On hearing “no.”

In hearing “no,” I think we also succumb to “what if.”
What if he/she/they had said “yes?”
Then I would be rich/validated/happy.
And would not have to feel the pain of “no” anymore.

You’re right. Those very things often go through my head. Finding happiness ourselves is easier said than done…

Easier said than done, because we’ve been taught to look in the wrong places.

“This moment” is woven, on a loom of evolved wiring, from strands of bird song, thanking me for the seed, tragic news of a typhoon and a shooting, from the zing of this morning’s coffee and lull of last night’s chamomile, the slight pain of a sprain from yesterday’s run, echos of childhood loss, all etc.

Our brain does this weaving, always, but often with yarn that is too thin, of the wrong dye, sometimes of the wrong wool. But weave it does, constantly, because it is Weaver, and the cloth is “me.”

To protect us, Weaver learned to double the knots of fear and pain, to twice the count of hoped-for gain, even when loss is of something only imagined. So “NOs,” when they come, pack twice the wallop as the “Maybe?” pushed across the table by Weaver, with a shy smile.

The trick?  You’ve said it so many times: Be real, let go of the knots, be kind, breathe, do what you love and for the right reasons, be honest, have faith. Repeat. It’s not easy getting past Weaver to the barrels of yarn. In fact, it’s damn hard, because Weaver weaves even that effort into patterns it already knows. But, it can be done.

You’re just a wave, you’re not the water.*

At the end of his wonderful 2011 book, “Who’s In Charge,” Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist, writes: “Understanding how to develop a vocabulary for those layered interactions (at the interface between mind and brain)…constitutes the scientific problem of this century.”

Not just the interface between brain and mind. Also the interface between self and other, pieces and the whole, man and society. That was the job of philosophers: To develop a new vocabulary, because the vocabularies that evolved since we stood on two legs have failed to keep up.

We’re blinded by these limits of our inherited languages, the evolved systems of our brain, and the obvious material success of abstraction. Except for mystics, who spoke in riddles: everything is nothing, the void, being itself, be here now.

But the words, and the images, have  been right in front of us the whole time, we just couldn’t see: It’s a wave, an organization, created by simple sets of rules, that communicates across the interface between systems.

A school of fish has coherence, but there isn’t time for a message to spread to each fish to turn “left.” The school remains organized because each fish inherited simple rules about how far to stay from its neighbor. Rules about proximity keep a flock of geese together in the wind.

Similar rules allow traffic to flow on the freeways. We don’t think of water molecules as having free will, but the very same mathematics that describe the flow of a fluid describes the flow of traffic. Someone hit their brakes when their coffee spilled, and set up a whorl that persisted for hours.

All we know at the interface is a set of simple rules. Don’t change lanes if someone is there. Don’t rear end the car in front of you. Those rules result in behavior that is wave-like when viewed in the aggregate.

Quantum mechanics gives us fits. A photon is either particle or wave… depending on how we measure it. A wave with no medium but one that is organized, and at times described as “coherent.”

We can’t imagine an ocean wave without water. But we can imagine that wave as an organization of information about an earthquake that occurred hours ago and thousands of miles away. Time and space. Look closer. Several waves. Closer still, a single wave. Peak and valley. Each part of the wave reflects information about the earthquake, a hologram, a fractal.

Clarity decreases the tighter we focus, according to Heisenberg. The wave disappears, organization disappears, when we look only at a water molecule and don’t know where it’s going.

What’s worse: that monad may be influenced by more than one wave at a time. Another wave from a squall near Hawaii interferes with the earthquake message, sends information that reenforces or perhaps cancels, temporarily, the movement of one molecule. Our driver pulls to the side of the road to let an ambulance pass. Different rules apply, then don’t, and traffic flows like water.

Blended chords wash over us, conveying laughter, or sadness. Remove the oboe, then the violins. Look small enough and the last musical note is nothing but a blip, as frequency disappears. Then, what we see is the result of what we have chosen to look at, and it’s no longer a symphony.

At the interface, simple rules convey information between systems in ways that seem like magic, when spoken in our old languages, to brains that evolved subsystems to dodge snakes and run from tigers. That brain never needed to know that neural net subsystems process, reenforce and cancel, to achieve results feeding other nets, waves of information flowing in both directions.

We talk as if we live in a binary world. Yes/No, zeros/ones, self/other, alive/dead. But we do not. We live in a world of potentials, of gradients, of transmission — of waves that bounce, bend and reflect upward and downward, information conveyed by simple rules at the interface that lead to organization, causation in both directions.

Mathematician Gödel blew up one of the grandest efforts of philosophy in the 20th century with the observation that any self-referencing system could not be both coherent and complete. For wonderful explanations of this, see Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by  Douglas Hofstadter.

But if we assume that any such system both refers to itself and does not, then incoherence, or incompleteness, disappears. Is that itself incoherent? Not if we let Gödel pet Schrodinger’s cat, a potentiality, a wave, peak and valley, pressure and not, created by rules that govern observation of elements in the subsystem.

Waves exist because of alternation over time communicated by rules between elements. For a single molecule, there is no wave, just a monad in waiting, ready to follow rules that don’t apply until it moves. Hit the brakes to keep the distance, then accelerate, change lanes to fill the gap and traffic flows like water, or sand through an hour glass, described by simple equations that do not reference free will.

Here is the tricky part. Where do those rules come from? Why does the spiral of sunflower seeds match the spiral of a conch, and both match the spiral of this galaxy? Fractals may be Fibonacci’s children, but math does not govern, it describes something that does. What is that? Being as such, the Hand of God, a chance collection of rules that may or may not apply in the universe of dimensions next door?

I don’t know. But a key to the door may be that simple rules between entities create organisms of information that have the power of causation  between systems and subsystems that otherwise seem unrelated, to our old paradigms. I believe this crossing at the interface can best be described by the mathematics, and metaphor, of waves.

*Jimmie Dale Gilmore

A course I’d like to teach

I would like to teach a Freshman college course. I would name it, “Essential Tools,” and it would center around three texts:

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond.

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter.

Guns, Germs, and Steel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997, Gödel, Escher, Bach in 1980. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize and Thinking, Fast and Slow summarizes much of his earlier work.

The course “concept” would be “Who are we, and how did we get this way?” It’s not political, and would puncture much of what pretends to be political discussion. It’s not religious, and would be rejected by fundamentalists of any religion. And it’s not Philosophy, because it talks about things we understand.

There are other great books out there, of course. I won’t name any other favorites because every time I bring this idea up in conversation, other people immediately provide their own list. There are obviously too many “essential texts” for any of them to be essential. This is mine.

I lament that I seem to be as old as I am, that I feel as if humility has been replaced by entitlement, that thoughtful discussion seems quaint, that ideas that take more than 140 characters to “articulate” are boring, that “reality TV” does not offend, that compromise is thought of as surrender, that “on-message” is more important than governing, that “news” has been replaced by opinion in a media war of words where “truth” is collateral damage, that I am living in a declining culture that has given so much to the world.

In teaching this course, I’d hope to give a sense that some of the ideas we hold most sacred are fictions that we have been told, and that we tell ourselves: useful, satisfying and false. I’d hope to call out those assumptions we regard as absolutes, and create a sense of wonder.

I’d hope that one student, somewhere, would be able to make a difference, do what I’ve never done.


If ATT, Verizon, Comcast, XFinity (really, Qwest?) had the tools to “sniff” the content of emails, blog posts, news articles, as they were posted to the internet, it would be their legal obligation to minimize access to criticism. It would be a violation of their fiduciary responsibility not to do whatever is legal to preserve their reputations and protect their business plans. Whatever is legal.

But as far as the Internet goes, the law sits about ten generations behind the technology, and the social consequences, of this whole new paradigm of human interaction. Of course these companies, which collude with the National Security Agency, know the content of our communication. The Oligopolists of Communication are about two generations ahead, technologically and legally. They write the laws and then get lickspittle congressmen, like Oregon’s Greg Walden, to introduce them.

Using words like  “freedom” and “progress” and “market” and “innovation,” and bribes in the form of campaign contribtuions, they keep at bay the only force, the definition of “what’s legal,” that could reign in their slurping and sucking and hoarding of the life blood of our librerty: information.

You have no privacy. You have no rights. You have no power. They have won, and if you oppose them, you will be rendered either deaf, or mute. We have no mouth, and we must scream.

Turn it off, Part III

Whoa. The phone companies have been keeping records of all our calls! They have employees embedded with the Drug Enforcement Administration to comb information! And because it’s a company, not the government, that stores all these records, it’s legal!

May I be forgiven an “I told you so?” May I be forgiven for repeating, again, that we don’t know the half of it?

Think back to the beginning of our nation, when we learned hard lessons that economic power was as corrupting as political power. The East India Company was the target of the Tea Party, as much as the Crown. Railroads were broken up because they strangled the nation. Oil companies were broken up for the same.

A few decades ago, the phone company, Ma Bell, was dismantled. Wire taps had to be court approved. But we don’t use wires anymore! The Baby Bells have morphed into a technocorp, an oligarchy extending tentacles ever deeper into our lives. The lifeblood of our nation flows through portals of the internet, and they tap all communication with only a passing nod to courts protecting the Bill of Rights.

When oligarchs take control of vital services, corruption inevitably follows.

I was stupid when ranting on these “pages” about why there isn’t greater effort to promote competition in the telecomm industry. The government doesn’t want an effective “market!”  The oligopoly serves the government interest. It is easier to collude with four companies than a dozen.

A friend calls the government/corporate beast “Leviathan.”  2,000 years ago, Plato warned against the power of “Oligarchs.” The enemy is within the gates, and we have failed to defend ourselves.

We must not be stampeded into servitude by fears of terrorism or concerns about drug-fueled chaos. Privacy laws must be updated, and made ferociously effective.

Turn it off, Part II

I have renamed my “cell phone.” It is now my “Link.” Not just because it links me to the world via communication and information. But also because it is one link in the chain that binds me to their intent.

Cell phones, Internet. Visa Cards. All this noise about the NSA and cell phones: Does anyone really believe, once they have spent four minutes thinking about it, that the NSA has not compromised your (easily revoked) VISA card, your Master’sCard? In exchange for the ability of card companies to condition you into spending more than your limits, or missing payments, so they can charge rates that once were considered usury?

Is anyone so naive to think that VISA, MasterCard, AMEX and the rest don’t slurp your data? And share what they learn with the NSA, and their corporate “partners” (i.e., those willing to purchase the info)? Read the fine print.

Have you ever bought a gift card? Have you received one that represents a corporate “refund” (talking about you, T-Mobile)? Did you know your “money” on that card can evaporate? Read the fine print. And then realize that a percentage of those cards never get redeemed.

Where did that money go?

When in hell did banks take ownership of our money? Our transactions? And how do they get to rent it back to us at discounted value? It’s too late to do anything about it, because they own too many political waterboys like Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, and many others, but it’s good to think about once in a while. Next time you buy something, ask if there’s a cash discount equal to the highest rate your retailer pays for you to use the credit card.

If only for an hour, turn it off. Use cash for your next transaction, at least while you can. They won’t know where you are for that period of time. Until they get the cameras up, or satellites start recognizing cars and addresses… oh, crap. Drones. Too late.

It won’t be long  before there is no “money.”  It’s good for you, it’ll help you keep track of all your expenses. And it’s good for them, they won’t have to pay to print all those $5, $10, $20 and $100 bills. Or keep track of them.

Or lose track of you.

Turn it off.

Turn off the Security-Technology Complex

On January 17, 1961, when President Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address, he warned the country about the “military-industrial complex.”

Acknowledging the need for a strong military during the Cold War (Eisenhower was a five-star general leading troops in World War II and Supreme Commander of allied forces in Europe), he cautioned against the loss of liberty if Congress, the military, and industry colluded to hijack the public interest (emphasis mine):

“Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

It’s been nearly three generations since that speech. During that time, we have unwittingly initiated the greatest experiments in the history of our species on what it means to be mankind, and society. Television. Cell phones. The internet.

But Eisenhower’s warning is not only relevant today, it is more important than ever before. The phrase “military-industrial complex” sounds nearly quaint. But its spawn, the “security-technology complex,” is not only alive but very active, very aware of itself, and very sophisticated in its manipulation of information and abuse of power.

It’s not just politics, or the illusions of freedom. Hiding behind false facades built of threats and promises, they analyze what you buy, what you read, what you drive, where you live and where you go. They use sophisticated tools to learn what you think, then tailor information you receive to create perceived threats and solutions that serve their interests, not yours.

They manage you. They herd you behind fences of fear, corral you with a tight focus on “message,” follow you and quickly respond if you get out of line. They feast on the heart of what our founding fathers worked so hard to achieve.

It may be too late, but there is one response they can’t control.

Turn it off.


Okay, I drank way, way too much ice tea last night, and am cruising into this lovely Sunday morning on far too little sleep. But still…

Public garbage cans in London have screens that display advertisements.

Those same garbage cans can recognize smart phones of people walking by.

And if the garbage can sees you going into a different coffee shop than usual, it can flash a “loyalty” message as you walk by.

Who told Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam they were in charge?

In the past, I loved the future. My first favorite books were science fiction: Assimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, then on to Phillip K. Dick , William Gibson and Samuel R. Delany. There was something liberating about the future, not quite chaotic, not anarchistic, nor autarchistic, but a place… unbound, I guess.

Perhaps the only thing unbound was my imagination. I’ve heard that before. There was, of course, the threat of Orwell, but 1984 came and went and big brother had not arrived.

But now, maybe it has: The NSA. Black boxes under your dashboard record every stop and go, in your car or on your computer. Your cell phone broadcasts a constant stream of who you are, where you are, what you are doing and when. Drones. Verizon. Xfinity. CenturyLink. AT&T.

Yes, I fear corporate snooping more than government snooping, primarily because corporations are better at it and they own our lawmakers. But it doesn’t matter who is perched on my shoulder. Laws protecting privacy are in serious need of review. Because what we feel and what we do can be modified by those who anticipate our behavior through study of the habits of people just like us.

We are losing control not only of our freedom, but of what we think. And it may already be too late.

Dead or Alive

From my couch, I look out at mountains mottled green and gray. Over the years, fire has eaten into the smooth blanket of trees; from life to ash where it bit most deeply. For now, draw no lines and call each shade part of the forest.

Forest fires, from very close up, are terrifying. They howl as they run among the trees, pulling life from each branch, each blade of grass. The sizzling crackle and rushing inhalation as flames suck needles from an incandescent pine is with me still, years after I last heard it.

I can only imagine the final moments of 19 firefighters who died recently in Arizona, then even my imagination flees.

Fire and forest, firs in flames, made me curious about the line between what we think of as alive and what we believe is not. Blame Disney.

Life is “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants … including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change…”

From an embryonic smolder at the base of a ponderosa struck by lightning, the fire gestated in pine needle duff, creeping outward to find small nourishment in drops of sap and drying decay. Four days after conception, maybe a week, a hot brisk breeze found the nest, brought oxygen and an appetite.

The fire changed. First, it climbed the tree that brought life from the sky. Lower branches gave it a ladder, and it grew upward with each step. It didn’t take long in the heat of August, and while it licked its way to the top, it dropped flaming sticks and cones into the breeze to land in the bushes at the base of other trees. With that, what we think of as “the fire” climbed the ridge outside my window.

Was this reproduction? Was it still one fire, or many? Ants or colony, cells or man, genes or species? Where is that line?

Did the men on that mountain feel they’d been ambushed? They were at the edge of the fire, they had a plan. How did everything change so suddenly, flames coming for them so quickly and with such lethal intent?

In 1943, physicist Erwin Schrödinger gave a lecture on “What is Life?” From that grew the knowledge that, locked in our DNA, is information. A code about structure, about what has been successful, that can be modified as needed to fit new circumstances.

Fire may have no such code within. Perhaps that’s why we do not think of it as alive. But perhaps the DNA of fire lies outside its skin, its code an ability to respond to the code of the forest, it adapts as it needs to once it has been awakened.

Two trees outside my window, one living, one dead, one growing upward and one crumbling to fertilize the next. They are part of the same living forest, itself an organism that grows and adapts and is rejuvenated, often by fire. The words are easy, but it is hard, at times, to find the lines.

Controlling the Internet

Last weekend in Seattle, fellow racer Rick Korn said I should focus on social commentary rather than my literary efforts. Rick and I were having a conversation about publishing, crowd-sourcing, and how the Internet has become an essential utility for commerce and communication, the major information artery of our society. It carries blood, not iced tea.

And it is controlled by a few oligarchs who have increasing power to dictate what we see, and when we see it, through ownership of the access points. The uproar about the National Security Agency collection of “meta-data” is really only the tip of the iceberg.

While no one “owns” the Internet, how we get there is owned by ATT, Verizon, Comcast (Xfinity?) and a handful of others. Those access points have sniffers and filters by which they take our personal information. So, not only do they charge us for access, they turn around and sell the information they sniff out to others, or give it to the government. They have the power to examine every place we visit, analyze wherever we go for information, filter what we see, and wrap it in ads.

The Internet is too essential to allow corporations to control the on-ramps and off-ramps in any way. ATT, Verizon, Comcast, Google, Apple and the others are not to be trusted. Not because of obvious malfeasance, though there is evidence of that, but because the past has shown that control of an essential commodity or service will be abused. See the history of oil companies, or railroads.

Here are my suggestions: Every effort should be made to maximize competition in every identified market at every level of integration. We should be allowed to buy any phone we want and use it on any compatible carrier. Their blather about compatibility and security is just a smoke screen.

Usage should be charged on an actual metered basis. A friend of mine pays $50 per month for data. She was charged an additional $10 one month because she went over her 5 gig limit. But she had not used any service the previous month, nor any the month after, and paid $50 for each of those. So the total was $160 for less than six gigs.

This is like buying water by the barrel, delivered every month. It’s one thing to charge if you order another bucket, but how many of us would stand for it if the water we had paid for but not used was engineered to evaporate on the 10th of every month?

The law has lagged so far behind the technology, and often been written by the oligarchs themselves, that it no longer serves the interest of those of us who own the spectrum.

A toll road is a freeway where you pay someone to get on or get off. It’s one thing to pay to get on. It is another when the owner of the toll booth tracks where you go, and maybe sells that info later, or blackmails you with it, or gives it to an agency that pulls you in for an interrogation even though all you did was drive past a mosque or synagogue or a pro-peace rally.

Ownership of all personal information should belong to the person about whom the information is about, not to those collecting the information. Any attempt to collect information without a court order must be disclosed, and approved of, with the ability to say “no” as easy it is to say “yes.”

One final point: these are very conservative, Republican concepts. They are offered in the spirit of the real Boston Tea Party, where the East India Company, in collusion with the English monarchy, was taking advantage of their control over transport of tea to the colonies.  That not only led to a declaration of independence, it’s why there are so many Starbucks in Seattle.

Thank you, Rick.