Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Phat Tuesday 2017 - Tekgnostic High Holy Day!

It's Good to be Pope! - persona from the Skeleton Krewe of New Orleans

One of the Eight High Holy Days on the Tek-Gnostics Calendar...
Happy Fat Tuesday to One and All!
Laissez les bons temps Rouler!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Alien Con Travelogue – the Micro-dose Experiment.

In the previous entry of the Alien-Con Travelogue entitled: “A Spy in the House of Ancient Aliens” I outlined Team Tek-Gnostics’ participation in the History Channel’s inaugural fan convention celebrating their hit Cable TV show: Ancient Aliens. Situated in the savage heart of Silicon Valley… at the Santa Clara Convention Center, California… my esteemed colleague & personal lawyer, Agent 87 & I, set up our tekgnostic outpost in the convention’s “Artist’s Alley” sector… determined to witness the unfolding of the phenomena. 

We were not disappointed. As indicated in the last installment, we met a wide and wild array of participants… vendors of the fringe. In fine anthropological fashion, we immersed ourselves in the local population to develop a cultural Ethnography. As part of a larger community that we at Tek-Gnostics have identified as “Conspiracy Culture International” …the sub-culture attracted to this convention, appeared to consist of fans of Ancient Aliens (and Sci Fi in general), cosplayers, the curious & seekers of oddity, and “true believers.”

Of special interest to us, were those we identified as true believers. These subjects especially align with the larger Conspiracy Culture, in that many believe that not only do extra-terrestrials exist, but there has been an elaborate cover-up… perpetrated by our government… since at least the 1940s. This belief ties into a much more pervasive mistrust of government, which has recently dominated political sentiment, globally. Hence the “International” moniker in: “Conspiracy Culture International.”

Variations on the extra-terrestrial conspiracy include technologies reverse-engineered from the Rosewell saucer crash, clandestine ET meetings with President Dwight D Eisenhower, cow mutilations, men in black, NASA black-ops and the Babylon Working …just to name a few. Consideration of such intriguing topics requires a certain mind-set. To more fully immerse ourselves in the sub-culture, 87 & I considered the use of “research enhancements.” 

During transport, we had agreed and arranged to act as our own subjects in a secondary field study of the effects of relatively new phenomena in psychedelia… micro-dosing. Our premise being that there is a deep-rooted correspondence between the psychedelic and extra-terrestrial realms. Our primary method of research would entail self-administering an approximate micro-dose (10 to 15 mics) of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds… daily, during the course of the convention. 

A recent article in HighExistence describes micro-dosing as: taking sub-perceptual doses (6-25 microgram LSD, 0.2-0.5 gram dried mushrooms, 50-75 microgram mescaline HCL) while keeping up with ones daily activities, engaging in extreme sports, appreciating nature or enhancing one’s spiritual practice.

This manner of integrating psychedelics, also known as a psycholytic dose, doesn’t inhibit ego-functioning in the same intense manner as the ‘heroic’ Terence McKenna dose does. It is much easier integrated into non-psychedelic activities.

With that said, the sub-perceptual dosage adds another important perceptional element to the experiment… “is it live or is it memorex?” During the course of the Halloween weekend, I would continually return to the question… are my thoughts and observations indigenous, or are they influenced by the LSD? At pre-psychedelic doses, this quandary became a subtle pivot of perception. Like the Schrödinger's Cat paradox, the question moved beyond maybe… to a simultaneous no and yes proposition. 

This logic twilight zone acted as a synchronicity trigger, in that it would repeatedly and abruptly pull me back into the present moment. The Chapel Perilous-esque nature of the experience served to sharpen perceptions… as I was constantly slightly out of kilter, cognitively. The subtle perceptual uncertainty actually sharpened my mental and emotional faculties. My perceptions became meta-perceptions as I would inevitably return to thinking about thinking. 

Per the McKenna “True Hallucinations” model, the psychedelic experience IS an alien encounter. In this regard, the micro-dose experience mirrors the ET experience… was it real or imagined? This question moves beyond whether or not phenomena actually happen, to the very fabric of perceptions, consciousness and the nature of reality. Is contact psychical, metaphorical, or extra-dimensional?

The micro-dose played into the concept of being a dweller of two realms… psychedelic and normal… terrestrial and extra-terrestrial… amateur anthropologist or true believer?

In looking back, what struck me most was the sincerity of, not only the presenters and vendors… but of the fans. Granted, our booth entitled: Tek-Gnostics Media, in situ within the artist’s alley, would draw a certain segment of the overall population… however those who we encountered were sincere, honest-to-god seekers of the eternal question: are we alone?

It is for this reason that the UFO sub-population of Conspiracy Culture International is so intriguing and endearing. Government conspiracy aside here is a population asking the big question… Is there intelligent life on other worlds, out there in the vastness of universe? Do they seek us? Should we seek them? Asking the existential question…What is the nature of reality? What is our relationship to “the other” and is the other us?

Ultimately, the UFO sub-culture serves us all by reminding us to ask the big, philosophic questions of existence and our place in universe.

In upcoming travelogue installments, we will explore the high level of synchronistic events during the convention. As the weekend wore on, the strange synchronicities, not only increased, they became more intense… culminating in the now-infamous “Papa Legba Incident.” Stay tuned, dear travelers of the digital realm… stay tuned!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Singularity Attacks!

The AI Threat Isn’t Skynet. It’s the End of the Middle Class.

- by Cade Metz

IN FEBRUARY 1975, a group of geneticists gathered in a tiny town on the central coast of California to decide if their work would bring about the end of the world. These researchers were just beginning to explore the science of genetic engineering, manipulating DNA to create organisms that didn’t exist in nature, and they were unsure how these techniques would affect the health of the planet and its people. So, they descended on a coastal retreat called Asilomar, a name that became synonymous with the guidelines they laid down at this meeting—a strict ethical framework meant to ensure that biotechnology didn’t unleash the apocalypse.

Forty-two years on, another group of scientists gathered at Asilomar to consider a similar problem. But this time, the threat wasn’t biological. It was digital. In January, the world’s top artificial intelligence researchers walked down the same beachside paths as they discussed their rapidly accelerating field and the role it will play in the fate of humanity. It was a private conference... the enormity of the subject deserves some privacy... but in recent days, organizers released several videos from the conference talks, and some participants have been willing to discuss their experience, shedding some light on the way AI researchers view the threat of their own field.

The rise of driverless cars and trucks is just a start. It’s not just blue-collar jobs that AI endangers.
Yes, they discussed the possibility of a superintelligence that could somehow escape human control, and at the end of the month, the conference organizers unveiled a set of guidelines, signed by attendees and other AI luminaries, that aim to prevent this possible dystopia. But the researchers at Asilomar were also concerned with more immediate matters: the effect of AI on the economy.

“One of the reasons I don’t like the discussions about superintelligence is that they’re a distraction from what’s real,” says Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, who attended the conference. “As the poet said, have fewer imaginary problems and more real ones.”

At a time when the Trump administration is promising to make America great again by restoring old-school manufacturing jobs, AI researchers aren’t taking him too seriously. They know that these jobs are never coming back, thanks in no small part to their own research, which will eliminate so many other kinds of jobs in the years to come, as well. At Asilomar, they looked at the real US economy, the real reasons for the “hollowing out” of the middle class. The problem isn’t immigration... far from it. The problem isn’t offshoring or taxes or regulation. It’s technology.

Rage Against the Machines

In the US, the number of manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 and has steadily decreased ever since. At the same time, manufacturing has steadily increased, with the US now producing more goods than any other country but China. Machines aren’t just taking the place of humans on the assembly line. They’re doing a better job. And all this before the coming wave of AI upends so many other sectors of the economy. “I am less concerned with Terminator scenarios,” MIT economist Andrew McAfee said on the first day at Asilomar. “If current trends continue, people are going to rise up well before the machines do.”

McAfee pointed to newly collected data that shows a sharp decline in middle-class job creation since the 1980s. Now, most new jobs are either at the very low end of the pay scale or the very high end. He also argued that these trends are reversible, that improved education and a greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and research can help feed new engines of growth, that economies have overcome the rise of new technologies before. But after his talk, in the hallways at Asilomar, so many of the researchers warned him that the coming revolution in AI would eliminate far more jobs far more quickly than he expected.

Indeed, the rise of driverless cars and trucks is just a start. New AI techniques are poised to reinvent everything from manufacturing to healthcare to Wall Street. In other words, it’s not just blue-collar jobs that AI endangers. “Several of the rock stars in this field came up to me and said: ‘I think you’re low-balling this one. I think you are underestimating the rate of change,'” McAfee says.

- Found this article on Wired. You can read the complete article Here.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's Not 1984... It's Brave New World.

Neil Postman (March 8, 1931 – October 5, 2003) was an American author, educator, media theorist and cultural critic, who is best known for his 1985 book: "Amusing Ourselves to Death" ...a historical narrative which warns of a decline in the ability of our mass communications media to share serious ideas. Since television images replace the written word, Postman argues that television confounds serious issues by demeaning and undermining political discourse and by turning real, complex issues into superficial images, less about ideas and thoughts and more about entertainment.

On February 2, 2017, Neil's Son, Andrew Postman published the following article in the Guardian...

My dad predicted Trump in 1985 – it's not Orwell, he warned, it's Brave New World

Over the last year, as the presidential campaign grew increasingly bizarre and Donald Trump took us places we had never been before, I saw a spike in media references to Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book written by my late father, Neil Postman, which anticipated back in 1985 so much about what has become of our current public discourse.

At Forbes, one contributor wrote that the book “may help explain the otherwise inexplicable”. CNN noted that Trump’s allegedly shocking “ascent would not have surprised Postman”. At ChristianPost.com, Richard D Land reflected on reading the book three decades ago and feeling “dumbfounded … by Postman’s prophetic insights into what was then America’s future and is now too often a painful description of America’s present”. Last month, a headline at Paste Magazine asked: “Did Neil Postman Predict the Rise of Trump and Fake News?”

Colleagues and former students of my father, who taught at New York University for more than 40 years and who died in 2003, would now and then email or Facebook message me, after the latest Trumpian theatrics, wondering, “What would Neil think?” or noting glumly, “Your dad nailed it.”

The central argument of Amusing Ourselves is simple: there were two landmark dystopian novels written by brilliant British cultural critics – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – and we Americans had mistakenly feared and obsessed over the vision portrayed in the latter book (an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state) rather than the former (a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble).

The misplaced focus on Orwell was understandable: after all, for decades the cold war had made communism – as embodied by Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Big Brother – the prime existential threat to America and to the greatest of American virtues, freedom. And, to put a bow on it, the actual year, 1984, was fast approaching when my father was writing his book, so we had Orwell’s powerful vision on the brain.

Whoops. Within a half-decade, the Berlin Wall came down. Two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

“We were keeping our eye on 1984,” my father wrote. “When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.”

Unfortunately, there remained a vision we Americans did need to guard against, one that was percolating right then, in the 1980s. The president was a former actor and polished communicator. Our political discourse (if you could call it that) was day by day diminished to soundbites (“Where’s the beef?” and “I’m paying for this microphone” became two “gotcha” moments, apparently testifying to the speaker’s political formidableness).

The nation increasingly got its “serious” information not from newspapers, which demand a level of deliberation and active engagement, but from television: Americans watched an average of 20 hours of TV a week. (My father noted that USA Today, which launched in 1982 and featured colorized images, quick-glance lists and charts, and much shorter stories, was really a newspaper mimicking the look and feel of TV news.)

But it wasn’t simply the magnitude of TV exposure that was troubling. It was that the audience was being conditioned to get its information faster, in a way that was less nuanced and, of course, image-based. As my father pointed out, a written sentence has a level of verifiability to it: it is true or not true – or, at the very least, we can have a meaningful discussion over its truth. (This was pre-truthiness, pre-“alternative facts”.)

But an image? One never says a picture is true or false. It either captures your attention or it doesn’t. The more TV we watched, the more we expected – and with our finger on the remote, the more we demanded – that not just our sitcoms and cop procedurals and other “junk TV” be entertaining but also our news and other issues of import. Digestible. Visually engaging. Provocative. In short, amusing. All the time. Sorry, C-Span.

This was, in spirit, the vision that Huxley predicted way back in 1931, the dystopia my father believed we should have been watching out for. He wrote:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.

1984 – the year, not the novel – looks positively quaint now. One-third of a century later, we all carry our own personalized screens on us, at all times, and rather than seven broadcast channels plus a smattering of cable, we have a virtual infinity of options.

Today, the average weekly screen time for an American adult – brace yourself; this is not a typo – is 74 hours (and still going up). We watch when we want, not when anyone tells us, and usually alone, and often while doing several other things. The soundbite has been replaced by virality, meme, hot take, tweet. Can serious national issues really be explored in any coherent, meaningful way in such a fragmented, attention-challenged environment?

Sure, times change. Technology and innovation wait for no man. Get with the program. But how engaged can any populace be when the most we’re asked to do is to like or not like a particular post, or “sign” an online petition? How seriously should anyone take us, or should we take ourselves, when the “optics” of an address or campaign speech – raucousness, maybe actual violence, childishly attention-craving gestures or facial expressions – rather than the content of the speech determines how much “airtime” it gets, and how often people watch, share and favorite it?

My father’s book warned of what was coming, but others have seen and feared aspects of it, too (Norbert Wiener, Sinclair Lewis, Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Ellul, David Foster Wallace, Sherry Turkle, Douglas Rushkoff, Naomi Klein, Edward Snowden, to name a few).

Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?

Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?

So, yes, my dad nailed it. Did he also predict that the leader we would pick for such an age, when we had become perhaps terminally enamored of our technologies and amusements, would almost certainly possess fascistic tendencies? I believe he called this, too.

For all the ways one can define fascism (and there are many), one essential trait is its allegiance to no idea of right but its own: it is, in short, ideological narcissism. It creates a myth that is irrefutable (much in the way that an image’s “truth” cannot be disproved), in perpetuity, because of its authoritarian, unrestrained nature.

“Television is a speed-of-light medium, a present-centered medium,” my father wrote. “Its grammar, so to say, permits no access to the past … history can play no significant role in image politics. For history is of value only to someone who takes seriously the notion that there are patterns in the past which may provide the present with nourishing traditions.”

Later in that passage, Czesław Miłosz, winner of the Nobel prize for literature, is cited for remarking in his 1980 acceptance speech that that era was notable for “a refusal to remember”; my father notes Miłosz referencing “the shattering fact that there are now more than one hundred books in print that deny that the Holocaust ever took place”.

Again: how quaint.

While fake news has been with us as long as there have been agendas, and from both sides of the political aisle, we’re now witnessing – thanks to Breitbart News, Infowars and perpetuation of myths like the one questioning Barack Obama’s origins – a sort of distillation, a fine-tuning.

“An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, than a Huxleyan,” my father wrote. “Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist a prison when the gates begin to close around us … [but] who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?”

I wish I could tell you that, for all his prescience, my father also supplied a solution. He did not. He saw his job as identifying a serious, under-addressed problem, then asking a set of important questions about the problem. He knew it would be hard to find an easy answer to the damages wrought by “technopoly”. It was a systemic problem, one baked as much into our individual psyches as into our culture.

But we need more than just hope for a way out. We need a strategy, or at least some tactics.

First: treat false allegations as an opportunity. Seek information as close to the source as possible. The internet represents a great chance for citizens to do their own hunting – there’s ample primary source material, credible eyewitnesses, etc, out there – though it can also be manipulated to obfuscate that. No one’s reality, least of all our collective one, should be a grotesque game of telephone.

Second: don’t expect “the media” to do this job for you. Some of its practitioners do, brilliantly and at times heroically. But most of the media exists to sell you things. Its allegiance is to boosting circulation, online traffic, ad revenue. Don’t begrudge it that. But then don’t be suckered about the reasons why Story X got play and Story Y did not.

Third: for journalists, Jay Rosen, a former student of my father’s and a leading voice in the movement known as “public journalism”, offers several useful, practical suggestions.

Finally, and most importantly, it should be the responsibility of schools to make children aware of our information environments, which in many instances have become our entertainment environments, but there is little evidence that schools are equipped or care to do this. So someone has to.

We must teach our children, from a very young age, to be skeptics, to listen carefully, to assume everyone is lying about everything. (Well, maybe not everyone.) Check sources. Consider what wasn’t said. Ask questions. Understand that every storyteller has a bias – and so does every platform.

We all laughed – some of us, anyway – at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s version of the news, to some extent because everything had become a joke. If we wish not to be “soma”-tized (Huxley’s word) by technology, to be something less than smiling idiots and complicit in the junking of our own culture, then “what is required of us now is a new era of responsibility … giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

My father didn’t write those last words – our recently retired president said them in his final inaugural address. He’s right. It will be difficult. It’s not so amusing any more.

- Andrew Postman

Andrew Postman has written more than a dozen books, including the novel Now I Know Everything.