Category Archives: Philosophy

Reader’s Guide and Having Fun

One criticism about my book FREEDOM CLUB is about its alternate history flashbacks, and the fact that diverging from the primary plot makes the book more difficult to read. I suppose this is true to some limited extent. However, I also feel that readers have become overly accustomed to the homogenized story-telling techniques employed by big publishers. I’m not saying I don’t like a good thriller now and then. But for some reason it seems wrong to enforce preconditions on how one must write a book. Is this not art?

Now some people will say that intellectual issues within a book are fine if treated the right way. The ‘right’ way? Sadly, I translate this as a prerequisite to couch all text in nail-biting action which keeps readers glued to each line of text. Fine for thrillers; but not every book needs to be a thriller, right?


In any event, to help readers try to understand my non-standard flashbacks,  I’ve put together a ‘reader’s guide’. You can see it from the blog’s main menu, and I hope it helps extract greater meaning from the flashbacks, so that they don’t feel like they are just roadblocks.

It was always my goal to make a book that would entice people to think. How interesting to see that when you actually do this, you pay a price.

And to those who say all higher learning can be fun: sorry, I must disagree. Intellectual pursuits can be extremely enjoyable, but they’re not fun. Look at any serious artist painting, writing, making music, sculpting…. Are they skipping around and going WEEEEEEE ? I don’t think so. Normally, they’ve got on some hard face and look like they’re zoned out (or want to kill someone). For sure, they are enjoying themselves.

But that’s not the same as having fun.

Freedom Club – Promo Video

Not on sale until October, but thought I would share this anyway. My publisher, Hotspur Publishing, made this cool promo video. Enjoy!

Retrocausality – Is it real?

Even though central to my book’s theme in some respects, I only recently familiarized myself with Retrocausality. An interesting concept which boils down to this: effect before cause.

So is it real? I believe it’s more interesting as a philosophical topic. Certainly, we at times imagine our actions are based on the influence or desires of others in the future. No? Then just imagine someone who bucks society, and then defiantly slams a fist on the table. “I’m right god-damn-it ! You’ll see, time will tell!”

So…, taking actions now in the name of future morality (the cause) is employed. It’s not so strange  for the human animal. Even if it’s wrong, it certainly is poetic. Isn’t that enough to give pause to this absurd notion?

Anyway, I suppose time will tell if it’s right or wrong. Time will tell.

The Libertarian SF Subgenre?

Is this a hot topic or what? I came across this topic recently. After which, I searched on Wikipedia and found a page that claims that Libertarian Science Fiction is a legitimate subgenre of Science Fiction.

How interesting.

I recall starting discussion on LinkedIn sometime back asking how many sub-genres exist in SF. A small war broke out with lots of opinions in every direction. Of course there is no official gatekeeper, but throughout the discussion I never saw any mention of Libertarian Science Fiction.

The Wiki article mentioned  Robert A. Heinlein‘s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress  as a good example in support. Clearly, there are elements of truth to this assessment. However, I would want to see a very long list of books  (with their author’s approval ) that demonstrate this sub-genre is really out there. Otherwise, I would just chalk up SF as a genre that leans towards this philosophy because… well, it’s interesting.

Comments are welcome. But please! Let’s not have any war over this, it’s not worth it.

Why Good Old Fashion AI is Dead

Martin heidegger

The following paper is probably the best document which describes the death of “Good Old Fashion AI”.

Why Heideggerian AI Failed and how Fixing it would Require making it more Heideggerian

Okay, it might be a bit long for the casual blog readers. But Professor Dryfus makes a compelling case for the death of traditional AI, and why its future depends on Heideggerian philosophy. In reality, the AI community now seems to recognise that to crack the secret of consciousness, we must first understand how it manifests itself in living creatures. Only then can we begin to create artificial intelligence that represents that which we can only now imagine in Science Fiction.

It’s a fascinating topic.

Jacques Ellul – The Betrayal by Technology

Jacques Ellul was a 20th century French philosopher. He wrote several books, and some were about technological and its impact on society.  Perhaps the most important of these was “The Technological Society” (see  recommended reading list). Ted Kaczynski (also known as “The Unabomber”) often quotes from Ellul, and even though this might be considered a poor choice of reference, I do believe it highlights the fact that Ellul’s work has far-reaching implications and influence.

The following You Tube video is a short 6 part documentary produced by Jan van Boeckel. “The Betrayal by Technology” is a fascinating view into the thoughts of Ellul made before some time before his death in 1994. It is all in French, but does have English subtitles.

Please watch the entire documentrary at this link and feel free to leave comments. I think Ellul makes so many interesting points, it is sure to stimulate discussion on many levels.

Note: The above quote comes from Kaczynski’s book; Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, A.k.a. “The Unabomber”

Technology’s Emotional Driver

Chimp using stick  Chimp Using Rock  Bonobo Eating 

I have often considered why man seems so hell-bent on changing his environment. Why humans invent many types of useful objects and techniques, all of which I deem to be technology.

Quite honestly, most philosophical books on this topic do not have an answer. In other words, the motivation behind man’s incredible creativeness is not explained. It remains simply,  a mystery.

From my point of view, such a position is tragic. Humans are by their very nature, technological creatures.  In my opinion, the very thing that separates us from the natural world (although this too is a pont of argument) is our ability to envision an optimal state of existence, and then work towards that state by applying appropriate tools or techniques. We want to create and invent, and deep down within us there seems to be a motivational driver. But sadly, no one seems able to put their finger on it.

However, after listening to an interview with Jaak Panksepp on the Brain Science Podcast, I was stuck with the possibility that man’s primary motivation to create technology could be a specific emotion. 

In brief, Dr. Panksepp has for some time experimented on the emotion centers of animals, and has concluded there are seven primary emotions that can be found within the brains of most mammals. They are; Seeking, Fear, Rage, Lust, Care, Panic, and Play. I won’t discuss them all, but I am very interested in Dr. Panksepp’s ideas on the Seeking system.

According to Panksepp, the Seeking emotion is a primary driver which is within all mammals, and presumably humans. It motivates us to find solutions to imminent problems, the most fundamental of which would be forging for food. However, the Seek emotion is a general goal seeking system. His own words sum up its complex behavior;

… the neuroscience evidence indicates that all mammalian brains do contain a general-purpose SEEKING system designed to actively engage the world, especially its life-sustaining resources. The active and automatized urge to energetically interact with the world and to help integrate associated information about environmental events, increases the future efficiency of behaviors through the emergence of cognitive maps, expectancies, and habit structures (Panksepp, 1986a, 1992a, 1998a).

After listening and reading up to the links above, I would ask anyone to consider whether this very same Seek emotion could be responsible for technology’s creation. Is it so strange? After all, our will to discover and invent seems driven by something. I would hypothesize that Panksepp’s “Seek” is in fact that force. And this would explain why technology is so general in nature. As I have argued in previous posts, technology is not just a simple tool or invention. It is more like a useful idea that helps us shape the world. Yes, technology can be instantiated into an object. However, the concrete form pails against the idea which created it. That is because, the idea within our heads can be passed down to others, and repeated when the desire to do so exerts itself.

However, even if Seek is the primary force behind our inventiveness, there are many more questions to ask. For instance, why is man so capable of going beyond the creative ability of animals? Is the technology we create  intrinsically different from what we see in nature? For example, when beavers build dams, and birds build nests; is that an application of technology? It could very well be that the emotional centers of all our brains are driving this, but I tend to feel our cognitive scope is much higher, and allow man to enter the world of the “unnatural”.

But as interesting as all these questions are, let’s not tackle them all here in this one post. For now, the issue is whether or not the Seek emotion acts as our primary source of invention, or want to invent. I believe it is. And hopefully new experiments in neuroscience will gather enough evidence to make a more objective case.

If you want to have a more technical breakdown of Dr. Jaak Panksepp‘s ideas, I would suggest you also look at the following paper. It is more technical, but still a good read.

But what is natural?

I have had several discussions about technology, and my defining it as any application of Sentient (not necessarily human) intentions to modify the environment in a preferred manner. I along with some other scholars see it as an unnatural act by definition. But this begs the question why our “intentions” make a difference. Are they really special or just an extension of the natural world? And If they are natural, then all our intentions and technology which emerge from those intentions, could be seen as an extension of nature.

This issue has created some debate. The crux of my argument boils down to the definition and intrinsic meaning of “natural”. Things seem to get blurry at this point, and to be honest I don’t think anyone has the answer to this. I suppose everyone can decide for himself how to apply the meaning.

But I did come across a philosopher “Peter Hancock” who seems to have thought this through, somewhat like me. The following link is interesting;

And within this text I found the following;

Technology and Natural Laws
In the sense I have conveyed we now have to inquire whether
technology and nature are different or whether they are in fact
essentially the same. For good or bad, we have come to a situation
where strong positive empiricism reigns and technology is the material
manifestation of that creed. But is this natural? As I am sure the reader
has suspected all along, it all depends upon what is considered
‘natural?’ That is, are we going to use the term in an inclusive or
exclusive sense. The inclusive, coarse-grained view is that physical
entities obey physical laws. Hence, everything is ‘natural’ by this
definition of nature. But this view is biased by a re-ificiation of
physical laws. To the strict ecologist, to whom these laws and their
application is sacrosanct, technology in general and human-machine
systems in particular are only extensions of nature. True, they explore
exotic regions that cannot be compassed by any living organism alone,
but they are bound by the same strictures and constraints and are subject
to the ‘pervasive’ laws. But, in conception, they are founded in human
imagination which is not bound by any such laws. As Koestler (1972)
notes, ‘the contents of conscious experience have no spatio-temporal
dimensions; in this respect they resemble the non-things of quantum
physics which also defy definition in terms of space, time, and
substance.’ This unbounding is what makes developments such as
virtual reality so intriguing (Hancock, 1992).

If I understand the above, it seems to put importance or meaning on the fact that technology distinguishes itself as an expression of imagination, beyond any limits of physical laws.

You could say that many (if not all) humans do put importance upon man’s imagination and desires. If not, why not just go back and live in the jungle? Mind you, I don’t think this is the brainwashing of any one culture/religion of humans. We are all guilty of this thinking and we have been since man got a brain big enough to leave the jungle. As proof, wouldn’t you agree we all seem to like singing around the fire? That is not the work of Judeo/Christian culture. It is the work of Sentient beings.

Of course, now I need to explain what is imagination and intention. Perhaps it is an emergent property of nature. One that allows the cosmos to understand itself.

I don’t know. I guess I will never know.

Henry David Thoreau’s Modern Reputation – It’s not what is used to be!

Though worshiped as one of the greatest literary minds of the 19th century, one might be surprised to learn that Henry David Thoreau’s modern reputation significantly differs to that during his life. Upon close inspection, it seems apparent that Thoreau made little effort to earn a living at being a profession writer. Instead choosing to work at odd jobs, the pencil factory owned by his family, and as a surveyor.

Now when I say a “professional writer”, I mean someone who spends a majority of their time writing for publication and its related income. That statement does not describe him, though he may have spent a great deal of time writing, most of it was for his own interest. He wrote over 2 million words in his journals that span 25 years. Only a minority was devoted to publication.

This point though shocking to some is clear upon review of few things. First, Thoreau published a relatively small number of essays. In total 21 (see below), of which most were published before Walden was released in 1854. Regarding books, he published only two; the first one “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” was self published, and a dismal failure. The second was Walden, only a mild success published through a respected publisher Ticknor and Fields. And finally, one must take careful note that  publications and mining of his journals after his death sold more copies of Walden then ever during his lifetime. This not only made Thoreau a common name in literature, but also did much to cast the image we now have of him in modern day.

Looking first at his early publications, what becomes immediately apparent is that a great many were published by The Dial magazine. Six publications came out in rapid succession between 1840 and 1844, when the Dial finally closed down for financial reasons after four short years. But in my opinion, the Dial was primarily a communication vehicle of the Transcendentalist Club, where Henry and Ralph Waldo Emerson were both members. There is nothing wrong in that. The club strived to get their ideas published at a time when the more well respected magazines were unwilling to hear them out. But Emerson was influential. He certainly helped  Henry getting commissions, and one can surmise Henry was not submitting blind to an impartial editorial staff. In addition, one must assume that due to its financial instability, the magazine itself was not widely circulated. So Henry’s notoriety due to publication in The Dial remained fairly obscure.

The next major outburst of publications take place after Henry finishes his life experiment at Walden Pond in 1847. Based on journal’s kept during that time, a handful of essays were published, along with the self publication of his first book, “A Week”. The book was an outright failure, which not only put Henry into serious debt, it aggravate the friendship Henry had with Emerson, who had to guarantee a loan for Henry to cover the cost of publication.

Now it is true that Thoreau did write his journal’s with some intent on future publication, but that doesn’t seem to have been his primary motivation. He seems to have written them mostly because, well he enjoyed it. Still, perhaps to Thoreau’s surprise, Walden was a mild success in 1854, and sold out within a year or so after receiving generally good reviews. This together with articles published in Sartain’s Union Magazine (as well as a few other) finally demonstrate the beginning of a writing career. However, one must wonder why, with Walden and success and his name becoming recognized, only 13 magazine sales took place from 1848 until his death in 1862. This is not a large number in my view, and seems even smaller when one considers the added push provided by Walden.

To see why Thoreau published so infrequently after the success of Walden, one needs to look at his journals. Clearly, upon reading the entries in the 1850’s, Thoreau’s attitude to work and publishing are laid clear. He doesn’t desire to maximize his work (and that includes publication), and he doesn’t enjoy kowtowing  to the whims of editors and the public. Thoreau would rather enjoy nature, journalize his thoughts privately, and do any other manual labor that supplied him the basic necessities that he needed to Live Simply.

Consider the following;

April 16, 1852
How many there are to advise you to print. How who advise you to lead a more interior life.  …Nobody ever advised me not to print but myself!

Here, Thoreau makes clear his dislike of publication

August 9, 1854
To Boston.
Walden published. Elder-Berries.  Waxwork-yellowing.

Even though Thoreau may be hiding his overall excitement, this does not look like the comment of a typical author who is ready to attack their writing career with any vigor. My interpretation is that Thoreau, true to his nature, simply does not place much import on publication.

February  18th, 1855
Many will complain of my lectures that they are Transcendental. “Can’t understand them.”

If you wish to know how I think, you must endeavor to put  yourself in my place. If you wish me to speak as if I were you, that is another affair.

Here Thoreau displays his disdain for lectures he has given. And this point harkens to much of Thoreau’s life, namely that most people of that time found him hard to understand and argumentative; if not down right rude.

This of course should not be much of a surprise. He was a man who spoke his mind. But more importantly, he criticized the very  foundations of 19th century society. Unimpressed with the wonders of technology, and emphasizing the enslaving nature of work, church, and mindless consumerism; Thoreau spoke frankly and openly against the many cherished values of his time (our time too!). Throw in the fact that he and his Transcendental philosophies did not support the dogmatic rhetoric of the Christian church, and it becomes obvious that Thoreau could not fit it.

And it is exactly because he did not fit into 19th century life, that he is so much loved and cherished by future generations. Many values of the 19th century have changed, and modern readers have not just found themselves in line with this obscure writer, they fell in love with him. Speaking words of a sensible prophecy, he quickly imbibes an individual with hope and the common sense to untangle the curse of modern living. Not with brutal words of revolution, but with pleas to one’s inner sensibilities. His kind unassuming manners have won over some of the greatest reformers of our time.

Finally, the Walden period journal’s were reprinted in the mid 1860’s by a close friend who understood their value. Over time, further reprints have met with greater popularity, to the point where Thoreau has become a legend. A master of poetry and literary device, gaining more fame and accolades than he could have ever imagined (or wanted) during his life.

Such is fame.


Essays and Works in Progress Published during Thoreau’s Lifetime

“Aulus Persius Flaccus.” The Dial 1 (July 1840): 117-121.

“Natural History of Massachusetts.” The Dial 3 (July 1842): 19-40.

“Homer, Ossian, Chaucer.” The Dial 4 (January 1843): 290-305.

“A Walk to Wachusett.” The Boston Miscellany 3 (January 1843): 31-36.

“Dark Ages.” The Dial 3 (April 1843): 527-529.

“A Winter Walk.” The Dial 4 (October 1843): 211-226.

“The Landlord.” The United States Magazine and Democratic Review 13 (October 1843): 427-430.

“Herald of Freedom.” The Dial 4 (April 1844): 507-512.

“Thomas Carlyle and His Works.” Graham’s Magazine, serialized in two installments: 30 (March 1847): 145-152; 30 (April 1847):

“Ktaadn and the Maine Woods.” Sartain’s Union Magazine, serialized in five installments: “The Wilds of the Penobscot.” 3 (July 1848): 29-33; “Life in the Wilderness.” 3 (August 1848): 73-79; “Boating in the Lakes.” 3 (September 1848), 132-137; “The Ascent of Ktaadn,” 3 (October 1848): 177-182; “The Return Journey.” 3 (November 1848): 216-220.

“Resistance to Civil Government” (1849) / “Civil Disobedience” (1866) Aesthetic Papers (May 1849): 189-211.

“The Iron Horse.” [section from yet unpublished Walden] Sartain’s Union Magazine 11 (July 1852): 66-68.

“A Poet Buying a Farm.” [section from yet unpublished Walden] Sartain’s Union Magazine 11 (August 1852): 127.

“An Excursion to Canada.” Putnam’s Magazine, serialized in three installments: 1 (January 1853): 54-59; 1 (February 1853): 179-184; 1 (March 1853): 321-329.

“A Massachusetts Hermit.” [six selections from Walden in advance of publication] New York Daily Tribune (29 March 1854).

“Slavery in Massachusetts.” The Liberator 24 (21 July 1854).

Cape Cod (incomplete), Putnam’s Magazine, serialized in four installments: “The Shipwreck.” 5 (June 1855): 632-637; “Stage Coach Views.” 5 (June 1855): 637-640; “The Plains of Nanset [sic].” 6 (July 1855): 59-66; “The Beach.” 6 (August 1855): 157-164.

”Chesuncook.” The Atlantic Monthly, serialized in three installments: 2 (June 1858): 1-12; 2 (July 1858): 224-233; 2 (August 1858): 305-317.

”The Last Days of John Brown.” The Liberator 30 (27 July 1860).

”A Plea for Captain John Brown.” Included in Echoes of Harper’s Ferry, edited by James Redpath. Boston: Thayer and Eldridge, 1860: 17-42.

”Martyrdom of John Brown.” Echoes of Harper’s Ferry: 439-445.

”The Succession of Forest Trees.” The New York Weekly Tribune (6 October 1860).

Thoreau and Kaczynski – A quick comparison

After doing some research on both men, I came up with the following:

1. Harvard Educated
2. Highly intelligent
3. Anti Social – Hard to get along with
4. Loved Nature
5. Troubled by Society
6. Atheist
7. Against materialism and consumerism
8. Desire greater autonomy, less government and regulation.
9. Critical of the Scientific Community
10. Anarchistic (but to different degrees)
11. Concerned about the freedom on manking.

Unique Characteristics:

1. Promoter of Non-Violent protest.
2. Believed men should change their attitudes to be free.
3. Advocated “Simple Living”.

1. Promoter of violent protest, and murdered in the name of his philosophy.
2. Believed that Technology was a threat to mankind and freedom.
2. Advocated a technological regression of society.