April 30, 2008

The Book of Disquiet, text 58

More Pessoa:
Each of us is intoxicated by different things. There's intoxication enough for me in just living. Drunk on feeling I drift but never stray. If it's time to go back to work, I go to the office just life everyone else. If not, I go down to the river to stare at the waters, again just like everyone else. I'm just the same. But behind this sameness, I secretly scatter my personal firmament with stars and therein create my own infinity.
Text 58
I think even behind the last sameness there's more of the same. Doesn't everyone secretly scatter their personal firmament with stars and therein create their own infinity? If not, why not?

April 29, 2008

Robot reassembles when kicked apart

This was never meant to be a robot blog, but the one above was also featured in this post on robots inspired by animals.

Mechanical features

What's inside, Elmo?

The pictures are from this site, which shows the mechanisms inside some toys. Looking at them, I can't help wondering what my mechanism is, not the flesh and bone, but the basic drives once the identity is removed. What the deep set animal nature is, without history.

I'm usually pretty adept at leaping on and off the hedonic treadmill randomly and often enough to keep things feeling good. But somewhat overwhelmed by work / lack of sleep / poor food & drink choices the last few days, trapped in patterns of narrow focus, the kind that make my eyes ache. I feel like I'm a few centimeters off from a comfortable fit, and the danger is that I'll force myself into place instead of letting the dimensions of either myself and / or my surroundings rearrange naturally. It's annoying to know that contentment, even bliss, is just a state of mind away, that the mental processes needed are beyond access today. So, a beer, a hot shower, and an early night, let things fall into place. I'm very good at dreaming.

April 26, 2008

Subjugate them all to his caprices

Trying to do half a week's work in one day [ahead of time], so no typing from me. Instead, far better for you, something from a short Voltaire essay called "Equality':
Every man is born with a powerful enough desire for domination, wealth and pleasure, and with much taste for idleness. Consequently every man would like to have other people's money and wives or women, to be their master, to subjugate them to all his caprices, and to do nothing, or at least to to do only very agreeable things. Obviously, having such amiable dispositions, it is as impossible for men to be equal as it is impossible for two preachers or two professors of theology not to be jealous of one another.

Mankind cannot subsist at all unless there is an infinite number of useful men who possess nothing at all...

...as for a private person of modest views, but who is annoyed because he is received everywhere with an air of patronage or disdain, who sees clearly that several monsignors have no more knowledge, no more intelligence, no more virtue than he, and who is sometimes wearied to find himself in their waiting rooms, what should he do. He should leave.

The Book of Disquiet, text 76

More from The Book of Disquiet.

Like history, experience of life teaches us nothing. True experience consists in reducing one's contact with reality whilst at the same time intensifying one's analysis of that contact. In that way one's sensibility can widen and deepen since everything lies within us anyway; it is enough that we seek it out and know how to do so.
Text 76

And you think you have triumphed

From a Voltaire essay entitled 'Character', which I can't find online.
We perfect, we mitigate, we hide what nature has placed in us; but we place nothing in ourselves.

[...] one of your passions devours the others and you think you have triumphed over yourself. Do we not really all resemble the old general of ninety who, coming across some young officers who were causing a disturbance with some women of the town, said in a temper: 'Gentlemen, is this the example I give you?'

April 25, 2008

Stochastic jerks

What other people do repels me. It's an instinctive weakness, 1/3 due to curiosity [what about another way?], 1/3 due to arrogance [I'm sure I know better], and 1/3 straight stupidity [mind is blank]. Curiosity, arrogance, stupidity. A winning combination, the kind that leads to poking bee hives with a stick.

I've been to gyms, and enjoyed getting into the subset of consciously healthy people, although, once ensconced, it's plain that there are degrees. For example, the leap from exercise to diet is often unmade by gym rats, save for protein shakes and the like. I see such people eating crap, which is broadly defined as not only junk food but all carbs, the basic paleoconservative position being that you should eat nothing introduced into the human diet after the development of agriculture. So, no grains, but a hunter-gatherer diet of vegetables, meat, nuts and fruits, although not the bred-to-be-sweet varieties of the latter. It's strict, and it's a pain to observe as it involves breaking many habits and being prepared for when hungry [appropriate snacks on hand], but it works, if you do it. Note: this does not mean, if you follow the paleo-diet and also eat carbs. The foods are not supposed to be an addition to your diet, but to become the entirety, or at least the vast majority. Losing weight, gaining muscle, saving $, learning a language, cooking good food. Many things are easy if you do what you are told, but what people tell me to do repels me.

You try - observe - tweak - observe. After some time you have what works for yourself. The Heath Robinson nature of my work-arounds. Ideally I'd make use of Dr Lilly's Metaprogramming, but the fact is that I shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the controls of my biocomputer. My first creative instinct, when I got into self-hypnosis, was to cobble together MP3s that put me under and then produced sex and psychedelic dreams. When it comes to tinkering with my basic system, I'm not to be trusted, but I still trust myself better than anyone else. It's my body, my head. At best I try to undertake the task with close reference to nature, following the clues it scatters. Try - observe - tweak - observe.

Nassim Taleb on his exercise regime, via Art DeVany:

1) NO MODERATE EXERCISE SESSIONS. Either too little, or too much, way beyond what I thought I could do –and no set schedule. Never have a clear plan of how long to stay at the gym. So I would randomly push myself –with output as powerlaw distributed as possible. It is a matter of bandwidth –The range of fatigue from regular exercise does not reach all areas of the body. I now spend between 5 minutes and 4 hours at the gym –working out harder as I get more tired. I spent several times 10 days without any exercise. But my total time at the gym per month averages less than I did before. And I have no routine, do not count sets, with a preference for free weights/pull ups/dips/pushups. Sometimes I just do pushups by avoiding the moderate number 60: either 10 or 350 –then nothing for a week.

2) NO PURELY AEROBIC EXERCISE –the separation is foolish & not empirical. Avoid listening to “trainers”.

3) FOOD INTAKE Eat no carbs that do not have a Biblical Hebrew or Doric Greek name (i.e. did not exist in the ancient Mediterranean) : no oranges (only citrus), no bananas, no mangoes, etc. Apples and grapes were acidic in taste, bittersweet. Eat nothing out of the box. No sugar, bread, pasta, etc. Avoid artificial sweeteners.

4) STARVATION: Workout while starving.

April 24, 2008

Rococo aloha

I work from Monday to Friday, but I work long hours, 50 last week. The point being that from Monday to Friday I wear dark jeans and relatively subdued short-sleeved shirts and plain black T-shirts. On the weekends and holidays I go through my wardrobe and always end up with the same thing, old Levis and Hawaiian shirts. I know it's somehow wrong, but coming from a cloudy country [England], to wake up in the tropics [Tainan is just south of the Tropic of Cancer], I a) feel duty bound to look the part, and b) just plain like it. Here's Mishima 'designing' his home:

As he explained to his horrified architect. "I want to sit on rococo furniture wearing Levi's and an aloha shirt; that's my ideal of a life-style."

Pure hypnagogic delight

History is the stories we tell about the past.

Tripping out in a cafe this morning. I was proof-reading, and running on boredom, tiredness, caffeine and hunger - a real state of neutral emptiness. I kept nodding off for a few seconds at a time, then jerking awake, and it was a good feeling I was getting into, pure hypnagogic delight. A sense of self and a sense of nothing, passing out and coming to, and in the space between them - a few seconds at most - getting into warm, gold light, supple bliss.

Anything can be accessed and created in the head - if you can think it, you can feel it, experience it. But it's hard to conjure up the right state of mind, to hang on the edge of sleep and wakefulness, to lose yourself but still remember things.

The fact of the matter is the world is a game of hide-and-seek. Peek-a-boo! Now you see it, now you do not, because very obviously if you were the supreme self, what would you do? I mean, would you just sit there and be blissfully one for ever and ever and ever? No, obviously not. You would play games. You would, because the very nature of a no energy system is that it has no energy system unless it lets go of itself. So you would let go of yourself and you would get lost. You would get involved in all sorts of adventures and you would forget who you were, just as when you play a game. And although you are only playing for dimes or chips, you get absorbed in the game.

There is nothing really important to win, nothing really important to lose, and yet it becomes fantastically interesting, who wins and who loses. And so in the same way it is said that the supreme self gets absorbed through ever so many different channels which we call the different beings in the plot, just like an artist or a writer gets completely absorbed in the artistic creation that he is doing, or an actor gets absorbed in the part in the drama. [continues]
Alan Watts
What is supposedly essential in me I neglect, run ahead of, lag behind, zig-zag and avoid. What is supposedly essential are only the stories I tell about myself to myself, when the key is to forget them all and only to be feeling.

April 23, 2008

Repost for Earth Day

The number of visitors is slowly rising, which is nice, but the main reason for me doing this is to create an easily accessible record of things that interest me, with the idea being that after some years patterns will emerge.

Anyway, Google Analytics is fun, with most visitors attracted by Pessoa. Since Earth Day was this week and few people saw the original post, I'll put a link to why the planet will save itself.

April 21, 2008


A tree near here, the other night
"By convention sweet, by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: but in reality atoms and void." Democritus

April 20, 2008

Dancing with Mishima

Unintentional [?] humor in the Mishima biography:

I have seen Mishima "lose himself" to the Monkey or the Watusi in the mid-sixties and it was like watching a studied imitation of a dancer; he always looked horrifying sober, though clearly his movements and expressions were intended to create the effect not merely of spontaneity but enthrallment. In any case, he was a bad dancer, uncoordinated and apparently deaf to music. In 1946 and 1947, when he was still a wan, emaciated figure, his jitterbug must have been awesome sight.
The studied mask of normalcy. When I decided to move among people I tried to learn their actions and enthusiasms, but it became tiring to keep up, and in any case I was bad at it. The fact was I didn't care what they were doing, but needed society for $ and sex. The life I've made out here is one that's been cobbled together out of necessity from various sub-optimal outcomes, but the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Yechezkel Zilber has an interesting blog on happiness.
Many times we feel that the world is highly irrational and sub-optimal (i.e. things can be done is a much better way). This is sometimes the case, but maybe less than as it seems. Our eyes are very misleading about it.

The reason is because the hypothetical reality (that is before any decision has been made) contains a huge space of possibilities. The decision and actions people take are usually relatively good among the overall space of possibilities.

But the decisions people take may not be the absolute optimum. That is they are not the very best set of decisions. But they are still very good.

After the fact thinking will start off with what decisions already made, and try to look for alternatives based on this optimized decision. Insofar that the decision was not the absolute optimal it will look like there are better decisions and the decision maker was a fool.

Suppose there are a billion possible compositions one can lead to by various combinations of decisions. Suppose further that we sort them throught a single measure. If the actual decision ranked 100th, it should be a great decision, but starting from there one will see that it is the worst out of hundred possibilities.... [continues...]

April 19, 2008

Mishima's head on a plate

When I was in college I used to have a serious idea that the first third of your life, say until 25 or so, was what formed you, the second part saw this bloom, and the last part was you dealing with the consequences.

It's not something I think about these days, but it came back as I was working on a project to revisit the authors who meant a lot to me when I was in high school. One of these was Yukio Mishima.

Perhaps I know now that he's more insane than cool, that his longed-for 'great cause' should have been his family or a lover, not nationalism and blood. But when I open anything of his the discipline, solitude, cruelty, and masochism draw me into that world again, a super-heightened teenage sensibility. I think I like his writing even more as I get older, and his style in general. Why not cut your belly open and have someone chop your head off after making an ill-considered, ill-received, and totally pointless grand gesture? Look at the severed head, above, he's smiling.

A few weeks ago I picked up a secondhand copy of Mishima: A Biography, by John Nathan [who knew Mishima in the '60s and translated his works]. It's my reading this weekend to break the run of science and psychedelia, to bring me back to the flesh. From the preface to the original edition:

In two months, Mishima would have been forty-six. He had written forty novels, eighteen plays, [...] twenty volumes of short stories, and as many of literary essays. He was a director, an actor, an accomplished swordsman and a muscle man [...]; seven times he had been around the world, three times he had been nominated for the Nobel Prize. He was, besides, an international celebrity with a famous zest for life, a man who always seemed singularly capable of enjoying the rewards of his prodigious talent and superhuman will. A few days before his suicide he had been planning for fully a year, he confided to his mother that he had never done anything in his life he had wanted to do.

What claims to be Mishima's last interview

April 18, 2008

Awareness of ignorance

A series of three lectures from David Gross called "The Search for a Fundamental Theory of Reality" [scroll down, April 2006], each about 1hr 40min. There's no math, the guy speaks well, and he won a Nobel prize in physics - three things that rarely come together on the topic.

In the third lecture [1hr 15min in], Gross dismisses the idea of progress in science being like peeling an onion, getting closer and closer to the truth. Instead he sees knowledge as expanding outward, like a growing sphere.

Since ignorance exists at the boundary of knowledge, more knowledge = greater awareness of ignorance. But, thinking in terms of the sphere, we can see that the volume is knowledge and the surface is ignorance, which means there is a net gain, even as ignorance increases. He ends the idea with this formula:

wisdom = knowledge / ignorance.

Now, I have no idea what Gross means by wisdom, but I like that image of learning. It reminds me of Nassim Taleb's point about Umberto Eco's library, which runs like this [lifted from a pdf accompanying a Taleb talk]:
..the interesting thing about Umberto Eco is that he has a library, and he has two kind of visitors. His library has 30,000 books, so two kinds of people come to pay homage to Professor Eco. The first category is people who tell him, "Oh wow, how many of these beautiful books have you read"? And you have a second category of people who realize that the value of a library does not lie in the books you've read, but in the books that you haven't read.

So really there's some people who use a library as a tool for self promotion or to convince themselves that they're very smart and look how much I've read. Basically people focus on what they know. Or, you can use it to humble yourself. Every morning you wake up you go down to your library, you have your cup of coffee and look at it and it reminds you how ignorant you are. So this is the idea of a library.

The isolation facility

Altered States, very loosely based on Lilly's The Scientist

Despite his smile, John C. Lilly isn't a very funny writer, at least, not intentionally.
He [note: Lilly writes his autobiography in the third person] disguised his true motivations for using LSD-25 in a research proposal "to see its effects on dolphins".
Later, as he becomes addicted to ketamine, he passes out in a swimming pool and almost drowns. His wife [Toni] and friends talk to him about quitting the chemical.
After several long negotiations [from his hospital bed] he agreed not to use it. [... However,] John felt that he had not sufficiently explored all the parameters of ketamine. He decided to do additional experiments on its long-term effects. For a period of three weeks he gave himself injections every hour of the twenty-four hours. He did most of this work in the isolation facility. He was not aware that Toni knew what he was doing.

Related note: Happy 65th birthday LSD, with the first accidental trip taken on April 16,1943, by Dr Hofmann, above, still alive and kicking at 102 this year.

April 17, 2008

If it's important, you'll hear about it [maybe]

There's a pleasure in following the slow leak of [mostly wrong] information, but it's one I ought to wean myself from.

From The Edge 2007 questions, Kai Krause, billed as a software and design pioneer, writes:

...if you have very large [software] task at hand, one that you calculate might take two years or three...it has actually become cheaper to wait for a couple of generation changes in the hardware and do the whole thing then - ten times faster. In other words: sit by the beach with umbrella drinks for 15 months and then finish it all at once with some weird machinery and still beat the original team by leaps and bounds.
This came together with some other thoughts. I have an old paperback of Buckminster Fuller essays, my only introduction into his work. The stuff in the book is from the 50s and 60s, and although I understand he was advanced for his time, and a remarkable man, what hit home was however much you think and keep up with things it goes out of date fast, and this must be true in every field where real advances are possible, i.e. in the sciences.

From one angle, keeping up as a layman is like following pop culture - there's always something new, too much to take in, and the best stuff will still be around ten, twenty years later. What's the benefit of working so hard to keep up? The idea is that you could sit on a beach and not read for 15 months, and then get all the facts in a day or so when you moved back to the city.

This links to the idea of not reading newspapers, not keeping up with the times, because if it's really important you'll hear about it.

April 14, 2008

Monkey orgasm button

More from John C. Lilly's autobiography. It's the 1950s, and he's put electrodes into monkeys' brains to stimulate areas and watch the reactions:

It was found that in male monkeys there were separate systems for erection, for ejaculation, and for orgasm. With an electrode in the separate orgasm system, the monkey would stimulate this region and go through a total orgasm without erection and without ejaculation. Given the apparatus by which he could stimulate himself once every three minutes for twenty-fours hours a day, the monkey stimulated the site and had orgasms every three minutes for sixteen hours and then slept eight hours and started again the next day.

April 13, 2008

Pills to forever

1. Ordinary life is sometimes boring. So what?
2. Eternal life will be as boring or as exciting as you make it.
3. Is being dead more exciting?
4. If eternal life becomes boring, you will have the option of ending it at any time.
Ed Regis, Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition, quoted on p53 of the worth-a-read Transhumanist FAQ

The above are the pills that Ray Kurzweil [aged 60] takes every day to help ensure that he's around for the Singularity and the concomitant eternal life. The picture and the following quote [from the reporter, not RK] are lifted from a recent Wired profile.

...immortality will arrive in stages. First, lifestyle and aggressive antiaging therapies will allow more people to approach the 125-year limit of the natural human lifespan. This is bridge one. Meanwhile, advanced medical technology will begin to fix some of the underlying biological causes of aging, allowing this natural limit to be surpassed. This is bridge two. Finally, computers become so powerful that they can model human consciousness. This will permit us to download our personalities into nonbiological substrates. When we cross this third bridge, we become information. And then, as long as we maintain multiple copies of ourselves to protect against a system crash, we won't die.
I had a post on this while back, when I was just getting into this page, and it includes more color on Kurzweil and praise for the very good post-Singularity sci-fi novel Accelerando, available for free and legal in pdf form at the link. I'm very, very skeptical, but I like the idea, and I like ideas to play with. But all my bets are on getting older and dying, on not having eternity to play in.

Liquid crystal under polarised light

From John C. Lilly's The Scientist, p82:

My fear is that my mission is motivated by unrealistic, imaginary needs dictated by my childhood, my loneliness, my inability to love, my essentially inhuman or nonhuman unconscious.

April 11, 2008

The Book of Disquiet, text 60

A long week that crept up on me like a kick to the back of the knees. The week after my birthday [38th] and it's like time has cranked up another gear. Anyway, Friday night, beer, more Pessoa.

I live always in the present. I know nothing of the future and no longer have a past. The former weighs me down with a thousand possibilities, the latter with the reality of nothingness. I have neither hopes for the future nor longings for what was. Knowing what my life has been up till now - so often contrary to the way I wished it to be- what assumptions can I make about my life except that it will be neither what I presume nor what I want it to be, that it will be something that happens to me from outside, even against my own will?
Text 60

Robots inspired by animals

Here's a New Scientist report.

If you want to read more about the last one [M-Tran], and you will, then you can here, with more movies here.

April 10, 2008

The Book of Disquiet, text 212

I was in Taipei last weekend, and went to the Page One bookstore in Taipei 101 for the second time. It's the best English bookstore on the island, although it seemed better the first time I went there, when I was so surprised that something like it was sitting in Taiwan, the kind of thing that makes me regret living down south. But only for a while. I like being out of things.

The first time I went I picked up Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, and have been very slowly going through it ever since. It's nearly all good, and the parts that aren't now will be later.

From birth to death man lives enslaved by the same external concept of the self as do the animals. He does not live his life, he merely vegetates on a higher, more complex level. He follows norms he neither knows exist nor knows himself to be guided by, and his ideas, his feelings, his actions are all unconscious - not because they lack consciousness but because they lack any consciousness of being conscious.
Text 212
Since that is how we live, there is really no justification for our thinking ourselves superior to animals. We differ from them only in purely external details, in the fact of our speaking and writing, in having an abstract intelligence to distract us from our concrete intelligence, and in our ability to imagine the impossible. All these things, however, are just the chance attributes of our organism. Speaking and writing make no difference to our basic instinct to survive, which is quite unconscious. All our abstract intelligence is good for is constructing systems, or semi-systemic ideas, which for animals is a simple matter of lying in the sun. Even our ability to imagine the impossible may not be a unique talent, for I've seen cats staring the moon, and for all I know they may be wishing for it.
Text 211

April 09, 2008

The undesirable frustrated

People are always looking, making inferences. I wear a hat and sunglasses in an attempt to reduce the information transmitted, keep my head in a book when eating alone.

Years ago, when I lived in London, I saw a 30-something man on a bus who was an all-out loser just to look at him. Bad hair, bad clothes, bad pose, a nervous jitter that marked him out as wholly lacking in confidence and overall just in a bad way, like success in any terms would never come to him, a disappointment to his family and himself, unlikely to maintain relationships with women.

Of course, he could have just been having a bad day, and I'm oversimplifying, but you get the point.

The thing is, that underneath the ill-kempt, nervous mess appeared to be a classically handsome man. Good bones and skin that just needed some color, and a full head of thick hair, and he was tall, and broad-shouldered. He could have had makeover and been taught how to stand, hold his face and meet a gaze, and after a weekend of intensive care come out on Monday looking like an alpha-male catch. Only an appearance, but probably enough to kick start real change It was odd to see, or to imagine I saw, how life and his mind had conspired to keep him down.

A few weeks ago I was in a restaurant [with my wife] and at the next table was a plain looking doughy guy, balding, with long hair. He could have cleaned up, but nothing too dramatic. He had no book to shield from assumptions, and he looked bored on a Saturday evening.

I jump to conclusions, it's how I keep myself entertained in the absence of conversations. I'm a plain looking bald guy who either thinks too much or too little, but the social contract has broken down if it doesn't encompass the provision of sex and love to people that nobody wants. And it can never do this, so things keep jittering and shuddering along, the undesirable frustrated until they can make peace with themselves and each other, find their own level and satisfy their needs.

I can never be without a woman for more than a few weeks without starting to go crazy. It's a weakness, but a very human one, and perhaps I make up for it by feeling no need for other friends.

April 08, 2008

Pattern recognition

Turing Patterns, "somewhat orderly chaos" in nature

Everything is Alive, a paper by Rudy Rucker, turned up in Google Reader today. It's seven short pdf pages, and here's a few excerpts.
Every object or process is a computation. My name for this thesis is Universal Automatism. Universal Automatism says the world is made of computations. [...]

In order to make Universal Automatism more believable, I have to use a very inclusive notion of computation. So I say that a computation is any process that obeys finitely describable rules.

Do note that, rather than saying the world is one single computation, I prefer to say that the world consists of many computations—at high and low levels. There need not be any single underlying master computation—no robot voice reciting numbers in the dark. Instead we are a seething swarm of little computations made of yet smaller computations. [....]

[My claim is] that naturally occurring computations can in fact have the richness of consciousness, for the reason that they are gnarly computations [or “somewhat orderly chaos”]. Furthermore, I argue that all naturally occurring processes are in fact complex enough to be gnarly computations. [....]

Every object or process is a gnarly computation. In many cases it's intuitively clear that nature is performing a gnarly computation: think of swaying trees, a flickering fire, the cracks in drying mud, flowing water, or even a rock. A rock? To the human eye, a rock appears not to be doing much. But viewed as a quantum computation, the rock is as lively and seething as, say, a small star. At the atomic level, a rock is like a zillion balls connected by force springs, and we know this kind of compound oscillatory system behaves chaotically.
Order and total predictability are boring, i.e. they contain little information and can be summarized very briefly. Total chaos contains too much information, and thus resists summarization. The boundary between order and chaos - "somewhat orderly chaos", in Rucker's term - is where there's enough information to be interesting, but not too much that it can't be summarized. In this passage, a summary can be taken to be an algorithm, which brings us neatly back to two posts ago.

The idea for the next few days is to observe and feel this boundary closer, surrendering to it when opportunities arise.

Big dog robot

Somewhat further to the last post, here's a cool video of the BigDog [sic] robot, with some other machines that learn from animals tacked on at the end.

Intractability vs Evolution

On the train to Taipei listened to an interesting talk about algorithms in nature from Princetown's lunch'n'learn series, which tied up various things that have been floating through my head. In brief, there are certain problems, such as folding proteins, that for humans [and their computers] seem to be intractable, but for nature are easy, instantly done.

Rudy Rucker maintains that everything is computation, that when the wind hits trees reality is the result of calculations that takes place.

Craig Venter is not trying to make something entirely new, but rather to find / decode what nature has produced and then to put the parts together in a different way.

The world has been evolving for a long time, and nature is really, really smart. It knows what works, it gets things done.

April 03, 2008

Away in Taipei

The flip side of talent making anything interesting is that the lack of it can make anything dull.

Fitness Video for Being Appraised as an Ex-fat Girl

This never gets old.
I love the transhuman fascist aesthetic.

Details on Wikipedia.

April 01, 2008

Body chemistry

John C. Lilly
I'm big on body chemistry. I used to get in bad moods easily, and they could mostly be traced to eating too much bread. Since I moved onto a low carb diet I've had zero mood swings, but yesterday I ate a loaf for lunch and by 4pm I was feeling bad. It was a good test of the system.

I still drink too much coffee, it's my one true addiction. I used to run it in cycles, upping my consumption until I got the shakes and then cutting it out for a week or so, moving back to tea. Lately that system's been abandoned, but I cut down by moving from a pot to twin Vietnamese drippers, a fast and slow one, and let my obsession with details run wild with new combinations of beans. Around the corner is a coffee wholesaler, and when I die I'll be riddled with caffeine.

My coffee use echoes that of John C. Lilly and ketamine, although in truth I show more moderation. He'd stay up for three weeks injecting more as the last dose wore off, and even shot up while conducting classes (albeit at Esalen).

Lilly with the Janus equipment, getting ready to communicate with dolphins

It's my birthday soon, and I got some books as gifts. One of them was The Scientist by John C. Lilly, the other was On Food and Cooking, by Harold McGee, and I'll be surprised and rather disappointed if the latter doesn't turn out to be more of a trip. I read about what I'm eating, drinking, and it's another way to become closer to things.

The many different ways of seeing an apple: culinary, nutritional, botanical, economic, chemical, aesthetic, metaphorical, and so on. The idea being to extrapolate as much meaning as possible from what's already present, to see things much more as they really are. But it'd be hard to do this without giving in to madness for a while, and then no way to talk about such things without boring the hell out of others and giving the game away.

The only [formerly] legitimate guy with comparable psychedelic experience to Lilly was probably Timothy Leary. Shuglin and others are names to conjure with in the first rank of the community, but Lilly and Leary are the two who are best known for taking too much, too often.

I read the two recent biographies of Leary, caricatured as the pro and the con versions of his story. In neither does he come out very well, more like a Hugh Hefner wannabe who hooked up with drugs rather than porn, but for much the same ends. If you look at them, they're like brothers, always the same big smile on their faces, and probably with good reason, but their aims and ends are not what it was supposed to be.

But then here I am, setting limits like a puritan. Still, a smile can be faked. It was Marshall McLuhan who told Leary to smile beatifically at cameras in order to sell his message more convincingly. But I don't like his smile, it annoys me like a commercial. It's the smile that I do when I have to.

That said, I came across Leary's 1964 Cooper Union address the other day and it holds up very well. Part of the background is that he's just come back from Mexico after an early experiment in psychedelic communal living. He's already way gone into the 60s lifestyle, but the rest of the world doesn't know a thing about what's looming. He can still be welcomed as a public speaker to a group of students. In this talk he's lucid, charming and doesn't oversell the stuff, while also kicking off the whole scene. A rewarding hour from another time and place.

Now Lilly is a very different character. While Leary went off and set out to become an international playboy, Lilly shut himself away in an isolation tank and tripped hard, and I feel quite an affinity for the guy, for his need to get further away from people and further into something else. Will be dipping in and out of the autobiography over the next week or so, and posting things as necessary. I doubt there will be as many anecdotes as with Leary. Floating alone, in lukewarm water, in the dark, doesn't really lend itself to narrative. But so what? Life isn't a work of fiction.