field notes (9/24/17)

It’s worth questioning the distinction between the eater and the eaten. My sense of self is always adjusting in my head, and there are pretty much 2 assumptions that always underlie these feelings-of-me. The tight link between these two assumptions could most definitely be compared to an ongoing relationship. There is first the breadwinner: the thought of myself as a bag of skin. A self-contained, 3 dimensional bag of blood and bones, with a set mass and defined perimeter. This conception floats around in my head with a deep emotional attachment to another thought, which is a loving housekeeper and servant to the first. This is the thought of myself as something that eats. My separate-self must ingest or imbibe other objects in order to maintain the organization and mass of my bag of blood and bones, and this bag is comprised completely of these other objects. These beliefs – I exist in a bag of skin, and I consume various items to persist in this bag of skin – are wed in certainty, and forever monogamous. Right?

But every now and then these two concepts get separated during my thinking process, which opens the door to all sorts of extramarital troubles. This occurred just moments ago. At this morning hour my priorities are simple: coffee and cats. Getting some cuddle time with the boy cat, who is a quite the handsome fuzzy fellow, is always a plus. So here I sit with him. Moments ago I observed him become briefly entranced by the sound of a bird outside. Cuddle time interrupted. His head twisted towards the window, with an undeniable erectness and stiffness emerging in his spine, and his paws suddenly tightening. No doubt an image of killing projected brightly into his brain. This distraction-via-outside-stimulus got me thinking. Why was he looking out the window? Or, What compelled him to respond to the bird, but not to me? 

This brought into my caffeine-soaked brain tissues a series of thoughts. A hungry cat is nothing special, but to wonder about it started to produce some strange thoughts.The formation of these thoughts was rapid, fleeting, and took on (as they normally do) a sort of dialectical and verbal nature. A common sense nature. Well, he’s a cat, so of course he looks towards the sound of a bird. Cats like bird. He’s hungry. If only he could stuff that bird into his mouth he could persist in his current form.

So immediately there was the image of my cat as an individual object, worthy of categorization and distinction – and also the image of it as an eating thing. Our long-term couple described above. These star-crossed assumptions comprised a sort of single, coherent reality. And yet there was a whispering and wondering – a suitor sitting at the end of the bar, asking – about why this cat turned his head. At first the circumlocution seemed without cause, and without direction: A cat looking towards a bird-sound is a natural thing. It is programmed into the cat via its experience and is therefore expected. Cats grow up experiencing birds, learn to associate them with pleasurable things, and then adjust automatically to the stimulus.

Then my thoughts stopped for a moment. They resumed.

But he has never clutched a bird – held a bird – caught a bird. He has also likely never seen this type of bird in the flesh: after all, he has been an indoor cat all his life.

Suddenly the two assumptions referenced above came to mind [Cat-as-separate entity, cat-as-an-eating-thing], and their union was threatened. The realization that my cat had never previously observed or experienced the consumption of one of these birds outside wedged itself uncomfortably in my mind, at first trying to be distilled and clarified in the presence of my presumptive framework. But soon it all fell apart – if my cat had never had this experience, one might think that cat-as-separate entity (and that eats) would not be motivated to respond to this stimulus. Surely if I feed and cuddle this cat morning after morning he would be more naturally inclined – based on his experience – to direct his attention towards me, bird-sounds notwithstanding. But he looked at the bird. The bird’s call, upon accessing the inside of cat’s brain, elicited a very specific response. Just for 1/2 a second. The bird was in him, despite never having been in him.

This is true of most stimuli. But.

There are roughly 13,109,553,920,105,377 stimuli that could have gotten this cat’s attention, and it was this single one that did it. So the existence of this cat in front of me must be presupposed by another thought, or assumption – that perhaps this cat can respond to birds without having experienced them. And these animals, remember, are assumed to be two separate objects. That means that this cat, in its essence – in its skull (which, remember, is contained in its bag of blood and bones) – comes pre-programmed with bird-ness inside of it. In the absence of any contact this one object still has a sharp and distinguishable resonance with the other. The cat’s behavior is non-distinct from the bird’s behavior.

Suddenly my two primary assumptions went from holy matrimony to a state of conflict and near-divorce. So if part of this stimulus, or some type of framework to respond to this stimulus, comes pre-programmed in the cat……then some inside-bit of the cat’s head is specifically and uniquely tailored to the bird-sound. And that bird-sound is only one of 13,109,553,920,105,377 stimuli surrounding the cat. So perhaps cat and bird are non-distinct, and the act of eating ought to be considered not a linkage of two separate objects, but a continual adjustment of one single object. The cat and the bird are a single object, and the void space between them is the hand that will soon serve a growling stomach.

The loose definition of a living being as being bound by a bag of skin had, as an assumption, offered no prescriptive value to my experience of watching my cat listen to the bird. But soon the loose definition of a living being as bound as a bag of skin had lost its value as a representative tale, and was replaced by ambiguity. Now I cannot tell if the bananas and Cheerios in the kitchen (yet uneaten) are truly separate from myself – after all, they will both be inside of my bag-of-skin in a matter of minutes. The breakdown of the separation between self-and-other offers no clear route ahead, and is more of a fancy folly than a scientific analysis. The circumlocution around these concepts has become tiring. Just ask yourself if it’s possible that the surrounding room-house-street-block-city might not be a part of your extended anatomy, and one that is as alive as you, rather than that you are a single bag of skin operating independently within that non-living framework. #EndRant


field notes pt. 2 (05/06/2017)

“haha Ian I love being in public with you it’s so funny and weird”

“what’s THAT supposed to mean”

“the way you just yell up at crows and talk to them”

“i talk AT them I do not talk TO them”

“uh huh”

“i’m serious. i talk AT them. i can’t talk to animals”

“uh huh. i’m suspicious”

FIELD NOTES pt. 2 (04/26/2017)

Re: the little birds that come for the small seed: I googled birds of the midwest. Lincoln’s sparrow? Maybe. The picture of it on this front results page gives


crow again. Long eye contact. It slowly approached – getting a few good looks at me. I think each time that the eye contact will send them flying away instantly, but not so. Eye contact continues for a few moments as their black muscled missile bodies ziggle zaggle tic and tac towards the window. 10:45am is when it came. Back to Google. So maybe it’s a Lincoln’s sparrow.

field notes (4/18/2017)

lad is conscious of me – perhaps 3 times so far we have met and hung out in the presence of his Dad. Today was a warmup to our first one-on-one hangout on Thursday.

Babies are tremendous and wondrous. To anyone fascinated by biology, physical forms, learning, animals, family…I’ll shut up now. Babies are amazing & everyone knows it. But to be clear – this journal of mine is for observations of living things, and today’s opportunity was a rare gem amongst the daily dirt.

Baby – small. large head, of course. His presence rendered me compelled to observe and also eager for eye contact. Eye contact is rare in this day & age – normally I feel I am seeking it, adults frustrate me in their lack of it….to sustain in it (or persist in it) seems to require or signify a type of FORTITUDE.

Not so with a baby.

Baby instead had me requesting his eye contact but, unlike larger humans, made me follow his lead in that attempt in a much happier and rewarding way. In general (with big people) it really feels that I am trying to lead them into a substantial interaction, or at least into eye contact, but in this instance it was Baby who was leading me – to look/not look/wait/not wait. With Big People it seems I am forceful and am compelled to channel. With Little People I am gleefully and willingly channelED.

can machines think?


(from Robert Tocquet’s The Magic of Numbers, known in France as 2+2=4)

sorry. the machine-consciousness bandwagon is catchy. it really is. and the same caravan of wannabe-theories  (extending backward through history) has similar bandwagons worth hopping onto. not unlike rich kids today who experience their first metaphysical considerations at the sight of a overpriced virtual reality headset, roman elites looked away from theology or metaphysics & instead proclaimed that fountain technology would rip apart the very fabric of reality. when a pocketwatch was amongst the most complicated of mandmade artifacts there was only a single thing on earth in the minds of their owners nearly as glorious or intentional in its construction- yes, duh, the brain. whenever a new technology emerges that outraces its predecessors the first audible noise is a human making proud and inept self-reference.

post-enlightenment egotism serves this notion that humans (the only sentient thing) are special (after all, we are the most complex thing of all things) and therefore other complex things (almost as special) are also sentient things (almost as sentient as people). Folks on this machine-consciousness bandwagon often love to drool over Alan Turing but are creeped out or dismissive of panpsychism. That is to say they believe their silica-based electronics, envisioned by some obsessed white entrepreneur somewhere, have consciousness, but trees and gusts of wind do not. computers think, but Sister Silica does not. today in 2017 this allows flashy characters with inaccessible toys and tech-speak to swallow up an entire culture’s worth of dialogue about consciousness and quietly slink off to shit it all out, revealing their intellectual indigestion. i encounter so many of these types in the world of neuroscience. The same attitude against these passive panpsychist “spooks” existing within or as all matter (“nah dude, my Macbook is conscious but not a rock. btw, machines are gonna take over the world”) is incredibly phobic of the singular machine consciousness they somehow cling to. Don’t get me wrong- Terminator and Ex Machina are splendid movies but they aren’t scary. I did read Frankenstein, after all.

if you’ve made it past philosophy 101 and have still invested all of your ontological energies into the folly end of the Can Machines Think? question, and find yourself in disagreement with me, please leave me a comment. it’s 3:56am and as much as I’d like to keep challenging machine consciousness I need to power down for the night