Mind Matters

The Commodification Problem, Universal Basic Assets, & Social Innovations

Hello, wherever you are -

Overview:

  1. I published a new essay - The Commodification Problem: Writing, Markets, & Individuation.

  2. Universal Basic What? From income to assets. Douglas Rushkoff & Mariana Mazzucato on going deeper than handouts, moving from UBI to UBAssets, and a look into Social Wealth Funds.

  3. Comparing technological innovations and social innovations.


New Essay: The Commodification Problem: Writing, Markets, & Individuation

The internet flattened the publishing landscape. Publishing writing to a sizable audience used to require a lengthy & expensive process of production and distribution. Now, anyone with internet access and an idea can publish to a global audience with zero marginal costs.

As illustrated by Lawrence Yeo:

Great! … right?

The market for writing used to be separate from the act of writing. Now, we’re increasingly writing from inside the market. Writers still in their earliest, most impressionable stages of learning how to write are plugged in to immediate feedback loops - whether through personal blogs, newsletters, Medium, Twitter feeds, and the like. There are undeniable benefits to this publish-as-you-learn style writing; feedback is a swift teacher.

But as the metrics of digital engagement become our writing mentors, we should ask: who’s really teaching us, and what are we learning?

These feedback loops extend from existing consumer preferences. They aren’t the preferences of highly-trained writers, or literary veterans, but a grab bag of internet users. The feedback loops teach an alignment between productive imagination and consumptive desires. They teach creators to produce what consumers want. What consumers are willing to pay for - in money or attention - implicitly sculpting the taste of creators themselves.

The ability to write in ways that consumers want, that generates engagement, is very helpful for writing as a commodity form. If you’re writing to build an audience (ultimately as a resource), to sell a product, to market a brand, then learning this kind of writing that meets mass-market preferences is invaluable.

But we intuitively recognize commodity writing as a different form than writing as a craft, or a psycho-technology for individuation. “They’re just in it for the money”, we might scoff. And this is really my point, my apprehension about this whole world of digital writing:

I worry that taste itself is being commodified, and writing is just the latest bastion of individuation to give way.

As writing becomes an increasingly commodifiable form, as markets for writing become omnipresent and easily accessible, the standardizing force of market dynamics threaten to wash over the stylistic indiosyncrasies that develop best in the solitude of one’s own taste.

I’ll finish with a passage from the essay:

Writing is a psychedelic practice, in that it is literally ‘mind manifesting’. Each word concretizes your otherwise nebulous haze of conscious experience. Words get absorbed by the page or screen in front of you, into an ongoing construction of a linguistic mirror held up to your interior world. Writing well is the skill to construct a good, faithful mirror. The mirror becomes a perceptible object in the world, as if ideas are liquid in the mind, but freeze as they spill out. You can then react to these frozen shards of your own experience, respond to them, and so yourself, converting more of that inexhaustible liquid nebulosity into concretized ideas, spiraling into deeper and deeper engagement with yourself. 

To commodify this process is to manifest yourself in utilitarian terms, to give a marketable shape to the freezing, and so making, of your own mind. This is why talk about the kind of consciousness today’s global, electronic capitalism is producing isn’t all metaphorical. The tendency towards commodifying increasingly intimate areas of our lives - especially those contemplative practices through which we explore our own potentialities, or interior nebulosity - is literally recreating us in the image of the market. We manifest our interior worlds in such ways that they might generate healthy returns on investment. 

We create ourselves in order to sell ourselves and earn the living we so inexplicably awaken to, and so precariously maintain.”

Read the Full Essay Here


Universal Basic What? From Income to Assets

As you may know, I’m big on the prospects of something like UBI to incite, and democratize, our collective capacity to do more interesting and valuable things with our lives than merely earn our livings. But there’s a lot of thoughtful critique about UBI out there, and UBI alone might do more harm than good.

On one hand, I do think UBI would enable us to restructure our time-use, and the dynamics we do (or don’t) participate in, which might be a strong catalyst in remaking how we live. On the other hand, critics like Douglas Rushkoff seem right. UBI alone would hardly change the subterranean economic architecture:

“UBI…obviates the need for people to consider true alternatives to living lives as passive consumers…if Silicon Valley’s UBI fans really wanted to repair the economic operating system, they should be looking not to universal basic income but universal basic assets…The only meaningful change we can make to the economic operating system is to distribute ownership, control, and governance of the real world to the people who live in it.”

Concentrated assets act like planets in space. With enough mass, enough asset concentration, spacetime warps towards them. Wherever you place or redistribute things in the system, it all inevitably flows back towards the center, the concentrated assets.

Especially at the top, income is largely a downstream effect of asset ownership. Change needs to reach as far upstream as possible.

There’s a lot of high-level work in support of this thinking. Here’s a clip of University College London professor Mariana Mazzucato echoing Rushkoff’s concern (should begin at 53:02):

Elsewhere, she writes:

“…instead of Universal Basic Income (UBI), which is a ‘handout’ that the Silicon Valley wealth creators like to support, how about a dividend for users who helped create the wealth in the first place?”

A 2016 paper by Thomas Piketty & co. on distribution and inequality concludes:

“In our view, the main conclusion is that the policy discussion should focus on how to equalize the distribution of primary assets, including human capital, financial capital, and bargaining power, rather than merely ex-post redistribution.”

UBI is ex-post redistribution, while a dividend received from something like UBAssets is what Mazzucato calls pre-distribution - operating further upstream, or deeper in the societal ‘source code’ as Rushkoff likes to say.

The best work I’ve found on developing how UBA might actually work is being done by Matt Bruenig. He’s put together a proposal from front to back on how to implement UBA. His opening thesis:

“In this paper, I propose that the US government tackle the problem of wealth inequality by creating a social wealth fund (swf) and issuing one share of ownership in the fund to every American. After the fund is created, the government will gradually accumulate assets for the fund to manage, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. As the assets under management increase, the value of the shares held by the citizen-owners will increase, causing wealth inequality to fall. Although the citizen-owners will not be permitted to sell their shares, they will be paid a universal basic dividend (ubd) each year from the investment income earned by the fund.”

In it, he details everything from the motivation for the project, existing programs we can learn from, and how to create, invest in, and manage the fund.

He even includes a visualization of what it might look like for an individual to access a dashboard of their stake in the fund from their iPhone:

If you’re interested, check out the full proposal:

Read Full Paper


Technological Innovations -> Social Innovations

Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen recently published an essay titled How can we develop transformative tools for thought? In it, they describe their work:

“The work is really about exploration of an open-ended question: how can we develop tools that change and expand the range of thoughts human beings can think?"

Such is the mentality of technological innovations - searching for new tools that’d plug into the existing social matrix, and unlock previously inaccessible potentialities.

I’m interested in the same outcome - changing & expanding the range of thoughts human beings can think - but as the result of social innovations, meaning democratic agreements to simply do things differently, to reorganize ourselves.

This is the heart of how David Graeber sees democracy:

if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way.”

As I wrote about in The Commodification Problem, our current social arrangement pursues the freedom to earn, rather than freedom to live. Maintaining that we must still all ‘earn’ a living rests upon the claim of scarcity, which may be as much a product of our social organization, our laissez-faire approach to the concentration of asset ownership, than any natural constraints (essay forthcoming on this).

Imagine a world where we democratically share in the dividends of collectively owned assets, combined with progressive taxation, a debt jubilee, and whatever else you’d throw in this bag, all to find that a living no longer needs to be ‘earned’. I imagine this would be far more psychedelic an experience than developing new transformative tools for thought, or even dropping a few tabs of acid.

The enormity of life would be laid at each of our feet, with the instructions: go ahead, explore, and have fun.

Or, as Mary Oliver’s instructions for living suggest:

“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”


Deconstructing Sensory Experience - Meditation Map

On Michael Taft’s excellent meditation podcast - Deconstructing Yourself - he just released a ‘map’ of the process. Maps are inherently partial and incomplete, and Michael knows this, but they can be incredibly helpful.

I found his map perfectly suited to the language of our times, and fun to explore. Check it out here.


That’s all.

As always, feel free to respond or reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the newsletter - musingmind.substack.com - with friends, or visiting the support page. Or, if you wound up here circuitously, hit this button to subscribe:

Cheers,
Oshan

Mind Matters

Progress, Zak Stein, and Style

Hello, wherever you are -

A couple fun areas for this email to explore:

  1. What is progress? Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison’s recent essay called for the establishment of a ‘Progress Studies’ department. My exploration of post-capitalism is leading me to some funky notions of how we might reconceive of progress to support a more vital, creative, interesting culture.

  2. Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s style

  3. New Musing Mind Podcast episode with Zak Stein

  4. Subconscious complex pattern recognition > conscious mind’s complex pattern recognition


1. What is Progress?

In the essay, I think Cowen and Collison describe progress in the kind of quantifiably reductive way characteristic of the modern era’s scientific mentality:

“Progress itself is understudied. By ‘progress,’ we mean the combination of economic, technological, scientific, cultural, and organizational advancement that has transformed our lives and raised standards of living over the past couple of centuries. For a number of reasons, there is no broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. We believe that it deserves a dedicated field of study. We suggest inaugurating the discipline of ‘Progress Studies.’”

To equate progress with living standards submits to the same neoliberal, capitalist growth creed that proxies human development with capital development. This is the kind of thinking that’s led to what Erik Hoel calls ‘extrinsic drift’, an idea we explore in our podcast conversation.

Rather, I’ve begun wondering how things might change if we think of progress as a kind of cultural dividend everybody shares in. If we democratize the ‘ownership’ of cultural & technological innovations and distribute the wealth they generate equitably across all cultural stakeholders, progress could come to mean the progressive marginalization of what John Maynard Keynes called ‘the economic problem’, something I reference a lot. Sorry.

In short, progress would mean the democratic displacement of matters of scarcity and survival insecurity from the center of our lives, democratically emancipating entire populations to ask: how might we live, if we didn’t need to earn that living?

This conception of progress is post-capitalist, in that it imagines a gradual exit from the institutions of wage-labor, which itself poses a major, major challenge. That kind of newfound freedom would be heavy, overwhelming, and difficult. It’s this kind of hypothetical freedom that leads David Foster Wallace to write:

“Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do…What of freedom-to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?”

This is where I seriously jive with Zachary Stein, who frames the cultural evolution beyond wage labor as fundamentally an educational project.

The good news is that I just recorded a podcast discussion with Stein, more on that below.


László Krasznahorkai’s Writing Style

I’m writing a long essay on how digital mediums are changing, and threatening, writing. We’re quick to celebrate how easy it’s become for anybody to write and publish to a potentially global audience with zero marginal costs, but the underbelly here is that now market dynamics are infiltrating writing as never before.

Here’s the introduction:

“Recent observations on writing in the internet age suggest that digital mediums are eviscerating all barriers that constrain the marketplace of writing. To reach markets, writing traditionally had to travel a lengthy and expensive pipeline of editors, publishers, and institutions. Now, anyone with internet access and an idea can publish to a global audience with near-zero marginal costs.

We’re quick to celebrate this newfound ease-of-entry to the writing market, but I worry markets might swallow the craft of writing whole. If all writing occurs under the panoptic watch of market incentives and the allure of earning one’s living, writers will conform to the market’s taste rather than exploring their own. 

I worry that taste itself is being commodified, and writing is just the latest bastion of individuation to give way.”

Standing in stark contrast to the standardized style of the market, I’ve been reading a Hungarian novelist named László Krasznahorkai. His sentences run on for chapters at a time, constructing and transfiguring realities as they cascade, spiraling into disorientation, a Borges-ian metaphysical vertigo that kicks up the cosmic dust and leaves us enmeshed in a swirling puzzle that always suggests immanent depths beneath the storm. Dustin Illingworth describes Krasznahorkai’s style as “gorgeous derangements of consciousness…Here is fiction that collapses into minute strangeness and explodes into vast cosmology.”

The Paris Review interviewed Krasznahorkai for their series, The Art of Fiction, No. 240. Take this bit on how he developed his style:

"Finding a style was never difficult for me because I never looked for it. I lived a secluded life. I always had friends, but just one at a time. And with each friend, I had a relationship in which we spoke to each other only in monologues. One day, one night, I spoke. The next day or night, he would speak. But the dialogue was different each time because we wanted to say something very ­important to the other person, and if you want to say something very ­important, and if you want to convince your partner that this is very important, you don’t need full stops or periods but breaths and rhythm—rhythm and tempo and melody. It isn’t a conscious choice. This kind of rhythm, melody, and sentence structure came rather from the wish to convince another person."

Crucial to Krasznahorkai’s (I’ve typo’ed and retyped his name a million times in this email so far) style is a trait that seems common among all great writers: he absolutely refused to compromise.

He viewed money as a force that vulgarizes and corrupts literature, if not modern society at large:

KRASZNAHORKAI

“…For me, music history is a descent. And after two thousand years, this is also happening in literature. But it’s very difficult to analyze this process of vulgarization. The terrible revolution that was always going to happen in modern societies has in fact happened. Not that mass culture has won, but money. Occasionally a very high-level literary work happens to say something on the midrange level and reaches more readers—and maybe this is the fate of a lot of contemporary writers.

INTERVIEWER

What about your novels?

KRASZNAHORKAI

No, my novels absolutely don’t work on the middle level because I don’t ever compromise. Writing, for me, is a totally private act. I’m ashamed to speak about my literature—it’s the same as if you were to ask me about my most private secrets. I was never really part of literary life because I couldn’t ­accept being a writer in a social sense. No one can speak about literature with me—except you and a few other people. I’m not happy if I have to speak about literature, especially my literature. Literature is very private.”

Krasznahorkai spent some time living in Allen Ginsberg’s apartment, and is one of the most fascinating, enthralling, and difficult writers I’ve tango’ed with in a while. Check out either this commentary in The Paris Review on his work, or the longer interview.

If you remain interested, he considers his latest novel his masterpiece, Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming (I started by reading some of his short stories, as in Seiobo There Below).


New Musing Mind Podcast Conversation: Zachary Stein

Link to Episode Page, or || Listen now: iTunes | Spotify | Overcast | Stitcher

Zak is one of the most comprehensive thinkers I’ve encountered. He’s an educational futurist, scholar in developmental psychology, and complexity-meets-contemplation philosopher, among other titles.

In addition to working with Howard Gardener (a famous developmental psychologist at Harvard), he works closely with Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni, developing integral philosophy for the 21st century transition from society as it was, to society as it might become (if we get our shit together).

His book, Education in a Time Between Worlds, is insanely good. Specifically, we spoke about what he calls ‘The 13 Social Miracles’.

Zak’s 13 Social Miracles are a practice in ‘design fiction’, or concrete utopian theorizing. He offers a pragmatic but unfettered set of policy proposals and global projects to support the emergence of our most vibrant, wholesome futures. His miracles include everything from guaranteed basic income, total planetary demilitarization, to the de-alienation and re-humanization of the global workforce (h/t Marx).

So often, even the most radical philosophers do not engage with the political - that is, policy oriented - dimensions of their work. How do we get from here to there? We can talk about abundance, autonomy, and freedom all we like, but what kind of bills should we introduce into the House of Representatives in support of these abstractions? What social policies will help bring about these realities? Individual practices are great, but collective policies can help democratize these outcomes.

Zak’s philosophy is radical, and it’s political, making it some of the most refreshing, valuable work around.

(And if you enjoy the conversation, consider rating it on Apple Podcasts, or sharing the podcast - sharing it in its infancy really helps spread the word!)


The Subconscious is Better at Picking up on Complex Patterns than the Conscious Mind

Often times, that intuitive ‘feeling’ we have about something turns out to be a vague perception of what our unconscious already knows.

I’m starting John Vervaeke’s Youtube series, Awakening From the Meaning Crisis. At first I was apprehensive, but man is it fascinating so far.

Two nuggets from that:

1) Try to momentarily take literacy out of your brain. Imagine, in this moment, that language simply doesn’t exist for you. How does it feel? What’s it like to look at things, turning off the inner monologue that linguistically narrates experience to you?

On one hand, to me, this feels familiar. “Ah, feels like meditation”. On the other hand, it’s a little startling.

2) Vervaeke goes through a few experiments that demonstrate how the human subconscious is far better at picking up on complex patterns than the conscious mind.

Pair this up with my reading from Keith Johnstone’s book - Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre - and you get quite a picture. Keith’s whole spiel is that the best improv occurs when the actors are no longer trying to act. When you stop planning what to say, and instead, focus on stabilizing the conditions where you ‘get out of your own way’, and words flow naturally, effortlessly.

Your subconscious is fully capable of generating creative, fascinating material without your conscious mind getting involved to mediate things. So within each of us, beyond the sliver of consciousness that constitutes what we’re aware of, and from which our perceived ‘will’ acts, there’s a much larger environment, a subterranean landscape of creativity, pattern recognition, and potentialities. By definition, it will always remain larger than our conscious minds (I wrote about this once, in relation to meditation).

So what are we to make of the fact that ‘we’, that is, our conscious apprehension of ourselves and our capacities, are always overlaid upon a much larger self, one that is smarter, funnier, deeper, and more creative?

This circles all the way back to emergence and complexity science. Rather than thinking we ‘know’ anything, maybe it’s best to design for principles that simply allow for the process of emergence to occur ‘effortlessly’. What might that mean?


That’s all.

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the website or newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends. Or, if you wound up here circuitously, hit this button to subscribe:

Cheers,
Oshan

Mind Matters

A Podcast is Born

Hey everyone,

Just a quick email to announce:

The Musing Mind Podcast finally exists!

The first 3 episodes are live, with Ron Purser, Erik Hoel, and Andrew Taggart. Each episode is embedded on my website alongside show notes, or available wherever you get your podcasts:


Listen Here: iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | etc.


(Again, a huge thank you to Callum Flack for designing the podcast cover art)

The podcast will live on my website, at: www.musingmind.org/podcast. This is where you’ll be able to see the list of episodes, find show notes, learn more about the podcast, and who knows what else - what I’m most excited for is seeing how this project might evolve as it gets going.

If you enjoy the podcast or feel inspired to help support me, iTunes ratings this early in the game really help weave it into the algorithms that preside over the digital universe. Or just sharing an episode on social media! Any support means a great deal.

My next conversation is already lined up - I’ll be speaking with Zachary Stein (!!). Since I finished his book, Education in a Time Between Worlds, I haven’t been able to stop quoting him. A few favorites:

“…the years between 2000 and 2050 represent a critical turning point in the history of humanity and the planet…I argue that fundamental transformations of our social structures (economies and institutions), ecosystems (biosphere and agriculture), and consciousness (culture and identity) are upon us. These require a fundamentally new approach to education that entails the end of what we have known as schooling.” 

And of course:

“Groups can change society by establishing alternate modes of education; new modes of education shape the future of all political and economic life because they involve the creation of a new kind of human.” 


I’ll comment more on the first 3 podcasts in future emails. For now, just wanted to share the news.

I’m really excited to get this podcast rolling, and welcome any feedback, criticism, comments, or collaborations to improve the project. You can always reply directly to these emails, or reach out via my contact page.

🤘
Oshan

Mind Matters

Anarchy, Emergence, & Comprehensive Design

Hello fellow occupants of spaceship earth,

Let’s just get into it.


Buckminster Fuller: The Revolution is for Comprehensive Designers

I’m new to Buckminster Fuller, but he seems like one of those ebullient polymaths with vitality surging through his veins, splashing all over anyone who reads him.

I love this sentiment from his New Yorker profile, that the coming revolution will emerge from comprehensive designers:

And here’s Buckminster prefiguring David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, expressing the idea I seriously jive with that if we’re making any ‘progress’ as a species, it must liberate us from the idea, and lived reality, that we have to ‘earn’ a living.

Humans may not have a ‘right’ to live, a ‘right’ to healthcare or anything like that. But if we have the potential, if it’s possible for us to weave these things into the fabric of cultural givens, as boons of progress, isn’t that one of the greatest leaps forward we could make?

“We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

And a final Buckminster quote:

“Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.”


Anarchy in the 21st Century

In trying to make sense of post-capitalism, I’ve arrived at the threshold of anarchism. Specifically, something that Murray Bookchin calls Post-Scarcity Anarchism.

Anarchism is the only organized approach to living I’ve found that seriously explores life beyond private property. And increasingly, dissolving the ideology of private property in favor of some system of collectively organized resources - available for use without requiring ownership - seems like a promising, concrete way to transcend the limitations of capitalist forms of life.

[What are these shortcomings? I think they have to do with the Buckminster Fuller quote below - that capitalism will never evolve us past what I believe is the antiquated fact that everyone must spend their lives ‘earning’ a living. In the 21st century, I think we can leverage our progress and design an earned living as part of our cultural inheritance, liberating us to tango with more complex matters].

Post-scarcity anarchism isn’t about the intellectual history of anarchist thinkers, it asks what’s possible in this new era of cultural possibility that was unimaginable to anyone writing pre-2000. It’s future-facing, as Bookchin begs us to be:

“When will we begin to learn from what is being born instead of what is dying?”

More specifically, post-scarcity anarchism argue that:

“A century ago, scarcity had to be endured; today, it has to be enforced”

Anarchism suggests that in the 21st century, scarcity is artificially imposed not by some group of nefarious white men in secret board rooms, but private ownership. Capitalism as it stands has scarcity baked into its governing logic by the underlying ideology of private property.

Capitalism is predicated upon Darwinian competition rather than Kropotkin’s cooperation (Kropotkin is a seminal anarchist writer who convincingly challenged Darwin’s notion that competition drove survival, suggesting cooperation played a more central role).

Anarchism suggests that private property keeps us rooted in competitive, rivalrous dynamics amidst the possibility for cooperative, mutually beneficial dynamics. By provoking rivalrous dynamics and failing to appease survival insecurity, this variety of capitalism reaches all the way down our brainstems. It aggravates our amygdalas, our cortico-adrenal systems where the fear-based ‘fight or flight’ response takes over our decision making processes, eclipsing the pre-frontal cortex where higher-order thinking lives. Scarcity capitalism keeps our mentalities rooted in its primitive capacities.

So much of the anarchist, even democratic socialist sentiment that’s surging back into fashion comes from this desire to democratize liberation from the anxieties and mentalities of survival insecurity.

For example, here’s Noam Chomsky paraphrasing Marx:

“…somewhere or other he said: socialism is an effort to try to solve man’s animal problems, and after having solved the animal problems, then we can face the human problems—but it’s not a part of socialism to solve the human problems; socialism is an effort to get you to the point where you can face the human problems.”

Anarchism believes there’s a more holistic form of freedom available to us than the hollow shells of individual liberty pedaled by neoliberalism. It believes that private property - and, of course, governing power structures - are the dams holding us back, and doing away with them will release us into more fully human dynamics.

I’m still new to anarchism, trying to get a feel for what it might add to our discourse today. Here’s my reading list so far - if you have any suggestions or feedback, let me know (you can respond directly to this email):


Emergence is Emerging

Seems like emergence is having a bit of a cultural moment these past few years. And now Tim Urban is writing a monster essay series for which emergence seems central to the whole thing.

Kurzgesagt’s emergence explainer video remains a fantastic introduction (their videos are ridiculously good):

Emergence is part of the story of networks. If you see the universe as one big network, composed of smaller nested networks, emergence is what happens as these networks evolve.

Networks want to sustainably emerge new forms of complexity. From this view, humans are a pretty interesting experiment as far as complexity goes. For us to align with the networked project of emergence, we’d do well to design for a few basic principles of emergence: diversity & differing, meta-stability, distributed organization, and feedback loops between us and our environments.

My essay on a post-capitalist philosophy of networks is a deeper look into all that.


Body Language & Sentence Structure

Reading Keith Johnstone’s book, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, because I’ve been told it’s one of the best books on play (in the broadest sense). It seems like one of those works written by someone so masterful in his field that his insights go all the way down, and apply to everything. Theatre is just his entryway into the sub-currents that run through everything.

This bit is fascinating. While doing ‘status work’ with his students, playing with body positioning to communicate various social status’ and personas, Keith found that even the slightest tweaks to body language unconsciously alter everything from eye contact to sentence structure.

He found that when inhabiting high-status body language, students unknowingly spoke in more complete sentences. Low-status body language led to incomplete grammar and hesitation, and this all occurred without students being aware of the changes:

“If I speak with a still head, then I’ll do many other high-status things quite automatically. I’ll speak in complete sentences, I’ll hold eye contact. I’ll move more smoothly, and occupy more ‘space’. If I talk with my toes pointing inwards I’m more likely to give a hesitant little ‘er’ before each sentence, and I’ll smile with my teeth covering my bottom lip, and I’ll sound a little breathless, and so on. We were amazed to find that apparently unrelated things could so strongly influence each other; it didn’t seem reasonable that the position of the feet could influence sentence structure and eye contact, but it is so.”

The position of the feet influence sentence structure! So watch your toes.


Simulacra & Self-Simulation

This essay from Steve Monacelli in the new Protean Magazine is phenomenal.

As society increasingly ‘goes digital’, and data collection reaches deeper into our being, the digital representations of our selves constructed (and predicted) by algorithms are becoming so rich, so detailed, and so real, that they threaten to evolve from shadows we cast in the digital space, to the first, ‘real’ self of which we are the secondary shadow:

“When our bodies in physical space are superseded by digital representation, our physical movements are no longer our own…If it has not already, a dialectical turn may soon occur: our once-digital shadows, become simulacra, may begin to cast us.”

As our digitally reconstructed selves capture more nuance of our psychology, they not only better predict our behavior, but can be used to manipulate it. We may wind up simply acting out the will of our predictive digital selves, being marketed and sold everything our digital simulacra tells companies we want.

This is frightful on a number of fronts. Algorithms feed our basest desires. Status, dopamine, and what comes easy. In a world where we’re sold everything we want, we’re drained of the discipline and gusto to pursue more larger goals:

Read Full Essay


Scientists Discover Neural Mechanisms for Mortality-Denial

A recent study suggests they’ve discovered the neural mechanisms that actively suppress awareness of our own mortality.

Participants were shown a rapid series of related images, with one deviant image tucked in the sequence.

When the deviant image was death related and implicating their own selves, the brains predictive response was eliminated. It ‘ignored’ the deviant image at a subconscious level. When the deviant image was not related to their own death, however, participants’ predictive response functioned just fine.

Here’s the abstract:


Musing Mind Podcast

I shared a few snippets from my first 3 podcast episodes on Twitter recently. Here’s Erik Hoel talking about extrinsic drift and our neglect of consciousness:

Podcast will be coming out shortly. I’m polishing up a few loose ends, and working with a friend, incredible designer, and Mind Matters subscriber(!) Callum Flack to create the cover art, and then we’ll be off & running.


That’s all.

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the website or newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends. Or hit this button to subscribe:

Cheers,
Oshan

Mind Matters

Networked Post-Capitalism, Annie Dillard, & Social Dividends

Hello there -

At this very moment, while you’re reading these words, there’s an atemporal link between a past version of me, sitting at a computer writing this, and present you. At any moment, you’re interacting with stuff that past versions of people created. Each encounter links you with that past person in some strange way, so that we’re always embedded in strange temporal interlocks of people from the past and ourselves in the present.

Anyway. I’ll attach an update on the podcast progress at the newsletter’s end. Let’s dig in:


New Essay: A Post-Capitalist Philosophy of Networks

I’m submerged in reading about post-capitalism and networks. This essay is like a raft I had to build to make some sense of where I’m at, and it’s a fun place.

I use Christopher Vitale’s philosophy of networks as a roadmap to chart a potential transition from present-day capitalism to post-capitalism. Specifically, Vitale’s Networkology answers some questions not only for imagining what post-capitalism might look like, but what the spiritual landscape beyond post-modernism might look like. Values found in networks like meta-stability, diversity and differing, and the sustained emergence of complexity become new narratives to guide us out of the post-modern rubble.

“It’s possible to give a very deep, thorough, and complex explanation of what networks are, their governing logic, and their dynamics. But I’m less interested in doing so than taking Vitale’s work - where he does precisely this - as a preface to my own interest: how a philosophy of networks opens up avenues beyond the existential vacuity of postmodern capitalism, offering a set of stories and values that might help reconstitute our ways of living in the 21st century such that we pivot from extractive, zombified livelihoods to regenerative, vitalized, creative, diversified, and richer ways of relating to our ecosystem, and ultimately being in the world.” (from the essay).

If we view the universe in networked terms, we can ask: what do networks want?

Networks want robustness, which is the sustainable emergence of complexity. This recasts the universe as one big network that isn’t concerned with survival per se, but with continuing to emerge new forms of complexity. Survival seems like the most salient challenge to this emergence over the past few million years, which might explain why we’ve been so wrapped up in survival dynamics.

But if John Maynard Keynes was right that by 2030, we might be able to ‘solve’ the economic problem, that’s a pretty big development in the story. What new forms of complexity might we cook up if released from spending so much time securing our continued survival?

Vitale’s work suggests that a post-capitalist culture (one that no longer centers around capital, because survival isn’t such a pressing insecurity anymore) might do well to support the conditions of meta-stability (maybe something like a fully realized democratic socialism, or strong safety nets that ensure no one will face survival insecurity), and diversity and differing (a move away from the culture industry and homogenization, towards supporting individuals in creative play), as these are the best conditions to let robust networks emerge.

Full Essay Here


Christopher Vitale Going Off

Also, this, from Vitale’s Networkologies. Didn’t work it into the spiel above because I’d get too sidetracked, but holy hell:

What if the entire mentality of scarcity that gives rise to rivalrous dynamics, zero-sum games, and undue paranoia & hostility is an artifact of the primitive brain?

If scarcity - and perhaps even the fetish for private property - is based in the amygdala-ic, cortico-adrenal systems where fight or flight, fear, and survival-driven responses arise, then moving beyond scarcity could mean using a host of psycho-technologies to down-regulate the amygdala and related systems, and up-regulate the pre-frontal cortex where higher order, more complex thinking happens.

Also, to design cultural systems that down-regulate survival insecurities, that make us feel stable enough in our continued survival that we don’t provoke those more primitive, fear-based mentalities.


92% of All the World’s Money is Virtual

From an infographic that breaks down all the world’s money & markets, I learned that ONLY 8% OF THE WORLD’S EXISTING MONEY IS PHYSICAL. This means the rest of the money, the other 92%, exists just as numbers on a flickering screen.

So most of our checking account balances, our outstanding debt tallies, refer to nothing at all. If the numbers on the screen change, they change, with no necessary corresponding change in the physical world.

92% of the world’s money is virtual.

This drives home how right David Graeber is when he says this whole system is just one big collective social agreement. The system is not held together by anything that would survive our simply deciding to do things differently.

“Every morning we wake up and re-create capitalism. If one morning we woke up and all decided to create something else, then there wouldn’t be capitalism anymore. There would be something else…Together we create the world we inhabit. Yet if any one of us tried to imagine a world we’d like to live in, who would come up with one exactly like the one that currently exists?” (From his book, Bullshit Jobs)

So in a sense, our collective reality is literally a computer simulation. The information stored in computers, and tracked digitally, governs the structure of our lives. Debt, earnings, interest rates, capital gains, are all built upon binary 1’s and 0’s in computerized relation with one another.


A Great Read on Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard is my favorite writer, and I’m always on the lookout for writing about her. Geoff Dyer’s essay is a favorite, but this great essay by Pamela Smith is new to me, and it’s fantastic.

An excerpt:

“She also exhibits for the ecological thinker that familiar twentieth-century phenomenon: an inability to move from observation to ethic, a sense of personal insignificance and alienation, a tendency to let things alone. There is a God, and he is up to something or other. There is wonder in this world, and that prompts a God-ward "Hooray!" There are gods all over the place, and we honor them with our attentions, appreciations, or fixations. Like God, nature has its darknesses and its lights. It moves us and frightens us away. Or it leaves us dumbfounded, watching, and doing nothing. Humans watch and see and become entangled in mystery. We make things, we ceaselessly eat, and we die. The earth turns, galaxies swirl, and new things ever arise. God may or may not have in mind the way things turn about and will turn out. Such seems to be a summation of Dillard's theology and metaphysic.”

The basic dance of the essay is to ask why, though Dillard so marvelously attended to the natural world, did she never move from observation to ethics. Why did she never draw conclusions about how we should live from her study of the interlocked universe, or speak out against the polluting ways we exist, or against anything at all?

Dillard draws us into the mystery of living, and just leaves us there. We’re accustomed to being led into such murky waters, and then led out with some kind of actionable conclusion. Some modicum of comforting sense made of the wild, chaotic, cruel, and beautiful universe.

Kind of like spelunking. Enthusiasts go explore caves by fastening a rope to a sturdy point outside the cave, then hook themselves to the line and drop into the dark hole in the earth’s surface. The line assures them they can leave at any point. The line will always lead them back out. With Dillard, there is no line. There is no assurance that we might exit the dark mystery of what’s going on here. You have to be willing to dive in with no exit plan, and flail around and see what happens.


Charles Eisenstein on Universal Basic Income

I’ve been exploring the work of Charles Eisenstein. At first, he struck me as a new-agey, mumbo-jumbo guy. Then I started getting a sense for the depth of research and contemplation behind his work. This guy is one of those insane polymaths, who does more work to substantiate his opinions and learn topics for himself than most any other interesting economist I’ve read (has anyone read his book, Sacred Economics? I’m thinking of starting it, would love to hear from folks who’ve read it).

I recommend his podcast conversation with Daniel Schmachtenberger (another one of those incomprehensibly polymath-ic humans.

Eisenstein his a cute little video on UBI (elsewhere, he’s done the full legwork of digging through the actual policy and logistical questions of what that kind of policy might entail), where I found his spiel on recontextualizing UBI as a social dividend really useful.

Thinking of basic income as a social dividend considers the payout as a democratic stake in our cultural inheritance. As a species, we’ve made marvelous inventions, breakthroughs, discoveries. The light bulb, etc. These things make wealth possible, and we ought to all share in the benefit of such discoveries. They shouldn’t be ‘owned’ by anyone other than the entire human race (for the benefit of the entire cosmic ecosystem, mind you).

Here’s a really insightful article that expands on the move from UBI to social dividend in a pragmatic, thoughtful way. It argues that UBI is cool, but alone might fall right back into service of the neoliberal ideology most advocates are seeking to break from.

“…the objective of public policy should be to establish systemic forms of sharing that decentralise and devolve political power and embody the fundamental right of all people to a fair share of the wealth and resources that are created by nature or society as a whole. Thus unless any basic income scheme is implemented as part of a broader policy agenda to address the structural causes of inequality and environmental crises, its longer term benefits would remain questionable.”

I suspect Eisenstein would jive with this essay.


4-Minutes of Alan Watts

And since it’s impossible to have too much Alan Watts in our lives, here’s a nicely illustrated 4-minute talk of his:


Podcast Update

Almost ready to launch! Have the first 3 conversations recorded - Ron Purser, Erik Hoel, and Andrew Taggart - plus a 4 minute ‘Episode 0’ introduction to the podcast. Just finalizing logistics (hosting, editing, etc.).

If you’re interested in listening to the episode 0 introduction & offering feedback, shoot me an email. I’d love feedback to help tweak the introduction, and make sure I don’t sound too weird (while at the same time, sounding just weird enough).


That’s all.

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

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Cheers,
Oshan

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