Bigsley the Oaf

Informational Priviledge, Childbirth, and Control

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on April 8, 2012

The primary mode of human action is informational privilege. Though it appears that we act as objects on objects, actually the purest form of action is the attachment of consciousness to an arbitrary locus of informational complexity.

Take a simple example. I am hungry – what shall I eat? I eat an apple.

The action and the decision here – the crux of it – is that I have chosen to think on the level of eating, hunger, and food. I could, for example, not allow the actual stuff of my perceptual reality (the sensations of hunger, the visual aspects of the food before me, the mnemonic attributes of my food holdings, etc.) to attain the forms set out by the common ontology of food.

But this is fairly abstract. It might be hard for you to understand how the decision to eat is actually the decision to think on the level of eating.

A better example has to do with time-scales. Consider a decision like – what college shall I go to? The fact of its being a decision is actually the privileging of a ~10-year timescale as the timescale on which to make a decision. The enactment of the decision is the sum of the pressures which focus the consciousness on that timescale. 

There is a subtle deceit here which it is important to understand. Namely, there are two types of decisions which we think of as the same type.

Suppose you lived in the moment. What would then, for you, constitute a “decision of college?” It would be a reaction – there would be a time at which the question is posed – really posed – and a moment in which the answer is given. The act is a spontaneous reaction on the scale of the moment.

But if you live on the 10-year timescale, where the decision to go to college is part of a plan, then the decision rises slowly out of nothing, attains its apex at the moment of “no going back” (if there is one), and then slowly descends back into oblivion. 

Though from an external perspective these are both “decisions,” I hope you can appreciate that they are of an entirely different character.

What’s more, my claim is that once you decide which information to privilege – whether to live in the moment, or to live on a 1-year timescale, or a 10-year one, or on the timescale of your life (e.g. planning for your old age), you are largely out of control of what you do.

Let me clarify what it means to privilege a time-scale. What it means is that, in every decision, in every thought, the ideas and objects to which your mind adheres are those which belong to that time-scale. If you live in the moment then you might think of sensations, simple relationships, dynamics, contrasts, etc. If you live on the 10-year timescale then your head is full of thoughts like career, health, friends, etc. If you live on the 80-year timescale then you might be worried about old age, family, building an empire, etc. If you live on the “eternity” timescale (in some sense the inverse of the momentary timescale) then you’re probably concerned with cosmology, laws, deep philosophy, computation, etc. – so-called “eternal” concepts.

Most people do not purely privilege a single timescale. Perhaps you are a weekend buddhist and privilege the moment when relaxing, but privilege the 10-year when working. Personally, I think that I vacillate frequently between thinking of eternity and thinking of the moment – I’m pretty bad at everything in between (which is why I have Jen 🙂 )

But timescales are not the only sort of informational privilege. Another is much more straightforward and static – namely, the question of which objects to attach value to, and what type of value. Humanists privilege human information. Mystics privilege “spiritual” information. Artists privilege forms and relations. Computer scientists privilege data (meta-information). Perversely, mathematicians privilege no information. 

Which brings us to the former element of the title of this post – childbirth. 

It’s a very strange topic to me, because what child birth really comes down to (largely) is privileging genetic information. If I have a child with someone else, what I am really doing is putting a great deal of my mental and physical energy – my time – and other resources – behind the belief that the combination of my genetic information with that person’s is worthwhile. It is a value, relative to which other values are lesser. 

I could, after all, start a business, or go travelling, or try to have a lot of good sex. I could make art, learn to sing. I could kill myself. I could do drugs and die in a ditch. But instead, I’m deciding that it’s important for some reason that my genetic information gets reproduced. 

This perspective, which I believe pretty strongly, makes it really hard for me to think clearly about my own child-rearing potential. I have a wife. We could have a baby right now. But is it what I want to do? Clearly my body wants me to do it, as do some of my friends, as do my parents. But there are forces pushing against it, too.

The fact is that genetic information is only actually useful on the scale of a society. What I mean by this is that a society with better genetic information is more likely to survive. More abstractly, a society which has better mechanisms for getting its members with better genetic information to reproduce, is more likely to survive. It has more resources relative to other societies. I don’t want to go into it, but I think that this idea dictates most of what we see in the media, etc. – how we think about beauty, intelligent, etc. etc. etc. 

My point is that if I had a child, it’s really for society, full stop. It might make me happy, but only to the extent that it is supported and encouraged by the fabric of society around me.

So really the decision is not a decision – it is a state. If society decides that I want to have a baby then I will have one. If it doesn’t, then I won’t. It is not in my control.

What it all comes down to is control. The eye changes the world. The level of complexity on which you think is the level of complexity on which your world will change, locally. If you think on the scale of the moment, then your moments will change, but your life may become monotonous. If you think on the scale of decades, then your moment may be boring, but they will sum to grand shiftings. If you focus on genetic values then you will have children – if you focus on the mind then you’ll have ideas.

And so on and so forth.

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