “mTORC1 and p53: clash of the gods?.” Cell Cycle 12.1 (2013): 20-25.

Kirkland, James L. “Translating advances from the basic biology of aging into clinical application.” Experimental gerontology 48.1 (2013): 1-5.

Lamming, Dudley W., et al. “Rapamycin-induced insulin resistance is mediated by mTORC2 loss and uncoupled from longevity.” Science335.6076 (2012): 1638-1643.

LaPak, Kyle M., and Christin E. Burd. “The molecular balancing act of p16INK4a in cancer and aging.” Molecular Cancer Research 12.2 (2014): 167-183.

Malavolta, Marco, et al. “Pleiotropic effects of tocotrienols and quercetin on cellular senescence: introducing the perspective of senolytic effects of phytochemicals.” Current drug targets (2015).

Rodier, Francis, Judith Campisi, and Dipa Bhaumik. “Two faces of p53: aging and tumor suppression.” Nucleic acids research 35.22 (2007): 7475-7484.

Rodier, Francis, and Judith Campisi. “Four faces of cellular senescence.”The Journal of cell biology 192.4 (2011): 547-556.

Salama, Rafik, et al. “Cellular senescence and its effector programs.” Genes & development 28.2 (2014): 99-114.
Tchkonia, Tamara, et al. “Cellular senescence and the senescent secretory phenotype: therapeutic opportunities.” The Journal of clinical investigation123.123 (3) (2013): 966-972.

Zhu, Yi, et al. “The Achilles’ heel of senescent cells: from transcriptome to senolytic drugs.” Aging cell (2015).

Every Brain is a Universe: Ontology, Neurotechnology, and Simulation

Originally published on Serious Wonder.

Neurotechnology is the last frontier. Mind-machine interfaces will initially offer ways to simulate, enhance, and stimulate. In conjunction with quantum computers, however, these interfaces will lead to the resolution of the problem of freewill through a proof of its impossibility or through the painstaking design of a being geniunely endowed with this elusive property, the invention of true artificial intelligence (as well as the mentally directed programming environment needed to make it), and assist in the exploration of some largely forgotten debates in ontology. This line of thought ties in strongly with the simulation hypothesis, since these technologies will, ultimately, allow us to create unique and logically contingent universes we can explore as single entities or, as their creators, revel in the totality of what we have wrought.

Try to remember a time you were without consciousness. Go ahead. I hope you almost immediately realized this is a fool’s errand.

battle of lights brain
JOSEPH STELLA, BATTLE OF LIGHTS, CONEY ISLAND, 1913, OIL ON CANVAS, 195.6 × 215.3 CM (77 × 84.75 IN), YALE UNIVERSITY ART GALLERY, NEW HAVEN, CT

Since the evolution of what is widely considered sentience human beings have searched for ways to augment or alter their perception and cognition. By observation alone one should realize the last word in the preceding sentence, reviled for years thanks to the Skinnerian stranglehold on the discipline, is the cornerstone of psychology. To dismiss it was foolish, though less foolish than it is to dismiss it now. Consciousness should be of great concern to all because it sets the pace and tone for every moment of our lives. For all intents and purposes, it is our life. It is our morning oatmeal, the joy of rumination, the ecstasy of victory, the caress of another’s lips, the source of sensations even poets struggle to describe. It does not faithfully store our memories; it actively remodels them depending on how and when they are retrieved. Ontology is a subfield of both philosophy and information science. Although seemingly dissimilar, the latter lends a tangible framework to analyzing the former.The human brain is a small organ capable of receiving and generating an infinite number of unique experiences. Yet as phenomenal as this may seem, our inner worlds, as rich and varied as they are, all arise from similar hardware. Hardware we largely share with birds, reptiles, other mammals, fish, and, to a significantly lesser extent, invertebrates. In spite of the seemingly limitlessness of what a brain can do, stemming from mundane combinatorics, there are fleshy ceilings imposed by biology. Moreover, many of the things it can do, like rendering a dancing 8 bit Santa Claus sliding down a hyperrealistic mound of writhing rectangular raccoons, are not particularly profound or prized. Here I am not referring to anything quantative, not to the brain’s seemingly impoverished calculating faculties when compared to an ordinary desktop computer, but to the qualitative properties of the nervous system when it is functioning “normally.” While it is almost impossible at this time to conceive of nervous systems radically different than our own, it is likely they will, at some point, be invented by augmented humans or by artificial intelligence. By throwing a wrench into the machine, in the form of an exogenous molecule or endogenous chemical changes induced by an activity,dasein changes rapidly. While a pint of stout will probably not lead to any personal revelations, a modest dose of LSD may.

Yes, there are countless similar, as well as very different, physical configurations, including ones bereft of carbon, that could give birth to consciousness, but let us forego that intimidating train of thought for a paragraph or two. Phantom limbs illustrate an important, undeniable, but unfortunately counterintuitive fact about existence. When a body part is lost it may not vanish from the nervous system’s master map. The amputated arm or leg continues to sweat, itch, writhe, and rest.  As any thoughtful person should see, this is more than a tidbit of medical trivia. Although measurement can tell us about an object’s mass, density, etc, the way they feel to their owners is entirely in their brain. In Gestalt and Ericksonian therapies a patient may be asked to identify with an inanimate object. Far from an eccentric technique spawned from the excesses of the sixties, it can occasionally lead to dramatic breakthroughs. It should not be hard to see how major departures from the familiar can facilitate creative resolutions. A little bit of reflection should lead one to conclude time, space, and all other categories of perception are highly unstable. Our bodily awareness is attached to reality by a slender thread.

On a warm Florida night a lad of sixteen smoked a sizeable dose of salvia divinorum on his friend’s back porch before transforming into a dinosaur-rocking chair-man viewing himself from the outside, all while becoming intimately acquainted with what it means to be wooden. At once he was the object and the subject, observer and the observed! With this same entheogen others have reported spending years as articles of furniture or, even more mind-numbingly, as completely ordinary people. I once spoke to a fellow who spent nearly a decade as a blue collar worker in contemporary Texas over the course of fifteen of our earthly minutes. Identity is synonymous with a locus of control. When someone mentions their own consciousness they are usually referring to this place of illusory agency. What is generally called the self is thought of as a static entity. It is a mutable thing that holds together an arbitrary collection of preferences and opinions.The locus defines consciousness. It is the mark that assigns other marks to all our behaviors in order to maintain the image it keeps of itself in relation to its contents, which is why it is so prone to retroactively justifying impulse buys.

At this time there is no proof anyone has free will. Some highly regarded academics, like the physicist Roger Penrose, have tried to debunk determinism. Given the preponderance of fixed action patterns one finds in our species, this seems like a silly assertion. Even if microtubules give higher animals some freedom, on a practical level it is obvious this freedom could be enhanced. Conceptual blending offers endless amusement and discovery. When we think of an angry desk, a feeling, likely different than any other we have had before, is elicited. What about an angry desk made of Ibsen-reading chocolate pudding wombats? There is no limit to the subtlety of our contemplations, besides our almost obsolete wetware. From the refinement of our minds and the acceleration in our communications will come an intellectual explosion unlike any other. We do not, and will not, need to process only one or two thoughts at a time. The mechanisms of the unconscious can be augmented. Access to a collective unconscious in the form of a quantum mainframe or global neuronetwork would be one way of exponentially expediting this process. Such an enhanced being could create a universe populated by other self-aware agents endowed with freewill. It could materialize itself as a single resident within its artificial world or, having no limits on how many sensations it could take in or thoughts it could put out, experience its expanding creation in its entirety. Although I am not a strong proponent of the simulation hypothesis, it is possible all of what is called reality is the toy of such a being. It is even more likely we will become the progenitors of such systems.

A sufficiently advanced civilization could manipulate matter at the most infinitesimal of scales. This means our universe may not be a simulation, but a blob on the table of a physics laboratory. Even with these wonders it is likely humans will never completely lose themselves. Their sense of “I” will be greatly enlarged, but it will not vanish. Even with total automation, people will have lives outside of their mind-enhancing toys. It is disturbing to wonder if a superdimensional entity experimenting with a series of procedural generation algorithms could be responsible for our balanced but amoral cosmos. It would require genius of the highest order to design the initial cosmic egg or framework that would give birth in turn to physics, chemistry, and biology. As astonishing and bizarre as it sounds, this sort of unfathomable brilliance is not far away.

Works CitedBaars, Bernard J. In the Theater of Consciousness: The Workspace of the Mind. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.

Erickson, Milton H., Ernest Lawrence Rossi, and Sheila I. Rossi. Hypnotic Realities: The Induction of Clinical Hypnosis and Forms of Indirect Suggestion. New York: Irvington, 1976. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. New York: Harper, 1962. Print.

Jacquette, Dale. Ontology. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2002. Print.

Perls, Frederick S. Gestalt Therapy; Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. New York: Julian, 1951. Print.

Photo Credit: Joseph Stella

Neurotechnology and the Future of Art

Originally published on Radical Science News

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Mind-machine interfaces, the decoding of the brain’s workings, and other unforeseen advances in neurotechnology will usher in a creative explosion unparalleled in all history. It has implications for music, literature, and how, on the most basic levels, reality is experienced. Through future apparatuses ancient questions about aesthetics can be resolved or, at the very least, be brought closer to resolution. In general humanity is guilty of overestimating the breadth of its knowledge and underestimating the depth of its intelligence. Cultures throughout history have reflected this habit by placing more emphasis on the former than the latter. In many ways humanity has failed to progress beyond its Paleolithic propensities because it runs in circles; it attacks the same problems in the same ways, mistakenly believing novel thoughts can spring from the same sorts of brains, underestimating the extent to which culture is a byproduct of biology. In the case of thinking one must throw out the baby, the mind itself, with the bathwater.

 

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Miranda and Mathias describe an invention called the neurogranular sampler which “works by taking short segments (or sound grains) from sound files and triggering them when any neurons fire.” While this is somewhat primitive to what will spring from it, it demonstrates the basic principle behind playing an instrument without the strain of manual manipulation. It will be possible to record rich compositions and immediately disseminate them. This is stupendous, but this will seem like small potatoes compared to the coming culmination of neurotechnology’s strides. There is no reason we should have only two eyes or two ears or one tongue or even five senses. Likewise, we do not need to be limited to 100 billion neurons. The approaching era is one of unlimited customizability, unbounded imagination, and unfathomable experiments in transcendence. Like any machine the brain can be augmented, upgraded, and even completely overhauled. In a few decades you might be surprised to find specialists in fields as of yet unnamed will be able to transport, duplicate, or in any number of ways modify your mind.

“You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior…to apply (a magnetic field) to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.”

-Liane Young

In Young’s experiment Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) was delivered to the right temporo-parietal junction. Participants were then asked a question to test how the shock had affected their views on morality. In this instance they were given a situation, their girlfriend crossing a bridge unharmed, and asked whether its ethicality should be evaluated based solely on its outcome. This is an ongoing debate in the history of ethics. Consequentialists and utilitarians believe only the effects of an action matter, whereas deontologists, like Kant, place more emphasis on intention and principle. When the RTPJ was disrupted volunteers were more likely to deem a situation “good” based on its outcome. These seem like inalienable parts of ourselves, but they are not. It is possible predilections for horror, fantasy, science fiction, in one way or another, can be pinpointed and induced with comparable efficacy.  It is likely the process will be much more complex, but it is also likely seemingly minor tweaks will result in dramatic alterations to aesthetic sensibilities. Why is it some respond to angry music or Impressionist paintings or movies with talking animals? Neurotech will soon have the answers.

 

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If the sentence “hotels are horrifyingly existential” is repeated to different listeners very different feelings will be elicited based on their connectome, mood and the background (in the Gestalt sense) on which the message is being imposed. Maybe they think of Unamuno and then cannot help but think of Hemingway’s fondness for bullfights, absurd spectacles put on for empty amusement to delay confronting unpleasantness of everyday life. It may conjure impressions of sleepy Proustian insularity or familial Faulknerian madness or all-encompassing Lovecraftian angst over the limits of what can be known. The phrase “Tolstoy’s corpus” is a single qualia, albeit a very incomplete one to everyone besides Tolstoy scholars. Yet even they have drastically different views of that single picture. In the future perfect qualia clusters, complete and interweaving pictures with conceptual arms shooting out in every direction linking them to cousin clusters, will be readily accessible to all. For what purpose? The expansion of humanity through the enlargement of its constituents. This all sounds wonderful, but how shall it be done? Why should it be done?

Art for art’s sake, when taken too literally, implies there is something intrinsically valuable about a painting, book, or composition. What is intriguing is not sound waves upsetting the insensate air, processed wood material being tattooed with arbitrary symbols, or unwitting canvasses being smeared with pleasing colors, but the feelings they manage to imperfectly convey. The masters manage to more perfectly (or ambiguously) convey their message; this is what keeps them engaging long after their era has passed. While each of Shakespeare’s play has identifiable elements, themes, etc., his collected works present an endless playground to interpreters because of their depth and breadth. As Harold Bloom wrote, “he exists in all languages. He is put on the stage everywhere. Everyone feels that they are represented by him on the stage.” This is probably because Shakespeare did not endlessly revisit, reuse, and ultimately wear out the same set of devices. Ben Jonson was slightly jealous of his contemporary, who wrote, after some of his early abominations, masterpieces with enviable ease. The Bard was a waterfall of creativity. Yet he is not alone. For Mozart writing music by hand was a menial chore. The man, as Robert Greenberg said, carried music around with him the way modern mortals carry around flash drives. There is no chicken and egg problem here. Art is made to convey a message, but the message is there long before it materializes into something intelligible. In spite of its stupendousness and necessity, art today will be viewed in the future as laudable but laughable attempts at telepathic exchange.

 

VR

 

“MindMaze puts your brain into the game.  Never before have neuroscience, virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D full-body motion-capture come together in a games system.  Gamers will be able to see, feel and experience virtual gameplay with absolutely no delay or need for controllers.”

-Dr. Tej Tadi, founder and CEO of MindMaze.

MindMaze detects and accurately predicts brain and muscle activity to trigger in game movement. The technology can be used to train amputees and stroke victims to control prosthetic limbs. This is an impressive amount of precision! Until quite recently art has been passive. Yes, one can lose oneself in a story or piece of music, but one’s involvement does not ultimately change the content of the article itself. Oedipus will pluck his eyes out, Horatio Alger hero’s will be rewarded for his struggles, Mahler will break eardrums, and Spider-Man will save the day. The rise of expansive fictional universes large numbers of people wish to inhabit coupled with the rise of electronic games has lent further support for Hegel’s views on metaphysics and aesthetics. Immersion in these alternative cosmoses has already come of age in the form of video games, however, virtual food and sex are not nearly as satisfying as their corporeal counterparts. True immersion will involve the engagement of all senses. MindMaze is an achievement, and is hopefully a foreshadowing of even more momentous inventions. Immersive Reality will allow Being and Art to develop concomitantly by fusing them together.

It is possible the worlds we and our descendants will be spending portions of our waking hours within will be chess compared to checkers. Perhaps our universe is more appropriately dubbed Snakes and Ladders. Anything that can be perceived by whatever hardware our consciousness will be residing in will be comprehensible and inhabitable. The nasty parts of human nature have remained fairly static, but there is no doubt art has flowered and flourished in spite of all the dreadfulness that has transpired around it. Harold Bloom famously claimed Shakespeare had “invented” the modern world. The veracity of his statement is debatable, but it is clear art has changed and in the process has changed those who enjoy it. Like the sciences, but in a far more personal way, it forces us to rethink and reframe. Its benefits to health and well-being are legion and being attested to by a growing body of peer-reviewed evidence. Hegel’s “cognitivist” view of aesthetics, as it was deemed by later scholars, is broader and more flexible than the viewpoints of his contemporaries, predecessors, and even most of his successors. Art is about evolution, advancement, and enlargement on the personal, national, and global level. Coming back to some of the crudest formulations of aesthetics, those of mimesis, art as a whole mimics the natural world in a profound manner: it evolves.

The desire to complete this essay crystallized when a conversation with Chris Armstrong about poly-beings led to thoughts on the effects a vessel may have on its cargo. The cargo in this context is what is called, for lack of a more expansive term, mind. The vessel, for lack of a less anthropocentric word, is the body, although it needn’t be fleshy, humanoid, or even organic. I set aside the outline until a post by Maria Konovalenko, a well-known figure in life-extension circles, appeared in my feed. It was about the next unit of selection. After all, first there were genes, then organisms (assuming you do not subscribe to the hyper-reductionist view), and now memes. What will follow? How will selection take place? None of the units listed completely supplanted their predecessors, mind you, so will the next one truly dethrone the others? As a number of epistemologists and AI luminaries have said, ours is not the only possible kind of mind.

Thus, as one would expect, a common answer to her question was self-improving AI or AGI. Allegedly this will be final invention of our species. There are surely many other ways to construct a system that gives birth to the dreaded C word. In a world in which brains are interfacing more closely with hardware than ever it seems inevitable that familiar ways of relating to one’s “surroundings” will change. Interaction steadily will lead to increasingly intimate forms of symbiosis in the forms of AR, VR, and IR. One could call the next unit of selection memetic because it will be mentalistic, but both adjectives here fail to do it justice. To dwell on memes for too long distracts from a more important endeavor, which is learning how to bundle, tailor, and manage them to create better head space for ourselves. Selection will not only take place in forms of consciousness, but networks of entities possessing it, enormous arrays of multiple mega-clusters; not just in clumps of interconnected minds, but in the ways these sprawling swarms are managed. The final unit of selection will be Being itself. What this will mean in twenty or two hundred years can only be speculated upon.

Works Cited

Brady, Paul. “MindMaze Introduces Thought-Powered Virtual Reality Game System.” — SAN FRANCISCO, March 4, 2015 /PRNewswire/ —. PRNEWSWIRE, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

Graham, Gordon. Philosophy of the Arts: An Introduction to Aesthetics. London: Routledge, 1997. Print

Miranda, Eduardo R., and John Matthias. “Music Neurotechnology for Sound Synthesis.”

A.J. Rocke (1985). “Hypothesis and Experiment in Kekulé’s Benzene Theory”. Annals of Science 42 (4): 355–81. doi:10.1080/00033798500200411. Jump up ^

Young, Liane, et al. “Disruption of the right temporoparietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces the role of beliefs in moral judgments.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.15 (2010): 6753-6758.

Catullus: A Modern Poet

Originally published on January 11, 2011

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Little is known about the life of the Roman nobleman Gaius Valerius Catullus. He lived during the late Republic, befriended many prominent people, and fell in love with a woman posterity knows only by the name he gave her. Enamored with the poetry of Sappho, he created the ultimate tribute to his major inspiration by naming his desideratum Lesbia.

Even within the field of Latin literature Catullus has never been considered as canonical an author as Virgil or Horace, and rightly so, but for someone interested in the culture of ancient Rome it may be better to enjoy Catullus’s insults than to study the idealized epics and odes of other poets. While Virgil, the infamous perfectionist, slaved away at his epic, Catullus cheerfully composed verses that reveal life as it was during the exciting times of the First Triumvirate. From the insult culture of this period emerged a poet who refined the art of satire and laid the foundations for modern poetry.

Like the poets of the twentieth century, who turned away from traditional conventions and structures, Catullus also found the classical forms prohibitive and pompous. He knew he could not imitate Homer, and he did not try. Urbane Romans undoubtedly found Apollodorus and the other Homer-imitators of the Hellenistic era as insufferable and derivative as modern scholars. Catullus is indisputably irreverent, but never condescending. He did not have the sublime streak of genius that separates the likes of Shakespeare, Goethe and Cervantes from the chaff, but his work displays substantial range and depth.

In one poem he may ruthlessly attack the femininity of Thalus or mercilessly mock Furius’s destitution, but in others he declares his undying love for Lesbia or provides consolation to the grieving Calvus. The poet who teases his impecunious friend also writes haunting verses: “Odio et amo. Quare id facem, fortasse requires?/Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.” (1-2) This translates to: “I love and yet I hate. Why do I do this, you wonder? I do not know, I can only feel it and I am in agony.

For further proof of substance one can look to his twenty second poem, wherein his critique of Suffenus’s delusions also serves as a critique of human nature. He anticipates Freud when he eloquently reminds his reader that “everyone is assigned his own delusion” (20). He is a scathing polemicist, but he is acutely aware of the universality of human vanity, and this prevents his tone from ever veering into didacticism. Moreover, his works do not contain any lengthy allusions to the alleged morality of the early Republic or dull idealizations of rural living.

It should be noted here that Catullus occasionally utilized classical forms, but it should also be noted that these poems are hardly representative of the rest of his work. Imitation is part of every writer’s initiation process, and while there are tidbits of interest in pieces like “Of the Argonauts”, they have not exerted a significant influence on Western literature. Catullus’s mocking style paved the way for Juvenal and Martial; it is not outlandish to claim the modern tradition of satire begins with him. Callimachus was a major influence, but his subjects and the way he dealt with them were quite different. One could call the Greek Menander as well as the Roman playwrights Plautus and Terrence forerunners, but Catullus is not writing plays, he is painting portraits in verse. He cultivated a potent minimalism that was not rediscovered until the late 19th century.

Catullus is not as shocking as he may seem when historical context is taken into account. He belonged to a culture in which it was acceptable to launch ribald personal attacks against one’s political enemies. The art of the ad hominem was proudly practiced by respected statesman like Cicero, who, although familiar with Aristotelian logic, found it perfectly reasonable to luridly describe the alleged lasciviousness of his foes. The political atmosphere inspired some of his most caustic remarks. He has no love for Caesar or Pompey. He refers to the latter as the “sodomite Romulus” (5) and refers to both Caesar and Mamura as “abominable sodomites, fellators.”(1-2) It is not surprising that he would be at odds with aspiring dictators like Caesar and Pompey. Although, he does not condemn all politicians; he has only good things to say about Cicero.

He is a citizen of a multicultural empire, yet he is acutely aware of the differences even between Italian peoples. He writes of “Sabinus aut Tiburs aut pinguis Umber aut obesus Etruscus”—“If you were a city man or a Sabine or a Tiburnan/or a thrifty Umbrian or a fat Etruscan/or a swarthy or toothy Lanuvian or a Transpadane(11). Yet seemingly in the same breath he speaks of Syria, Libya, Persia, and Britain as if they merely down the road. Despite its sprawling, all-encompassing nature, the Roman Empire was not devoid of racial or religious distinctions. This isn’t a stunning revelation, but because of the tolerance Rome normally displayed towards different races and religions it is sometimes easy to forget these distinctions still existed.

Catullus’s musings on religion give us a glimpse into Roman attitudes towards the Gods around this time period. He  calls Persian religion “impious” when wryly prophesying that a Magi will be born from the union of Gellius and his mother. At another time he calls his own gods “hostile.” One needn’t be an expert to know the Greco-Roman pantheon was not composed of the most caring of deities. It’s easy to see how, when faced with a cruel universe, the citizens of the Roman Empire sought refuge in religions that made better promises than everlasting mindlessness as a shade in the underworld.

While it is only possible to speculate based on the evidence available, one could convincingly argue that Catullus, like many other wealthy Romans, was an Epicurean. His disdain for religion and lack of sexual inhibitions could certainly lead one to that conclusion. It is likely that he did not adopt a formal philosophy or religion. He was, like Cicero, a philosophical eclectic who refused to chain himself to a single school. Modern poets, whether they know it or not, have either been directly or indirectly influenced more by this bawdy satirist than his more illustrious contemporaries. Their unpretentious content and terse approaches to the art are tributes to a relatively minor poet, a poet that many of them have never read or even heard of. Catullus, modest as he was honest, would be very amused by this state of affairs.

An Introduction to Trollish

Originally published on November 5th, 2013.

 

mountainttroll

Trollish is an agglutinative language with a relatively small vocabulary and an even smaller pool of proper nouns. Vowels exist, but in some dialects they are optional. Trollish has few truly abstract nouns due to the simple-mindedness of its speakers, but also because of the rich constructions made possible through agglutination. Although it is not known whether the uncommon constructs created by their bards are immediately understood by their listeners, or if the ambiguity of the longer constructs is part of the charm of their bawdy battle hymns and drunken tavern songs, the most skillful poets among them can create words composed of over three dozen distinct morphemes. They can be made more distinct through inflection and intonation.

Nehk-blathe-ut

Nehk v. Kill,
Blathe adj. Good
Ut n or v. Food or eat

Common Trollish is minimally conjugated and declined. Without any firm grasp of time, thanks to a lack of verb conjugation, and a clear grasp of how nouns relate to one another, one must wonder how the trolls communicate effectively during raids on Elfin and Dwarven towns. Spoken words are frequently slurred due to intoxication, laziness, or fear of appearing too pedantic to other trolls. Yes, bards may occasionally use the past or future tense through a rising or falling intonation, but this phenomenon is rarely observed in ordinary conversations. A guttural inflection may be applied to the morpheme within a word the speaker wishes to put into the imperative case. The pharyngeal fricative (the “HA” sound prominently featured in languages like Hebrew and Arabic) can be used to express rage or disdain. This is preferred over merely raising or lowering their voices. Like most stupid creatures, trolls have a fondness for noise, and like all creatures, they can only speak so loudly.

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Their tongue should not seem terribly impoverished to you at this point, but if it does, let it be said here that concrete words are easily transformed into abstract concepts (for instance, if the object is not within sight or may exist in the future; obviously Trollish does not have the philosophical sophistication of German or Sanskrit) through a rising intonation. Something more literal and earthy can be conveyed through a descending tone. There is bawdy wisdom in the speech of the trolls; there is wonderful blending of the profane with the sacred. Take for instance their word for vagina, luth. Geath luth: Literally, “axe vagina.” The term can be used as an insult, but it can also be endearing. How about geath-luth-blathe-kut? Literally it means “good food axe vagina.”

The speaker may be saying the female companion is good at providing food or he may be talking about cunnilingus. Trollish has never been a written language. Even the Orcs seem quite literate compared to their fellow cave dwellers who, though they have met with human missionaries, have seen no use for writing. Though they are simple creatures, trolls have devised a humorous and lovely language worthy of study.

The Three Principles of Immersive Speed Reading

marm

For many the term speed reading conjures up images of sleazy self-help gurus with the scientific acumen of the average marmoset. Yet the misconceptions surrounding speed reading, and general incredulity regarding its effectiveness, revolve around the erroneous assumption that there is a tradeoff between rapidity and comprehension, between the rate at which one turns pages and retains their contents. Like many myths there are believers who will cling to it no matter how many studies, examples, or cogent arguments are shoved into their faces. Or, if they are persuaded of its usefulness for some or most, may claim to be exceptions to the rule. If they are exceptionally dull, this may be true.  Speed reading is the single most valuable skill I have learned in my life. I would like to share it with as many people as possible.

If you attempted to read a book one word at a time your understanding of it would be dismal. If you attempted to do the same with a single lengthy sentence you would find your comprehension to be similarly deplorable. Does this make sense? If so, let’s us move forward. Think about a book you read a month ago, two months ago, or a week ago. How well do you remember the fine details?

Texts can be as bland or as captivating as one wants them to be. In spite of all the possibilities a simple sentence offers, the majority of readers, including many proud bibliophiles, find themselves perpetually staring at an Necker Cube without realizing a simple tilt of the head is all that is required to change the image. It is quite abnormal for anyone to bother dissecting the underpinnings of their own consciousness and even more unusual for their efforts to bear fruit. We give as little thought to the way we read as the way we walk or the way we chew our food.  Our perceptions are taken for granted; the categories of our perceptions, to borrow Kant’s term, are almost never questioned outside of hazy bull sessions fueled by cheap beer or overpriced coffee.  The epiphanies in these meetings are as painful as they are contrived and predictable. Needless to say, once again, they rarely result in any sort of measurable change to a person’s inclinations or abilities. There is no need for alteration because typically no glaring or life-threatening problems present themselves. Our reading pace seems to be set in stone because we take no pains to move faster.

  1. Use your finger. Use your finger to guide your eyes. Reading can be done in a purely visual manner. Tricky as it may be at first, it is a much more efficient way to get through a text once, twice, or three times if necessary.  Most people subvocalize when they are reading; they hear their own voice, the voice of the character, or the voice of the author. This common approach to processing text, I would contend, is far more exhausting than the alternatives. The first step is to hear the words as if they have been speed up significantly, to glide over them as if you hit fast-forward on a tape recorder, then, with time, you will find yourself scanning them without hearing a sound. Is your unconscious still making noises in the background? Probably.  
  2. Sensory integration is done constantly and learning anything can be approached in a dozen different ways, even if the presentations of the material are identical. Make these things work for you. Your brain, hopefully, still forms new connections every night. Plato, Tesla, Jung, Einstein, and a slue of others have waxed poetically about a universal “source.” Sometimes after studying a subject or playing a game we wake up measurably better at it. Occasionally this improvement has a clear and definite cause. Perhaps we learned a combination of buttons causes our video game character to double jump, thus evading the attacks of fire-spraying nematodes. Maybe our reflexes have sharpened. Other times it is not as easy to pinpoint what has happened.  Chess master Bobby Fischer said at age of 11 he “just got good.” There is no royal road to geometry, but if one chooses interesting content or subject matter one must learn for profit or survival, there is a golden highway to a faster reading speed.
  3. Do not underestimate yourself. With difficult texts you may find yourself wasting more time for the same return. The snail’s crawl may serve you no better than the rabbit’s dash.  Is this not the pinnacle of irrationality? The intricacies of what Huxley called the “antipodes of the mind”, which is swarming with strange thoughts and esoteric methods of manipulating thoughts, can be trusted to deliver consistent improvements.  I think it is safe to say all thoughts can serve as verbs, as modifiers in the combinatorial dance called creativity – cognition itself, really. What our mnemonic machinery does to consolidate what we have learned is normally beyond our control. Affirmations can help, but they often feel silly at first to many hard-minded people. In a number of essays I have emphasized the amorphousness of being. Books are an old and effective way of inducing trance and retraining the mind. Exposure to certain words, patterns, and structures, even if they are not consciously comprehensible immediately, pays off in the long run. Knowledge sometimes needs time to incubate. Have the boldness to seize knowledge, to grapple with it, and to persist in the battle until it has become an ally to asssist in your next skirmish. 

 

Latin Proverbs: L

aneas

No, I am not losing my mind. No, I have not forgotten about the letters J and K. The Latin alphabet does not contain the letter J and the letter K was rarely used.

Labor ipse voluptas

The pleasure is in the work itself

For better or worse, those of us who do not have trust funds are condemned to spend a considerable portion of our waking lives working. Whether we mindlessly chip away the hours by moving through predetermined motions, year-by-year refine our craft with the utmost diligence, or continuously attempt to break new ground, is entirely up to our decisions, our inclinations, and our aptitudes. The best meme is to accept work as a desirable necessity. Everything eventually becomes a job and there are always portions of any line of work one is bound to dislike or, at the very least, like a little less than the rest. If you can mingle play with work, that is wonderful. I see no reason for the false distinction between the two. Still, it is rare to find someone who enjoys the editing process as much as writing, and vice versa. Someone who takes pleasure in both is a rare and fortunate breed. Someone who can relish the expansive and fiery passions of an artist before subduing one’s self and one’s work to the coldness of analysis is a formidable mind indeed.  

Labor omnia vincit

Work overcomes all.

It may be difficult to imagine a swathe of wilderness transforming into a city or a grossly over or underweight person radically altering their physique, but such things have happened. When we begin a new job or hobby it takes time for the movements to become natural. Improvements in performance are not consistent or linear, but they are likely occurring, even if they are not observable. Try a game, any game, then sleep on it. If you have made a sincere effort you will find yourself a slightly better player in the morning. As many people know by experience or through even the most pedestrian of magazines, retirement can be as be deleterious to health as a stressful position. Occasionally criticisms are lobbed at those who identify too closely with their work. After all, isn’t there more to life? The answer is no. Work is a source of growth and enjoyment, at its best it challenges us and it allows us to make lasting contributions that can be built upon by others.

If an idle man can look back at his life free of regret, then he is cursed and blessed. He is blessed to know quiet contentment, but cursed in that he will never know the joy of creation. As Puritanical as it may sound, labor is the best way to sublimate base urges and to lose one’s self in something greater. It makes recreation sweeter and life more meaningful. Arbeit macht frei. Work will make you free.   

Lacrimae rerum (Virgil)

Tears for things/The poignancy of of it all

Life is precarious and precious. Meteoric rises are overshadowed  by tragic falls. Still worse, the fire may fade at a dull pace. The flame dwindles unnoticeably until there is no light left.  Distance develops, time passes, people come and go, although they are never completely forgotten. The scenes, scents, and spirit of each of our personal epochs and significant events remain with us, but becomes ever more alien as we, and our recollection of it, change. The hours wait for no one and when we stop to think we all can feel an overwhelming sense of impermanence. An illusion of solidity is necessary to keep us sane.  We can never hold anything. We catch a glimpse, we may touch it for a moment, but it always slips through our fingers. The tide comes to greet us, then retreats. The stars appear and disappear much in the same way, but no two nights are the same.

Sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi;

sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.

Solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.

My not-so-literal translation:

Here too are the rewards for those worthy of praise;

Here are the tears and the thoughts that touch the mortal mind.

Release your fears, your fame will bring you peace for all time.
rom and rem

Lupus non mordet lupum

A wolf does not bite a wolf

There is honor among thieve. There is a mutual respect among dangerous and disturbed people. Someone with a psychopathic mentality would be hesitant to anger someone they have pegged as kin; they know what they are capable of. Yet, there is a broader and less pedestrian interpretation of this proverb. Scipio and Hannibal, two military geniuses and sworn enemies, allegedly had a conversation with one another in which they exchanged mutual respect. I have always cringed when someone begins to say “there are two kinds of people in this world…”, but I believe we can broadly classify someone as an influencer or as influenced. Being an influencer is quite different than being influential, although influentiality is a key component. Unless the memes you are propagating are in some way original, or you are sending them out consciously, you are not an influencer. A celebrity may have many millions of followers on Twitter, but if they insist on reposting the same set of hackneyed memes that should have died out with MySpace, they are merely perpetuating the status quo. Originality, expression, and power are recognized by others with these talents.

Lux aeterna

Eternal light

I do not know if there is anything beyond the grave. While there are tantalizing anecdotes from many sources about an afterlife, there is no solid proof. I am an advocate for life extension and believe biological aging will be under our complete control in the not too distant future. In the meantime the only “eternal light” we have is what we do in this life. Knowingly, or unknowingly, we all play parts in a production too vast for any of us to fully comprehend. The blacksmith’s misshapen horse shoe may cost a general his life, an army their battle, and a nation their war. Each person has the potential to change the course of human history. Each person, in some way, has changed the course of human history. Your descendant may become successful because of the values you instilled into his grandfather. The chains of causation are complex, but unbreakable and undeniable.

Latin Proverbs: I

Domeo

Igne natura renovatur integra (Alchemical motto)

Through fire, nature is reborn whole

Recently a paper was published in a journal of evolutionary biology about the importance of mass extinctions to the development of “novel features and abilities in surviving lineages.” While extinction is considered undesirable and, mistakenly, uncommon (well over 99% of all species that have ever existed are extinct now), it is needed for rapid adaption. In life, on the large scale and certainly on the small one, we must change quickly or perish. We know mammals would not have had a snowball’s chance in hell if the dinosaurs continued to live and breathe. Joseph Schumpeter, one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century, recognized the criticality of “creative destruction” in the business cycle. Ultimately this destruction creates new industries that are beneficial to entrepreuners and investors as well as those they wittingly or unwittingly serve.

Imperare sibi maximum imperium est. (Seneca)

To rule yourself is the ultimate power

Who has not already said something along these lines? It sounds more majestic here since it contains two familiar root words. Raja Yoga is the kingly science because it allows us to truly rule ourselves instead of being ruled by childhood imprints, social conditioning, genetics (genetic determinism, while far from obsolete, can make people forget about how many phenotypes can arise from similar or even identical genotypes), and distractions from within and without. Seneca, one of the great Stoics, recognized a basic and undeniable truth: the ways in which we respond to situations is the source of discontent, not the things themselves. Managing one’s reactions is easier said than done, of course. Einstein famously remarked “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Since at least 50% of all quotes by Einstein and Buddha on the internet are apocryphal or deliberate misattributions let us take it with a grain of salt.

Ignavum fortuna repugnat.

Fortune disdains the lazy.

The Gita tells us action is preferable to inaction. Lethargy and listlessness usually provoke regret down the road. Overcoming them, and thus dodging the barrage of guilt they carry, is one of the challenges nature presents to us. Compulsive guilt is harmful, but reflecting upon times when laxness caused us harm down the road is ample fuel for any endeavor. Recalling past failures should be done sparingly since a large dose of guilt can lead to crippling depression. A bit of rational reframing is always necessary.

Inimicum quamvis humilem docti est metuere. (Publilius Syrus)

A wise man is wary of every enemy, no matter how small.

 The lowly butler can poison his employer. A lone lunatic, utterly disenfranchised from society, can alter the course of history by firing a few shots at a public figure. The seemingly innocent mail clerk on the bottom floor may overhear your conversations about insider trading with the other partners of your firm. The lesson here is not to be paranoid, although paranoia can be considered a virtue in some professions. The lesson is to never underestimate anyone’s capacity to help or to harm you. Since it is easier in most instances to harm someone than to help them, to destroy rather than create, it is best to give more weight to the latter than the former.

Improbe Neptunum accusat, qui iterum naufragiam facit.

He who suffers shipwreck twice complains wrongfully at the sea.

While it is not impossible to be cheated by circumstances more than once, it is suspicious when one fails repeatedly at the same task. It is a poor carpenter who blames his tools…and does not bother to replace them. Performance is an imperfect measure of ability and it is easy to confuse end results with the efficacy of one’s strategy. It is erroneous to retroactively deem an approach optimal, or even passable, because it was successful once. There is such a thing as dumb luck. It is damaging to confuse bad luck with failure as it is to do the opposite. It is bad idea to confuse genetic potentials with the methods used to develop them. This is why generalizing from a single case is an exceptionally bad approach (in general).