metapunk (1.0)

Playing the Game of Life

by on Nov.24, 2011, under games, holodoxy

Forgive me gamers, for I have sinned. It has been years since my last post about roleplaying games. You see, I’ve been preoccupied with this whole religion thing. Now I’m going to write a post that combines both ideas.  But before I make my point, I want you to consider a couple of quotes, from two of my favourite game texts. The first is from Violence: The Roleplaying Game of Egregious and Repulsive Bloodshed; by “Designer X” (Greg Costikyan). On page 22, he says:

Orcs

Now—before you put this away, either “hurr hurr”ing like an asshole, or feeling vaguely disturbed, I want to ask you a question. That orc—you know, the orc in that room in the dungeon, you open the door, there’s an orc there. He looks up, a bunch of heavily armed human motherfuckers are charging into the room waving weapons.

What’s he supposed to do? Smile broadly and say “Hey, mi casa es su casa, amigos!”? No, he whimpers with fear, pulls out his pigsticker, and prepares to meet his doom. I wanna know about his childhood. Are you telling me he doesn’t have friends who are going to miss him? That he didn’t have hopes and fears and aspirations of his own? That you aren’t a bunch of fucking degraded monsters for wasting him without a second thought? You’re playing a fucking role, okay, you’re supposed to act like a real character in this world. And yet you saunter around, killing intelligent creatures like they’re just another widget, a bunch of pixels to blow away, a mechanism for obtaining experience points and treasure. That isn’t roleplaying. Not as I understand it.

Here’s what I want to do. I want to go into a Quake® deathmatch. And I want to strip down to a loincloth, sit down on the floor with a begging bowl, and call after the lunatics with the plasma guns as they flee past me, saying, “It is all samsara, it is all illusion, my friend”—for truly it is, pixels on a screen.  ”Reject the fleeting temptations here, what profiteth you another kill? There is another path.” And I want him to turn, think twice—and then I will smile benevolently as he tosses a rocket my way, blows me to my reincarnation as my peaceful self—and he runs on, and kills and kills again, quad damage, armor, another clip, heal and heal and blammo to the floor—until finally he turns, lays down his gun, and sits by me, asking me to teach. And then one by one, the players shall gather by me, sitting, assuming the lotus position, touching the ground in the earth-witness gesture, letting their thoughts still, contemplating that strange Quake sky as it streams overhead, peaceful, in unity, transforming this one, small, cyberrealm of unending war and mayhem into harmony.

Sigh.

Right.

I wanna be a shooter bhoddisatva, baby.

Man, I am so full of shit.

And then there’s this, from Over the Edge (2nd Edition), by Jonathan Tweet with Robin D. Laws; page 167, under Alternative Hypothesis:

…Perhaps exposure to tulpas, especially psychic contact, would give a person a brief glimpse of the universe as it really is: an infinite number of immortal spirits donning temporary identities in various “worlds” as they play out their intricate, never-ending games with no true concern other than shared amusement. What would one do with this knowledge?

I’ve been thinking about these quotes for a long time. It started when I had a conversation with a good friend of mine almost three years ago. We spoke about the near-death experience she had on an operating table, after being hit by a truck.

I wrote this in my journal, in February of 2009, a couple of days after the meeting:

…and [she] told me something that I guess she told me before but I didn’t properly understand. She said that death is like taking the blinders off—that when we’re not here, living our limited and individual lives, we are infinite beings, capable of infinite understanding. Of course, in a universe where everybody knows everything, beings get bored, so they invented this amusement park / school called life, where we can limit ourselves and experience everything like it’s new again.

Which ultimately means that nothing can truly hurt you. Nothing is permanent—not even death. The only heavens or hells we need to worry about in life are those of our own making. There’s no such thing as eternal punishment or damnation and ultimately there is nothing to fear, or hate, either in life or in death.

This is a very comforting thought—a great sense of peace comes with it. Life is what you make it, and there’s no need to worry. Everything will be okay.  That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen to good people, for reasons beyond their control. Of course they do. Tragedy happens. Evil happens too. But when these things occur, we have a choice in how we receive them. With a little perspective, it’s easier to not take them quite so personally, and thus deal with them more effectively.

Then, in the fall of 2010, I saw the first episode (“Is There a Creator?”) of Through The Wormhole, with Morgan Freeman. That’s where I first learned that the Simulation Argument is a somewhat respectable thought experiment in modern philosophy, and not “merely” an ancient philosophical idea (not to mention a seed for interesting fiction, like The Matrix, or Dark City).

If you’re not familiar, the Simulation Argument goes something like this: if it’s physically possible to make a near-perfect virtual reality, then chances are (given the age and size of the universe) that some technologically advanced alien culture has already done it. And if that’s the case, then they’re probably running multiple simulations—a multitude, even—including what might be called “ancestor simulations,” to study biological and social evolution, among other things. And if there is a multitude of simulations of the universe running, each of them filled with self-aware virtual beings; then statistically speaking, you and I and everybody we know are probably simulated people living in an artificial reality.

Now, it’s not like these ideas are revolutionary. Pretty much everybody at some point in their lives has heard or thought of the possibility that reality as we know it is an illusion of some kind, or that there might be some greater reality encompassing this one. It’s an ancient idea for a reason. But it really got me thinking.

The simulation argument suggests we may be living in a simulation. And given the state of present-day video games, it’s certainly easy enough to imagine a post-human society with super-advanced video games populated both by living players and simulated intelligences. It’s funny, really, because a lot of people of the transhumanist / singulatarian persuasion wouldn’t bat an eye at such a possibility; and yet will quickly balk at religious notions of a life beyond the one we commonly experience—whether those ideas are coming from a traditional or more New Agey source.

Maybe the Simulation Argument, and religious metaphysics, are just different ways of expressing the same idea—that ultimately, we’re really far more than we believe we are. Maybe in actuality, we’re all part of some vast collective intelligence—whether that’s an omniscient post-singularity hive-mind, or God itself—and maybe the difference doesn’t matter. And maybe, we just individuate ourselves from that totality of being to take on temporary, limited forms in simulated worlds, playing out parts for the education and amusement of ourselves and others.

Jordan Peterson also talks about this in his talk on Virtue as a Necessity. He begins by noting (at 3:47) that Life is Suffering. Life is Suffering because throughout our lives, our goals are thwarted by the arbitrary limitations placed upon us by nature and time. These are limitations like whether or not we’re smart, or good looking, or pre-disposed to certain diseases, and like the fact that one day we’ll die. All of these things are (Transhumanist optimism notwithstanding) beyond our control, and so they limit us. He says (around 6:20) that they are:

“…conditions of existence. Human being is predicated on a kind of fundamental limitation, in that we are what we are, and we’re not other things. And so that means, inevitably, that the awareness of human being comes along with suffering. Life poses the question: How to conduct yourself in the face of suffering. Not only yours, but everyone else’s. And it’s an inescapable question, except that maybe you’re fortunate, and you’ll have periods of time where something absolutely horrible isn’t happening to you…

…And to know this frees you from the false illusion that life can be conducted without suffering. Suffering is an integral part of being. Now, why is that? Well, who knows? It’s a metaphysical question. But I have some ideas about that that have helped me, and they’re things that I’ve read.

I read, for example, an old Jewish commentary about the reason for creation. It’s like a Zen Koan this idea. You take a being with the classical attributes of God: omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience; a totality. And the question is, what does a being with those attributes lack? And the answer is “limitation.” And then you think, well, what’s so important about limitation? Well, if you can be anything, or do anything, at any time whatsoever; there’s no being, because everything is one thing. There’s no differentiation between things. So something that’s absolute and total has no being—it has to be parcelled out into limited being.

And you know this because you all play games. You play video games, you play games with other people. You may play games you don’t even know you’re playing. And when you play those games you put limits on yourself. You play by a set of rules. And the reason you do that is when you limit yourself—arbitrarily, in some ways—whole new worlds of possibility emerge. And so there’s a powerful metaphysical idea that being is not possible without limitation…”

Maybe we’re all role-players, at heart.

Peterson concludes this part of his talk by noting: “So you say, what’s the price you pay for being? The price you pay for being is limitation. And the price you pay for limitation is suffering. So the price you pay for being is suffering.”

Why do we let ourselves suffer if we’re just playing an elaborate game?  Why would any all-knowing entity voluntarily experience pain and loss and uncertainty?  Maybe just so that we take the simulation seriously.

Maybe we’re all role-players, suffering for our art. Maybe we’re just playing characters driven by our passions—suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to educate ourselves, or the universe itself, in all the wonders of a life well worn. Just so we can feel, and be moved.

Maybe Shakespeare was right: The Play’s The Thing.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

As You Like It, by William Shakespeare; Act 2, scene 7, 139–143

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Punked by the Rationality Troll

by on Oct.23, 2011, under holodoxy

More stupidity on Ye Olde Interwebbe.  I pretty much lost my shit with a guy on io9 this week. Not that I wanted to, but…  well, here’s a synopsis of the conversation:

Me: Exploring fantasy is a good thing.  Metaphorical thinking is useful in a personal crisis. It helps because thinking about metaphors allows you to be more conceptually flexible.

Him: YOU’RE WRONG!  Because… SCIENCE!  Magic is bad!

Me: Umm… I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. I didn’t say anything about magic. What I mean is, theoretical knowledge doesn’t disprove the experience of pain or misery, but previous practice exploring metaphors can help deal with it.  Here’s a scientist talking about what that means (linked video).

Him: Fantasy implies magic.  That guy seems to be saying that consciousness is magic.  But I only watched a few minutes of that video.  It’s a whole hour long!  Obviously he is wrong. You’re wrong!  Science! SCIENCE!!! Metaphors are stupid!

Me: Go away.

Him: You’re boring.  You go away!  I’m not even interested in this topic.

Me: Seriously?  What do you want here?  We can’t really have a conversation if you’re not interested in the discussion.  Maybe you’re misunderstanding me.  Here, this linked video talks about it more directly.

Him: Yes seriously.  I shouldn’t have to look at those videos because I disagree with that guy, and anyway, they’re too long.  I came here to have fun and have a discussion.  I don’t think you understand SCIENCE!…  [I skimmed the rest.]

Me: Sorry, I didn’t read your whole post.  After all; I disagree with you, so why should I?

That’s when I left the conversation.  He replied twice more, but I didn’t read them.  This guy just made me so angry.  I seriously would have hit him if we’d been in the same room.  I know the internet magnifies everything, but holy crap.

It’s unfortunate when someone disagrees with you because he doesn’t understand what you said. It’s obnoxious when that person vehemently insists that you’re wrong, because he thinks he understands you but refuses to find out what you actually meant.  It’s bullshit when that person doesn’t even live up to his own standards of argumentation, because then you can’t even talk to him on his own terms.  And it’s absolutely infuriating when that person continues to shout at you, regardless.

I find myself wondering what the lesson is, here.  I guess I could have been a lot cooler about it, and obviously it was a mistake to keep talking to this troll as long as I did.  As usual, it seems that contrary to their own assumption, believers in hard rationalism are no more immune to irrational speech as their counterparts in religion.

It’s very frustrating.

 

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Since when does single = gay?

by on Sep.30, 2011, under Uncategorized

It comes down to a natural, but frustrating part of human psychology: the tendency to assume things when we don’t know the facts.

The world is complicated.  Far too complicated, in fact, to fully grasp with the limited processing power of a human brain.  So, evolution blessed us with a shortcut.  We put things into categories.  We label them, so that we don’t have to think about them too deeply, so we can get on with other things.  But I don’t have to tell you how often this screws us up–because quite often our assumptions are dead wrong.

A little while ago, I was at a somewhat formal social function when an older gentleman I had just met engaged me in conversation.  He asked me about my life and how old I was.  I explained that I was in my mid-thirties.  He asked if I was married, and I said no, I wasn’t.  Then, with a pause and a meaningful look in his eye, he said: “You do like girls, don’t you?”

I almost facepalmed.  Yeah, I wanted to shout, I like girls so much that I can barely converse with them without my palms sweating and my vision going dark.  So why must extended bachelorhood automatically imply homosexuality?  And what the heck does it matter anyway?

It bugs me because the implication is that I should like myself less because I’m chronically single, or if my sexual preference were different than his.  And the really infuriating part of it all is that this man was perfectly earnest in what he was saying.  There was no hint of irony, or even awareness that his preoccupation with other people’s sex lives was a little disturbing.

Oh well.  I suppose I should have said all this to his face, although I’m not sure what good it would have done, and in any case, open argument would not have been appropriate for the occasion.   Still, it’s frustrating when people are like that.

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Frakking Agnostics, man…

by on Sep.17, 2011, under holodoxy

At the risk of writing a minor rant, I wanted to discuss a comment someone made to me recently, which won’t rest until I write it down.

Recently, an atheist friend inquired as to my religious beliefs.  Because I was tired, and because I didn’t want to bore him with all the complicated details of my spirituality, I said I was agnostic.   I regretted it as soon as I said it, because his response was very predictable.

“Oh, I get that,” he said.  “As Richard Dawkins says, you’re just an atheist who hasn’t made up his mind yet.”

I’ve tried not to be annoyed by this because he’s not agnostic, and therefore he doesn’t realize how profoundly ignorant that statement is.  But at the same time: he doesn’t realize how profoundly ignorant that statement is. Like any of Dawkins’ fans, and Dawkins himself, he’s an intelligent guy who has utterly failed to apply his intelligence to the subject at hand.

Agnosticism does not mean sitting on the fence between strong positions of theism and atheism.  It’s not some kind of half-assed, waffling maybe.  It’s a strong position that the entire question of theism versus atheism is a stupid one—that the fence between these poles ought to be torn down (because, despite fears to the contrary, tearing down that fence won’t make those poles identical).  It is the firm belief that it is a mistake to hold firm beliefs (or non-beliefs, as the case may be).  It is the understanding that the reality of these ideologies, and of the universe, is far more complex and nuanced than this simplistic, either/or debate will allow for.

Many atheists will argue that scientific understanding is impossible unless there’s a clear line separating the world of faith from the world of physical evidence.  But if you follow the evidence, particularly in psychology, it’s clear that:

  1. Human rationality is deeply bounded by intractable and inherent limitations in perspective and processing power;
  2. Assuming those limitations don’t exist is foolhardy;
  3. Spiritual traditions are ultimately just frameworks for dealing with those limitations.

And maybe 4:  Scientific materialism, by itself, is not a viable substitute for such a framework.

Does that mean religions should be followed blindly, or that atheism is an invalid position?  Of course not.  But it does mean that religious traditions have insights to offer if you know where to look, and that a smart person won’t discount religious stories and practices out of hand, simply because he finds them distasteful, or primitive.

So, on the contrary: Agnostics aren’t just atheists who haven’t made up their minds.  They are people who refuse to be limited to a single set of possibilities, or to be told which ideas they can and cannot explore.

I look at people with fixed concepts of God or the lack thereof, and to me they are like people standing in cages arrayed around an open field.  I can move freely around the field and still find my way back home, while they are locked inside prisons of their own making.  They could walk out any time, but they don’t.

So, no thanks.  My intellectual freedom / sovereignty is non-negotiable, and this business of sorting each other into ideological camps and then making war on each other is not for me.

 

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The Metaphysics of Twendr

by on Jul.18, 2011, under holodoxy, news

Remember that machine we wanted to build when we were kids? That supercomputer that could be used to monitor, simulate, and predict cultural trends; maybe even physical events? (Okay, I was a strange kid, so what?) We thought this would be some sort of standalone machine. Something centralized and owned by some government. But no.

I just learned about Twendr (yes, I’m a tad slow with these things; bit of a Luddite, really). I hate the baby-talk name; but anyway, it tells you about twitter trends as they happen by spotting keywords in people’s posts.  In other words, it just tells you what everybody is talking about in a global sense, in real time.

But think about how this could be applied to utilities like Google Street View and Google Earth and blogs and 4Chan and whatever remains of journalism in the twenty-first century, and every other frigging thing out there.

Think of where this is going. We’ve made maps, representations, of the real world since the beginning. We called them words and ideas and symbols and myths, and sometimes, actual maps. We learned to manipulate these representations. We realized we could use them to highlight certain facts and ignore others, and so could understand the real world better—and alter it to suit our interests.

We’ve had conflicts not only because our interests collide, but often because our representations of the world, our maps, don’t agree—and because our maps feel more real than the actual world. Or they block out our view of the actual world. Indeed, we tend to bury our faces in our maps and forget to put them down and look where we’re going.

Get out your Hawaiian shirts, folks. Everybody’s a tourist.

But now comes the internet, which, among other things, is like a huge map—not only of physical space, but of cultural space as well. And with things like Twendr and Google Earth, we’re updating that map in nearly real time, with commentary.

I mean, the internet—I can’t say it’s alive, exactly; but it’s certainly some kind of evolving organic system. It’s a cyborg brain with people for neurons and electronics for synapses.

And the thing is: this vast representational network, this colossal meta-map, is becoming more complex every second, like some zygotic panopticon.

We can imagine a day when the map becomes more detailed than the territory. And as this happens, we’re developing biotech and nanotech that will one day give us the power to edit the physical world as easily as we can edit photos and documents.

The map, already approaching 1:1 scale, will bleed off the page and into the world, The word “reality” will have no meaning beyond the conversation about it, shifting with our desires and delusions. The medium will literally be the message. We will truly dwell in a collective hallucination that every saint and sinner, every starred commenter and asshat troll will tug and twist with all available might. Whether that hallucination will be consensual and mutually worthwhile, or if it’ll be a bad trip for some or all—that’s anybody’s guess.

But maybe, if we know we’re all hallucinating, we can choose to make it a good one; because we’ll know that every act, every idea we nurture, will contribute (however minutely) to what the next moment brings.

Maybe we’re already living in a Matrix-like world mediated by digital mapping and manipulation, and thereby shaped by the hopes and fears of the minds contained therein. Maybe the singularity happened a long long time ago, and we just don’t realize it. Maybe we’re gods and mortals by turns… fallen from Olympus with self-imposed amnesia and arbitrary limitations, just so we can experience the whole existence thing with fresh and passionate eyes—even if it means we also suffer, and are occasionally brutal to each other. I mean, it’s the challenge that makes the game worth playing, right?

Or maybe I’m just a lunatic, and you should ignore everything I’ve said here.

Choice is quite a thing, no?

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The Meaning of Everything

by on Feb.27, 2011, under holodoxy

So lately I’ve been watching some of Jordan Peterson’s lectures on Big Ideas (which is a bit like a low key version of TED).

Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, has some very interesting things to say about human emotional health, mythology, and religion. In fact, his ideas are profound enough that they ought to be required viewing for anybody who has ever had a strong opinion on the topic of religion.

His ideas are drawn from diverse sources besides mythology: art, literature, philosophy, history, and all of it grounded in science; specifically experimental and clinical psychology. So, it probably shouldn’t be astonishing that he makes so much sense when he explains, well, basically everything. But really, you have to hear him for yourself. I realize that some of these videos are long (no more than an hour), but they’re really worth it. Make the time.

In this first video, Reality and the Sacred, he explains how we actually ignore most of reality, and only really notice it when it becomes a problem for us—and how that fact is symbolized in stories.

http://youtu.be/OcfSqKylag0

In this next one, The Necessity of Virtue, he talks about the nature of virtue, and the nature of evil through examples from religion, literature, and atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust and the mass murders of the Soviet Regime.

Here he explains the story of Genesis and how it relates to consciousness, suffering, and historical acts of evil such as fascism and the Columbine shootings:

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L-l-l-look at you hacker; a pathetic creature of flesh and bone…

by on Jan.28, 2011, under games, holodoxy, news

So, the good news?  My computer malfunction is more or less solved.  Without getting into details, it turns out I wasn’t being cracked, specifically.  The software was out of date on one of my firewalls, but not where I could easily update it.  Now that it’s been taken care of, I get almost no link spam and sites like this blog are now accessible again.

So, problem solved.  I’m back baby!

Big news?  Not really… just some quick updates:

  • Although the game is approaching a more final form, it still hasn’t  gelled properly in a couple of important ways.  I’m thinking of consulting the Forge about this, but the Forge is entering the “Winter” of its intended lifecycle, and so activity there has slowed down a bit.  I haven’t been active on there for months myself, either.
  • The Christmas holiday was incredibly busy and tiring, and I’m only now really getting back to normal.
  • Got a couple of new & interesting videos to post on the topic of spirituality / psychology. They’ll probably be the subject of my next post, so tune in if you can…  if anyone can hear me…

*crickets*

Oh well.  In the meantime, be good, keep it real—or as real as reality gets—and enjoy your evening!

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0h N03z, 1′v3 b33n H@xx0r3d!!!

by on Oct.21, 2010, under news

Yup, so this time it’s not my fault that my posts are infrequent. My home network has been badly cracked and/or infected by some sort of crazy redirect virus, which prevents me from actually seeing my blog page from my home system.  And with only modest computer experience & resources it’s taking some time to resolve. But have no fear, it will be resolved, even if I have to call on the c00l p0wurz of y3 0lde d1g1t4l g0dz of y0r3!  Or the power of Grayskull.  You know… whichever.

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What is the true weight of a stone?

by on Sep.28, 2010, under holodoxy, news

Just this: A story from the Onion about the religious punishment of stoning in Iran. Told from the point of view of a man throwing the stones, the back-handed ha-ha-only-serious cynicism of a standard Onion story gives way to something eerily touching. It’s the apotheosis of gritty satire—reminding us of how every one of us dies a little when barbarism and tyranny pretend to be religion.

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I Have Overcome: A story game of triumph over Social Anxiety

by on Sep.27, 2010, under games, holodoxy

So, it’s been quite some time since my last post.  Busy busy, as they say.  See the new infrequent posts page for info.

Anyway, I’m about to be involved with a social anxiety workgroup at my local hospital, and because they’re always looking for fun socially-oriented activities to do, I suggested some role-playing.  To stay topical (at least during official time), we needed a game that was itself “about” social anxiety in some way.  It also has to be learned and played in a single two hour session, by people of all ages (late teens to 70′s) who have no experience with RPG’s as a hobby.

I figured I’d be designing something myself, or heavily modifying something.  I asked around at the Forge, and got some good answers as to some games that involved some level of interpersonal anxiety, which could be used for inspiration.  Looks like I’ll be trying to get my hands on My Life With Master ASAP.

In the meantime, I started brainstorming for ideas.  This is unlike any game I’ve tinkered with before, but in some ways it’s really nice to work on something outside my normal niche. (continue reading…)

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