Saturday, February 25, 2012

Too Many Explanations

Yeni Cami Cat
This cat is conscious. Discuss.

My previous post sparked an unexpected and irritating discussion regarding physicalist versus nonphysicalist explanations of consciousness. I vowed I wouldn't go there, but there you are, I can't help myself. Because I'm really unhappy with all attempts to explain it that I've come across.

A bit of background.

In my early teens, I did a massive amount of reading into paranormal phenomena. I believed every word of it, too. Then I started reading up on the skeptical literature related to them, and pretty soon all of that belief was gone. For a few years, I hung out on alt.atheism, sci.skeptic, and a few other forums dedicated to debunking flim-flammery of all sorts. Then that got old too.

Then at some point I realized that actually those purely materialist, neurophysicalist explanations of consciousness—emergent materialism and all that—don't really explain anything either. They all end up as making perfect sense up to a certain point and then, poof! consciousness. That poof! is never even addressed. Instead, skeptics like to substitute some nonmaterialist explanation for it, and then tear that to pieces. It was good fun, too, but doesn't really help.

This is an attempt at writing up the reasons for my dissatisfaction with the various attempts at explaining consciousness—what it is, where it comes from, what it's for—that I've come across. Only at a very crude level, since there are so damn many when you drill down. So sit back and grab a beverage of your choice, 'cuz this is going to get long.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Altered States and Feng Shui

The Logical Endpoint of Sign War
There's a feng shui war on in the Hong Kong skyline...

I'm sick at home. Nothing serious, just a moderately nasty flu virus of some kind, with fever, aches and pains, and all the usual fun. In fact, I'm a good deal better today than yesterday, which is why I'm writing this here blog post.

My mind starts working funnily when I'm running a temperature. It becomes very very active, and something about my pattern-recognition wetware goes into overdrive. A quite a while ago I got a nasty stomach bug which prompted me to produce hundreds of naughty syllabic inversions from short phrases. You know, bucking a fox, that sort of thing. I don't remember any of them, but I had a witness so I wasn't just imagining it.

This time, I was obsessing about feng shui.

Feng shui isn't just about furniture arrangement. It's a system of geomancy; placing buildings, structures, roads, canals, and what have you in auspicious arrangements. I felt like I was just on the cusp of some great revelation. It had something to do with Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor. I realized that what he was actually doing was engraving a spell on the Earth, which laid the foundations of China. Those canals, walls, cities, and especially mausoleum (yin feng shui, see) was the whole point of the exercise.

Yeah, it felt more impressive when I was actually thinking it. I'll let you know if there's any progress.

But it did bring home to me once again how deeply intertwined our physical and mental states really are. Yet the gap between neuronal activity and phenomena of consciousness remains unbridged. We're constantly learning more about how the brain/mind interaction works, but we're no closer to discovering what the mind is.

I kinda like it that way.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Municipal Government

Lapland Landscape with Power Line
Lapland Landscape with Power Line, Muonio, 2010

Last week, the Finnish government dropped a bit of a bomb. They presented their plan for reforming municipal government in Finland. That would entail cutting down the number of municipalities from around 350 to around 70. That's a pretty huge change, and it will certainly not happen exactly as they're planning. Municipalities are tied to local identity, which makes such a reform explosive to start with; what's more, there are going to be losers as well as winners, and the losers are going to fight against it tooth and nail.

It got me thinking about municipal government. It doesn't get the press of international or national government, which is a shame because it has more impact on people's everyday life—and individual people have much more power to affect it, too. I discovered that I'm actually woefully uninformed about how municipal government even works in Finland. Yet this is important enough that I think I ought to have some opinion about it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Inventory of Political Positions


I follow politics a quite a bit, and have opinions about lots of stuff. I sometimes wish I had a nice, coherent framework to plug everything in, but that's regrettably not the case. In fact, I rarely even take stock of my political positions as a whole, rather than simply looking at things individually. Therefore this post—an attempt at making an inventory of sorts, of that part of the furniture of my mind that is labeled 'politics.'

Who knows, I might even come up with more posts on specific topics, since this is a very high-level overview.

Self-indulgent, but then what are blogs for?