Saturday, February 27, 2021

Evolutionary psychology and psychedelics

Abstract of the linked article:

This review illustrates the relevance of shamanism and its evolution under effects of psilocybin as a framework for identifying evolved aspects of psychedelic set and setting. Effects of 5HT2 psychedelics on serotonin, stress adaptation, visual systems and personality illustrate adaptive mechanisms through which psychedelics could have enhanced hominin evolution as an environmental factor influencing selection for features of our evolved psychology. Evolutionary psychology perspectives on ritual, shamanism and psychedelics provides bases for inferences regarding psychedelics’ likely roles in hominin evolution as exogenous neurotransmitter sources through their effects in selection for innate dispositions for psychedelic set and setting. Psychedelics stimulate ancient brain structures and innate modular thought modules, especially self-awareness, other awareness, “mind reading,” spatial and visual intelligences. The integration of these innate modules are also core features of shamanism. Cross-cultural research illustrates shamanism is an empirical phenomenon of foraging societies, with its ancient basis in collective hominid displays, ritual alterations of consciousness, and endogenous healing responses. Shamanic practices employed psychedelics and manipulated extrapharmacological effects through stimulation of serotonin and dopamine systems and augmenting processes of the reptilian and paleomammalian brains. Differences between chimpanzee maximal displays and shamanic rituals reveal a zone of proximal development in hominin evolution. The evolution of the mimetic capacity for enactment, dance, music, and imitation provided central capacities underlying shamanic performances. Other chimp-human differences in ritualized behaviors are directly related to psychedelic effects and their integration of innate modular thought processes. Psychedelics and other ritual alterations of consciousness stimulate these and other innate responses such as soul flight and death-and-rebirth experiences. These findings provided bases for making inferences regarding foundations of our evolved set, setting and psychology. Shamanic setting is eminently communal with singing, drumming, dancing and dramatic displays. Innate modular thought structures are prominent features of the set of shamanism, exemplified in animism, animal identities, perceptions of spirits, and psychological incorporation of spirit others. A shamanic-informed psychedelic therapy includes: a preparatory set with practices such as sexual abstinence, fasting and dream incubation; a set derived from innate modular cognitive capacities and their integration expressed in a relational animistic worldview; a focus on internal imagery manifesting a presentational intelligence; and spirit relations involving incorporation of animals as personal powers. Psychedelic research and treatment can adopt this shamanic biogenetic paradigm to optimize set, setting and ritual frameworks to enhance psychedelic effects.

Manhattan from Hoboken at dusk

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Technological innovation over the long haul

Friday, February 19, 2021

Jazz at mid-century, changes are coming [4 albums in '59]

A very interesting video about four important, and now classic, jazz albums that come out in 1950. From the description of the video on YouTube:

1959 was the seismic year jazz broke away from complex bebop music to new forms, allowing soloists unprecedented freedom to explore and express. It was also a pivotal year for America: the nation was finding its groove, enjoying undreamt-of freedom and wealth social, racial and upheavals were just around the corner and jazz was ahead of the curve.

Four major jazz albums were made, each a high watermark for the artists and a powerful reflection of the times. Each opened up dramatic new possibilities for jazz which continue to be felt: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Dave Brubeck, Time Out, Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um; and Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Rarely seen archive performances help vibrantly bring the era to life and explore what made these albums vital both in 1959 and the 50 years since. The program contains interviews with Lou Reed, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Joe Morello (Brubecks drummer) and Jimmy Cobb (the only surviving member of Miles band) along with a host of jazz movers and shakers from the 50s and beyond.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Nationalism and the novel

Abstrct of, Cultural Capitals: Modeling 'Minor' European Literature:

Conceived against the backdrop of ongoing debates regarding the status of national literary traditions in world literature, this essay offers a computational analysis of how national attention is distributed in contemporary fiction across multiple national contexts. Building on the work of Pascale Casanova, we ask how different national literatures engage with national themes and whether this engagement can be linked to one’s position within a global cultural hierarchy. Our data consists of digital editions of 200 works of prize-winning fiction, divided into four subcorpora of equal size: U.S.-American, French, German, and a collection of novels drawn from 19 different “minor” European languages. We ultimately find no evidence to support Casanova’s theory that minor literatures are more nationalistic than literature produced within major cultural capitals. Indeed, the evidence points to the exact opposite effect: all three of the models we employ suggest that novels written in more minor languages tend to be significantly less nationalistically focused than those written in European centres like France or Germany. Nevertheless our data do confirm Casanova’s larger hypothesis of the existence of visible stylistic effects associated with a book’s location within a global cultural hierarchy of languages.

Friday, February 12, 2021

RIP J. Hillis Miller

Miller was the first literary critic I encountered when I entered Johns Hopkins as a freshman in the Fall of 1965. He taught an introductory course on the modern British novel. For the most part I forget what we read. Yes, there was A Passage to India and The Secret Agent, but there had to have been other, no? No matter. Some years later, the Fall of 1969, I audited a graduate course on the Victorian novel. A few years after that I was kind enough to write a letter of recommendation for graduate school. 

Here's an open letter I addressed to him a year and a half or so ago: To J. Hillis Miller, 2019: On the State of Literary Criticism.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Glowing grass

Trump lost the election, but will his demogogic conception of the Presidency win in the Senate?

From: Bob Bauer, Trump’s Answer to the Senate and the Constitutional Stakes in the Pending Trial, Lawfare, Feb. 9, 2021:

However, the hope that the election would arrest the advance of the demagogic presidency has been tempered, if not dashed. By assaulting the legitimacy of the election, beginning the day after the election at 2:30 a.m., Trump has managed to persuade a large segment of the electorate that the election decided nothing at all. It was fraudulent, denying him the “landslide” he claims that he won. In fact, according to Trump, it was precisely because he had established his unique form of presidency, unlike any that had come before, that the election was “stolen” from him. The same elites aligned against everything he stood for, every innovation he offered the American public, had joined forces to deny him the second term he had clearly won.

So Trump is out of the White House, but his attempt to vindicate his vision of the presidency has not ended. He continues to put it up as the alternative to the standard conception—the presidency that has operated within institutional norms for which he has exhibited disdain. It now falls to the impeachment process to confront and repudiate the demagogic vision of the presidency that Trump is endeavoring to keep alive.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Critique of disaster films, praise for Kim Stanley Robinson [Media Notes 54]

Peter Baker has an interesting piece in the NYTimes: We Live in Disastrous Times. Why Can’t Disaster Movies Evolve? It opens with a discussion of George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky, moving briskly to:

The story, in the end, uses the same dramatic conceit as just about every other disaster movie: The decimation of Earth becomes a backdrop that lends weight to the choices of a few individuals, which are meant to point to bigger truths about humanity. [...] Most disaster movies aren’t much interested in disasters in and of themselves. The disaster sparks the action and makes its resolution feel momentous, but when it comes to considering where it came from — why it unfolds one way and not another — things tend to get hazy.

These films gloss over the collective nature of the events and ignore the decisions that brought them about. It ends on a note of praise for Kim Stanley Robinson:

By starting with Earth’s fate already settled, “The Midnight Sky” gives itself a pass on this line of inquiry, and an excuse to dwell instead in the pathos of small moments of loss and acceptance. It reminded me, discomfitingly, of figures like Elon Musk, who often seem more interested in triumphant dreams of life in space than in any effort to help address the earthbound problems that would send us there in the first place. [...]

If our planetary crises were the same as conflicts negotiated between small groups of individuals, they would be much more straightforward to resolve. But they’re not. Could we start telling disaster stories that reflect this fact, and grapple with it? The most powerful recent example comes not from film but from literature: Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel “The Ministry for the Future,” which cuts between — to give just a partial list — scenes of climate disaster, government and financial bureaucracy, geoengineering experiments, street protests, refugee camps and eco-terrorism. Each strand takes meaning not just from the experiences of its characters but also from the reader’s awareness of their deep interconnections.

I’ve only begun reading The Ministry for the Future, but I’ve read and thought quite a bit about New York 2140. By that time the planet has already absorbed two global floodings and the sea has risen by 50 feet. Then a massive hurricane floods the east coast of the United States.

Whatever New York 2140 is, it is not an exploration of the psyches of one, two, or three individuals. Yes, there is a core collection of nine people whose lives meet and intertwine during the course of the book, and we do learn a bit about the past of each. But these characters are thinly sketched, at least by the standards of the traditional novel. It’s not about them and their psyches. It’s about the world in which they live. It’s about the collectivity.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The certification riots @ 3 Quarks Daily

Ever since 1/6 I’ve been thinking about the events of that day. A week ago I posted an essay to 3 Quarks Daily about them: Tectonic Tremors, Ghost Dancing, and the Certification Riots.

I’m still thinking.

A comparison between our current socio-political situation and that at the time of the Civil War has been on my mind for a year or so. The comparison is a difficult one to make because our current situation is so very different along various dimensions (e.g. political geography, military forces, media & communications). While it’s easy to assert that the comparison doesn’t work, I’m reluctant to do so. But I’m equally reluctant to deny the comparison. Moreover, one can argue that we’re still living with reverberations from the Civil War. I just don’t know.

That’s one thing.

The fact of reverberations bring up the matter of time scale. Consider plate tectonics. Earthquakes happen on a scale of minutes, hours, and days. But that’s the culmination of movements on the scale of decades and centuries. Continental drift happened on the scale of tens and hundreds of millions of years.

What time scales are relevant to 1/6? The events of the day took place on scales of minutes and hours. But one can easily link those minutes and hours to the whole of the Trump presidency, a scale of years. And we can link that presidency to events going back though 9/11 though Clintonomics to Reagan trickle-down to the Civil Rights movement....to the Civil War....to the origins of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Though we’ve got to be careful with this.

That’s another thing.

Now we’ve got to look forward. It’s not as though the historical forces manifest in 1/6 were fully manifest or “absorbed” in those events. Those forces are still at work. And how they’ll work out over the next decade, say, is not written in stone. Not at all. What will happen will certainly be influenced by how large numbers of actors (attempt to) make sense of what has happened. That means that it is, IN PRINCIPLE, impossible to limn the future by investigating the past.

So, back to the Civil War. It changed the country. Is the country undergoing a change of similar magnitude? I don’t think we know. What changes would be of comparable magnitude? 

More later.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Adam Neely, polyrhythmic juggling (sorta')

What's intersting is the interpersonal coordination involved. See my post, "Cooperation, Coupling, Music, and Soccer," for a discussion of some of the issues involved in this activity. This is fundamental stuff about human motor control, sociality, and interpersonal coordination. Pay attention to Neely's remarks about how there's not discussion of music theory, nor math. And note the use of diagrams and spoken phrases as aids.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Monk in Monk [Thelonious]