Mind Matters

The Sensorium, Education, & the MusingMind Redesign

Hello fellow humans -

Lots going on. Let’s begin with this: in the 80’s, a group of researchers at University of Chicago deprived rats of dreams, and they all died. The rats. Not from sleep deprivation, but dream deprivation.

Not sleep, just the REM sleep where dreams occur. The rats were left to sleep in non-REM undisturbed, but as soon as signs of REM sleep arose, they woke the rats up. And repeated for weeks.

More on that later. For this newsletter, 3 main things:

  • I’ve chanced upon some really good reading on the internet recently, so I’d like to share a few links, ideas, and quotes from all that.

  • A Mind Matters reader generously offered his time & web design know-how to help me redesign the MusingMind website (Thanks Aaron). It’s long overdue, & I’m very excited for this next iteration of the site. I’ll share bits from that process, what’s to come, and ask for a little help.

  • Also, having recently moved to Kingston, NY, I’ve created a zine with some friends, called “Dear Prudence”. Physical copies only - stories, comic strips, essays, poems, paintings, it’s a bundle of thoughtful fun. We felt it might be a good way to introduce ourselves, and meet folks in the area. So a bit about that.

Internet Reading Roundup

Enter the Sensorium: the neuroscientific case for Art in the age of Netflix, by Erik Hoel

This might be the best essay I’ve read in recent memory. It’s got me all jazzed up, tingling & alive. I wrote an excited Twitter thread about it. I don’t know how to say what it’s about without being reductive. Like any great essay, it meanders through disparate themes, different rooms of human experience, but winds up in a place that brings them all together.

Put a gun to my head & force me to elaborate? Hoel argues that there’s a sensorium coming (or already here). An infinite, ever-present buffet of mediated experience. As it envelops & engulfs us, as neuroplastic creatures that become in tandem with the experiences we behold, the quality of our becoming will depend on whether mediated experiences fall under his distinctions of art, or Art.

“art” is mediated experience designed to entertain, which, etymologically, means to keep someone in a certain frame of mind. Art, on the other hand, the kind worth fighting and selecting for in this pivotal moment of cultural evolution, is something that carries, pushes, or yanks us into new & unexplored frames of consciousness.

The former is a stultification of consciousness, the latter an exploration.

Hoel goes on to suggest that in a world of infinite experience, taste - a cultivated sense of aesthetics, or a skillful-means approach to media consumption (and media is eating the world, soon everything might become media, if it isn’t already) - may be “all that keeps a civilization from disappearing up its own brainstem”:

There’s also the segment on rats, dreams, fiction, the construction of waking consciousness, and some David Foster Wallace.

Read the full essay here.

Against School by John Taylor Gatto

“Throughout most of American history, kids generally didn't go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry, like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret Mead.”

John Taylor Gatto spent a lifetime in the public education system, was named New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, and during this term, quit teaching in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, writing he was “no longer willing to hurt children”.

He asks questions you might not expect from a veteran of the institution:

“Do we really need school? I don't mean education, just forced schooling: six classes a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve years. Is this deadly routine really necessary? And if so, for what?”

And he traces this system of ours back, discomfortingly, to Prussia.

“But what shocks is that we should so eagerly have adopted one of the very worst aspects of Prussian culture: an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens - all in order to render the populace "manageable."

Read full essay here.

MusingMind Website Redesign

As weird & irksome as self-promotion feels, having a personal website seems indispensable as I figure out how to build a life that centers increasingly around curiosity, less around compulsion. The internet is a city, or rather a parallel universe. I think it’s fair to say we now inhabit a multiverse, as the internet increasingly becomes a plane where modern humans exist, build things, and connect, all on a fabric completely ‘other’ than our familiar physical substrate.

As I change, it makes sense that my website should too. It’s a digital refraction of myself, an online ‘me’. MusingMind has gone through two redesigns so far, and it’s overdue for a third.

With the help of a generous reader, I’m moving from a self-hosted Wordpress site (that required a lot of maintenance & DIY learning on my end) to Squarespace. The result should be a drastically improved website that’s easier to maintain, freeing me up to do more of what I enjoy doing (writing, gathering book notes, etc), and less technical troubleshooting.

With this new iteration, I hope to emphasize 3 elements of my digitally refracted self:

  1. Essays. The r’aison d’être of MusingMind. I’m a human that writes in order to see inside my own head.

  2. Book Notes. This will be the biggest change. Want to bring more emphasis to the library section where I collect notes & quotes from my favorite reads.

  3. Newsletter. This channel is connecting me with people all over the world, with perspectives & skillsets radically different from my own. I want to double down, spend more time & care making this Newsletter a valuable wire in the fabric of internet-based contemplative curiosity.

SO. I’m spending all my free time designing the new website. If anyone is interested in seeing prototypes and offering feedback, let me know by responding to this email, or using my contact form. I’d be grateful for any help & feedback before launch.

The Zine

Zine’s were big back in the 80’s (so I’ve been told). People made them, xeroxed them, and shared them around (kind of like pre-internet blogging). After moving to a new place & finding it difficult to meet friends, a few of us put this zine together & began dropping it anywhere that carries free publications.

Dear Prudence: An Ode to the Universe, Written from Inkwells of Blood

It was also a great project to dip my toes in the world of digital design & production. We spent many evenings huddled around wine & staplers, collating and stapling 150 copies together.

If anyone wants a copy, shoot me a message and - inventory allowing - I’m happy to mail some out.

Music Meets Algorithms - A Pianist Computerized Playing Partner

Wild...especially the data visualizations alongside his playing. & it’s only the beginning of human/algorithm collaboration.

Vipassana Meditation Practice did not Exist Before the 1800’s

This feels important. Vipassana style meditation, taught through the classic Goenka 10-day retreats (like what Twitter’s @Jack went on), and most prevailing Western methods, does not really date back to the Buddha.

It was invented, or kind of re-invented, in the 1800’s by four separate humans. Prior to that, monks just recited the sutras (which contained instructions for vipassana meditation) without actually attempting the practices being recited (some great metaphors to be made here).

I used to think vipassana was the ‘true’, ‘authentic’ meditation teaching. Nope. It’s a westernized method, with no greater claim to authenticity than most other of the smorgasbord meditation techniques on offer. So use whatever suits you.

David Chapman’s essay on this.

That’s it!

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org (new site coming soon!)

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends, who can use this button to sign up: