February, 2020

Feb 20

RIP Freeman Dyson: Disturbing the Universe

“Disturbing the Universe.”

“The question that will decide our destiny is not whether we shall expand into space. It is: shall we be one species or a million? A million species will not exhaust the ecological niches that are awaiting the arrival of intelligence.

“When we are a million species spreading through the galaxy, the question ‘Can man play God and still stay sane?’ will lose some of its terrors. We shall be playing God, but only as local deities and not as lords of the universe. There is safety in numbers. Some of us will become insane, and rule over empires as crazy as Doctor Moreau’s island. Some of us will shit on the morning star. There will be conflicts and tragedies. But in the long run, the sane will adapt and survive better than the insane. Nature’s pruning of the unfit will limit the spread of insanity among species in the galaxy, as it does among individuals on earth. Sanity is, in its essence, nothing more than the ability to live in harmony with nature’s laws.
. . .
“I have told this story of the greening of the galaxy as if it were our destiny
to be nature’s first attempt at an intelligent creature. If there are other
intelligences already at large in the galaxy, the story will be different. The
galaxy will become even richer in variety of life styles and cultures. We must only be careful not to let our wave of expansion overwhelm and disrupt the ecologies of our neighbors. Before our expansion beyond the solar system begins, we must explore the galaxy thoroughly with our telescopes, and we must know enough about our neighbors to come to them as friends rather than as invaders. The universe is large enough to provide ample living space for all of us. But if, as seems equally probable, we are alone in our galaxy and have no intelligent neighbors, earth’s life is still large enough in potentialities to fill every nook and cranny of the universe. The expansion of life over the universe is a beginning, not an end. At the same time as life is extending its habitat quantitatively, it will also be changing and evolving qualitatively into new dimensions of mind and spirit that we cannot imagine. The acquisition of new territory is important, not as an end in itself, but as a means to enable life to experiment with intelligence in a million forms.”

– Freeman Dyson, “The Greening of the Galaxy.”

Feb 20

On Ayn Rand, Objectivism, “the virtues of seflishness” — that sad Etc

I discussed the matter with a friend. Here are some of my remarks.

Objectivism…Ayn Rand’s hyper-libertarian ideas have poisoned America. They’re tremendously influential on the current crop of right-wing politicians. Basically they’re all about might over right.

But what works, overall, for the diminution of human suffering, the modulation of the negatives of the human condition? Research indicates that people are happier and healthier in a social system with a high level of cooperation. Simple minded anti-statist libertarians will say that equals Marxism…or they’ll use some similar ad hominem dismissal. If you tell them that you can have cooperation and regulation AND competition, AND people striving for themselves as individuals, they act as if you’re describing some arcane fantasy world. It’s as if they decided that only the percussion in an orchestra is valid. Or only the string section. They simply do not grok nuanced complex systems; they don’t understand the value of conscious awareness of general trend; they do not have an understanding of actual individuality.

They’re still, basically, one of these people: “Oh sure, sure, ‘cholera, blah blah’, but if I want to crap upstream of your water, it’s all for the good in the end because, uh…the free market.”

Apparently it was a Transcendentalist named Parker (I always dug the Transcendentalists) who came up with “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” – famously quoted by MLK and Obama. That single line is the only statement of any kind that currently gives me any hope at all. Objectivists cannot comprehend it.

It seems to me objectivism could be made to comfortably interface with that peculiar institution, slavery. Why shouldn’t Rand’s John Galt have slaves? So long as he is not one.

One factor never considered by social theorists of the usual spectrum, from Rand to the left, is the power of *consciousness itself*. Consider WIlliam James’s quasi quantification of it. When there’s more consciousness–and I don’t mean “woke” and “political consciousness” I mean literal consciousness– all kinds of social transformation is possible from another direction, from the direction of increased consciousness. This requires no religious trappings whatever. High consciousness has no bias. It does require work to develop, however. Ask Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, and GI Gurdjieff.

Feb 20


From the Washington Post: “Dead foxes were piled high in the pickup truck after the hunting contest in Frederick County in January. Men lifted the bloodied animals out of the truck by their legs, dropping them on the ground to be counted. The winner of the contest killed 38 foxes and won about $400, said the undercover investigator for the Humane Society of the United States whose graphic video footage of the event was made public Wednesday…. Such hunting contests are legal in Maryland and 44 other states.”

“That which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts. One thing befalls them. As the one dies, so dies the other. Yes, they have all one breath. So that a man has no preeminence above a beast. For all is vanity.”  — Ecclesiastes 3:19

Feb 20

Some have Suggested we can Compute Consciousness

Regarding the computing of consciousness– and the reductionist subsuming of it to a  math based computation, for AI and transhumanist purposes….Perhaps Math can describe consciousness, if you can come up with one capable of operations in four dimensions at once. Consciousness is a gestalt. This is one of the things not understood by adherents of the notion of a “conscious” AI and a human consciousness transferred to a digital-electronic sheath for supposed Transhumanist immortality. One could probably come up with a feasible pseudo-copy that seems somewhat like the person “copied” but it wouldn’t be them. There would be no true continuity between the copy and the originator, and the true organizing principle of consciousness would be lacking. Some of us believe that there are discrete wave-forms which are in a sense “particles of consciousness” and which work together to create a field which is the substrate of consciousness.

Dr Stuart Hameroff notes life’s dualistic “Cartesian theater” and proposes that the lag between perception and cognition is at the root of the appearance of dualistic separation. Hameroff envisions a quantum jump “back in time” to compensate for the gap between perception and consciousness. He has worked with physicist Roger Penrose who  suggested in his 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind that Platonic values including mathematical truth, ethical values and beauty are “embedded in the fine structure of the universe, specifically in fundamental spacetime geometry at the inifinitesimally tiny Planck scale.” These subtle forces may be resonating in “microtubules” which form the tiniest parts of living cells including brain cells where “quantum computation with objective reduction may be somehow involved in consciousness.” Our direct conscious connectivity to the cosmos might be found at these levels, transcending dualistic separation.

Consider this too: The Strange Link Between the Human Mind and the Quantum World

Feb 20

John Shirley & the Screaming Geezers Opened for the Blue Oyster Cult last night! Photographic Evidence!

John Shirley & the Screaming Geezers played for 1200 people at the sold-out Blue Oyster Cult show last night as the opening band. We got a wonderful reception from audience–we rocked it–and the BOC gave us compliments and so have people writing in at screaminggeezers.com. The BOC were GREAT. Guitar beauty. Brilliance.  Subtlety and powerful hard rock at once. Here’s a kinetic pic from the show at the Roseland Theater in Portland, that’s me at the mic. A Screaming Geezers album is coming soon, from Black October Records, and there will be a new BLUE OYSTER CULT album in September, from Frontier Records–on which are five songs for which I wrote the lyrics…Was thrilled when, backstage on Saturday, Richie of the Blue Oyster Cult let me hear, from his laptop, a nearly-finished mix of one of my songs on that new BOC album –and it’s sounding so great. I also saw the songlist for the album and I have (as lyricist) five songs on it. Watch for the new Blue Oyster Cult album in September.

Feb 20

the union of the mathematician with the poet

The union of the mathematician with the poet,
fervor with measure,
passion with correctness,
this surely is the ideal.

–William James, Collected Essays

(thanks to Abstruse Goose)


Feb 20


I just got a phone call a few minutes ago: Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult wanting to play a few songs for me–on the phone! Songs from the new album, one of which I wrote.  Not the ideal way to hear them but I got the gist–great rock, masterfully wrought. It does seem to be shaping up to a powerful new, fresh BOC album. It’s coming from Frontier Records later this year. There will be at least four songs with lyrics by me.

Just saw the proofs for the JOHN SHIRLEY ISSUE of the new WEIRDBOOK, which as I’m sure you know is a big magazine style / slash WeirdTales-ish book coming out at intervals every year. The issue will contain a new 40 thousand word fantasy novella by me, sword and sorcery, called Swords of Atlantis, plus two new short stories, plus reprints of some others, plus reprints of some of my weird-tales-style poems. This’ll come out fairly soon. Next month probably, or even late this month. Links will be provided.

My work with the editor at Blackstone books is complete and my new science-fiction/detective thriller novel STORMLAND is getting closer to publication. I hope for it by summer.

AND my band, John Shirley and the Screaming Geezers, will be opening for the Blue Oyster Cult at the big Roseland Theater in Portland, OR on February 15…Here’s the Screaming Geezers website.