Sunday, July 13, 2008


I feel dreary and slow. I have nothing to say today; I had nothing to say yesterday; last week, last month, this year, ever.

I have stopped being able to write. I can blame time or circumstances all I like but it's me who stopped. I am not capable of anything. I had hopes of poker but I don't seem to be improving at all. I'm honest with myself: I'm not sure I can make it any more. When I'm winning, I feel like I can, but you have to feel you're a winner when you're losing, and I don't.

I hate my hair. I've hated it always. When I was a youngster, I wanted to grow it long and it refused. It grew into a bush. So I wear it short usually, but if I don't get it cut, it grows into a bouffant, middle-aged style that isn't me.

I am not me. I don't feel like me.

I think a wire has crossed, leaving me feeling marooned from myself. It's weirder than feeling as though you're on the wrong planet. I feel as though I'm in the wrong person.

It's possible, I think. I believe I know what we are. To understand, I began by thinking about evolution. I was watching this, and wondering at how incredible it is that such complexity evolved. Not in a "wow, how could that happen, must be a god" way, but in a "wow, how could that happen, amazing that time can make cathedrals out of grains of sand" way. I am a staunch naturalist. I wish it was possible for me not to be. But it's not. Which is what we are discussing.

It occurred to me that we (by which I mean rational, scientific types like me, not the whole human race, which on balance is not included in that "we") are willing to accept that even though biological entities seem to have purpose, they do not. We are willing to believe that the world is on the whole purposeless and only seems to be purposeful.

Yet we believe we have purpose. By which I don't mean that our lives have a purpose, but that we believe we do things for purposes. But I am not sure we do. I believe we too have the appearance.

Do this for me. Think about raising your left arm. Well, you think, but it doesn't move, right? When it moves, it just moves. You are sure you moved it, but you couldn't say how. You just do it.

And that is what I think we are. Interpreters of a universe that carries on, purposelessly, without us. Our lives are interactions between bodies we have the illusion, but only the illusion, of controlling and patterns of firing neurons that somehow seem to be something more than flashes of light.

But aren't. I don't know why we feel as though we are real, but I am convinced we are not. Upset the chemistry of your brain and you go away; damage some of the connections and you go away. Time can and does change you.

I used to believe that we are jockeys holding the reins of a runaway horse. It seemed a good way to explain how we seem to sit astride an unconscious that does all the doing. (For instance, we seem to see things, but we do not do the processing that creates the vision: our unconscious does.) It seems to us that some things are "deeper" (processing vision, for example) and some "higher" or more "surface" (discussing what we see, for example). But I'm no longer convinced. I ask myself whether I can stop myself seeing. Of course, I can't, without physically damaging the apparatus. And even then, you'd probably "see", wouldn't you?

Well, you might argue, we do not control the motors of our body: can't stop seeing or our heart beating; can't stop breathing (you can suspend it, but not stop it altogether); can't stop our cells respirating. We are not in charge. So we're a jockey, right? Directing a horse that we cannot control?

No. I don't think so. Because we are not even in control of the jockey. Stop yourself from thinking. Go on. Do it. Go five minutes with no brain "chatter". You can't. You'd have to knock yourself unconscious. It's difficult even to direct your thoughts. Sometimes, often, they seem to be no more than reactions to the world you are in.

And how, when you are "in a mood", can you change that mood? It's not easy. You cannot, for instance, turn off grief like a tap. You cannot stop fear. You cannot "just cheer up" when you are depressed. We even know that some of these things are outcomes of chemistry, and use drugs to try to fix them. Doesn't it strike you that if your moods can be altered with chemistry, they are nothing but chemistry to begin with? And if that's true, maybe "you" are nothing but chemistry either.

We accept, don't we, that dogs do not think, that they just react to the world around them. We even think that they do not have memories, or a notion of time (those who protest that dogs "remember" things should consider the difference between knowing where something is and knowing how it got there). Why would we be different? We have convinced ourselves that the illusion of being able to manipulate symbols makes us something different from animals.

But fundamentally, I don't think we are.

I convinced myself of this view of the world while watching the kids play on the Wii. I asked myself whether a complex activity like that, which has no purpose but to pass time, could simply be a reaction to the world, prompted by a stimulus. And I couldn't see why not. It's easy to imagine that the good chemicals released by "having fun" are something your body would pursue, but harder to imagine that plugging in the Wii, firing up the game, picking your character, all that could be something your body does automatically, with "you" desperately rationalising the whole thing ex post facto. But I can't imagine how cells became so specialised in the body, either. I can't imagine a lot of things, but I do accept that some things that seem unimaginably complex are not; they are simply the outcomes of simple, small changes over enormous time.

So I am saying we evolved to imagine we are real, that we have control.

The ramifications of believing that are deep and wide. It asks questions about responsibility, among other things. If we are not real, how can we expect credit? Would there even be such a thing as being good? I've long believed that most "evil" is simply a pathological extension of fulfilling needs, which we all do.

You can tell I am not a philosopher, or a psychologist. But this is what I'm doing to keep from crying, because I am so sad today that I can barely stop spiralling inwards into my own head, to drown in self-pity. I am losing at poker this month, and I had a fight with Mrs Zen that inclines me to believe that I am not going to be able to live with her (which I had been doing very well). I don't think it's any big deal if I get angry when someone beats me in a hand of poker. It's a painful experience and expressing that pain surely isn't a terrible thing? Well, Mrs Zen thinks it is. She thinks I need a course in anger management to deal with it. I think she needs to chill the fuck out. I think that if she had her way, if she had had her way throughout our marriage, I would have been completely neutered. Rather than just mostly.

She is not the only person who, as soon as they think they have me in some way, have me bound to them, have a piece of me, immediately start wanting me to be someone different. I can't though. I don't think any of us can. If we change, it is not something we have effected from the inside, but something that is imposed on us. Some things you can train yourself in (and what is training if not trying to impose the outside on the inside) but if you are not apt for it, it can be like bouncing tennis balls off a wall: they don't ever become incorporated, and all you do is feel that the pain of smacking yourself with the tennis ball must be doing some good. (Which is how I feel about my poker study just now. I had believed I was incorporating some of it, albeit slowly. But I'm wondering whether I just mistake effort for achievement, pain for gain.)

You know, I am simple though. I mostly just want to be left alone, and when I don't, I want people to like me, without overly judging me, because I do not feel my motivations are ever really bad. I know I want to do the right thing, and when you know that, judgement that you are not hits harder than it might otherwise. Being caught weighs a lot less heavily than being falsely accused. I just want to be able to do what I can do, and be appreciated for that, and not constantly to be pressed with what I cannot.

And maybe I should lead the charge. Instead of believing I am hopeless and useless, I should believe I am just the sparking of neurons, confusing itself, and celebrate what I can be and do, and have faith that that is enough, always was and always will be.


What, finally, convinces me that this view of what we are is essentially correct is the feeling of love without reason, which makes this paragraph so easy to write:

I love my dad. I always have. Not for anything he's done or been to me but just because. I do not know how it would be possible not to love him. I can't imagine what he could do that would make me stop.

My love for my dad is real. It's realler than almost everything else in my life. It does not have reason. It just is. And you note how naturally it comes to me to write that he would have to do something to make me stop. Not "for me to stop loving him". But for me to be stopped from doing it.

My most fundamental feelings about the world are all like that: things that I cannot change, no matter how much I reflect on them, no matter how burdensome they are. I cannot make any dent in them at all, and I am aware that for them to change would require imposition from outside.

And reading further in that post, it becomes clear to me again that you cannot wallow in regret because you did what you could not choose otherwise than to do: "You have to negotiate with what there is, not what you wish there was." Sigh.


At 5:18 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

"I have stopped being able to write."

You are dumber than a rock. If you were unable to write I would not be angry at you for having written this post I feel compelled to respond to.

"I am not capable of anything."

None of us are capable of much, regardless of our posturing. We are the subjects of events that fall on our heads and confound us. Until we stumble into the idea that we don't have to be in control to reap the benefits of control, we look at the world around us and say "what the fuck?"

"...not the only person who, as soon as they think they have me in some way, have me bound to them, have a piece of me, immediately start wanting me to be someone different."

I want you to be different, Zen. I want you to change. I would like you to feel less fucking pain. I want your life to be happier. I think you might look very good skipping through flowers, knobby knees bouncing along, wearing a yellow tutu. Regardless of your fucking hairstyle.

Sit down with me brother, share a virtual joint with me. There, better? Good. Here's how it is. This place around us. We're living on the Forbidden Planet. The machine around us does whatever our subtlest mind tells it to do. The more we fear the more horrible things become. The tighter we tighten the knot the more trapped we are. The enemy is you and you best simply give up struggling before you've finished kicking your own ass. You are living in a paradox brother, the only way to be free is to stop fighting the chains and observe as they fall away.

Now please reasume writing trivial shit about politics or world hunger or music so I can get some work done here instead of responding to these posts you can't fucking write. Thenkew.

At 9:19 pm, Blogger $Zero said...

She thinks I need a course in anger management to deal with it.



anger management.


what a concept.

At 9:21 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have stopped being able to write.

And then you go on to write over 1800 words, mainly drivel but writing all the same.
Talk about contradicting yourself.

At 8:36 am, Blogger P. said...

There is, obviously, a deep sadness to the post but his underlying theories are interesting. And that hybrid vid is fucking sublime.

At 9:44 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadness Personified is Dave.

Dave you are not a people person are you! the reason being you are one dimensional, you see to get on with a range of people you need to present yourself differently to different people, you need a subtle repertoire, because individuals are varied they all expect different things from you. Most humans in a relationship are malleable it appears that you don't have that property. You see that as a weakness.

At 11:03 am, Blogger Dr Zen said...

I've never considered being a "people person" to be something to aspire to, Gunt, as you'd realise if your reading ability went beyond mouthing the words to understanding them. The image of you being all things to all people is delicious though. Thanks for sharing.

At 12:25 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Use your internal editor before inflicting your boring lames on anyone fool enough to read the comments.

At 2:23 pm, Blogger Miz UV said...

The chemical thing, yes. I believe that everything is physical -- love, hate, personality, "choices" (mostly illusory anyway), and everything else. No souls, nothing woo-woo. And sometimes I feel completely unmoored by the concept, but then I think ... why should this be a lesser thing?

At 2:55 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Feeling unmoored describes it pretty well. Then you realise that there is nothing to be unmoored, and nothing to moor to. Which is a bit scary.


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