‘Renegade’ and The Authentic Moment

Neuroscientist/Philosopher Sam Harris tells a story of walking on stage to give a talk somewhere and upon seeing that there was bottled water on a table next to the podium he did what so many of us do and thought to himself, “oh good, they put some water there.” He then asks – why is he thinking that and who is he thinking it to? He sees the water there – his brain registers it, he already knows it’s there, but why is there this internal monologue or voice that reaffirms it to ‘himself’ when really, ‘himself’ already knows the water is there?

We all have this internal monologue or voice and it’s uniquely ours. It speaks in language and tone and with colloquialisms and slang that indeed often only we know and recognize. It’s an infinite loop of inside jokes with ourselves.

Saturday morning I was sitting in a grassy clearing behind a subdivision watching the sun come up. There wasn’t much to watch actually, it was an overcast day. I watched the world around me get lighter. At the edge of the clearing there were some deer grazing that I don’t think had really noticed me sitting there – the grass was pretty tall and I was hidden.

When I stood up to leave, they froze a bit and realized I was there. Inside my head, my internal voice said a line it uses all the time in these situations, “the jig is up, the news is out – they know I’m here.” The first part of that, “the jig is up, the news is out” comes from a line in a Styx song that I first heard so long ago I can’t remember when. It often pops into my head in instances like this where it fits. Why it does is a totally different blog post, because I’ve never even really been a Styx fan or listened to one of their records all the way through. I will tell you it has something to do with that ancient technology, radio.

I don’t usually listen to music when I’m riding my bike, but I chuckled at this opportunity and dialed up the song on my phone in Apple Music, set my speaker volume as loud as it could go, a proceeded to tear through the gray suburbs of Fredericton’s North Side with it playing 3 times in a row.

I didn’t see anyone. It was very early on a Saturday, but I bet some folks saw or maybe even heard me through sleepy, coffee-fueled gazes out of kitchen windows. Maybe some dog-walkers heard strange noise a block away but couldn’t quite pinpoint it as it was moving. Some guy up early to wake-n-bake in his backyard probably thought, “whoah this is some great shit, I think I just heard Styx.” I enjoy doing my part to keep Fredericton weird.

It occurred to me that the whole transaction – from that moment when I thought of the lyric through to fishing out my phone, searching it up and hitting play – that is what digital companies are trying to capture and ultimately monetize. That’s the hook.

The voice in my head is uniquely mine, but science has basically determined that – leave arguments about the true nature of consciousness aside for a moment – those thoughts, my internal monologue (or dialogue, since it seems to be two-way with someone) is merely electrical impulses zapping through my brain that I quite literally have no control over.

The March of Technology continues to advance. I’ve heard discussions on podcasts and elsewhere about the eventual availability of ‘neural nets’ – the mess of wires and transmitters that measure brain activity you see in the science shows – potentially in the form of wearables like hats or headbands and coupled with devices and apps to read your brain activity. Most of the discussions I’ve heard are about the beneficent use of this tech – say for example an app to help you quit smoking that can read your brain activity faster than you can even think and then prompt you via an app or otherwise with a behavior or thought that works counter to the craving.

Ostensibly, one day there will be surgical implants that can be placed into your head, connected to your brain to then connect with external devices – such as a phone – but then again, at some point, there’ll no longer be a need for the external device. Everything will happen right inside your head. Your phone calls, reminders, music – all right there.

In the case of my Styx example, the process would change from a clunky physical one – thought of the song, reaching for phone (or even asking Siri to play it) – pressing button – to simply thinking of the lyric and then thinking “oooo, play that,” and my head will ring with 1979 era rock. I guess the downside is that the neighborhoods I ride through won’t be able to hear it – which ruins most of the fun.

More ominously though, if our internal monologue/dialogue is just electrical impulses, then eventually, the technology will exist for the implant in your head to be 2-way. It will no longer just ‘listen and monitor’ – it will respond or prompt. And the response will indiscernible from your own thoughts. It will speak to you in that same voice and language that you’ve known your whole life. The device will – of course – be connected to external sources via wi-fi, bluetooth, and/or whatever new invisible data transfer technologies are created between now and then. At some point it will be very lucrative and very compelling for advertisers, organizations, causes, or anyone really – to be able to get into your thoughts – and you won’t even know it.

So it begs the question, at what point will your experience of the moment become inauthentic?

Because I know you’re wondering, Sunday’s ride soundtrack was The Bosstones. Now you’ve been inside my head, no fancy gadgets needed.

The Movie of My Life

Got out to meet Titus for a ride today. On my way I stopped on the walking bridge across the Nashwaak River to watch for a bit and I was talking to myself as I usually do. I was actually talking out loud, so people – if there were any around – could’ve heard me. Then it occurred to me that I had no idea ‘who’ was talking. I don’t know who was talking really, or whom that person was talking to. Who was even listening? Who is the person hearing it? Sam Harris tells a funny story about this. When we are talking to ourselves – why are we talking to ourselves? We already know what we’re thinking – why do we tell it back to ourselves?

It occurred to me that in a way, my life is like a movie that I am both the only director and only audience of. Sometimes the other actors in my movie don’t follow or respond to direction. This can equate to suffering, if you choose to let it. Or not.

The last four photos of this were a bit of an accident. I got down this hill and expected Titus to come barreling down it, which I thought would make for a great photo. He was taking forever to show up, then he appeared – walking. He’d decided to walk a tricky section.

Damn actors, not following direction. What’s one to do?

Ok. Film is rolling.

Joe Rogan Sells to Spotify

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez on Unsplash

Podcaster Joe Rogan has sold his immensely popular podcast to Spotify:

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/may/24/spotify-podcast-deal-the-joe-rogan-experience

From the article:

“By requiring Rogan’s listeners to use the Spotify app to tune in, the company gains far deeper data about who, when and where their audiences are; that, in turn, can be fed through to advertisers, who are more likely to pay higher rates if they can be assured that the target audience is listening. Control of the player also allows Spotify to vary the advertising to the audience, again increasing revenue.”

Alex Hern, The Guardian

This is unfortunate. I understand the need for these podcasters to generate revenue for their shows – they deserve something for their effort and advertising is one way to do that, however I prefer the more direct ‘donation/subscription’ model of someone like Sam Harris – where I feel I’m more directly supporting the person and their work vs. paying a large corporation who’s going to track my actions and advertise back at me. There are several other people on the internet who’s work I feel I directly benefit from and therefore I’m happy to support directlyBrad Warner and Ben Weaver among them. This move by Spotify will effectively position it as the Facebook of Podcasting. 99% of people probably won’t care – and to me that’s part of the problem.

I’d never used Spotify for several reasons, I am happy with Apple Music and I didn’t like their app/interface. This gives me one more reason to opt out. It will be a shame because if/when Rogan’s show goes exclusive on the platform, I’ll miss it.

Meditation in an Emergency

It may seem counter-intuitive to sit down and meditate during an emergency, but we are currently, all of us – globally, experiencing an emergency of a very unique nature. One where many of us will find ourselves with nothing but time to occupy. The default would certainly seem to be to spend that time freaking out. Or you could try something different. Sam Harris lays it out very well in this specifically targeted podcast Meditation in an Emergency. Perhaps, check it out with some of the free-time you now find yourself strangely enough, burdened, with.

The Surly Big Easy

I wouldn’t say I have regrets (Sam Harris would argue I could never have done differently than I have in the past anyway) but with the benefit of hindsight, there are things I would do differently given the choice again.

When we moved to our current house my kids were little and we settled in a rural location because we liked the peace and quiet, the big yard and it was affordable vs. closer to town. In hindsight, I would have liked to live closer to town and tried to adopt – if not a car-free lifestyle – then at least a ‘less-car’ lifestyle.

The fact is that my house is only about .8kms from a multi-use trail that I can use to get into town, but I’m still almost 15kms out – and in the winter, it’s snow covered. I love the ride, but the reality is that I can’t get to work and get everyone where they need to be on a bike, on time, and still get sleep each day. Thus, cars.

Would I be able to do it if I lived closer to town? Still not sure, at some point when the kids were old enough to not be able to be hauled, they might have rebelled at being forced to ride. We’ll never know, but I certainly could have done more errands, groceries and commuting if I was closer to town.

I have been eyeing Surly’s cargo bikes and trailers since their launches, but can’t justify them at the moment as they would more than likely not get ridden enough to justify the expense. Maybe once all or most of the kids are out of the house. I don’t know that I’d go e-version, but it’s tempting. I do like the Big Fat Dummy platform a lot though.