Wednesday, 16 August 2017

#221 Seven months off

When I was working on certain projects, particularly if it was busy, which in fact was always the case... I was never not busy... now and then my boss would take a holiday. A week off. Two weeks... and... the difference that made. You know? It was... I'm not kidding, it was like being on holiday... because I could just work... and I always worked. I didn't... check Facebook, didn't go chat to someone. I worked that whole time but the pressure didn't come from the work, it came from the person, so when that went away for a week or two, it really was like being on holiday.

This year I've had around seven months off, more time off than I've had since I was four or five. More than some people probably have in a lifetime. So then, what has it felt like? Well... that first month or two, I needed to wind down. That was a transitional period, I think although I was in a relationship at the time, which was pretty new for me. It brought its own benefits and challenges. Then that ended... and there was about a month where... I'd been writing this book and I started editing it in January. Then that took longer than I thought, so the next few months were mostly about finishing it. It was... it wasn't really like work because the place was slower. There was no project. No team. Just a laptop. I'd drag my ass out to some cafe and sit and go through the text. Like, ok I don't really enjoy doing this but let's get it done. It became a slog. It was fine though, I mean I could do it. It wasn't a particularly hard slog.

I never wanted to go travelling or anything like that. So I finished the book and then I started job searching. A holiday seems like a strange word to describe it. There are fewer people around. That's what's really helped me to chill out and start to feel like myself again... because the world is so noisy. It's just so goddamn noisy and you notice that when you slow it all down. There's a lot of noise and you think to yourself "Where am I? In all that noise, where do I really exist and what am I in the noise?" 

You get caught up in everything and then you say "Well, that's life" but then you come out of that and you're like "Oh ok, that wasn't really life at all" I mean in a way you can say it all is, it's all something you have to go through. I also know that not everyone is able to take this kind of time. I think some of my friends could quite easily, if they wanted and some couldn't. Does it make a difference? I've still got several things I imagine I'd like to do, like everyone else. It's been good to take the break though. It has been a break, in some sense.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

#220 Compatibility

Growing up, I never bothered trying to reconcile my belief in God with my knowledge of science. For the same reason, I never tried to measure love with a ruler or ascertain the speed of light in a vacuum by reading The Bible. Frankly, any such attempts seemed pointless.

That may still be the case. However, some cheeky substitutions of the word God for let's say, spirituality and the word science for philosophy seem to permit the possibility of at least some common ground between certain positions that one might come across in each of those areas.

Take, for example, the physicalistic philosophical theory that our traditional experience of consciousness can be explained as a sort of emergent illusion. One way of elaborating on that might be to say that the reason we find it so hard to put our finger on what consciousness is, is that it isn't one thing at all. It's like trying to explain the blur of a lot of car lights whizzing along a road really fast. In reality there is no blur, it just looks like there is because our brain is taking in a lot of information and it can't pick out all the individual cars. In fact, there isn't even a blur inside our brain. It just seems like there is.

When I use the word physicalist, I don't mean to describe someone who insists that there's no such thing as subjective experiences, or that everything is physical. I'm using it quite loosely to describe someone who has higher than average tendencies to think about the world in physical terms.

I like this theory of consciousness. I like it simply because I find it interesting and I find it interesting because it's different from the kind of ideas about consciousness that I grew up with. However, I'm wondering how compatible it is with a more spiritual view of the world. The kind of view held by some gurus and yogis. Specifically, the kind where instead of God being "up there" and us being "down here", we think of the whole universe as a sort of giant manifestation of God, defining God as a kind of "nothingness" or "awareness" which is present in everything, accessible to any one of us and transcends all of the reason and dimensions that we usually equip when we talk about the world. I think words like pantheism/panpsychism probably work well enough here as a broad brush description of such viewpoints.

Not wanting to completely ignore the traditional Christian beliefs on which I was raised, to me they seem to tie in quite nicely with pantheism. Christians can often be heard remarking that God is everywhere. Many of them try to wriggle out of pantheism by quickly adding that while he's everywhere, he's not completely saturated right the way through every single aspect of reality. I regard their slimy quibbles as nothing less than outright blasphemy. Punishable blasphemy. I'm joking, of course.

Back to the physicalists and panpsychists. Would they agree on anything?

What jumps out is that both ideas completely do away with, or at least diminish the egoic mind, or "who we think we are". Both ideas offer ways of getting beyond the ego and our ordinary stream of thoughts, in fact they both use methods of logical enquiry. Then one goes off and meditates while the other learns as much as he can about neuroscience. The outcome, at least in one respect, is the same though: the realisation that in essence, we're more than just the thought stream. However, after acknowledging that similarity, I seem to come to a fork in the road. Acknowledging that consciousness is an illusion appears to disprove the spiritual understanding of consciousness as a more fundamental feature of reality.

Out of my own biased reluctance to admit defeat so early on in my little search for compatibility between the theories, I'm inclined to want to check whether, when the physicalist and the panpsychist talk about consciousness, they're talking about exactly the same thing.

I like the thought that there's a kind of base level of awareness that's deep enough to evade the sword of the physicalist, when he slashes away at the romantic idea of consciousness that most of us have grown up holding but I can't find any part of the physicalist musings that warmly accommodate such a possibility. Only a quick caveat that the physicalist evidence doesn't amount to complete certainty.

Now, when gurus and yogis talk about their own higher states of consciousness, we might see that as a step away from our own experience, which is in turn a step away from say, the experience of a cat or a dog. One thing the yogi has in common with the animal though, is that neither pays quite as much attention to an ego. Neither one participates in much undue worrying over whether its God is real, if it's lived a truly fulfilling life or whether its bum looks big today. Also, both might experience "what it feels like to be alive" differently than does the average person.

The physicalist occasionally uses a different word for animal consciousness. He calls it sentience. Does it still fall under the banner of consciousness which he purports to have explained? Maybe. I think this is the point at which I would need to read more into the arguments for and against physicalism. I may save that for another day.

Why blog about such things? My wonderings on these topics are likely to have been something that I have engaged in, in part as a result of a desire to procrastinate or entertain myself. Any leanings that I may have toward a particular viewpoint and even any attention that I have given at all to the above topics, probably has some reactionary causal relationship to my circumstances.

Therefore my consideration of the subject in general, much less any thoughts that I might have on it, for all that it tries to say about the state of the external world, might say an equal amount or more about my own internal world, appreciating that this itself might be a product of events that occur physically.

Monday, 14 August 2017

#219 A swan and a dove

On one of my typical journeys through cyberspace today, I came across not one but two splendidly perceptive works of non-fiction.

The first was a video called How To Feel Your Emotions by Teal Swan. I couldn't tell whether Ms. Swan had come up with the moniker herself or if her parents had mistaken Your Ultimate Guide To Garden Ornaments for The Big Book Of Baby Names.

Nor could I tell how a lady of some evident intellect had managed to find herself believing in the pseudo-scientific concept of vibrational frequencies but had also attracted an audience who tolerated and maybe even bought into her musings on it. Still, as she walked along the line between psychology and spirituality, I got a sense that some of her more sensible observations might have had some merit. Fruitcakes are mostly flour and sugar but they do contain some small pieces of fruit.

The second was an article entitled "It's a Postrealist world" on the website for The Institute of Art and Ideas, which I'd also found for the first time today. The article highlighted the prevalence and dangers of dogmatism among both the religious and scientific communities. While the article's underlying mechanics would be intelligible to a seven year old, the author had expressed them so deliciously eloquently that I immediately favourited the IAI website. I'd encourage anyone who might be entertained by a collection of free philosophical articles to take a look.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

#218 The competition

I didn't normally read other people's blogs. The undiscovered revelations that Sally's hamster had broken up with her or that Felix thought 18th century Spanish art was rad had never enticed me enough for blog reading to have become a regular lunchtime accompaniment to what was today going to be a toasted marmite bagel with cheese and onion crisps.

However, this year's discovery of Something More Weekly by a fellow blogger, who had made use of Blogger's modest but ever present "Next Blog" button, caused me to wonder just what kind of a world was out there beyond the borders of my safe little online home, so this lunchtime I decided to have a look.

Dead people. That's what a third of the blogs were about. I'd scrolled through around fifty or so and every few clicks brought up an eerily cheery family photo, the likes of which practically guaranteed that the page had been set up to document the loss of a cherished human. Browsing those pages was like tiptoeing through a series of cathedrals.

Excessive photos. Another third of the blogs were devoted to children. In their mindless devotion, approximately half of the parents had gone stark raving mad with the camera and had uploaded around thirty photos, many of which were of almost exactly the same thing. This seemed to be utterly binary too. Either the parents took a perfectly reasonable amount of pictures, or they took way, way too many. There was no middle ground.

Bad algorithms. You'd think Google would realise that half its blogs had either been abandoned or were updated so seldomly as to make them more or less pointless. There had to be some way of prioritising fresher, more vibrant pages. Alas, another third of the blogs I encountered were like ghost towns.

Irritating as the quite ones were, they weren't the only value-deprived blogs I encountered. Many people had written about such specific topics that their work was completely useless to all but the most boffin-like colleagues in their industry. Similarly, one man had written an entire page about the difference between an asteroid and a meteoroid.

All in all, I found the blogosphere to be a lot like outer space. Vast, desolate and lonely, save for the occasional interesting place and a lot of floating bits of junk that nobody had ever removed. I left the odd comment as I browsed. It seemed unlikely that any of the blog authors would find their way to my own page but if you're reading this Vikram, whatever meteoroids are, they sound nasty. Hopefully you've by now visited your physician and are receiving appropriate treatment.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

#217 Reading and writing

The tube rocked and rattled its way along the Jubilee line this morning as I clenched my copy of City AM and tried to assess whether any of my fellow passengers looked as though they might oppose my reading it on such a busy carriage.

I don't think I've ever been on a journey that was so rammed that I've not been able to digest an article or two. It sometimes required an advanced and nifty fold of the paper into a position that displayed only the bare minimum of the story in question but there was always a way to nudge it into view, no matter which briefcase was assaulting my knee or whose hair was dusting my shoulderblades.

I considered it unlikely that there'd be any news of relevance to my meeting. Gone were the days of tracking which insurer had bought which portfolio and transferred it to Malta. I was on my way to visit a publishing recruiter.

The fact that a consultant had even agreed to meet with me seemed a positive development. While the job boards bristled with accountancy, marketing and IT vacancies, writing and editorial positions were as rare as white taxis and as intensely fought-for as the same on a Friday night. 

I'd had a quick scour through the recruiter's website earlier that morning and had come away muttering about the scarcity of opportunities, as well has how Uber had well and truly ruined the white taxi expression. At least, they would have if I hadn't just made it up.

My new contact was incredibly warm and not at all smarmy, a quality that seemed to infect some professionals across many sectors of the city. Some outgrow most of the smarminess and morph into more palatable communicators but they never lose it entirely. Throw a few pints down their gullets or catch them with their cronies and you'll see it return quicker than a dismissed pigeon.

We each ran through our rehearsed lines. I discussed what I would be looking for and checked carefully for a reaction that suggested I was bonkers. I then asked if she thought I was, just to make sure. Her responses were promising though and I bounded out into the sunshine afterward in improved spirits.

Feeling hopeful that my CV might be filed under "spiffing new candidates" rather than being made into a paper mache sculpture for the foyer, I decided that the appointment had gone well and hopped back onto the tube for the journey home.

Reaching into my bag, I pulled out the now slightly crumpled City AM and in between grabs of the handrail, flicked around until I'd found the column I'd got up to. I might not have been writing the news yet but I sure as heck was going to finish reading it.

Friday, 11 August 2017

#216 Work ethic

Are you lazy?

At school, you did as much work as you needed to.

At work, you did your overtime

but that's nothing these days.

Yet it's above average.

Just like your income.

Nothing among your peers. Unthinkable for millions.

What is it to you?

and does it matter if you're not happy?

You haven't mastered life yet

but who has?

What'll get you the most

are the times when you feel like you should have tried harder.

Do those times bother you because

you wanted to work harder but you didn't

or because

you didn't want to work harder but felt like you should?


They bothered you because you let them.

Because sometimes some things bother some people.

Because you weren't happily pursuing something you wanted.

Or because you hadn't learned how to unhappily pursue something you wanted.

Or because there was nothing you wanted.

Or because what you wanted didn't exist.

Or because it did exist and you couldn't find it.

Or because you weren't looking hard enough.

Or maybe there isn't a reason.

You can decide on one.

If you like.

Just pick a reason.

After all, you need to have your reason.

Don't you?

The world wouldn't make sense otherwise.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

#215 Web development

In recent years, both my parents have asked me to make websites. Not for them, for their friends. I think that's the way it goes with baby boomers. After you hit twenty five, they stop doing things for you and require help with anything vaguely techy. Mine still drive me places but hey, car-sharing is good for the environment.

I mean less bad for the environment.

The best thing for the environment would be for everyone to kill themselves.

That's why it's best to keep an eye on what Greenpeace are saying but keep the other eye peeled in case they ever become too powerful...

I made a website for an electrician, which never got used. Now I'm tasked with making one for a landlord. The guy can run a small business arranging the building, maintenance and letting of luxury continental villas, yet he can't Google "How to create a website".

Fine. It might be good for me to engage with "the family".

I've been told I'll get a free lunch or something.


That should almost cover a quarter of the train fare.

Zucks eat your fucking heart out.