Will to Power

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That life itself is dependent upon, if not made from, the opposition of forces, the fight. The pitting of two drives against one another, and the necessity of declaring a winner.

Take the tectonic forces coming together at a fault. One side eventually slides under, accompanied by a shaking of the foundation; one side eventually rises above and remains there until some colossal force is strong enough to overturn what has already been decided. If this fighting of wills is removed, if all is equalized, you lose all movement, all change, and all life. The pervading will is not all that emerges from this confrontation, it subjugates the lesser, making it part of a new whole. And the denigration of the lesser will, that is so common and easy to come to, only comes from man’s misplaced shame of man. An obvious devaluation of a part of the whole, an opposite required for the other. This has blossomed into an all out declaration of war on losing, as they have attached the experience of suffering to the loss itself in some cleverly misplaced equalization. In the name of suffering, they claim, we must protect, nay prevent, the losing entity from even becoming. Do not be fooled, this is an incorrect aim, as the existence of the winning drive presupposes a losing drive, and therefore each is equally required. The subjective devaluation of the lower is the root of the desire to remove it at all costs. With this removal, you do not remove potential, you simply strip out the surface level incarnations of the underlying drives. Now these drives compete at levels outside of our awareness. Life as we know it stagnates, our “life” is no more. 

A legal organisation, conceived of as sovereign and universal, not as a weapon in a fight of complexes of power, but as a weapon against fighting, generally after the style of Dühring’s communistic model of treating every will as equal with every other will, would be a principle hostile to life, a destroyer and dissolver of man, an outrage on the future of man, a symptom of fatigue, a secret cut to Nothingness.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay: “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like, aphorism 11

Look around. Everything you experience is the successor in a long and brutal fight against time. Our organs, our consciousness, our ideas, all are current manifestations of a block of marble that has been chipped, formed, and forced into existence by eternal competition. You do not go from single cells to incredibly complex organisms unless there is an underlying, pervading will. A will to do things better, to acquire better, utilize better, be better, a will to power. This is operating at a level we are not privy to, we only perceive its manifestations. We have the ability to observe and hypothesize, but our observations are never enough to infer original utility. At best, we are able to make judgements about an entity’s current utility, and even that is only a minutely educated guess. For example, take the mitochondria that exist inside almost all of our cells. These cellular substructures are the primary producers of ATP, the preferred energy currency at the molecular level. So we can look at the mitochondria, and many scientists have, and have a decent understanding of what its function currently is, that it acts as the power plant of the cell (obviously much more complicated, but not the point here). If one looks into their history however, their role has drastically changed. The prevailing idea is a theory of endosymbiosis, stating that mitochondria previously existed as free living, single celled organisms. And at some point these individual entities were taken into another cell (endosymbiosis). A particular strong piece of evidence for this theory is that mitochondria contain their own, unique set of DNA, that is different from the germ line DNA found in the nucleus of our cells. So certainly their role has changed, their utility has changed over time, and there has to be some underlying drive for these processes to occur. The will to power continually seeks to express itself in any way that increases its leverage. Our current observation, a snapshot in time, is the mitochondria existing inside the cell, serving a larger purpose, or larger drive. This tells us nothing about the way that entity was used in a time before. We should certainly project this idea into our future. Our institutions, the demonstrators of power, are not confined to the role and ideology they serve today, and it is unlikely they serve the ideology they were initiated upon, even if they claim to do so. They, like the mitochondria, are always ripe for subjugation by a stronger, underlying force.

Everything, anything which exists and which prevails everywhere, will always be put to new purposes by a force superior to itself, will be commandeered afresh, will be turned and transformed to new uses; all “happening” in the organic world consists of overpowering and dominating, and again all overpowering and domination is a new interpretation and adjustment, which must necessarily obscure or absolutely extinguish the subsisting “meaning” and “end.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay: “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like, aphorism 12

It should be emphasized that the will to power has no conception of “good” and “bad.” These subjective judgements are only overlaid at a much higher, more superficial layer. A thing does not exist to be “good,” it only exists, or it does not. And in that interpretation, it may even be plausible to say, that to be, or to exist, in itself – is “good.” The environment or society or space of reality existed in such a way to allow anything that exists to come about, and now, we play a role in what shapes are allowed to form next. We do not have the option to not play, we are involved with both our action and inaction. If you do not act with intention, you will be subjugated by the will of another. When we do not pay attention to what is actually going on, if we refuse to look a layer deeper, then we allow our institutions, our customs, our culture, to be carried away by forces that have no connection to our sense of “good,” and to be manipulated by that objective will to power. That drive that can and will take any form presented, any form that allows it to increase its influence and tighten its grasp. Look under the hood, boldly venture one layer deeper. There are incredible forces at play, and we are only beginning to see the bubbling over of the many atrocities that brew under a stagnant, repressive, and reactive society.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 6/9/2020

Sleep II: Glucose Intolerance and Hormone Dysfunction

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My introduction to insulin will be important to understand before getting into today’s conversation. We will be discussing sleep, its affect on blood sugar levels, and its affect on serum insulin levels. If you don’t want to spend the five minutes reading the post on insulin, the most important takeaway is that insulin in a ginormous growth signal to the body. When insulin is present in the bloodstream, our ability to break down and burn stored body fat is blocked, while our ability to form and store new fat molecules is amplified. With that brief introduction, let’s dive in.

I don’t think anyone would argue that humans are incredibly diverse and adaptable. We live and learn to thrive in every environment the world has to offer (mostly). Adaptability is no more than responding positively to your environment. It is making subtle changes in your functioning to better facilitate your existence in that environment in the future. A prerequisite to being adaptable is the ability to sense your environment. Before you can begin to optimize outputs, you have to understand the inputs to the system. Sleep is a primary, pivotal, essential, etc., etc., input to our body functioning. The duration and quality of our sleep each night sends a truckload of data to our body. And being the adaptable creatures we are, our system processes that data and makes compensatory psychologic and physiologic changes. One of the huge levers our body can manipulate in response to this input of data is hormonal and metabolic functioning. If you remember from Sleep I, short sleep induces higher levels of ghrelin (a hormone associated with hunger) and lower levels of leptin (a hormone associated with satiety). These changes in chemical concentration lead to an overall subjective feeling of increased hunger. Today’s topic fits right along side this increased sensation of hunger. When we do not get adequate sleep we become less glucose tolerant. Meaning our blood sugar stays elevated for a longer time after eating, as do our levels of insulin. Short sleep leads to more insulin spending more time in our bloodstream.

In this small study participants were put through two different sleep regiments. Initially they were restricted to four hours in bed per night for six nights, and then allowed 12 hours in the bed for the next seven nights. In each condition they they were subject to a glucose tolerance test while also having their insulin levels measured. During the sleep restricted condition, there was a clear impairment of carbohydrate tolerance. Injected glucose was cleared from the body 40% slower after sleep restriction. They also measured the acute insulin response to be 30% lower in the sleep-debt condition. Glucose effectiveness, a measure of ability to dispose of glucose independent of insulin, was also 30% lower in the sleep debt condition. The combination of these outcomes would certainly lead to prolonged blood sugar elevation, and these differences in glucose tolerance are very similar to those seen in a non-insulin-dependent diabetic male compared to a normoglycemic male. Lastly, the researchers also measured glucose levels and insulin response to a 60% carbohydrate meal; opposed to the IV glucose injection which the above results were in reference to. They measured the increase in peak glucose after eating breakfast was higher in the sleep restricted state. However, peak glucose measurements following lunch and dinner did not differ much between the sleep states [1]. This is certainly no evidence of causation, I simply want to point out that there seems to be some level of hormonal and metabolic dysfunction in response to sleep restriction.

In this study researchers were investigating if sleep restriction impairs insulin signaling. In order for insulin to exert its effect at a cellular level, it first binds to a receptor on the outer membrane of a cell. This binding initiates a cascade of events (molecules tagging other molecules, turning them on) eventually resulting in the body’s ability to move glucose from the bloodstream into the cell. The researchers were able to measure a specific molecule in the insulin pathway (phosphorylated Protein Kinase B, aka pAkt) in order to assess insulin sensitivity of individuals in a sleep deprived state and in a well-slept state. They measured the concentration of insulin that was required to stimulate pAkt to adequate levels. In an insulin insensitive state, the amount of insulin required to reach this level of pAkt stimulation would be higher. In this experiment the participants were subjected to four and a half hours in bed to achieve the sleep deprived state versus eight and a half hours in bed to create the well-slept state (four consecutive days in each state). In the sleep deprived condition the amount of insulin required to elicit the desired pAkt response was 3-fold higher [2]. Another significant manifestation of hormonal disruption after short sleep.

There are many more studies out there, but I like to keep these posts relatively short. It is fairly obvious that there is some level of hormonal dysfunction that occurs after less than a week’s worth of inadequate sleep. Admittedly these studies are small, but we have seen some level of evidence for disruptions to ghrelin, leptin, insulin, and glucose tolerance. So for a quick summary of what we have covered so far: short sleep causes you to feel more hungry and less satisfied after a meal. You then have a decreased ability to deliver glucose from your bloodstream into your cells, elevating your blood sugar for a longer period of time. You also have a decreased response to insulin, further inhibiting your ability to remove glucose from the bloodstream and increasing the overall amount of insulin in your body throughout the day. There is certainly some level of a runaway feedback loop here, as prolonged blood sugar elevation further increases the demand for more insulin secretion. And remember, when you have high levels of insulin circulating, you cannot break down fat, but you can certainly build it.

My concern is not with the 40% slower glucose clearance the day after cramming for an exam or finishing a big project. I am concerned with what happens after 25 years of consistently getting 4-6 hours of sleep. What happens when endocrine dysfunction becomes our normal? What happens when our body is forced to adapt to metabolic conditions it would have only seen in the most stressful times in pre-historic life? Of course we will never know a definitive answer to these questions, but when you are dealing with something as ubiquitous as chronic disease, I naturally look at things equally ubiquitous, i.e. sleep, as possible culprits. The idealized, “I can sleep when I die,” needs to go, or those who believe it will surely meet that end sooner than they should have.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 6/5/2020

See Sleep I: An Evolutionary Imperative

References:

[1] Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354(9188):1435‐1439. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)01376-8

[2] Broussard JL, Ehrmann DA, Van Cauter E, Tasali E, Brady MJ. Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(8):549‐557. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-8-201210160-00005

Growth of the Human: How Insulin Works

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tldr:

  • insulin is a hormone secreted to lower blood sugar levels
  • insulin is a body wide signal for growth
  • high levels of insulin promote the storage of energy in the form of glycogen and triglycerides (fat)
  • high levels of insulin BLOCK the breakdown of fat
  • insulin is affected by type of food, timing of food, exercise, sleep, and many other lifestyle factors

Insulin is one of the most important molecules in our body. Remember that hormones are molecules secreted by one part of the body in order to communicate a message to another part. They are able to relay information through the bloodstream, allowing systemic responses to certain environmental conditions. Blood sugar is one of the most tightly regulated parameters in our body, as we run into serious problems with both high and low blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas when elevated blood sugar has been sensed. Although insulin is one of our body’s primary tools to keep our blood glucose (sugar) in check, it is not a master tool. Insulin only acts to lower blood sugar levels. Typically in response to eating, our blood sugar levels rise. This is when insulin is excreted from the pancreas into the bloodstream. Once insulin is flying around our blood vessels, it starts screaming its message to all the cells it comes into contact with, and its primary message is: Energy is available! GROW, STORE ENERGY, and GROW MORE!

Throughout all levels of biology, a primary task of the organism is to sense energy availability. In the evolutionary world, energy was always hard to come by, so the ability to detect available energy was a crucial advantage that essentially all organisms developed. It would be a catastrophic failure for an organism to try to grow and divide while resources were scarce, and it would be an equally fatal mistake for the organism to fail to grow and store energy when the resources were available. As it turns out, the molecular switches that control this decision of anabolism (building) versus catabolism (breaking down) are often central to our health and longevity. There are a handful of these high level decision makers in our body, but today’s post will focus solely on insulin.

First we must keep in mind the big picture: when insulin is in the blood, it is a body wide signal for anabolism or growth. From here we can zoom in on some of the details of insulin’s action. As we mentioned above, a primary task of insulin is to lower blood glucose levels. When insulin comes into contact with muscle cells and fat cells, it induces a specific effect, essentially unlocking the cell for glucose entry. When a muscle or fat cell grabs (binds) a molecule of insulin from the bloodstream, a cascade of events is set off inside the cell. The end result of this process is the the insertion of the GLUT4 transporter into the cellular membrane of a muscle or fat cell. A quick digression on cellular membranes; these are structures that form the boundary of cells and organelles (smaller structures inside of cells). The membrane is the outer layer controlling what comes in and what goes out. If the bloodstream is a superhighway connecting the different parts of our body, the membranes completely control who is allowed to exit the highway and enter the city (cells). Back to insulin. So insulin binds to the fat or muscle cell, resulting in GLUT4 transporters being shoved into the cellular membrane. The GLUT4 transporter essentially acts like a very specific claw, searching the bloodstream for molecules of glucose, grabbing the glucose from the bloodstream, and transporting it inside the cell. Without GLUT4 transporters in the membrane, glucose cannot enter the cell, and it simply remains in the blood. This is a primary action of insulin. Recruit GLUT4 transporters to the surface of fat and muscle cells, allowing glucose to enter the cell and reduce the amount of glucose in the blood.

This is only the beginning of the effect of insulin. We have brought glucose, single molecules of sugar, into the cell. However, this is about creating stable, usable forms of energy, so getting energy into the cell is just the first step. The cell still needs to convert these singular sugar molecules into a form of energy that can be stored long term. As we already stated, there is a deep, hardwired desire for the organism to capitalize on available energy and prepare for a day when that energy is not accessible. We convert glucose into two energy forms that are better suited for storage: glycogen and triglycerides. Glycogen is essentially a bunch of individual glucose molecules strung together, creating a single, larger molecule. This certainly helps for storage, but it also retains functionality as glycogen can be broken down into usable forms of individual glucose molecules quickly. The primary issue with glycogen is that we run out of space. Each cell can only hold so much glycogen, and when the reserves are filled up, the remainder of the glucose is used to create triglycerides. Triglycerides are the body’s best and most efficient way to store large amounts of energy. These molecules are compact, energy dense, while also retaining the ability to be broken down into usable forms of energy. Triglycerides are colloquially referred to as fat, and most of us can see the abundant stores of energy we carry around our waist.

This system of energy acquisition and storage at the cellular level is quite impressive and sophisticated. It truly highlights the body’s ability to adapt and respond to dynamic environmental conditions. But the world we live in today is much different than the world in which these systems were developed. With our basic understanding of how insulin works to pull glucose into the cell and create stable forms of energy, we will now turn to how this might be problematic in our modern life. Just as we have systems to build and store energy, we of course have systems to break down those stored forms of energy. We have processes that break down glycogen and triglycerides into molecules that can fuel our energy demanding cellular processes. However, because we have these opposing processes (anabolism versus catabolism, or storing energy versus using energy) our body has to know which protocol to run. If we are manufacturing triglycerides to store energy, it would be counterproductive if the cell next door was breaking down its triglycerides to use for energy. Once again, this is a situation our body has developed protection against. Remember what insulin’s primary message is: energy is available, grow and store energy. So not only does insulin provide a pathway for energy into the cell (GLUT4 transporter), it blocks and amplifies certain other processes inside the cell. We have discussed how insulin stimulates the building of fatty acids (energy storage in the form of fats), but the presence of insulin also blocks the cell’s ability to break down fat stores, aka insulin blocks lipolysis. This of course is the outcome of a highly intelligent system, but it certainly promotes issues for our modern lifestyle. WHEN INSULIN CONCENTRATION IS HIGH, YOU CANNOT BREAK DOWN FAT STORES. A similar process is at play with glycogen. When insulin concentration is high, the breakdown of glycogen is blocked, and the formation of glycogen is amplified. This all fits under our big picture of insulin. Insulin is a body wide signal for growth, and in turn, a body wide signal to suppress utilization of previously stored forms of energy.

Even with this basic understanding of insulin, it should be obvious that insulin levels are vitally important for anyone concerned with losing weight. As the weight we should want to lose is in the the form of triglycerides, and those triglycerides cannot be burned in the presence of high levels of insulin. I realize there is not much practical information here, or tips on how to actually utilize this information in our daily lives, but understanding this background biochemistry is fundamental to a sophisticated approach to weight loss and health in general. On this landscape we can explore how certain foods effect insulin levels, the fact that calories are NOT created equal, how movement can be leveraged to help with blood sugar control, how the timing of a meal directly affects its metabolic outcomes, how sleep is intimately connected to insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and many other processes. There are so many pathways that all hinge on the metabolic control switch of insulin. Stay tuned for ideas on how to structure our lives in accordance with the biochemistry that governs our cellular processes.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 6/2/2020

Sleep I: An Evolutionary Imperative

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I think sleep is a crucial part of maintaining health. It is an insurance policy that is too good not to participate in. This will be the first in a series of articles discussing sleep and its importance to our overall well-being. Some of this can be considered anthropomorphizing and certainly hypothesizing, but we learn through stories. So if you would indulge for a story about sleep….

Travel back to our days as hunter gatherers. The rhythms of our day completely controlled by the light and dark cycles orchestrated by our rotation about the sun. As the sun slides down the horizon, it becomes much harder to find food. And in this ancient world of incredible competition for calories, our energy would almost always be best used in search of food. Therefore, when our ability to find food is limited, it would be beneficial to conserve our energy until we are in a situation that can leverage our unique tools developed for calorie acquisition, i.e. day time vision. From this very basic pattern of light and dark, along with a perspective of calorie conservation, we might develop two different modes of being, one of activity, and one of rest and repair.

That being said, sleep’s ability to withstand natural selection is nothing short of a miracle. Sleep is seemingly juxtaposed to many of the behaviors we know to facilitate the passing of our genes into future generations. When we sleep, we are not looking for food, we are not eating food, we are not having sex, we are not looking for a mate, and we are incredibly vulnerable. These are not trivial facts, they are pillars of what we know to be necessary for procreation. So how does something that fails to directly help us in these pursuits, while also making us the most vulnerable of prey, become so prominent in essentially every animal species on this planet? Ockham’s Razor would simply tell us that the benefit must outweigh the harm. Over the long experimental testing grounds of time, mother nature has weighed and measured sleep, and it has proven to be of essential utility. Sleep’s persistence proves its profits exceed its costs. By understanding the magnitude of what we give up through sleep (eating, sexing, security, etc.), we may begin to understand the value we receive through sleep. It simply has to be greater than or equal in value or sleep would not have proliferated.

We don’t know what all the benefits of sleep, and I’m not convinced we ever will. The system-wide effects of something like sleep are hard to tease apart in the discretizing manner demanded by modern science. However, it is being researched more and more and we will be able to increasingly understand the pieces of its puzzle. Our body is able to synchronize different processes through oscillating hormone levels. Throughout the day hormone concentrations rise and fall, creating a rhythmic balance for our cellular operations. There are numerous hormones, and they all have different effects. For example, melatonin ideally starts to increase in the evening, peaks in the middle of the night, and remains low throughout the day. The cyclic variation of hormones act as a internal clock, sending information throughout the body and allowing for different parts of the body to work towards common goals.

Two specific hormones I would like to discuss here are leptin and ghrelin. When discussing biochemistry, we will have to settle with some simplification. Keep in mind when people say something like “melatonin is the sleep hormone,” there is probably a good amount of truth to it, but there is also a vast complexity going on in the background. So while melatonin is certainly involved in sleep/wake cycles, its role is much more complex.

Leptin is a hormone primarily made by adipocytes (fat cells) and enterocytes (small intestine) that signal satiety. It is a huge part of that “full” feeling we get after eating a meal. Ghrelin is a hormone produced by your gastrointestinal system, closely correlated with our sensation of hunger. These two hormones have opposing effects, and are largely involved in appetite regulation. For example, ghrelin is often at its highest concentration before a meal and at its lowest levels after eating. The opposite is true for leptin, as its concentration is highest after eating.

Let’s look at how these hormones are affected by sleep. One of the most common ways to study something is to remove it, and then observe or measure the effect of its absence. Many studies have shown that when we are sleep deprived, the circulating levels of these hormones are changed. One study took a small group of participants and took them through two different scenarios. In the first part of the experiment the participants underwent two days of sleep restriction, then had blood levels of ghrelin and leptin measured, along with a subjective assessment of hunger. These same participants where then later allowed two days of extended sleep, and the same measurements where recorded. The study showed that after sleep deprivation, levels of ghrelin increased, levels of leptin decreased, and subjective hunger was increased [1]. Another study looked at a much larger cohort of patients over a longer period of time. Here they showed that short sleep duration was associated with higher levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin, independent of BMI, age, sex, and other confounding factors [2]. In this review article, researchers looked at the body of evidence regarding sleep loss and its effect on neuroendocrine and metabolic function, concluding short sleep is associated with an up-regulation of appetite, lower leptin levels, and higher ghrelin levels [3]. There are numerous other studies out there, and there seems to be a strong general consensus that shortened sleep is associated with lower leptin, higher ghrelin, and increased feelings of hunger. Obviously this is a bad combination for anyone who is concerned about their weight, and an extremely difficult situation to overcome if one is trying to lose weight.

Allow me to step back from the science, and return to our hunter gatherer ancestors to try and tell a story. I do not think it is a huge leap to assume that sleep was something we engaged in every night, and something we rarely sacrificed. If not for any other reason than our gift of vision was severely limited without the light of day. However, I can imagine at least one scenario when we would sacrifice sleep. Those nights when we were on the verge of starvation, when we had gone many days without food. At that point we had no other option but to continue moving in search of food, or at least significantly shorten the time we spent asleep. So if we were on the search for food, bargaining sleep for more exploration time, how might our bodies help us? We would be at a huge advantage if our appetite was tuned for high caloric intake. That way if we managed to finally come across food, we could fully take advantage of the available calories. We would not want to be forced to stop eating because we felt “full.” In this situation it would be a great development if in response to short sleep, our body increased its signal for hunger, and decreased its signal of satiety. Increased ghrelin and decreased leptin, in order to increase our appetite and ability to intake large amounts of calories. Shortened sleep would increase the instinctual drive to find calorically dense food.

Of course this is not science, the evolutionary story may or may not be true. However, viewing things through and evolutionary lens allows us to expand our thinking to why things might work as they do, and I certainly remember things better in story than factual bullet points. So take the evolutionary part with a grain of salt, but the elevation of ghrelin, reduction in leptin and overall increase in hunger in response to short sleep is well understood. If you or anyone you know is struggling with their weight, sleep is an essential first pillar to attack. Leptin and ghrelin are only part of this story. Short sleep also impairs glucose tolerance and causes other hormonal imbalances. Diet and exercise are what people often jump to when discussing weight control, but I would argue sleep should be the first stepping stone. Without prioritizing sleep you will be fighting an uphill battle. Stay tuned for further exploration of sleep’s wide ranging effects on our health.

Best explorations

References:

[1] Spiegel K, Tasali E, Penev P, Van Cauter E. Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Ann Intern Med. 2004;141(11):846‐850. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-141-11-200412070-00008

[2] Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 2004;1(3):e62. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062

[3] Van Cauter E, Holmback U, Knutson K, et al. Impact of sleep and sleep loss on neuroendocrine and metabolic function. Horm Res. 2007;67 Suppl 1:2‐9. doi:10.1159/000097543

-Ryan; 6/1/2020

Resistance: That War Within

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I stumbled upon a perfect metaphor for life last night: Do the dishes now, they never get any easier. If you have a dishwasher, you blessed soul, maybe this is not as obvious. However if you are like me, you have spent considerable time working with a kitchen that does not offer the 5-star amenity of a dish washing machine. The lesson is that washing the dishes never gets any easier. In fact, the job gets increasingly worse (through multiple dimensions) every second you decide not to wash them. First and foremost, the unwashed dish takes up physical space in the sink! This might not sound like a huge deal, but let me assure you, the resistance to cleaning the dishes exponentially increases as the available sink space decreases. You quickly lose that ability to rotate and turn the big pot because the stack of plates at the bottom of the sink does not leave you enough room between the plates and the faucet! And because you left the pot sitting for 3 days, that once savory tomato meat sauce seems to have become one with the metallic outer coating of the pot. You need to maneuver the pot at the perfect angle just to have the required arm leverage to scrape off the gunk. But those plates and cups at the bottom of the sink shut that down. Now you have to move the big pot aside, and start cleaning the small stuff first. You need that space (and all your will) to separate those day old demons from that pot.

The extensions of this situation are endless. You have to deal with your problems, or they continue to grow. Ignoring the issue only grants it time to mutate and become more formidable. It never goes away, the dish fairy isn’t coming, it’s just there, looming. What takes up physical space today (in the sink), will take up mental space tomorrow (the knowing that you still have to wash the damn dishes). And literally every second you wait, you compound the problem. The dishes are physically harder to clean, and you allow the problem to occupy mental real estate for a longer period of time. The real kicker is the negative feedback loop. The harder the job is to complete, the less likely we are to attempt the job. So we put it off, the mental and physical energy required to complete the task grows, and the likelihood of our doing the task decreases in response. It is at some point you will cross the point of no return. That point at which you aren’t going to clean the dishes, it’s just too far gone. Now you require an anomaly event to shake you free from your cementing state. Someone is coming over to your house, maybe a hot date. This external stimulus of energy is the only way you are able to break the mold that has solidified in the sink and in your head.

To abstract a bit further, this is the simply the way resistance works. In order to do something, anything, you have to say no to everything else. And that’s no easy task. Essentially you have endless possible options, and you have the job of eliminating all but one. So resistance is a vital and useful tool. Imagine you are at the center of a sphere, and you have to move towards some point on the surface of the sphere. Pretend that each location on the surface represents a different mode of action. So you select that particular point (your goal) and start moving, like an arrow to its target. You have to resist all the forces vying to push and pull you towards their own preferred location. Without this resistance, you would have no defined direction. However the thing about life is that you actually never get to the surface of the sphere, you just keep getting closer. For example, think of an arrow traveling to a target. We can say that along the path of the arrow, there is some amount of time for the distance between the arrow and the target to be halved. As the arrow gets closer to the target, the time it takes for it to cover half of the remaining distance becomes infinitely shorter. If we can continually adjust the time scale (infinitesimal time) the arrow will never reach the target. We just keep getting closer, the distance to the target decreases, the halfway point is closer to the starting point (and the target), and the time it takes to get to the halfway point is less. If you grant me this mental exercise, you see that the arrow never hits the target, it just gets infinitesimally close. So moving back to our sphere, we never get to the surface. If we keep traveling in the same direction, honoring the same resistance, we might get something like the shape below (ignore the labels. The 3D representation is the important part, and shoutout to whoever created this. I couldn’t access the actual website for some reason).

And now allow me to really extend the metaphor. Clearly the above deformed sphere does not look like a balanced, versatile, or well-rounded, if you will, object. It has some prominent features, but is also seems disjointed. Does this not happen to us when we get locked on to one specific target? It continues to get easier to move in the direction we are going, while also becoming more difficult to go against the grain. Our resistances become entrenched, and we grow one-sided. This is Newton’s First Law, this is inertia. So if resistance are those forces that keep us on the straight and narrow, they are also the key to expanding our horizon. In order to become something you aren’t, you have to do things you haven’t done. This will inevitably feel uncomfortable as we have a natural tendency to do what we are good at and what we are used to, for good reason. But if we want to grow, develop, become balanced and dynamic, we are forced to return to that resistance with new intentions.

That resistance becomes your compass. It is a screaming red flag warning, “LOOK OVER HERE.” It is the signal beacon of an opportunity to fight the dragon and to steal the fire. It is the portal to becoming something you are not.

It’s not easy or obvious. As we have already stated, that resistance serves an essential purpose and you first must simply be able to recognize and acknowledge the feeling itself. Maybe today that resistance is a little too much to bear, and the dishes are going to stay dirty, for now. But if you can just identify that feeling, that repulsion, you are on the right track. Once you can see it, you have the ability to use it as a tool. You don’t have to start with the big pot. Start with the small plates and cups at the bottom of the sink. Make the next step just a little easier for yourself.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/26/2020

Psychology and Art

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I should first try to define art. Simply put, it is any creative act, anything being brought into existence for the first time. This does not require something to be completely original, novel, nor previously totally unobserved. We are a collection of influences, be it through music, books, or society in general. Therefore, when we produce something, it will inherently have some some hue that is not entirely our own. For example, I would certainly consider a collage a piece of art. Each individual element may be completely unoriginal, but the arrangement of the pieces in time and space, as a whole, qualifies it as a work of art and a product of creativity. As is music. Millions of songs have (and will have) the chord progression of G,D,C, but that core of similarity does not disqualify them as unique constructions.

Art is an etching in spacetime, showcasing the unique nature of some particular moment. When you listen to a song, or gaze upon a painting, some part of you is transported back to that special time when someone’s skills and dedication had that oh so rare of union with the muse. Signed and dated in that very moment, to be shared with the world. The production is a summation of the cultural and the personal which speaks to something in all of us. A meeting of the known and unknown that could only come into existence through that very moment. When that song takes you back seven years, gives you goosebumps, or inspires you to keep going, that is special. That is the transfer of psychic energy, or libido.

“What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far and above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and the heart of the poet as a man to the spirit and heart of mankind.”

Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Art is the outcome of the unconscious reaching up through consciousness. There lies a latent psychic energy in the unconscious, and the artist has the ability to withstand its surge. But not only to withstand, the artist must harness, mold, and personalize. He must not be overwhelmed by the flood of the unknown, and must be able to direct the energy into something that speaks to the shared traits of humankind.

Not everyone has the constitution to venture into these depths and come out unscathed. However, those bold heroes that manage to do so leave their mark on the world. For the deeper one is able to go, the closer he gets to the core of our existence. That commonality we call the human condition. Those parts that lie within us, regardless of where we were born, how we were raised, or what god we believe in. Those blissful moments which are always counterbalanced by those in the depths of despair. By venturing here, the artist wins access to this most intimate part of our being. By venturing here, the artist can heal, move, and transcend.

Part of the artistic creation we understand. This part draws us in and allows us to relate. A common rhythm that fills us with a sense of attraction. But extraordinary art pairs this unifying feature with a coloring that only the artist could create. It blends that which is familiar with the unique and foreign. We can feel that unconscious layer in the art, shared by us all, drawing us in. The attraction of a symbolic representation of an archetype which extends from the collective unconscious. Then the artist reaches out, and meets this energy in his own consciousness. This is where he styles, shapes, and forms something that only he could. Adding an outer layer that personalizes and stamps the creation for the rest of time.

It is clear art connects us. It is a great unifier, across time, space, language, and tradition. In fact, art has the ability to transcend any barrier we construct, as some piece of it lives in our shared collective unconscious. It may not arouse the same feeling in me as it does in you, and it most certainly means something different to both of us than the person who created it, but the fact that it stirred something inside all of us, that is what makes it art.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/22/2020

Consciousness: Through the Lens of Split Brain Experiments

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Where are you? That thing that is the doer, where is that located?

Our brain is divided into to hemispheres, left and right. These hemispheres are connected through a bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. This structure allows for information exchange between the two halves of our brain. This, it turns out, is very important as the individual hemispheres of our brain complete separate tasks, then share the information with the other half. The specific tasks that are carried out by each hemisphere are conserved in most people. That is to say, there are some exceptions to these rules, but the work is typically divided the same way across different peoples. As a brief example of this, examine the figure below.

This list could be longer and more detailed, but the important distinctions are: each hemisphere receives different visual inputs, controls different sides of the body, and that speech and language are confined to the left hemisphere.

A treatment for the most severe and uncontrollable epilepsy is to cut the corpus callosum. This is a last line measure (no response to anti-seizure medication and other treatments) to limit the spread of the electrical activity of epileptic seizures. While cutting the corpus callosum did not completely stop the seizures, it relegated them to the half of the brain they originated in, no longer being able to spread to the other hemisphere via the corpus callosum. I will leave the ethics of this procedure for others to debate, but to the impartial observer, this procedure shed light on some peculiar aspects of consciousness.

Let’s walk down the logical progression of cutting the corpus callosum. No communication, no information exchange between the two hemispheres. Each hemisphere only receives visual input from one visual field. For those that are unaware, if you stare at a dot in the middle of the screen, images to the left of that dot are located in your left visual field, and vice versa. Therefore, observing a word in the right visual field goes to the left brain. This means the person could say the word out loud, as the speech and language centers are also in the left brain. They would also be able to move their right hand if, for instance, they were asked to draw the word presented to them. So far, pretty normal. Now, let us walk down the path of presenting a word to the left visual field. The visual input is sent to the right hemisphere of the brain. When asked what word was shown, the patient says nothing. The visual input, stored in the right brain, has no pathway to the speech and language center in the left brain. The patient cannot represent the information in words or speech, as these two pieces of informations are located in opposite hemispheres, unable to communicate. However, when asked to close his eyes and draw with his left hand, the patient is able draw a picture of the word. I recognize this probably sounds very confusing. Watch the video below for a visual explanation.

Split brain behavioral experiments

So with this basic physiologic understanding, let’s jump to the fun part, its implications for consciousness. For this discussion it may be helpful to invoke a particular definition of consciousness. In the words of philosopher Thomas Nagel, “an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism.” This assertion is made in his paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” For example, as soon as we say, “if I could perceive via echolocation, I would understand how a bat negotiates its surroundings,” we assign some level, or type, of consciousness to the bat. It has consciousness because there is something that it is like to be the bat. This definition of consciousness is a decent starting place. While it does not violate any of my intuitions, or directly contradict my developing notion of consciousness, it does not offer much insight either. The obvious thing we must extend from this definition is that consciousness is no one thing. You and I can both be conscious, as can the bat, but there are clear and obvious differences between these incarnations of consciousness. There are levels to the game, so to speak. This goes against the materialist and rationalist tendency to discretize and demand a concrete form of things. Through this definition we are clearly allowing consciousness to take on different forms, while also retaining some element of commonality. In my own interpretation of this idea, consciousness is the awareness of what it is like to be.

Back to the split brain experiments. If we apply the above definition of consciousness to the split brain patient, we are forced to assign individual consciousness to each hemisphere of the brain. As seen in the video, when shown different words in each visual field, the cognitive processes are distinct. The left hemisphere knows the he visualized a hammer, while the right hemisphere knows he visualized a saw. Both are 100% correct, both are 100% convinced of their perceptions, and both are completely unaware of the other.

What does this do for our understanding of consciousness? For me, it shows that consciousness is differentiated from the body, while also being dependent upon it. It is detached, but receives input from the body. I visualize it as a little entity floating right above my head. It takes inputs from inside the body as well as outside, welds them into a coherent story, and then poses as the all mighty conductor of volition. It incorporates all the stimuli of the senses, the inner psychic drives and images, our history, our place in the group, our place in society, our direct environment, possible future outcomes, and possible ramifications of those outcomes. A complex data mining, data combining, and narrative building machine.

So when we split the brain, the direct bodily inputs of consciousness obviously change. It is clearly like something to be the experience of the left brain, and clearly like something completely different to be the experience of the right brain. When we split the brain, we create another instance of consciousness. We introduce another way to be, and consciousness is there for its interpretation. For it is always there, always a level removed from direct perception. Thinking about split brain as a splitting of consciousness may be a helpful visualization, but in reality we aren’t splitting consciousness, it is just there, aware of whatever inputs are available to it.

I would like to close with a bit of a thought experiment. As this post was started, where are you? That thing that is the doer, where is that located? Before I really started thinking about consciousness I would have immediately answered that question: I am in my head, of course. My thoughts have drastically changed since.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/16/2020

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The Drumbeat of Change

Now you see that the hope and the desire of returning to the first state of chaos is like the moth to the light, and that the man who with constant longing awaits with joy each new springtime, each new summer, each new month and new year – deeming that the things he longs for are ever too late in coming – does not perceive that he is longing for his own destruction. But this desire is the very quintessence, the spirit of the elements, which finding itself imprisoned with the soul is ever longing to return from the human body to its giver. And you must know that this same longing is that quintessence, inseparable from nature, and that man is the image of the world.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Is that feeling of yearning a simple disapproval of our current situation, or does it emerge from something deeper, as a manifestation of a drive we have labeled progress? It is easy to appreciate the teachings of those enlightened ones; the complete acceptance and appreciation of each and every sacred moment. But this is not the teaching of our culture. This is not what draws today’s society forward. It is this antithetical idea of progress and change that define our world. I, for one, do find those moments of bliss and weightlessness to be quite compelling, but I cannot claim to be driven by the pursuit of peace and oneness. No, I seem answer to that call of progress and growth more readily. I want to be better today than I was yesterday, and I remain content with this strategy. However I readily admit, as Nietzsche states, our drives seek to philosophize in their own regard.

“Returning to the first state of chaos” must be something like the dissolution of ego consciousness, the dissipation of tension, that realm before opposites, unity. What if our yearning is a much deeper drive. A drive for reunification with the whole. I do not see this as a drive for death, or a “death instinct,” but something more along the lines of some part of us wants to reach that ultimate connectedness. Whatever we are, whenever we are, we are only the current manifestation of an intricate history. There must have been a beginning, with that an end, and every circle ends in the same place it started. It must be plausible then, our desire for change is the manifestation of a drive seeking to reunite with the beginning. Of course, only to be found through the end.

If this were true, certainly that drive would feel imprisoned. Only knowing its dissatisfaction with the current situation. Only knowing that change is its singular hope of resolution. Of course, it would not know what changes to make, or even what it desires, only its discontent. It is no more than a vector directed in a particular orientation, without regard to what surrounds. It does not have direct access to our conscious volition, so we are not necessarily privy to its goals, or even its existence. However, it obviously lies beneath those levers that play on the level of our conscious awareness. It finds solace in the constant comparisons we make between one another. Objectifying why someone else has a better situation than us (our future self included). Wanting this or that, never quenching, only leading to the next this or that. This is the drive playing puppet master to the grass always being greener.

The drive is not mischievous. It does not plot for our demise, push us towards misery, nor a mindset of perpetual inadequacy. These all occur at the level of consciousness, much downstream of the drive itself. It is our duty to channel this libido (psychic energy) into something that improves our lives. The only comparison deserving of our commitment is the comparison to who we were yesterday. That is the only manifestation we should allow this drive to take. Let it push us to ever so slightly better versions of ourselves. To small changes over a lifetime that amount to becoming who we are. Complete your circle on your terms.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/14/2020

The Double Slit Experiment

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If you like thinking about the nature of reality or consciousness or cool things in general, and are unfamiliar with the double slit experiment, you must watch the video below (or any number on YouTube). In 10 minutes you may be completely flummoxed by a foray into the quantum world.

Double Slit Experiment explained! by Jim Al-Khalili

I am no physicist, and I’m certainly not qualified to be sharing my opinions on such things, so I can’t think of a better topic to discuss. The experiment clearly shows the act of observation has some affect on the way we perceive light to behave. I emphasize perceive because that is a much different statement than claiming the act of observation changes the behavior of the particle. I do not think our observation changes the behavior of the particle, I think it changes what we perceive. Not that we are necessarily looking at two different things, but that we are viewing another side of the same coin. Through observation we collapse the dual nature of light (particle and wave) into one particular incarnation, a particular particle. Through observation we define a path.

The act of observation occurs at a specific instance in time, and at a specific instance, the entity has to be exactly somewhere. This only occurs at the smallest possible increment of time (theoretically possible), exemplified by the derivative. As the light is traveling through space, you cannot distinctly define its position unless you freeze time. The act of observation is this act of momentarily freezing time. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is the relationship between two complementary variables, for example, spatial position and momentum. There is no way to simultaneously know both the position and momentum of an object. If the object has momentum, it is by definition moving. If it is moving, it is by definition not in a fixed position. This can also be completely defined through the lens of time. In order to know the exact position of a moving object, time must be stopped. However, if you stop time, then you stop velocity, and without velocity you have no momentum. So the idea of complementary variables is the idea that the closer you are to pinning down the value of one variable, the less you know about the other.

It is as if through the act of observation we are assigning destiny. The act of observation freezes time, and in that moment, everything must be spatially accounted for. All possibilities collapse into a particular output, all momentum goes to zero, and a precise position is required. Then instead of perceiving the possible outcomes of traveling light (wave behavior), we perceive the outcome of that distinct particle which was observed.

It might make sense from an abstract “energy” point of view. It would be energetically more efficient to simply define a cloud of probability (wave behavior), than to output a specific path (particle behavior). Without an observer to output to, why waste computing power or energy to display an output?

There is some connection to consciousness expressed in this experiment. I do not think the observation itself has to be “conscious,” but the experiment is somewhat analogous to the idea that things only exist once they enter our field of consciousness. At this moment, look straight up. The ceiling or sky you just visually perceived (or mentally perceived if you actually didn’t look up, and are now just thinking about that ceiling above your head) was nowhere to be found in your conscious experience until the moment you perceived it. It had no defined real estate in your consciousness before, but there was certainly the possibility of it appearing in your consciousness. As soon as you bring your awareness to the ceiling, it exists. Your awareness is just like the act of observation in the experiment, calling forth a specific entity from the nebula of possibility. Consciousness has to filter down the possibilities of reality and present us only with what is of the highest importance. It is energetically impractical do discretely define all of reality, we must operate with a nebulous or probabilistic understanding of most things at most times. Light only behaves as a particle when it is forced to, when the act of observation demands certainty. We trade variety, novelty, and open possibility for limited but discrete understanding.

Like I said, don’t trust me on this. This is no more than a neophyte thinking out loud. However, I do hope it makes you think for yourself.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/10/2020

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Our Improbable Existence II

This is a continuation of a previous post, A Perspective on Our Improbable Existence. 10 minutes to read both might just change your life.

“The sense of well being of a tree for its roots, the happiness to know oneself in a manner not entirely arbitrary and accidental, but as someone who has grown out of a past as an heir, flower, and fruit.”

Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life

You are multitudes. In the first part of this post we wandered down the improbable road of our human ancestors being able to successfully reproduce 100,000 times in a row, roughly (really roughly) the number of generations needed to take us from 2.5 million years ago, to today. We emphasized just how incredibly unlikely it is for anything to be done 100,000 times in a row, much less, survive on Earth long enough to raise viable offspring! Quite the miracle, if you don’t mind the term.

That post was solely focussed on us, the human species. Now I want to take a step back, and examine an even wider picture. Imagine yourself in a park, forest, or really any unblemished part of nature. Now take your attention further, to the trees, grass, squirrels, insects, soil, even the microbes that surround you. Each one of these incarnations of nature is the product of an improbable journey, just as you are. Each one of the entities had “parents”, and “parents” before that, often extending much farther back than the paltry 2.5 million years of human existence. Many have much shorter lifespans, meaning they have been through vastly more generations, winning the game of life an impossible amount of times. They too are constellations of that original cosmic dust of 13.8 billion (at least) years ago.

This perspective is important, for you are not simply limited to your body. At some level, you are your experience, or your reality is built upon that which you perceive. In a way you are something like the integral of your perceptions across your life. In fact you even extend back before your birth. Do you not have instincts? And certainly we cannot lay claim to the development of instinct in this lifetime. Now, turning back to those perceptions that construct our reality. If we go back to the landscape we were picturing, with trees, birds, plants, etc., those entities exist as part of our perception. If they are part of our perceptions, then we are one in the same, as we are some type of summation of our perceptions. Or if you prefer to think in experiences, you experience the tree and the grass and the birds. Now take a snapshot in time, that experience becomes part of you. Somewhere, somehow, some piece of that experience is stored in you.

Now it’s time to explode your mind. If we are some type of summation of these snapshot experiences, we are entirely dependent upon the perceptions that made up the experiences. Meaning, if that tree was not there, in its exact place, we would have a fundamentally different perception, a fundamentally different experience, and therefore we would be something fundamentally different. The snapshot has changed. A piece of the puzzle that is us, has changed.

This means that our improbable existence just got infinitely more complex. Our existence requires not only 2.5 million years of successful Homo sapien reproduction (improbable in itself), but it mandates 23 million years of successful reproduction by the ancestors of that specific Oak tree. And 7 million years of reproduction by the predecessors of the squirrel. And don’t forget the grass, plants, soil, microbes, or that other human across the park. They are all part of your perception, all part of your experience, all part of you. As you are their’s.

It is hard to not appreciate our momentary existence with this perspective. Or does this perspective actually prove our existence is much deeper and more profound than initially assumed. You are everything, and everything is exactly as it has to be.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/8/2020