Let’s start with the s^&* I can’t read anymore.
There’s a special edition of Nature on CRISPR that I’ve been dying to get my hands on. Now, I don’t do research anymore. I’ve migrated to another technical area. But I still like to feel that tingle in the brain from reading a collection of good papers. Like some high altitude f^&*s that I just can’t quit. So, thinking that the overlords of Nature had made this super important, not to be missed collection available for regular consumption, even if the papers are not printable and viewable only for the length of time for speed readers to make any sense of them, I stupidly clicked on the link and ran into the dreaded pay wall.
Here I had a choice. I could either cough up $30/paper or I could shell out $199/year for a Nature subscription. I considered the latter. But journals are like Lays potato chips. You can’t eat just one. Once you start getting into the citations of the papers, you’ll need to look up a bunch of them and they might not be from Nature. They might be from J. Mol. Bio. or Cell or something else. And there will be hundreds of them.
Besides, I need to save my money for the plumber and the toilet that is about to go on me any day now.
Toilet or CRISPR? Sanitation or gene editing? This is a no brainer, of course.
So, I passed on the papers and CRISPR and now I won’t know any more about it than most people who pay no attention to gene editing or don’t believe in evolution. Oh, sure, there are workarounds and I have friends who could probably send the papers to me. But that’s not the point. Journals need a new business model. A couple of years ago, I suggested that the American Chemical Society switch to an Apple iTunes model because that would make so much sense and would mean that independent researchers and geeks without portfolio wouldn’t have to camp on the licenses of their academic friends…
Wait, where was I?
Ok, back to the harsh light and frigid temperatures of reality.
So, to get my sciencey fix, I downloaded a book from Audible by Robert Sawyer called Quantum Night. It’s Sci Fi, and although a lot of Audible Sci Fi recommended books have been duds, this one seemed promising. The story is about psychologists and physicists researching the nature of consciousness and what makes humans sentient, aware and psychopathic. This book is like geek bait. The author talks about all the usual subjects on the topic of good and evil and psychology, Zimbardo, Milgram, Altemeyer. But he also introduces some new names I had never heard of like Angela Book, whose papers are behind a pay wall, and some French sounding dude named Rene Girard. The Canadian researchers in the book work at the Canadian Light Source in Saskatechewan, a place that is familiar to me because I used to send my crystals there for data collection. And there’s a bit of structural biology in there as well. I was happy to see that some of the crystal structures he mentions are available at the Brookhaven repository so I can download them to my last remaining visualization application. BUT I can’t read the citation for the structures without paying $30/paper which I’m not going to do.
In the book, the researchers find that the consciousness of every human being on earth falls into one of three discrete states. The first state is fully sentient with a internal monologue and the second is that of a psychopath who thinks like a predator. The third state is for a type of human being that theoretically exists but that I had never heard of before, the philosophical zombie. In the book, they are real and the researchers call them P-Zeds, because this is Canada after all. The theory is that some people look like normal human beings and act like normal human beings but they have no internal monologue. The lights are on but no one is home.
I know what you’re thinking. You went out with someone like that.
This is a work of fiction, so take that into consideration. I don’t know how such a person could exist, like I can’t imagine being color blind. How could you go through life without hearing a cacophony of voices in your head talking about why the woman on the ninth floor won’t accept your IMs, read your mail or accept your meeting invitation when you really need her information right now, and did you turn off the iron, and is it better to go meatless or fast on Mondays, and maybe you really do have a thyroid condition, didja ever think of that??
I’m not the only one, am I?
I can’t be the only one. Think of all of the books and poems and songs and works of art and Einstein sitting on a beam of light…
So, I can’t believe that it’s possible to be a functional human being without an internal monologue, who just looks for social cues to know what to do next. Then I remembered Facebook.
That was a cheap shot.
But the more I thought about this book, the more questions I had and the more it made me think about what it is that makes Trump voters like him and why some of the most resistant liberal Hillary haters are Bernie Sanders fans. I’m not talking about Katiebird or some of my own family members.
Off topic for a moment: Let’s say that you can’t be a complete philosophical zombie. Let’s say that you do have an internal monologue but somehow, it’s become suppressed. Isn’t that what happens in cults? That thing that recovering cultists call “the authentic self”, maybe that’s the fully conscious sentient self with a completely engaged internal monologue.
Am I the only person who gets a little creeped out when some religious person says to an atheist, “You don’t have morality. Without the bible telling you right from wrong, what’s to stop you from running around killing people?” Because when I hear someone say that, I think, the only thing stopping the religious person who is saying that from running around killing people is a somewhat disjointed collection of writings of late bronze age tribalists who bear a striking resemblance to the Taliban.
Really? REALLY??? You don’t know from experience and empathy and your own pain that it’s wrong to run around killing people and stealing their stuff and lying? You need a set of rigid rules and the threat of eternal damnation to tell you not to do bad things to other people?
Maybe philosophical zombies do exist. But maybe people aren’t born this way, as the protagonists in the book propose. Maybe philosophical zombiism is induced.
What if the mind is lazy and unless you train it, the internal monologue will seek the path of least resistance? Could that explain the number of Trump voters who have only a high school education? (There’s a recent statistical analysis out there somewhere that looks like PCA but I’m having trouble finding the link) Could the emphasis on conformity in some voters of a certain age also account for the tendency to be lead? Somehow, the internal monologue has been turned down from 10 to around 3. And how do TV and other forms of media affect the internal monologue?
On the left, can we see a turning down of the internal monologue in spite of mass quantities of Ivy League education? Does the emphasis on buzz words like corporatist, neoliberalism and DLC short circuit the internal monologue? Could the tendency of the left to blame everything on racism be indicative of a lazy shortcut that is actually making the current situation worse? I mean, there are definitely racists but not everyone who is critical of Obama is a Republican or a racist. Could it be that the concept of racism was used as a cynical tool to suppress the internal monologue by a bunch of predators in the “establishment” in order to stifle criticism of the things they were going to persuade Obama to do? I mean, it’s not like African Americans have suddenly prospered and joined the ranks of the 1% in any great numbers in the past eight years as they might have had a right to expect. You would think that someone on the left was looking out for them for all the lip service that is given to racism. Neglect of the consequences of the real thing shouldn’t be this obvious. Just because you use a word a billion times doesn’t make it true. Either we’re not as smart as we think we are or we’ve become somewhat brain dead.
Long time readers of this blog know that I try to avoid almost all news sources and have to pick my way through the printed page like it’s a minefield. You can do what you want but I choose not to expose myself to media narratives if I can help it. I’m almost hyperaware of every nuance, which makes me a blast at parties. One of the reasons why I’m not as into Hillary as I was in 2008 is because I think that someone in her campaign staff is tinkering with our lazy minds this time around and I really resent it. It comes through in the mail she clutters up my inbox with as well as some of the things she has said. Yesterday, she said something about how we should all “use our words” when it comes to protesting our opponents. I didn’t know if she was reflecting on her diplomatic skills that she acquired in the State Department or whether she was thinking about doing an updated version of Romper Room.
Ah, yes, I remember it well. There was the time when Brooke threw a rock at a kid who was teasing her in fourth grade and the vice principal told us she should learn how to “use her words”. But when Brooke yelled that math was boring her in seventh grade, her teacher seemed to be upset that she had “used her words” inappropriately and sent her to the vice principal who said maybe it would be better for her to remain silent. So, I’m not sure that the whole “use your words” thing is a rule so much as a guideline and that vice principals are authoritarian moral relativists.
Hey, when Donald Trump started to whine that his free speech rights were being violated, did anyone else immediately think of that scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail when the peasant was yelling about how he was being repressed?
Yes, yes, Donald, you have been fluffed relentlessly by the press who has a fascination with covering you in the same way that pressing down on a hangnail can sometimes produce a deliciously warm painful experience that must be repeated over and over again and yet you can be so easily derailed and stifled by a couple of obnoxious protestors who don’t like the way you are proposing to treat immigrants and black people. And Women. Don’t forget women. Everyone always does.
In any case, if you are going to a Trump rally to protest because you were paid to do it or because someone who was fully sentient was unable to talk you out of it, then I thank you for your service. No one goes to a Trump rally, surrounded by what looks like philosophical zombies and psychopaths, thousands of them, unless they are very brave. The money wouldn’t be enough for me. But I wouldn’t rule out standing on the sidewalk with a “Trump is a Jagoff” sign and a pocket full of Gogurt. That might be fun.
So, where was I?
I don’t know. My mind went off the track again. I have a chicken to roast and clothes to wash and I think I’d better check my email from work and that woman from the ninth floor just turned out to be busy but she could have been secretly dissing me, I don’t know for sure, and Crossfit costs $99 at the Y, is it better to get a subscription to Nature or get two months of Crossfit…