For as long as I can remember one of my most favorite pastimes has been thinking about god, the universe and everything. Half of the books I read deal with this subject one way or another (the other half is Science Fiction, which often deals with the very same topics). In the past few years there has been a quickening of ideas on various subjects. Probably helped along by the fact that we have a little dog in the house since 2014, who loves to take hikes – and nobody else will take her. Without me noticing at first, many of the seemingly unrelated topics and ideas started getting connected while taking long hikes around our nearby lake.
As an example, as a musician I deal with and practice scales and chords – or, in other terms, the organization of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale into larger structures. In this example it means taking seven of the twelve notes to make more “melodic” sounding scales or tone-rows. The asymmetry of picking seven notes out of 12 equally spaced ones leads to interesting and rich structures by necessity.
Another fruitful playground are the basic workings of a digital computer. In this very idealized example the whole layer cake of operating systems, various level programming languages and interfaces, GUIs, apps etc. creates an intricate tower of increasing structured abstraction leading to interesting philosophical ruminations.
I finally decided to write this stuff down. But I am not a book author and this is not anything that would be of interest to a serious scientist or a religious person. Somehow I still feel it should be a little more out in the open rather than just fade away in a forgotten Google Doc. And since I don’t think anybody ever comes to this blog it’s perfectly safe….
Around 2006 I read a book by Ray Kurzweil called “Fantastic Voyage”. Somebody had recommended it. There are many recommendations in there about how to lead a healthier life and how to live long enough to get in on the “singularity”. Kurzweil is part of a group of people who believe that technological developments will rapidly accelerate towards a point when there will be true artificial or machine intelligence and, more specifically, when it will be possible to upload a complete human consciousness into some sort of electronic brain – this is referred to as the “singularity”. As I was reading that book I did get sucked into the idea, although I admit that I liked the possibility of living a radically extended healthy life of 150+ years better than being stuck in a computer.
This whole idea has a lot of critics and many books (science & science fiction) have been written which point out that the practical application of such longevity could be full of social, medical and technological complexities. No doubt about that. The funny thing is that during the time I fully bought into the “singularity” I started living healthier. One of the takeaways in “Fantastic Voyage” is that in order to get to the “singularity” as healthy as possible you better start now. So I lowered my calories and carbohydrates. Added fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables whenever possible. Cut any ice cream and cookies and started exercising. Since then I have lost around 20 pounds of waist line and I have been feeling healthier than in the past 30 years.
Soon after I finished reading “Fantastic Voyage” I started making attitude changes in my life. Really unconsciously at first. I started thinking about my “new” 150+ year life. Would I want to stay in the same house, the same city for 150+ years? What about my so-called career as a musician? The idea came to me that maybe now would be a good time to actually go to college and get a science degree. All of a sudden all these possibilities popped up. Ideas that had flared up at some time or another but rapidly flickered out again because there was a perception that the time was just too short. In the months after the Kurzweil book I did become much more skeptical of the “singularity”. At the same time I noticed that it had really improved my life in many ways. Now, my thinking was, chances are that I would die somewhere on the upwards leg of the parabola of my life and not when it plateaus or starts descending.
Or, in other words, if I would live to be 80 years old I would die on the up-slope because it would only be a little more than half my life-span of 150+ years. Of course you could ask “What good would that be? It wouldn’t change the facts.” Sure, but it would change my attitude towards the facts.
And it’s an interesting exercise to imagine to live twice as long. How would you change your life right now if that was a fact?
Another such thought experiment has to do with money. We are not a poor family by any means. But in our yard money doesn’t grow on trees and the prospect of paying for our kids’ college education fills me with fear. Now imagine: What would you do if there were no money problems in your life? How would you change your life? But, maybe that’s a topic for another day.
If you read many of the posts on this blog you’ll notice that I have been a musician for most of the past 30 years or so. Specifically, a “Jazz Guitarist”. Many knowledgeable folks have tried to classify what “jazz” is or what qualifies a certain piece of music as “jazz”. I admit that I actually don’t know or care – I just like to improvise. And not in the sense of playing a ’solo’ but making up music alone or together with a band.
Lately I have been playing a lot of solo guitar gigs and much of my practicing consists of improvising music just on guitar alone. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I throw all harmonic rules out. Most often I start out with a standard jazz tune or an original but since I am by myself I can go wherever I want. I don’t have to stick to the ’chorus’ (which of course is utter blasphemy when playing with other people). In principle I take material I know how to play (and what it sounds like) and try to stick it together in a hopefully logical and musical way. This material can be small melodic fragments or interesting chord sequences unrelated to a specific tune or piece of music. Or I take larger chunks from music I have played before (the famous introduction to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” comes to mind). Often, just trying to play the bridge of a well known standard in a different key will introduce a new dimension and risk, leading you down unexpected alleys. And then there are random unintentional notes (call them mistakes) which often play the role of ’genetic mutations’ where the basic idea is good enough to be repeated and each repetition sounds less than a mistake – clearly a kind of evolution. This sounds easier than it is but after a few ’normal’ tunes a certain flow develops and I start playing differently. The result may not sound all that different to a listener – after all I am still using the same material – but to me it seems to come from a different source. The music mostly comes out by itself. The two hours of my gig usually just fly by.
I have often tried to find patterns and rules to explain to students how I do this (actually one of my friends, who is a cognitive neurologist, is also interested in this). Some people have called this process ’stream of consciousness’ or ’channeling’. And here comes the 78 degree turn: Many years back I had a great fondness for the books of one Jane Roberts. Roberts claimed that she channeled an entity called Seth. In the beginning the channeling happened through a Ouija board and later verbally through Roberts. At the time when I read these books I didn’t care where that material came from. I just found it very fascinating since it dealt with a lot of things I kept thinking about, such as UFOs, alternate realities, weird stuff from various holy books, the works. It was like reading a novel. The common explanation for action with an Ouija board are involuntary movements of the operators’ finger muscles. So essentially, the information that is produced comes from the participants. I guess it’s a version of facilitated communication which has been pretty much proven to be a hoax.
Moving on to Roberts’ verbal delivery. While delivering for the Seth entity she used a different voice and her husband Robert Butts often asked in-context questions. Do I think Roberts actually delivered messages from Seth? No. I think she was improvising. She was, in other words, telling a story, made up from material she had picked up, knowingly or unknowingly, from many sources. Naturally the material was blended with original ideas (Roberts was after all also a Science Fiction writer) and it seems some ideas pop up again and again over her channeling career, mutating and evolving.
One can of course argue my conclusion but I think Roberts did the same thing that I do when I improvise music on my guitar only in her medium. Nothing ’supernatural’ about it. The medium makes the message.