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Jul 17, 2022Liked by John Carter

John, This is so profound I don't even know how to comment intelligently. They need to have a new Academy of Philosophy of Science and make you the founding member. Would be appropriately circular. Thanks for this. Will have to reread more-than-once, I expect, to get all the under-the-covers thinking.

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Jul 17, 2022·edited Jul 17, 2022Author

Thanks man. I'll probably expand on some of this ... there's several paragraphs on the nature of light and time that I cut out, as it was already too long.

Really though, all credit to Vernadsky. Haven't read him yet (just downloaded a PDF of his book though), but I expect if he read this he'd say, "Well yes, I say all this, hundred year ago!" while rolling his eyes at me.

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Agreed.

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A lot of 90s physicists turned into mystics. You wouldn't be the first. If you don't want to go down that path you should avoid Herman Hesse novels, acid, and ancient Taoist texts. Imagining the noosphere as part of a physical deterministic universe (especially one with sympathetic vibration) is putting your toe in the water of metaphysics. This is not a criticism it's a cautionary tale.

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It's too late for me, I'm afraid. I've long since jumped in the deep end - in fact, I was doing so while studying physics as an undergraduate (and frankly, before that). But then, I'm a 90s kid.

It's not accidental that belief in God is, amongst scientists, highest amongst physicists. It's not immediately useful for the actual work, but there's something about the field that leads practitioners in that direction. Something of a paradox given that its subject matter is mechanism in its most elementary form.

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Jul 18, 2022·edited Jul 18, 2022Author

EXACTLY

(I really wish Substack would enable pictures in comments)

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Jul 18, 2022·edited Jul 18, 2022Liked by John Carter

Also wanted to add that I find the brilliance of your piece to be the perfect antidote to Lem's "His Master's Voice". And I say that with deep respect for Lem, who could see only tragedy in cosmic mystery (just as Douglas Adam's could see only comedy).

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I haven't read that; all I've read by Lem is Solaris.

My tastes run more to cosmic horror. Lovecraft, Warhammer 40k, and Alastair Reynolds. Although, that's an aesthetic preference. Realistically I can't believe it's really that bleak.

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It's funny you mention Lovecraft. Like all great and enduring artists, I think he was gifted (or, some might say, cursed) with a keen insight into the subtle world. His version of cosmic horror was bigger than himself and his writings, so much so that he basically spawned a supergenre, reflected in countless modern forms. Such an infectious and adaptive artistic vision should not be taken lightly.

Anyway, your writings of late have been gorgeous and inspirational, as I'm sure many of your readers would agree. This piece in particular lit a fire under my ass to finish an essay I've been working on called "The Devil Incarnate", in which I hope to shed some photons on the evolutionary arc and inevitable physical manifestation of God's Adversary. I think Lovecraft and his heirs would find much to agree with (and perhaps you might as well).

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Ah yeah, you mentioned that essay. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Have you come across Zero HP Lovecraft's work?

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I've read "Gig Economy." I should probably read more.

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Aug 31, 2022Liked by John Carter

LOVE IT

bitches be like, errrrr science says the earth is a fluke and life is just something that happend, buncha chemicals zappin' each other for no good reasons

true science be like, bro, you are the means by which the entire universe comes to know and love itself

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Jul 18, 2022·edited Jul 18, 2022Liked by John Carter

Extraordinary stuff, John. The subject matter was wholly unexpected and the article was really, really good. There is something about physics, traditionally the most mechanical of disciplines, that reaches beyond itself.

Your account of Vernadsky brings to mind Georges Bataille's theory of the accursed share. It has been years since I read it, so my memory may be faulty, but Bataille posited that complex life was simply the means by which the cosmos discharged or spent the surplus energy of the sun. Bataille was strange and he took his thinking about surplus energy into bizarre places (he was a surrealist, after all).

There were an awful lot of people in the late19th c and early 20th doing very bold, very creative thinking. By comparison the last few generations have been pathetic. My guess is that it is a combination of world wars killing off the best men, together with the deadening effects of mass society, above all dumbed down and ultra-utilitarian mass education.

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That is pretty similar to Bataille, isn't it? Leave it to the French to see as surreal that which the Russians see as an epic tapestry.

Spengler would have said that the 19th century was the full flower of Western civilization, with winter and death to follow. Apres moi, la deluge. Personally I think the reason we haven't seen quite as much transformative thought over the last century or so is that it's been discouraged by the professionalization of science and the bureaucratization of funding. Managerialism squeezed the life out of it. But that said, there's also quite a large degree to which even that thought which is really bold and imaginative - and there's been a fair bit if you know where to look - hasn't been allowed to propagate and affect the world as it should have. Our perspective here in 2022 is one where it seems very little has changed, save for gradual decay, since the turn of the century, and that leads to an understandable pessimism.

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Jul 18, 2022·edited Jul 18, 2022Liked by John Carter

Bataille's concerns, set out in THE ACCURSED SHARE, focused on anthropology, politics and economics rather than cosmology and he certainly was not a scientist or philosopher of science. He explained that every society spends its excess energy via sacrifice (including luxury, human sacrifice and the welfare state). He was employed as a numismatist (coin expert) at the Bibilotheque National and is best remembered as a pornographer.

I agree with you about the effect of professionalisation and managerialism. They foster anxiety about respectability, groupthink etc. I'd add to that the plebeianisation of culture and education amongst the middle classes. Nothing like the 19th c bildungsburgertum (educated bourgeoisie) survives in the West and without a receptive audience new ideas wither. The patience for the undynamic, non-utilitarian, cultivation of knowledge does not really exist anymore. Ditto the salon culture of preWW1 Europe.

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The gradual conversion of the middle class into a dumbed down lumpenproletariat is a real thing. The popular literature of the 19th century was written at such an elevated level that the highly educated of the 21st century often struggle with it. We've gotten objectively stupider.

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When Melville was a lad ordinary seamen in the US Navy read Shakespeare and Blackstone's legal commentaries for pleasure. A friend of mine (unfortunately now dead) with an exceptionally strong background in the behavioural sciences often used to point out that old newspapers (preWW1) from the Wild West displayed a degree of complex grammar, formal logic and cultural literacy far in advance of anything we see in the metropolitan media today. Something very wrong indeed is at work and is getting worse at an escalating rate. IMHO non-stop audiovisual infotainment is a force multiplier for undermining attention spans and learning, while the mass resort to cannabis is decisive proof that we are morphing into neo-fellaheen. Amazing that as technology becomes more advanced, its everyday users become duller.

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Schoolboys used to read Plutarch. For fun. I found him challenging, and I'm one of the more erudite people I know. That says it all right there.

To a certain degree, outsourcing cognitive capabilities to information technology may well be making us intellectually flabby. Reliance on spell checkers, using our phones to remember numbers, etc. Same way automobiles contribute to obesity. But there's much we could do to mitigate that, which we're not. A populace with a short attention span, a short memory, and lacking the ability to process complex syntax and therefore complex ideas, suits the social engineers just fine.

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In Greek? You have referred directly to specific etymologies a few times in your work, so I can't help but wonder.

Pre WW1 many schoolboys started Latin almost as soon as English and Greek a year after that. By the time they were in their senior years students were expected to do composition exercises, without a dictionary, for their exams and had to write an essay in the style of a given author. Extraordinarily difficult but it developed the mind and that is what it is ultimately all about. Really rigorous education with a focus on subject-mastery is the key to developing any community or nation.

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deletedJul 18, 2022·edited Jul 18, 2022Liked by John Carter
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"What are all of us who write here but philosophers in the oldest human tradition?"

Exactly. We're the modern equivalents of the Stoics and the Peripatetics, hanging out by the stoa and wandering about in the wild groves of the Internet, and talking the ear off of anyone who will listen.

Philosophy going back to its primal roots.

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Dec 18, 2023Liked by John Carter

Dang. I understood most of what you said, John, but I still want to reread this article a few times this week, I need to assemble--as best I can-- the Big Picture of what you’re saying. The universe is gloriously complex,we all know that. And yet you are suggesting (correctly, I hazard to say), it is also gloriously simple. I need to digest that a bit, get my grey head around it. Back in a bit.

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Oct 16, 2023·edited Oct 16, 2023Liked by John Carter

You're somewhat off in equating energy with information. In the same way that there is a matter-energy equivalence, there is an information-energy equivalence. But this does not imply they're the same thing. Encoding and decoding requires energy, but the information yielded by this process is not itself energy.

Energy is the potential of matter to undergo state changes, and information is encoded in particular states, and matter is the stuff which exists in one particular state or other.

It's subtle but important: matter, energy, and information are three distinct and codependent domains.

New agers make the error of thinking of energy-as-stuff when only matter has the character of being stuff. You're making a similar category error of information-as-energy, but information does not have the character of being energetic. Encoded information on its own does nothing and has no potential; without a decoder and an expenditure of energy, it might as well not exist.

Edit: which is all to say, I like the direction you're going with this and think it will go farther if you avoid the subtle trap of this category error.

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You're absolutely correct, I was playing fast and loose there. In my defense, this was partially motivated by rhetorical considerations. Information is not usually considered to have a mass/energy component - it just isn't something people really think about. So I was trying to emphasize the overlap.

That said, it seems to me that the three are related quite intimately, such that the one implies the others, and a change in one implies a change in the others. Rather like three aspects of one underlying phenomenon, which itself isn't well captured by any of them individually.

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Moar on noospheres plz!

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Thinking of a part 2: noospace.

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I am going to push back a bit, specifically on foot note 1.

Many fish die shortly after spawning, or in the process of doing so. Salmon, for a famous instance. Some species of octopus die after laying eggs because they sit and care for their eggs while starving to death until they hatch.

Some insects and crustaceans essentially allow their young to cannibalize them as their first meal. Certainly many mate once then are consumed by the female.

Angler fish males are basically tiny scrotes swimming around until they find a female, then attach and get absorbed into her body for long term use.

Even with mammals and birds reproduction is about the only thing driving intra-group or intra-species killing, and many have "mate, then die or whatever" dynamics (usually just the males).

So, claiming that animals wouldn't understand that reproduction is the point of their life is... sort of strange. For many it is the primary thing they fight for, the last thing they do, and something they willingly die for.

And then you have to consider how serious many species are about protecting their young.

For all your other arguments, claiming that reproduction, the continuation of life, isn't super important to organisms is a very strange claim. I have other problems with the essay, but this one is a bit beyond the pale.

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It isn't that reproduction isn't important: it obviously is. It's that it's arbitrary in a sort of blindly single-minded, autistic way to make it 'THE function'. In all of those examples, it still remains generally true that the various organisms don't spend the majority of their lives reproducing, or even thinking about reproducing. It occupies a comparatively very short fraction of their lives. And indeed, as you point out, in many cases, it happens precisely once. What I was pushing back on in this essay was the idea that everything is about reproduction, which leads to absurdities like trying to find circuitous ways of explaining why a bird wheeling and diving apparently for the sheer joy of it is akshually somehow maximizing its reproductive fitness.

Taking a step back, you can see reproduction and metabolism as two phases of the same process. Both are fundamentally about pattern maintenance. One takes place entirely internally, the other involves creating an external version of the pattern. Stop metabolism, the organism dies; stop reproduction, the species dies. Ultimately, it's all one flow of matter, energy, and information.

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"Both are fundamentally about pattern maintenance. One takes place entirely internally, the other involves creating an external version of the pattern. Stop metabolism, the organism dies; stop reproduction, the species dies. Ultimately, it's all one flow of matter, energy, and information"

That would be a much better way of saying it. Both metabolism and reproduction are THE function, just two different ways of doing the same thing. I think you were making far too strong of a claim in the essay.

Even here you are making too strong a claim, as multi-cellular organisms are constantly reproducing their own cells. (Full replacement every 7 years or so for humans I am told.) It isn't just a bit here and there, even when it happens on the macro scale exactly once in their lives. You are down playing reproduction too much. Yes, the Darwinists probably overemphasize it, but don't make the opposite mistake.

And sure, things do stuff just for fun :) Totally agree there.

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When going hard on a point, it's often useful for effect to exaggerate it.

Of course, reproduction is implicated in metabolism via mitosis. But, even that isn't the whole story - cells themselves metabolize without dividing. Even at that level, the two are part of the same process.

"And sure, things do stuff just for fun :)"

I think this is far more important than we realize. That's why I shifted from 'energy' to 'information' halfway through. Learning seems to be very central to what life does, and learning is fun. It's possible that fun is actually, at a deep level, very much the point.

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Mar 22, 2023Liked by John Carter

Maybe the point is love?

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Hippie ;)

But yes - love is absolutely central to Being.

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Mar 22, 2023Liked by John Carter

LOL! I was thinking more Biblical love than carnal.

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One needs to be careful of line between exaggeration and falsehood, however. If you weren't an author I liked and trusted I would stopped reading around that point. I don't know enough to judge every claim, so when I see someone make incorrect statements or demonstrate a lack of knowledge and understanding in an area where I do know a fair bit I start downgrading my estimation of their general wisdom pretty hard. Particularly when they are making those errors with a great deal of confidence. It is important when arguing against over confident, narrow minded fools not to succumb to the same temptation. When fighting monsters, yadda yadda, abyss something or other.

Fun is an interesting topic. Higher animals definitely like play, and it is interesting how often play looks a lot like "exulting in how good I am at what my main method of survival is". That is, horses love to run, dogs to hunt, cats to stalk, people to make shit and compete with other people. What's really interesting to me is how much humans are obsessed with two key things that helped them survive way back when: bodies of water and fire. It's almost as though early humans who didn't like spending time in and around water or playing with fire didn't get to pass on their genes much, because damn near every kid finds water and fire endlessly interesting. More so fire, really, but we moderns tend to put the kibosh on that pretty quick, so it is hard to tell.

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There's for sure a connection between survival method and fun. But, another way of looking at it, is that fun is simply the free exercise of one's powers, and those powers are also what helps one survive. You can only do what you're equipped to do.

I once saw a video of a dog riding a sled down a hill, then dragging the sled up so it could have another go. Saw a similar video with a crow doing the same thing on a snow-covered roof. Play of that sort seems hard to reconcile with survival utility.

As to fire, I often say that humans are basically apes that throw rocks accurately and light things on fire. Nothing else about us is actually unique. There's no question that fire fascination seems to be more or less instinctive, which is very different from essentially every other animal.

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Jul 19, 2022Liked by John Carter

It is such a privilege to have access to your written thoughts. I don't have the capacity to comment on this. I am just in awe and appreciation. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expanding your ways of communicating to include mid wits like myself.

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i prefer vernadsky's concept of the noosphere to teilhard de chardin's...

an evolution of the biosphere rather than something superadded to it.

macrocosm/microcosm

the anthropos - the cosmos as superorganism, reflecting in macro what we are in micro

your writing gels well with a lot of the best of the perennial philosophy.

cheers!

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Vernadsky's formulation is far more scientifically grounded, credible, and accurate, I think, than Chardin's. It's remarkable they it lay hidden from the Anglo mind for so long.

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have you read solovyov? very interesting dude - dostoevsky and tolstoy were students of his

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No. First I've heard of him. What was he known for?

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few books: meaning of love, short tale of the anti-christ, sophia, godmanhood. gave public lectures in Russia that were very popular. he is especially known, in theological terms, for his work on incorporating the divine feminine into the Christian picture. Sophia and Sophiology. Berdyaev was another similar thinker.

For Solovyov the central concept is syzygy: an indissoluble marriage of masculine and feminine as Godhead - fully masculine and fully feminine. The way the Godhead expresses itself differs between earth and the heavens: in the heavens the masculine principle is active - stars, light; on earth it is the feminine principle that is active: living matter, the biochemistry of the biosphere. But behind or within each active principle there is always the opposite receptive twin: in a star the darkness within is a forge accumulating matter; on earth life itself can be distinguished from dead matter by its bio-luminescent signature: life emits light in proportion to its spiritual development: hence why saints are haloed.

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Ah hah. Fascinating. Another polymath.

I used to think the gendering of inanimate objects in Indo-European languages was weird. I've come to regard it as expressing a deep wisdom.

Life does not only emit light due to spiritual development. Biophotons are a measurable phenomenon whose significance we've not yet begun to properly understand. No doubt there's a connection there. If Solovyov anticipated that back in the 19th century he was a man well before his time.

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Your paragraph regarding Solovyov and syzygy is entirely consistent with both Taoist internal alchemy and traditional western alchemical views of the cosmos and wisdom. Is it likely he was aware of both / either?

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i cannot say with certainty, i wouldn't be surprised. both tolstoy and dostoevsky listened to his lectures.

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Jul 17, 2022Liked by John Carter

I saw a 20 minute YT doco on the stages of the Universe. "Life" will exist for a cupla billion "years", the gradual merge of ALL black holes, long afterwards, is a figure so large that "life" is like 0.0000000000000000000 (long time LOTS & LOTS more zeros) .1 of the entire period. It's just the sturm undt drang... so really, we should enjoy it!🤣

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Was that the Melodysheep video?

https://youtu.be/uD4izuDMUQA

It was masterful, like everything they do.

However, there's a very important caveat to such prognostication: we really don't know what the future will bring. Physics is far from a mature discipline: we have no idea what dark matter (if it even exists) or dark energy are, for instance. Without that we can't really extrapolate with any confidence. Further, such predictions are purely mechanical, and take no account of the role life and mind might play. That role may turn out to be decisive.

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Jul 17, 2022Liked by John Carter

Oh I agree, although how fascinating contemplating a non - mechanical Solid State eternity, set on "bliss"... & if Thought be non mechanical, at quantum cubed, my oh my... Life; not to be quantified NOR qualified by +0.1% of mayfly elites...

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Loving your work here. Thank you.

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Jul 17, 2022Liked by John Carter

I absolutely loved this article I did have some trouble with some words and or some sentences but as a layman I understood the body of your work! Great job

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ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ᾿ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν

ofc from the original, platonic source.

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Upon second spaced read, it sank deeper in and disturbed comatose silt: While a live body is essentially food rearranged in chemical sense, to stay alive it has no option to pause and ponder over what all this is about. Keep busy converting/transforming—or else (the most grim else, equalling to a decay to poo). Energy-information content establishes a natural hierarchy ‘within the increasingly elaborate, intricately baroque architecture of the biosphere’. Now, we the human pinnacle could use a little help from the Universe teaching itself to give this remarkable artistic project a licence to continue on the profoundly beautiful course. In the form of figuring out a breakthrough energy-dense source to tap into.

Btw, ty for stretching the perspective horizon. I find it strangely reassuring that shit is cosmic in its ultimate origin, and a repository of information to boot. Dignifies things somewhat 😊

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