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Robert J. Sawyer: 1, 2, 3

 

 

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In the river out of Eden replicated and survived the first pieces of matter that could, unleashing a long sequence of ever complex adaptations and phenotypes, leading to self-contained danger-avoidant,  preferentially-optimising safe-deposit boxes that lumbered around carrying these vials of replicators with instructions on how to make more of such vial+box combinations.

In the arms race of the safe-deposit boxes, genotypes  made trees taller, giraffes longer necked, and chimps hierarchical. The extended levers of the genotype eventually reached around to designing safe-deposits with self-contained simulation units powerful enough to avoid dangers and preferentially optimise more than any safe-deposit box had ever done before (in the neighborhood).

“Minds” could remember the past, and anticipate the future, model other minds and game-theoretically anticipate the actions of other safe-deposit boxes. Holism came first, and then subsequently came reductionism, and yet later, the understanding of the tangled interplay between them.

From the 2% of the genes that formed the divergence from our ancestor chimps, man emerged gloriously after his Great Leap Forward with the shines of culture, and the Frankenstein monster-child of the gene, the meme. There was now an avalanche of tools, language, mathematics, music, literature, sadness, happiness, poetry, dance and humour, ideas of war, peace, colonization, racism, sexism, liberalism, beauty, progress and enlightenment, civilization and… morality.

The tiny blue planet was now teemingly populated with ‘valuers’. Matter had strange-looped around, carrying within itself messages about itself. For the first time in the known  parts of the universe, entities found meaning in “meaning”. Initial jubilation upon the discovery of the ability to reason gave way to an awareness of its shortcomings and limitations. With visceral and atavistic typicality, humans compared against their own towering fantasies, and dolefully discovered a cocktail of cognitive biases barfed up by their blind safe-deposit-box-maker. Physical abilities drag baggages of primate ancestories, and mental makeup and brains throwback to our ancestors from reptilian times to our hunter-gatherer Dunbar tribe ESSes, to current postindustrial post-postmodern ethos.

Amidst the victories and falls from grace, the chimp within the man grows smaller, as he spreads for that gigantic sprawl, and in him burns the flicker of the flame that the universe accidentally but inexorably lit to shine some light on itself. Through man-made “words” such as “economics”, “peace”, “love”, “future”, “nuclear”, “environmental-danger”, “evolving to extinction”, “Drake’s equation“: man makes “sense” of the human condition to effectively try extend beyond it, as we “teme” up to dream of creating our own Frankenstein monster and other dreams to come.

The flicker may be headed for a wimpy extinction. Or an inglorious explosive annihilation. Or perhaps the seeds have been sown for a long eventful march all the way toward the heat death of the u.

Meanwhile, oblivious or regardless of the ambiguity of the understanding of understanding of uncertain futures and false certainties of what will be written in its blank pages; and incomplete grasps of incompletenesses in “frameworks” that only make sense to a colony of cells that have a human-evolutionary history, another “revolution” of the blue-orb is complete on its dutiful sojourn around this rather unremarkable much-larger-but-yet-insignificantly-tiny yellow-orb, thereabouts where the embers were lit through evolutionary-kisses-of-death from our parent-stardust, and this colony of cells in front of “my” monitor tells this tale to other colonies of cells in front of other monitors, changing their simulation architectures by a wee bit, influencing their futures by a wee-er bit. In characteristically defiant, intrepid, raucous dignity – the.man.burns.

*Apologize for the gender-specific-language. Man=man&woman.

We live in a society that values and prioritises social bonding, while providing lip service to intellectualism (and often times deploring it).

Seemingly intellectual questions are asked and tackled in social settings. However, the main purpose of such transactions appears to be a collective indulgence in the emotions evoked by probing areas of the brain (mind) *, analogous to the communal eating of a chocolate cake. Favoured questions are of the kind “What is true (sic**) love?”, which offer maximum juice from squeezing the touchy-feely centres of a mind. The name of the game is to play with the cognitive tools that are at our disposal to engage in a joyful (not necessarily pleasurable) wallowing in the titillations*** provoked by the analysis, and there is no actual effort to get at an answer. For example, if a deviant offers a fundamental neuroscientific attempt to honestly answer the above question, he/she is cast as a killjoy (- which demonstrates the game-nature of the transaction.)

This norm leads to positive reinforcement of social bonding at the cost of intellectual integrity ****. People routinely* demonstrate tendencies to form social bonds. It doesn’t take much (little things like shared gossip, sense of humour, fashion-sense, common joke-targets, willingness to participate in fake discussions such as the above and so on) to establish and sustain a social bond. Intellectual support structures are a lot rarer to come by*****.

Intellectual integrity consists in sticking your neck out, saying something that you are honestly attempting to explore and understand to your best capability. It consists in saying things which are extremely likely to be misconstrued, and while knowing this factoid as well. It consists in saying things that reflect your best expression of your current understanding, which may be exposed as untrue upon further deliberation and fact-seeking (aka google-searching). It consists in saying unpopular things that you hold true, and in losing the popularity contest of social bonding.

Not saying something meaningful – for it cannot be backed up by a mountain of data, or maybe disproved later, or it takes away social brownie points, or it is (“only”) a (meaningful) generalization – is losing perspective of this.

* Generalizations are not evil. Generalizations are intended to convey information, and to encourage thinking along a direction. It is valueless to point out that generalizations have exceptions.
** “the real world”, “true happiness”, “true friendship” — these and scores of similar loosely used terms (very often, incorrectly*) assume i. the existence of their opposites, and ii. your compliance in accepting point i.
*** Use of written language is another example. Some writers get so lost in their wallowing in the ornamental possibilities that a language offers, that they pay a lot of attention to asking high-flying questions and setting up beautiful sounding phraseology and conundrums, and lose track of meanings that need to be conveyed. This is equivalent to getting charmed by the gift-wrapper, and never getting to the (presumably more valuable) present within.
**** Social bonding and intellectual integrity are not inherently at odds. It is the transactions we set up, and the attitudes we adopt that make it appear that way.
***** Intellectual support when offered is rarely recognized, is spurned, viewed as threatening, evangelical, hubristic, or offered for ulterior purposes such as status-building.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. ” – Gandalf

We go to the gym. We work out. We don’t work out. We complain about not working out. We eat. We don’t, and starve for no reason. We talk about eating good food. We talk about eating bad food. We complain about poor service in restaurants.

We prepare for the future. We are impetuous. We are selfish. We aim to please others. We think nobody notices our flagrantly whimsical behaviour.

We say grandiose things. We ask profound questions. We ask inane questions. We claim to speak for humanity. For women. For people of our kind. For people of the other kind. We are all supposed to have commonalities that connect us like threaded beads on a lace. We are all supposed to be different and unique.

We define ourselves. These are the movies we like. This is the music we listen to. We are financially responsible for our dads told us that’s a sign of character. Character is important, now. We carry the burden of our past on our shoulders. We mother and smother our friends. We are confident, and the Red Sea parts for us.

We spray perfumes on ourselves. We have our fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist of fashion.

We are entitled to several things. Dignity. Love. Happiness. Universal brotherhood. That sort of stuff. Our pet peeves. We are to be treated with respect. These are important things. We get misty eyed over these ideas. We are smart. We are entitled to position and status. We are poor. We are entitled to social welfare. We are well read. We are entitled to a finer level of awareness. We are inexperienced. The universe owes us experience.

Things don’t work out for us. The world owes us one. Things do work out. We deserve that. We form communities. The world owes us that of course. We are entitled to get invited everywhere. Everyone is. We are someone. Hence so. To sad movies where we can shed tears and console each other. We are entitled to get mad at anyone when we are in a bad mood.

We are reclusive. We don’t socialize. It is because no one lives up to expectations. Just us. We do of course. Even when we don’t.

We say things out of line, randomly. Overreachingly. Out of scope. Inarticulately. Irrelevantly. Irreverantly. Uncontainedly and incoherently. Immaturely.

We hold consistent opinions. We have faith in several things. Don’t call us on that. It is a free country though. We believe in them because they make us warm inside. We believe in them because they are true. We don’t know that of course. No one does. But then again they must be true, why else would we believe in them?

or
How to get pissed off at anybody, anytime and come out feeling self-righteous and superior.

Genius is 99% perspiration. First and foremost, it is necessary to strengthen the fundamentals on which you will act on taking offence, in your spare time – *before an offence-taking situation arises*. Offence-taking par excellence is never a spur of the moment thing, and the actual taking of the offence is the final product, the coup de grâce, the tip of the iceberg for masters of the craft. The cherry tree has to be planted and watered and so on before a president-to-be may chop it down, or not, for historians to argue over. So get to work offline on constantly strengthening the fundamentals every practising offence-taker worth his/her salt ought to know, in order to rise from excellent offence-taking to superlative, and even beyond – to take some truly sublime offence:

i. Never work on resolving your anger issues. Bottle up your grudges and be a veritable pressure-cooker of venom waiting to spout.

ii. Strengthen your pattern recognition skills. Your skill or it’s absence for sweeping generalization and identification with a kind may make the difference between taking good hot-under-the-collar offence and lukewarm offence. Or between taking offence at all or not for that matter. You’ll see how this matters later in the post.

iii. Perform exercises that screw with your reading and listening comprehension. The reason for this critical inability will become clear below as well. Read a book backwards, or upside down. Read every odd numbered word, or even better – read words in the prime-numbered sequence. While listening to somebody, sing “If I were a rich man, Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum” to yourself. In a loop. Badly.

iv. Reinforcement: Once every week or so, set aside a half hour to go over a previous offence-taking experience. How would you rate the offence taken? Good? Mediocre? Remember, what is measured, improves. What were the circumstances? What would you do differently if you were given a fresh chance to take offence? What would you keep unchanged? Go back to the righteous indignation you felt then. Has it diminished subsequently? Do you still feel as superior? If not, why? Go after the details. What word or phrase specifically made you take offence? What colour was the underside of the dog that scratched disgustingly in the corner? The question words are your friends. Remember what Kipling said:

“I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who. ”

v. Prepare your comebacks. Few would contest the fact that the best part of taking offence is in the ad hominem insults you throw at the fellow that tickled your delicate underbelly. Prepare these in advance. This should not be very hard, since the more irrelevant your insults are, the more satisfying they’re bound to be. For yourself. So “You say that because your momma’s a goat!” is pretty good. If you want to be a bit classier (but less impactful), you may choose “… cuz your momma’s a coat!” instead. Now, that has the added advantage that people may think you read Kafka in your spare time away from preparing insults.

Once you have equipped your arsenal, be on the lookout for occasions to take offence. Now, this needn’t necessarily depend too much on the content of what somebody says or writes. Just choose your offender and go gung-ho.

The process needs to be as follows. Quickly pick keywords in the potentially offensive text that may help you label yourself and the offender. The sky is the limit for these keywords. Third-world, developed, coloured, non-native, red, blue, porcupine, concubine, young, old, monotheistic, toad-to-be-a-prince-upon-kissing, man, woman, feminist, misogyny, polyandry and so on. The idea is to pick a label that you may identify with, in your mind; but not the offender — only in your mind. Now, dig into your deep anger reserves and dish out some vitriolic hatred. This is where your toil-by-the-midnight-oil training comes in handy. The key to taking fine offence is in the speed with which you go from labeling to generalization to cranking up the anger machine. This is exactly where your inabilities in comprehension will help. The more time you spend in understanding what was said, and the more you comprehend it, the less offence you’ll get to take. So be swift and decisive. Now it’s payoff time. Ready an ad hominem insult from your arsenal, customize it to fit within the labeling framework to make it sound related to what was said (but only ambiguously so to come off sounding intelligent), and fire! Go home with hard-earned high-quality righteous indignation for standing up for your beliefs.

Example: Him: “The Aerosmith concert was too long”. Churn. Swirl. Whip. You: “That’s because you are getting too long in the tooth!”. Touché.

May you take some fine premium quality offence. May people point your way reverentially and say “There walks the taker of great offences!”. May your friends be patient and your evenings grumpy. Om Shantih Shantih Shantih.