My New Diary, 10/6 to 10/8/2018

Infinity War
Avengers:  Infinity War

My New Diary, 10/6 to 10/8/2018

by Alan Carl Nicoll
Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved

{10/6/18}  Weight 218.4.

Curious way of waking this morning.  Last night I watched Avengers:  Infinity War, and this morning I was asleep but began thinking about Iron Man’s computer-controlled nanite (“nanobots”?) armor, and how Spider-man (who apparently now has a similar suit) called it “very intuitive.”  The details are not what interests me here, but rather that I was involved in this process of reasoning, and then was fully awake.  To be crudely anatomic about it, it was as though the cerebral cortex was “awake” before the brainstem, or at least the reticular formation.  Or, that “some systems” “came on” before “other systems.”

What is a human being?

This question interests me greatly, because myself interests me greatly, indeed, it is the question of questions, the mystery of mysteries.  Today I have a different answer—not because of the dream and the above speculations, though perhaps they are a part of the answer, but because I’ve been considering what chaos theory might have to tell me about how the mind works.  At least, I now have a different model-metaphor to apply to the mind.

Before I present that, and it’s hardly earth-shaking, I want to consider this “question of questions.”  It’s not well-formed.  It implies “essentialism” rather than my “models and mysteries” model of, let’s say, science.  To ask, “what is a human being” does not seem to be asking, “give me a good model of a human being,” yet, that is the only form in which the answer can be given or accepted.  To an atheist-humanist-scientific materialist, the concept of “essence of a human being” is useless.

So, that’s rather a jumble of ideas; but back to the less-than-earthshaking thought.

If I think of chaos theory (“CT”) as:  “if a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, does that cause a tornado in Texas?”—a question from the 1980s, I think—then my consideration of “the mind” in this light leads me to say, “the mind is a weather system full of butterflies.”  I had this thought day-before-yesterday.

Let’s consider a response to the CT question.  “What about the other butterflies in South America?”  Surely, the tornado in Texas has a myriad of “causes,” any of which could be singled out and called, absurdly, “the cause.”  This thought raises the multiple causes of Aristotle—“proximate cause” and “material cause” and so on—which I don’t understand well enough to use, so I’m a bit handicapped here.  But the point is that the metaphor is misleading.  The tornado isn’t “caused” by the butterfly; the flapping is just one of countless conditions that go to making up the full cause of the tornado.  [10/8/18  This needs much more thought, but here’s one:  to consider separate “causes” at all, it is necessary to “carve nature at the joints,” a procedure that is fraught with countless philosophical difficulties to which I’ve never given much thought.  Assuming that there is a best way to do this carving, we are faced with an array of potential “causes,” all of which combine to create the tornado.  Now, if it happens that among these causes there is only one that, if it is eliminated, also eliminates the tornado, then it would have to be the butterfly, if the claim is to make sense—the claim that the butterfly caused the tornado.  That, at least, surely is impossible.]

And so it is with consciousness, or “the mind”:  the mind has countless factors that all work together (in a sense; I don’t mean to imply cooperation) to make up a “single thought.”  Just as one butterfly cannot cause a tornado, so one molecule, or one synapse, or one neuron, cannot cause a mind.  Not by itself, but only in conjunction with the countless molecules, synapses, neurons, and other bits that go up to make the whole system in which “the mind” resides.  A tornado, like a mind, is a function of the whole system—the world’s weather, for the tornado; the body, for the mind.

It is this thought that I want to express by way of the metaphor that “the mind is a weather system full of butterflies.”

While I was watching the movie last night, at about 10:05 pm, Pablo called.  He was downtown waiting for a bus, and he wanted to tell me all about his evening on the town.  Well, at about 10:20, his bus arrived and he rang off with “I’ll call you back.”  At that point, I shut off my phone, so he would be unable to call me again.  He knows that I don’t want calls after 10:00, yet he violates my wishes in this whenever he feels like it.  But I wanted to finish the movie and go to bed, so I headed him off at the pass as I described.  [Pablo insists that it was before 10:00 when he called; he’s probably right.]

Avengers:  Infinity War is a hell of a movie, if you like that sort of thing.  My mother would have fallen asleep watching it.  To me it’s the ultimate of the superhero-movie genre.  I wrote about it when I saw the movie in the theater, though in looking back just now I see that I haven’t ever reviewed it; I’m not going to now, either.  The music, by Alan Silvestri, is great, too, and I want to get the CD—just not this month.  In the closing credits I saw familiar names:  John Buscema…I had another, but it’s slipped away.  There were about five that I recognized, in addition to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, all Marvel writers and illustrators that I got excited about while in Vietnam in 1969.  Comics have changed greatly since then, and no longer appeal much because I also have changed greatly.

Dark chocolate marzipan from See’s Candies

Yesterday, after buying shoes at Payless at Valley Plaza, I had some time to kill before I could catch the bus home, so I went into See’s and bought $10 worth of marzipan.  This was excessive.  While I was at the register, two middle-aged women came in and each was given a piece of “Scotch mallow” candy as samples (it was on sale), and they walked out without shopping or even giving a token lookaround.  They had come in for the free candy, and it was my sense that they had done this often enough to make them feel entitled.  After I paid, I was given two samples, in addition to the one I had been given on entering (none of which were the sale item).  This was unique in my experience of See’s.  I got the feeling that the very cheerful-chatty counter person was giving me extra because of the freeloaders—her way of token revenge.  So with the three free pieces, and the maybe six of marzipan that I ate, and the two Cinnabons and a root beer at Taco Bell, and the quarter-pie after breakfast, and an ice cream bar during the movie, that’s a lot of sugar yesterday.

The Kavanaugh confirmation is depressing, but I try to keep politics out of my diary.  I get enough of that on Twitter and MSNBC.


{10/8/18}  Weight 220.4.  Ouch.  Too much eating out, too much sugar lately.  [Marzipan gone.]

I have been keeping politics out of my blog, primarily because I’m not studious about it.  I watch Rachel Maddow, as any sane person would, and I get a lot through Twitter, which is dangerous, of course.  But really, all I have is my opinions, which are probably no better than average (an average in which I discount the opinions of those who have “MAGA” in their profile).  I am radical and skeptical, which are good things to be.  And it is not unlikely that I am not less competent than the average political blogger.  Yet I cannot believe that I am informed enough to be valuable to others, so I think it is still a good idea to keep politics out of my blog.  I do enough yelling on Twitter.  Not to mention (clank!) that my reach there is one hundred times as far as it is through WordPress.

“Clank!” is a thing I used to do often in my diary, but have somehow gotten away from lately.  It’s something I put in whenever I say something that I know is stupid, yet I want to say it anyway.  “Not to mention” is a phrase that refutes itself, because it is inevitably followed by a mention.

“<shrunt>” is another coinage.  It’s meant to express a combination of “shrug” and “grunt,” that is, my version or imitation of Homer Simpson’s one-syllable “I don’t know.”  It works for me, but I’m hesitant to use it in the blog because most people won’t get it.  Given that despite my 50+ blog posts I’ve gotten fewer than half a dozen comments, maybe I just shouldn’t give a shit about such niceties.  It’s not like I’m going to get complaints about it.

The “Tray-Cart”

I keep starting projects and neglecting them, or even worse, forgetting about them.  There was a time not that long ago when I wrote a note to myself to the effect that I needed to do certain things every day, like playing music, exercising, whatever.  As often happens, writing a note is a nudge in the direction of forgetting all about it.  Well, last night I piled on top of my recently-acquired tray-cart a few books related to such forgotten projects.  Specifically, books on the Chinese language, and Sinclair Lewis:  It Can’t Happen Here, which I’m rereading for a book discussion group.  Languages are particularly irritating, or something, because there are three that I actually want to study:  Chinese, German, and Egyptian hieroglyphics.  I am most interested in Chinese, though my goals are limited; German could prove useful, in that there’s a German Meetup running in Bakersfield; Egyptian is just for fun.

In addition to the books, I moved my dumbbells to a spot on the floor next to the tray-cart, and I even did my minimalist workout with them last night before going to bed.  I want to get a couple of other things onto the cart, and it was my intention to “do these things before I get involved in Twitter” or whatever.  Well, I’ve already violated that intention this morning, but I keep the cart right next to the chair where I sit all day (on those days that I don’t go out), and I have to step around it whenever I leave the chair.  So this is about as right-under-my-nose as I can put these things, short of keeping them on my ottoman or in my lap.  You’re going to have habits, so it’s best to make some good ones.

William James wrote some good advice about habits in a chapter of his useful Principles of Psychology.  I should reread that chapter and summarize it here, but that looks like another project…

This gush on Twitter just now is likely as close as I’ll get to a review of…

Avengers: Infinity War is more than just a movie. It is the Wagnerian Ring of the Nibelung of our time. It is Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. It is Picasso’s Guernica. It is a pinnacle experience that has such brilliant work in all the arts as to bestride like a colossus.

“It puts Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in the shade, finally, because it doesn’t have that irreplaceable movie’s cheesy Hollywood corn moments that make recent repeat viewings an exercise in fast-forwarding.”

Diary entries from 6/1 to 9/30 are available in this file:  link.
Diary entries from 10/1 on are available here:  link.

by Alan Carl Nicoll
Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
[Copyright notice applies to my text only, not to images that are not mine.]

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