23 October 2020

The Mind on Furlough

I am still furloughed and still on the public dole. It has been just over six months, and if it goes on for only another six that will hit the under for most people's bets. I have been tremendously productive in ways which probably don't count for much. The first thing that happened was that my apartment got very clean; now it is extremely messy, even by my standards. I stopped practicing on July 1 and have not yet resumed. Instead, I have torn through books and records, scrabble word lists and annotated games. I have given the life of the mind due regard. I would rather have my job back, but I also could never relate to those who found themselves "bored" or stir-crazy when the first lockdowns hit. Privately I already had enough on my plate for ten lifetimes, and much of it was going to require a lockdown of one sort or another anyway. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

The immediate future is very uncertain, but I have become more preoccupied with the long-term. Specifically, I cannot fully repress the thought that as I have just begun to find full self-actualization in the cultivation of the mind, the efforts and the thrust of the wider world are all directed toward rendering the human mind obsolete. I am reminded of this by things as varied as: Quackle simulations (a Scrabble computer program which plays quite well but not infallibly, and which almost every serious player now uses to self-evaluate); a podcast about the uses which VR and game engines are finding far outside of their conventional bailiwicks; the need for constant rule tweaks just to keep pro sports entertaining now that minds real and virtual have been unleashed upon them, thus exploiting the existing rules so brashly and effectively that the "product" suffers; and of course, the LAX jetpack stories, which remind us of just how far behind schedule we have gotten in fulfilling bygone pop-technological prophecies.

We may still be a long way off from the singularity, but I don't know that we are all that far off from a world where all of the mind-based abilities I have so enjoyed cultivating are either superfluous, obsolete, or politically retrograde. Life will surely go on, but I will look awfully silly. Silly, and incapable, and certainly unnecessary. Because this relates to closely-held values and to identity, I do care what people think about me in this respect. What the man-without-god question was for my god-oriented forbears, so the man-without-mind question has become for me. Of course we did get some good philosophy and cantatas out of the old paradigm; the bygone prophets of doom would probably be surprised to know just how much mileage we've gotten out of these old things even without an imaginary friend to guide us. Yet these too are mind activities, which just makes the analogy more troubling, makes it harder to imagine that life will indeed just go on, because it has to, just like it had to when god (and the author close behind him) died or were killed.

Aside from a couple of college summers, I have never had so much time to devote to my own work. I have often found myself thinking even so that lack of brain has been a far greater obstacle than lack of time. There are days where I can find 9-letter words through disconnected tiles, and there are days when I can't keep my 3s straight. There are days when I can read for 12 hours and other days when I can barely focus for more than a few pages. As for my former work life, there were days on the ol' Metrolink where I could fully absorb a difficult book chapter and other days where I had to punt and aim for a much-needed nap. I have always been this way, regardless of what else is going on in my life. Where I am almost inhumanly consistent is that I wake up every day, regardless of how much brain I have, with a burning desire to progress, develop, actualize. Like my coworker's old Powerbook G4 which I coaxed into running Lubuntu, my own power module flashes the message "No Kernel Support," which means I eventually overheat and have to rest. This can be demoralizing. The occasional triumphs are gratifying. But they seem increasingly like triumphs which technology will soon render superfluous.

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