Posts Tagged ‘Peter Watts’

Then Anger Left Me When I Was Done

April 24, 2010

I am angry today. I tried to watch Michael Specter’s “The Danger of Science Denial” at TED.com. This post comes in two sections. I wrote the first section after I cooled down enough to analyse the video in its entirety and reflects what I consider to be several reasonable issues with Specter’s presentation. The second I spent most of the day writing as I watched the video. I do not think it reflects a reasonable analysis of his presentation in that it is more of an ideological tirade against a way of looking at the world that I find pernicious and annoying.

Section 1:
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The central problem is he pulls the switcheroo several times. He leads in with a supposed case of people doing something relatively harmless that he alleges goes against scientific evidence, then relates that relatively harmless behavior to an horrific extreme example that no compassionate human being could condone. If you have a problem with GMOs you are directly responsibly for denying African villagers a cassava plant that has vitamins and proteins that would stop them from going blind. This seems like a fake chain of causation considering that most of the anger over GMOs is targeted against one or two kind of evil companies (Monsanto and Novartis), and that neither of those companies is likely to be involved in such a project, but that doesn’t stop him from drawing that conclusion. It’s a somewhat confusing talk because he seems to recognize and acknowledge the flaws in his own arguments, then repeatedly tramples over them to make his point anyway. He recognizes some of the valid reasons why a person should distrust authority based on recent experiences, but in saying that public concerns are law and policy issues relating to corporations and governments and not science, he is ignoring the symbiotic and often consciously complicit relationship between scientific institutions, corporations and governments. The capper is his inflammatory language. He invokes shame and value judgments in a way that makes argument with his more dubious points seem morally wrong, not on their own merits, but by the associations he draws.

Ironically Favorite Line: “You don’t get to have your own facts.”

Section 2:
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All I can hear when I listen is the mythology of progress, a creation myth of our society with science and industry as its culture heroes, a myth that is ignorant of the real forces which have shaped our societies and dismisses the rampant destruction of our life support systems on planet Earth. There is no recognition that this myth of progress is a large component of what has pushed us to our present extremity and that when our environmental factors of favorable climate and cheap, abundant energy come to and end so will our progress (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2010/02/becoming-third-world-country.html). Likewise, a passing nod is made to the damage caused by our society’s sociopathic use of scientific knowledge and power, but there is seemingly no awareness that further developments of this power will be misused by the same forces that caused us to misuse it in the first place.

He aims to lampoon the fear of vaccines, GMO bans and herbal medicines as distortions and denials of science, while he lampoons his own absurdity. What are these petty trifles at the feat of our strange gods of war, industry, famine and disease, Haliburton, Exxon Mobile, Monsanto, Glaxosmithkline. Have we not reason to be afraid of vaccines when it seems the World Health Organization is in the pocket of the pharmaceutical companies (http://www.wodarg.de/english/2948146.html). Have we not reason to be afraid when we have no ability to control genetic contamination of crops (http://www.biotech-monitor.nl/4411.htm) and when agribusinesses can lie and distort the truth about their crops with impunity, to devastating affect (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ffv0cUpUF4 , http://www.i-sis.org.uk/BtCottonKillsSoilandFarmers.php). Have we not reason to be afraid when pharmaceutical companies can pick and choose what studies they release about their products and maintain unwholesome relationships with the doctors who prescribe their drugs(http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/jan/15/drug-companies-doctorsa-story-of-corruption/).

This is not so much a plea of innocence for his targets as an indictment of his myopia.

In the face of these affronts how is paranoia an irrational response.

I love this picture. To me it represents the promise of science, to understand the universe from the smallest to the largest and back to the smallest, to see its beauty and complexity while saying something profound and powerful in the face of it all. Science, or more accurately, the institution that we have constructed around that word, the universities, the foundations, the labs, the R&D departments, the very system of acknowledgement and recognition upon which they stand, does not fulfill this promise today, not in more than the smallest measure. This is because (forgive me, please forgive me) our institution of science is prostituted to the least among us, those who have given their lives in the pursuit of power and wealth. The CEO, the general, the career political appointee and those who have found power through religious institutions or special interest groups.

The development of the corporation, its structure and function, has been far more the creative force behind the evolving form of our society than science ever has. Science has merely been the tool, wielded by masters unconcerned by the scope and wonder of the cosmos, but by the mastery and control of that which they could own and profit from. This is what determines the course of scientific endeavor, not high minded ideals, but where funding is allocated. If the scientists should arrive at the “wrong” answer then the funding will move else where.

The institution of science, despite all that it could be, all that it might be, is today a weapon of control and oppression, used by those with power against those without. No different than any church that twists its teachings, the internal meanings of its sacred words, for the sake of power and political expediency. What of the power that science has give you, your car, your laptop, camera phone and the internet in all its glory? what of them? They are toys compared to the powers we have invested into a handful of human beings around the world. We have gone from free bacteria, inefficiently processing anaerobic nutrients to eukaryotic cells in the organism, furiously processing from the oxygenated blood stream of the world fossil-fuel-subsidized transport system and communicating over its fiber optic neurons. We have power within the system, but there is a master of whom we are only dimly aware. A master who moves the whole.

The very system of monetization that these corporations have engendered in their role as centralized banks necessitates the form and course of our society, its endless exponential growth and transformation of the natural world into products and services (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVkFb26u9g8).

None of what I have written denies the power of the scientific method If you seek to understand or control the physical world, but science is not free.

“Science is so powerful that it drags us kicking and screaming towards the truth despite our best efforts to avoid it. And it does that at least partly fueled by our pettiness and our rivalries. Science is alchemy: it turns shit into gold.” – Peter Watts

Watt’s quote exemplifies an ideal that even under the most adverse conditions the scientific method will, through its hard attrition of peer review and defense of academic territory, somehow manage to edge toward the truth. I think in someways he is right, but he also left academia in part because his work was being distorted, both by those who funded it and by the activist NGOs that misrepresented it to the public. For the record, I doubt he would agree with the point I am trying to make, or enjoy that I am making it.

Finally

Newton was one of the first great scientists, he was also one of the last great mystics. He wanted to know God through understanding the calculus. There is a false division between those who think that everything in the universe may be understood and controlled and those who think that the universe is inherently beyond our understanding and control. As William S. Burroughs said “the road to the Western Lands is the most dangerous in the world” and the Western Lands are not a pleasant afterlife, they are a metaphor for achieving awareness of the ultimate immortality of the spirit/consciousness, beyond form, and are thus completely indivisible from an ultimate perception and understanding of reality as it is. They are part of the one and the same that is beyond the power of my words to express or to reach. There is a point on the road beyond which neither your analysis of reality nor your fundamental beliefs will carry you. This is the unknown, the mystery. Eventually our fear and self entrapment will dissolve in the winds of time, but how and when is up to us. Will you fall into it or will you fly.

Forgive me for this act of polemics that I have committed. This attempt to colonize the minds of others. I am, to paraphrase what Alan Watts once said, like a bird whose nature it is to sing. This is the song that comes out.

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“Repeating the Past” With Peter Watts

April 14, 2010

I never cease to savour the irony in my enjoyment of Peter Watts and his writing. His novels and short stories are some of the most unforgiving lenses through which I have ever viewed the human condition, as well as some of the best hard science fiction that I have ever read, yet, in the right light (or the wrong light, depending on one’s point of view) they eloquently make certain metaphysical points that elude normal explanation.

An example of this is Watts’ very short story (a single page), Repeating the Past. The metaphysical question is why one might choose to enter the process of reincarnation and karma. The answer, because we never really learn anything that we didn’t live, or that didn’t become part of us. Go have a read. It will only take a minute.

PS Peter Watts was recently convicted in what seems to me to be a miscarriage of justice, if not the law in question. I didn’t post about it at the time because I really couldn’t deal with all the bad stuff I was reading about in the world. If you would like more information about his conviction, the trial and events leading up to it I encourage you to go Watts’ blog or view his new interview at Blogginghead.tv.

Peter Watts Beaten, Pepper-sprayed Before Leaving US, Charged with Assaulting a Federal Officer

December 13, 2009

Science fiction author and science commentator Peter Watts has had an altercation with US border officials while attempting to return to Canada from the US. He is being charged with assaulting a federal officer, which could result in two years jail time if he is convicted. The whole situation seems highly irregular and my bias and support are firmly behind Watts, who says he was assaulted without provocation after exiting his vehicle and repeatedly asking why he was being searched. Read his account on his blog here.

The National Post article can be found here.

The legal fees for Watts’ defense against the US Govt. could prove ruinous in his modest financial situation as well. Such is the life of a non-mainstream author who gives away much of his work. Many of his fans and friends have already donated to help with his impending legal fees. If you feel compelled to follow suit I encourage to you to do so at The Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund.

Just-in-time Zombies

November 21, 2009

The End of War Crimes is an amazing, mind expanding, read over at SF author Peter Watts’ blog “No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Re-reloaded)”. The article primarily deals with the potential consequences of new technology that reads pre-conscious brain signals as a means of reducing reaction time, e.g., your gun decides when to fire based on your reaction long before your conscious mind could even have made the decision. The applications are obvious in a military context, but possibly the biggest incentive is harder to spot.

“All of this stuff is disturbing enough as it is. But White takes the next obvious step down that road. Just as Big Pharma cranks up its prices two days before the new regs kick in, just as the logging industry finds out which forests are slated for protection and then clear-cuts them before that legislation passes, the military now has an incentive: not to limit the technology, not to improve its ability to discriminate foe from friend, but to deploy these weapons as widely as possible:
‘…international humanitarian law would create perverse incentives that would encourage the development of an entire classes of weapons that the state could use to evade criminal penalties for even the most serious types of war crimes.’
So whatever you do, son, stay jacked in, keep online, because zombies— zombies can never be found guilty.” – Peter Watts

Consciousness, That Which Lies Between Things

October 20, 2009

I just came from No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Re-reloaded). Go read Peter Watts analysis of a recent paper on consciousness. Both are superb.

I really can’t do justice to the source material with any commentary of my own right now, so I’ll just give you the link: PRISMs, Gom Jabbars, and Consciousness

“The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”

July 1, 2009

“We operate at many levels. A lot of those levels would be very, very inconvenienced by the experience of our ultimate identity.

Some people go looking for that experience, even put themselves through terrible trials to because they think that’s what they need to reach it, or be worthy…..

Most of them, even though they can consciously decide to put themselves through horrible things, haven’t done the work on those other levels of themselves that would let them simply be able to accept who they really are.” – Me in conversation with a friend

I’ve struggled with my soul. “Why won’t you help me! Why aren’t you here with me!” The recurring lesson that I have been dragged through again and again is that the conscious mind is a skin, a film, a surface, and that its decision to make the journey to its ultimate identity is merely a very small step. The real test is how deep into your real damage the conscious mind is willing to dive, to heal, to release. It’s very easy to learn some meditation techniques, some perennial philosophy, and to practice some compassion in your life. It’s very hard to learn those things then choose to dive back into the cesspool of what you actually feel and think, underneath all the nice things you’ve learned, outside the tiny spotlight of the conscious mind. returning to the metaphor of the crystal as the self, when you clear the darkness that is outside what you take to be your everyday self, you will have cleared that crystal which is your true self and you will see your soul.

If anyone noticed, they would probably wonder why I link to No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons (Re-reloaded), the blog of hard SF writer Peter Watts. I link because he conveyed the infinitessimal nature of the conscious mind more starkly and completely than any other writer I know. Alan Watts is a dentist’s pick, lovingly teasing apart accreted concepts and ideas, freeing new experiences of the self to take shape. Peter Watts is a sledge hammer, the textual equivalent of ketamine. I’m primarily talking about his novel, Blindsight, which he offers for free here: http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

Edit: The title of this post is the sub-title of one of one of Alan Watts’ more famous books.