Sonntag, 11. September 2016

David Harvey and the End of Capitalism

Another very isolated marxist thinker in the USA is David Harvey. He is isolated not because his lack of influence, but because the lack of other marxist thinkers other than him and Richard D. Wolf, that are able to formulate ways out of the current crisis of capitalism. He does so in this lecture:

Samstag, 10. September 2016

Conspiracy Theories and Power

After delving into the source of the video in the last post, I feel I have to issue a warning. It seems, that James Corbet is carried away in an unhealthy direction in some of his reports. While I would certainly use every ressource of information available, especially if it includes extensive research as the video from James Corbet, it has to be taken with some grain of salt.

The phrase conspracy theory is in itself very ideologically loaded and is used to discourage the public to delve too deeply into certain topics (like 9/11, or the death of the Kennedies), but!:

To blame a "secret cabal" of powerful people for the issues we are dealing with in our societies is VERY problematic. The truth is, everybody is responsible for what is happening in our world today, and every single being contributes in some way. It was not a small group of nazis funded by rich individuals who brought about the third reich, it was the people of Germany who let the nazi coup happen. It was not a small group of wall street thugs and the military industrial complex that installed the american empire, it is the responsibility of all US citizens.

This is important, because, what can we do as individuals when there are those "powerful figures" controlling the "New World Order"? This believe in a conspiracy of the few who rule the world denies us the power we have and it absolves us from the responsibilities we have to face. One of our responsibilities is to understand the institutions of power we have allowed to exist and to question them and James Corbett brings to us great analysis of these power structures.

With little power comes great responsibility! 

The believe that we are inconsequent in the face of powerful institutions thus is false, as we have ourselfs created them. It is part of the strategies that the global hegemony has successfully used to make us accept its rule and promote the feeling of powerlessness in the public.

People like Allen Dulles are indeed powerful individuals in positions of power that we created and that we could as easily topple. Their position of power is given to them only by us. The individual itself in this position of power is not consequential, the position of power itself is. Allen Dulles was formed by this position of power we granted him and removing the individual from the position of power would probably have changed nothing. Another individual would have taken the place and the systemic pressures might have taken him on a very similar path.

The power that controls us and that produces the institutions of power exists only in our own minds and is called ideology. To attack individuals of power will not change anything. Dont't get me wrong, this does not absolve those individuals, who might have more individual responsibility or guilt than others, and I believe that war criminals in government positions should be charged and tried for their crimes.

In order to know our own power we have to recognize the fact, that this ideology is imposed on us by power techniques, like propaganda and the control of knowledge by the elites. The knowledge that ideology is imposed on us in this way does also not absolve us from our responsibilities even if the techniques of power are very sophisticated today. It is our responsibility to know about the power techniques and question the ideology they impose on us.

So, yes, there are powerful individuals and yes, they do use the most sophisticated power apparatus ever known, but they don't have power. The power comes to them by the positions they are in and we allow them to have those positions of power by all the intersubjective power relationships we develop in our society. This in essence is what Michel Foucaults theory of power tells us. To a very short introduction to Michel Foucaults take on power, watch this video:


After reading the above again I want to clarify a very important point. The elites are not a cabal, because they are as much a group of individuals with different interests than any other social group or class. We have to understand, that they themselfs are ruled by certain perspectives, values and stereotypes that define their frames of conscious and subconcious practices. They dont have to get together in cabals and plan world dominance, because they already share a certain ideology. This ideology is free market, neoliberal capitalism. The ideology is the narrative of the elites that legitmizes their own practices for themselfs. Just as the slave master of old was telling himself that he "cared" for his slaves and their wellbeing and saw himself as the enlightend father entitled by his intellectual and moral superiority to rule over his "childlike" slaves, incapable of ruling themselfs, the elites tell  themselfs that they are entitled to rule in the interest of the people.

The neoliberal ideology also legitimizes the exploitation of the working majority and our planet by the very rich and the suppression of any competing ideology by any means neccesary. Not because they are evil bastards, but because they truly believe the other ideologies to be wrong and dangerous. The elites do not share an ideology because they decided to rule the world in a sinister cabal (like the super villains from James Bond movies). The elites grew up and have been formed by the ideology like all the rest of us. Actually I would guess, that reflection on the believes imposed on them by their socialisations happens less often than for the rest of the public. Many of the stories told on behalf or by the elites in defence of the hegemony are told because they want to believe them as much as they want anybody else to believe them. It is much easier to sleep at night if you believe that the billions you own were not stolen from the poor but that you earned them yourself.

The system of neoliberal free market capitalism created the institutions of power, like the CIA, where the individuals making up those institutions largely make the institution act against those individuals interests. This is also true for most large corporations. People are forced to work for these institutions by the systemic pressures of neoliberal capitalism, even if they do not agree with the goals of these corporations. The story of Allen and James Dulles shows, that their upbringing as part of the self entitled elites and the many ties to wallstreet and the very rich made up their agenda. It seems obvious, that only a capitalist system could have created the CIA as it was created by Allen Dulles.

There is therefore no question, that the systemic forces of free market capitalism are very much working against most of its subjects interests in many ways and are and always have been undermining democracy. Critique of the institutions of power, like the banks, the CIA, the "government" or the corporations is therefore pointless without critque on the system that created them. The system, on the other hand, can only be changed by changing the dominant ideology and the discourse.

So we need to face capitalism and have a true discourse about it, if we want any change to happen. To topple the power structures that have dominated world politics, without also tackling the underlying ideology it stands for, seems futile. The pentagon system, the industrial military complex and the secret state are just other names for capitalism itself. To think there can be a capitalism without structures like those is ignoring all historical evidence.

Non systemic critique is also opening the door for identity politics. If its an invisible "evil cabal" that rules us, somehow, someone always gives those invisible bodies the faces of some minority group (like
"the jews"). Conspiracy theories are therefore open to fascism and those that are truly conspiring to kill or suppress whoever they choose to hate.

Freitag, 9. September 2016

Allen and John Dulles: the rise of fascism and the secret state in the USA

This is a very well researched overview of the rise of Allen Dulles and the early days of the CIA.
Understanding the beginnings of the cold war is essential for understanding the mess that the world finds itself in today. I highly recommend taking the time to watch this video:

Montag, 5. September 2016

Richard D. Wolf and the return of socialism to the USA

Prof. Richard D. Wolf, economist and marxist, (yes you can be both!), today has his own radio show, is asked to speak all over the USA and has the answers on how to defeat capitalism.

Watch any of his speeches and be amazed.

Samstag, 30. Juli 2016

Mittwoch, 27. Juli 2016

The quantum consciousness or the most important scientific theory of our time

In the previous post I wrote about how Sir Roger Penrose, renowned oxford theoretical physicist, promoted the idea that free will and consciousness have to be rooted in quantum phenomena “somewhere” inside our brain. When Roger Penrose released his book “the emperors new mind” in 1989 he had no idea where his proposed quantum states would be located in the brain. Many prominent scientists attacked Penrose reasoning and it was considered to be on the brink of being esoterical. If he would not have been Roger Penrose, whose standing as a scientist was beyond doubt, his ideas would probably have been ignored.
A science of consciousness, in the view of many of Penrose peers, was a an absurd proposition, but an American anaesthesiologist and neuroscientist named Stuart Hameroff read the book and was inspired by it. Taking away peoples consciousness every day must have put Stuart Hameroff on his journey on figuring out what it was he was actually doing. We know that anaesthetica take away consciousness, but until today we really don't know why. Other than Penrose, Hameroff had an incling where in the brain consciousness might be hidden, but before he read Penroses book he did not know how. He contacted Roger Penrose and they met 1992 and they released the first version of their combined theory in 1994. This theory is called “Orchestrated Objective Reduction” or Orch OR and it might be the most important scientific theory of our time.
According to Suart Hammereoff, inside each of our neurons, a molecular structure called microtubulaes would be a perfect fit for Roger Penroses link between the quantum world and the classical world. These molecules are tubes of hydrocarbon where benzene rings with dislocated electrons make up much of the structure. These structures, Penrose and Hameroff proposed, contain superposed electrons that oscillate in frequencies that can be stimulated in wavelengths that make the transition into the classical world possible. As these superimposed quantum states are fully capable of entanglement and resonate within the planck sphere, consciousness is not solely centered in ourselfs. We are in "harmony" with our universe and with each other.

This is a very crude description as the whole subject is really above my head. In spite of many critics that dismissed the theory out of hand, it holds up to experimental falsification for over 20 years now. In 2014, Anirban Bandyopadhyay of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, provided the evidence that superimposed quantum states can be found inside microtubulaes and their oscillations can be measured and stimulated in an in-vitro experiment.
With his work, Anirban Bandyopadhyay refuted the most important critics of the Orch OR theory who claimed that in the “hot and wet” environment of the brain those states could not exist. Today all of the proposed falsifications that have been tried have been in favor of the Orch OR theory.
 All this might be hard to swallow for many hardchore wiseguys, but this theory is for real. Many of the founders of quantum mechanics proposed philosophical consequences of QM quite similar to Orch OR like Hans Peter Dürr.
I find it interesting how much scathing criticism the Orch OR theory has provoked. The science of consciousness explores regions and answers questions where religion has had a monopoly for thousands of years. The Orch OR theory also attacks the quasi religious believes in many other fields of science. If the Orch OR theory is accepted, all the work that neuroscientists have done with functional MRI methods would lose its significance and the science of artificial intelligence “singularity” would be proven as nonsense.
The Human Brain Project, that is sponsored by the EU with 8 billion Euros, would become obsolete. Furthermore, as Orch OR formulates that consciousness is somehow related to the planck sphere and a fundamental proto-consciousness that we are all connected to, it breaches into the last domain of religion. The Orch OR theory has the potential to open up an ontology of “life after death” and “the soul”. I want to add here that these musings are not promoted by Penrose or Hammeroff and I also find them of lesser consequence.
What the Orch OR theory shows for me, is that there is a fundamental principle in consciousness that connects us with each other and the living universe. Consciousness is not some isolated part that only exists in us. We all tap into a well of consciousness that is fundamental in our universe. If we could accept this idea, that we are indeed fundamentally connected, it would change the way we see the world and our self and each other.

This theory also connects physics to the humanities in a profound way. Social science and anthropology has long stated, that we are the product of the interconnectedness in our society. We are what we are because we are not a singular being but a social animal. Human identity is only ever of consequence in a social context. Our consciousness is something we share with others. As I am part of this interconnectedness something of myself has entered this intersubjective sphere we call society. With the Orch OR theory, physics, pschiatry, psychology, neoroscience and medicine will have to accept this fundamental interconnectedness that is life.

As I see it, the only scientific field left that denies the social interconnected reality of humanity is the one we base our society on, economics.     

Dienstag, 26. Juli 2016

What is consciousness and where does it happen?

 Consciousness is one of the many yet unsolved mysteries of our universe. Why is it, that there is this inner movie playing in our head, feeding us information about the environment we live in, making us feel about this information as we interpret it, bringing it into context with the memories of previous events we perceived in our conscious mind? While it should be of great interest to know about consciousness to all of us, we did not have a science of consciousness until very recently. Also there are the questions, “what am I” and “what is the world” that are both very closely related to the question of what consciousness really is. How can we try to understand the universe if we don't understand understanding?

While there was no science of consciousness, there has been a philosophy of consciousness since the beginning of philosophy itself. The philosophy of consciousness tries to understand what consciousness means. It does so by trying to find a language with which we can describe this inner movie we experience. Philosophers ultimately came up with two classes of problems we need to solve if we try to understand consciousness. They defined those as the “easy problems” and “the hard problem” of consciousness. In short, the “easy problems” are all those problems that a deterministic machine could solve. Easy problems are functions of our brain like categorizing sensual input and evaluating it, or focusing the conscious self on a specific task or problem.

The hard problems are those functions of consciousness that are specific to our inner self. Why do we “feel” the color black as much as we see it and what do we “feel” when we recognize it. The hard problem concerns numerous qualitative associations we make when we communicate or perceive. Why is there a feeling of the color red in the evening sky that we just cant explain? Why is there a harmony we feel when listening to music that changes our consciousness? All those aspects of the human mind concerned with “how does something feel” are called qualia.

David chalmers is a prominent member of the circle of philosophers of consciousness and I recommend watching his TED lecture here:

For me the most important and hard questions are, what is free will? How does it happen? What is creativity? How do we invent? How do we understand?

For me those are the most obvious differences of a thinking mind and a machine.
Naturally those questions don't concern you, if you think that a machine could do those things. As described in the previous article, the idea that consciousness is actually an illusion has many prominent followers. Are there alternatives? 

Obviously consciousness can be tampered with or taken away on any number of ways, like too much alcohol or drugs or a hard hit on the head. It must therefore be some function in our brain that is based on chemical reactions, but where could that be?

Other than the "deterministic" theory of consciousness, that says that free will is just an illusion, two theories of consciousness are competing today. 

In the field neuroscience one theory of consciousness has established itself a few years ago. In the so called “phi theory of consciousness”, consciousness emerges whenever integrated information systems reach a certain complexity (phi). Giulio Tononi formulated this theory and its also called the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness. In his view consciousness could emerge anywhere a certain threshold of information and integration is reached. 

There is much good to be said about this theory. Emergent phenomena are quite commonplace in our universe. Wavelike behavior i.e. seems to emerge everywhere we look. Waves behave fundamentally similar regardless of where they emerge. Waves in water or air, or electromagnetic waves like radio- or light waves, they all share a common principle of behavior.

But as theories go, I still feel the IIT is not explaining very much. While it acknowledges the existence of the hard problem of consciousness by adding the “miracle” factor of emergence, in my opinion it falls short in explaining free will or understanding. For neuroscientists the brains function is a product of the neurons alone, and neurons behave just as deterministic as a computer. There is nothing in Tononis theory that prohibits Ray Kurzweil from downloading his mind into a computer soon.

In the IIT, there is no place where randomness and interaction with the rest of the universe comes in. How evolution could start the process of gradually developing consciousness with the Paramecium and reach the human mind is hard for me to see when looking at the problem with the IIT perspective. Only if consciousness is something that Paramecium already has, the evolution of human (or raven or dolphin) consciousness could be explained. A Parameccium has no neurons, as it is a single cell organism, how can the paramcium therefore have consciousness? On the other hand, if the Paramecium has consciousness, why not any of the systems that call themselves artificial intelligence today? Surely they are pretty integrated. What are the sophisticated AIs missing that unicellular living organisms, like a Paramecium, might have?

As mentioned in the previous article, I believe that factor to be a quantum behavior of the brain. The distinguished Oxford physicist Roger Penrose, the teacher of Stephen Hawking, is the author of another theory of consciousness that is discussed today. He published the idea that quantum behavior might be at the core of understanding consciousness in his provocative book “The emperors new mind”.

He also argued, that randomness alone would not be enough to explain the hard problems of consciousness, such as free will. He therefore proposed a very sophisticated theory of quantum mechanics that incorporates parts of relativity theory.

In the previous article I wrote, that nothing in quantum mechanics stops us from putting the results of the double slit experiment in a “safe” and wait for a hundred years until we decide to observe the wave pattern or the particle behavior of the experiment.

This is a version of the “Schrödinger Cat” thought experiment. It was formulated to express the incompleteness of quantum theory for wave functions of “large scale”. Basically, quantum behavior only ever is found in small scales. There is simply no wave function of cats that we can find, just as there is no wave function of planets or suns. As Penrose says:

In my own view, the non-existence of linearly superposed cricket balls actually is contrary evidence!... We know that at the sub-microscopic level of things the quantum laws do hold sway; but at the level of cricket balls, it is classical physics. Somewhere in between, I would maintain, we need to understand the new law, in order to see how the quantum world merges with the classical. I believe, also, that we shall need this new law if we are
ever to understand minds! For all this we must, I believe, look for new clues.”.

Therefore he proposes there is a principle we do not yet understand behind the collapse of these wave functions or “reduction”. Roger Penrose then went ahead and formulated a principle that collapses the wave function as a factor of the energy/mass displacement that a quantum state would produce. Whenever this displacement grows the chance of a spontaneous reduction of the wave function increases.

In the emperors new mind, he formulates the idea, that somewhere in a brain there is a part where this collapse of the wave functions happens not at random and not deterministic, but “orchestrated”. Somewhere in our brain the gap between the classical and the quantum world is closed.

His theory therefore basically says that, consciousness is a fundamental principle of the universe that we make use of, just like space and time. Not “the observer”, but “consciousness” is what collapses the wave function. Consciousness as a fundamental principle is not to be understood in a way that ascribes the universe with a thinking mind, but the other way round. We, as all life, make use of this fundamental principle to gain free will and understanding. 

I recommend this video of one of Roger Penroses lectures. He proposes a strictly mathematical argument for the non deterministic nature of the brain that is truly fascinating if you are inclined to find math fascinating. 

To be continued ...