Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Bruce Sterling has ceased his Schism Matrix blog in favor of greener blogging pastures at Wired, although a Google search doesn't turn up the new domain. I assume it's in the works. Here are his parting thoughts (8-25-03):

"Ladies and gentlemen, after two, full, glorious, eccentric years, it's time for me to lay aside my Schism Matrix microphone.

"To my mind, blogging is like stand-up comedy -- it's a performance art. In that line of biz, you should always do your best to scamper off the boards while they still want more."

I can understand that. The curious thing is that I've never gravitated to celebrity blogs, Sterling's included. William Gibson, my literary hero since high-school, has one -- and I very seldom read it. (My teenage self would have been positively dumbfounded by this admission.) Blogs by famous authors are sort of like the gratuitous "behind the scenes" material included on DVDs; for example, I have the special edition two-disc version of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and I've never once even thought of popping in the "making of" DVD. Part of me doesn't want to know. Yes, I realize that the UFOs in the movie are merely special effects, but I still want to suspend my disbelief, thank you very much.

Too much "behind the scenes" commentary and the illusion loses some of its luster. I want to keep my literary/movie-watching life rich but uncluttered. It's a matter of deciding when to draw the line. How many streams-of-consciousness can I take it without falling to the ground and twitching from sheer information overload?

Ideally, I could link a version of myself to the Net, let it soak up as much information as I could possibly desire, and have it upload a full report to me on a daily basis. Technology along these lines is making headway in the form of "intelligent agents," which will effectively extend the human sensorium into cyberspace. Search engines are a crude analogy. Eventually, humans will require computer-enriched brains just to survive. Look at us now: Palm Pilots, cellphones, laptop computers, GPS tracking systems and MP3 players (and combinations thereof) litter the technosphere. If consciousness is an emergent property and not something "spiritual," then it seems likely that our brains are wired for it simply because it's the simplest, most efficient way of dealing with disparate sensory input.

There are two obvious alternatives for dealing with the increasingly massive amounts of information we'll be confronted with in coming decades. We can augment our minds to deal with the flood or choose relative seclusion. Information may want to be free, but an awful lot of it seems to want to be dumb as well. (How many ads for penis-enlargement medication have you deleted from your in-box in the last week?) Easy access to lots of information doesn't mean that we'll find much of interest; even the most discerning intelligent agents may balk at the prospect of excavating nuggets of value from cleverly disguised spam.

I think our current collective fascination with electronic gadgets, as manifested by the current zeitgeist, will prove surprisingly short-lived. We will continue to use global networks and user-friendly electronics, of course; we may even merge with them in ways that challenge the present definition of "human." But there will come a point where the sheer novelty will dissolve, like so many discordant pixels on an aging computer monitor. Expecting Western culture to carry on its love affair with state-of-the art, imminently portable electronics is like people of the 1950s expecting their children to inherit a world of flying cars, cheap interplanetary travel and 3-D television. The technology will still be there, but it will have migrated into the background: invisible, ghostly -- and unobtrusively omniscient. Its value as fashion will have expired. And that's when things start getting really fun.
"Planet Claire has pink air
All the trees are red
No one ever dies there
No one has a head."

--The B-52s, "Planet Claire"

Monday, September 29, 2003

I started Robert Silverberg's "Dying Inside," which I've been meaning to get to for a while now. Wow. I devoured about half of it in one sitting.

As long as you're reading, give this oddball "game" a shot. I've just poked around so far but I'm curious.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

I just dusted off Tricky's "Angels with Dirty Faces." I bought this album a long time ago and listened to it all of two times, if that. Not because it was bad, but because it didn't hook me. Suddenly I find myself digging it. Part of the appeal is Tricky's voice: he sounds like he has some engagingly wired prosthetic lodged in his throat.
I think of myself as a "writer," but I've always felt equally comfortable drawing; creatively, I fail to perceive a tangible distinction between the two. William Burroughs, with his shotgun paintings and collage notebooks, felt pretty much the same way. Burroughs' visual legacy was an extension of his prose. Critics who complained that his art was contrived or sophomoric totally missed the point. Just as all of his texts comprised one composite book, his paintings and cut-ups complimented and augmented his writing. Burroughs' goal was to extricate himself from tedious normality; the medium that he used to pursue this was completely irrelevant. Technical proficiency was likewise immaterial.

If someone has something to express, I don't think formal training is necessarily an advantage. For some it might be an active disadvantage -- witness my aborted journals, which while perfectly readable and critically polished, were too linear to do more than suggest what was occurring in my brain at the time.

Writing fiction is different. For me, fiction is more revelatory and honest than the most unsparing diatribe. Rudy Rucker, an author I admire in many respects, dubs his personal technique "transrealism"; he intentionally models characters after friends and family. It works for Rucker but it doesn't work for me, as much as I wish it did. My biggest failures are stories that try too hard to incorporate aspects of the real world. Coming from an ever-aspiring science fiction writer, this sounds dangerously like a confession of failure. Science fiction is, after all, a well-equipped vehicle for satire, and it's no accident that the most well-known SF titles -- "1984" and "Brave New World" -- are dystopian send-ups of real-life technosocial trends.

But the subconscious moves with its own surreal logic. In time, it can be trusted, or at least appreciated from a careful distance. A fiction writer's job is to develop a working relationship with the irrational.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

This just in from Simon & Schuster. This is the first time I've seen anyone from the commercial end of the Mars book endeavor actually write about my book. All in all, it's very nicely worded. No complaints.

Did a civilization once thrive on Mars? Shocking and revelatory, this expose takes a critical look at the mounting evidence -- and attempts to discover why it is being ignored.

NASA spacecraft continue to send back image after image of the Martian surface, providing the scientific community a knowledge of the Red Planet that was once the stuff of dreams. But not everybody is content to write the pictures off as snapshots of a lifeless world. Many people across the globe believe that evidence for a long-dead Martian civilization is plain to see. And while the subject has lit up the Internet and occupied the alternative press, nobody in government or mainstream media will touch it. Until now.

In After the Martian Apocalypse, acclaimed author and columnist Mac Tonnies paints a unique portrait of an unsettling planetary neighbor and the profound mystery that awaits us there. Detailing the very latest Mars discoveries, he presents new evidence favoring the existence of an extinct civilization on the Red Planet -- an enigma that has become mired in the politics of belief as it challenges our deepest notions of humanity's role in space. Blending a scientific detective story with trenchant cultural commentary, After the Martian Apocalypse is an uncompromising and utterly enthralling look at an ongoing cosmic controversy.

The bad news is that, judging from the fax from which I excerpted the above, they plan to publish it in July of 2004, rather than early 2004, as I had thought. I hope I'm wrong. Maybe they're just covering their backs. From a sales perspective, I'd think they'd want to release the book as soon as possible; Mars has been in the news lately due to its close approach, and skeptical readers might be more inclined than usual to try out the idea that there's more to the Red Planet than rocks and dust-storms.
Maintaining my website is quite a bit like nurturing a bonsai tree: I'm constantly fretting over it, trimming redundant links, tweaking the text, rearranging the layout, etc. Slaving over my site may be more therapeutic than harmful. I'm reminded of the uploaded denizens of Greg Egan's "Permutation City," who can literally edit themselves to conscious specifications. Lacking that ability, modifying my online presence is the closest I can get: an illusion of self-control.

Friday, September 26, 2003

One really cool thing about having a presence on the Web: I tend to get neat things in the mail. Today I got free copies of Zakas' long-awaited new album, "Illegitimus Non Carborundum"; I supplied background "lyrics" for the song "God's Black Space," about cosmic coverups and ruins on Mars. Also included was an appropriately sinister Zakas T-shirt with art by fantasy artist Brom.

Cute, huh?

Last but not least, I got a fuzzy microbe inspired by the alleged nanobacteria found in a chunk of Martian rock several years ago. It looks like a red maggot with beady black eyes. I'm thinking this would look good hanging from my rear-view mirror.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Lots of new links on my Environmentalism page.

I've been operating under the assumption that Bush's ("re")election is a foregone conclusion, but in the last few days I've subconsciously harbored the idea that maybe -- just maybe -- voters will see through his macho, can-do antics and put someone else in office. I'm not saying this will actually happen, or even that there's a decent chance of it. But I'm actually entertaining the concept, which is much more than I was willing to do a month or so ago.

Voters are driven by fads, right? And this "patriotism" thing is played, if you ask me. Even the yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbons sullying the lawn of a house down the street have turned a most un-American gray. W. might have to pull something new from his bag of Orwellian tricks to keep voters distracted. Or not. I'm probably giving voters far more credit than they deserve . . .

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

I had an interesting encounter with a homeless (?) woman outside the coffeeshop this evening. Noting -- correctly -- that drivers on the Plaza tend to come unnervingly close to pedestrians before braking (I one fast-balled a cup of coffee at a car of these fun-loving incompetents), she went on to describe the startling hidden agenda behind this bothersome but otherwise inconspicuous phenomenon.

Apparently, doctors in the employ of the Mafia (or is it the other way around?) are recruiting drivers with bad driving records to purposefully run people over. Not to kill them, mind you. Just to bash them up enough that they're forced to be hospitalized, thus bringing in lots of cash to hospitals and the doctors who work there. And you thought our health-care system was bad enough already!

It gets better. The goons employed by this Mafia/hospital scheme tend to drive unmarked cars with darkened windows so that they can't be identified by their victims. And anyone who gets too close to the Awful Truth is -- you guessed it -- run over.

I could go on, but you get the idea.
"The nature of reality is this: It is hidden, and it is hidden, and it is hidden."

--Rumi, 13th-century Sufi mystic

Neal Stephenson's "Quicksilver" is out. "Quicksilver" is the first volume of the Baroque Cycle, a rather paranoid and playful historical epic (he's already written the other two volumes). The cycle concludes with "Cryptonomicon," which I read and thoroughly enjoyed. Doubtlessly, I could get wrapped up in the Baroque trilogy as well . . . at 1,000 pages a shot, Stephenson makes David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest"* look downright slim.

*I haven't read "Infinite Jest." For some reason -- maybe its length but more likely the lavish critical attention it received -- it's never appealed to me. As a fan of Thomas Pynchon, Steve Erickson and Don DeLillo, I suppose I should hang my head in shame. On the other hand, how many readers of "Infinite Jest" have availed themselves of lesser-known postmodern talents like Jack Womack? And there's still a massive contingent in the academic community that shuns Philip K. Dick because he was a "science fiction writer" -- and we all know that science fiction is just a bunch of prepubescent escapist trash, not "real literature" . . . Man, am I glad I'm out of college.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I saw my first Segway today. The "driver" was talking on his telephone as he crossed the street, for all the world like some crude automaton. I hope Segways don't proliferate like cellphones; I don't need another essentially pointless technology to add to my list of urban annoyances. (Having said that, I wouldn't mind having one.)

I was blasted out of sleep last night by more anomalous beeps from my phone. This happened over and over, punctuating my sleep and mildly freaking me out. The beeps came in sets of nine and, at least on one occasion, a set of three. The paranormal history of the "nine knocks" phenomenon, which I read about most recently in "The Communion Letters," comes to mind.

If this is something paranormal -- and I haven't totally eliminated the possibility, even though it sounds stupid on first blush -- then it seems oddly appropriate that I'm receiving the "signal" via an electronic device rather than hearing old-fashioned "analogue" knocks. Also, the beeping (which is recorded on my answering system) only seems to happen at night. I should check my alarm clock -- maybe it happens at 3:33 or 9:00. That would be circumstantial evidence that it's caused by something other than faulty microchips.

Occam's Razor: All things being equal, the simplest answer tends to be the right one. So in this case I'm going to chalk the beeps up to bad electronics unless I get corroborating evidence that it's something else. If this is an attempt by aliens to contact me, they need to try a bit harder. (Then again, perhaps I should be more careful what I ask for. I don't especially relish having an implant shoved up my nose.)
Fables of the reconstruction

For the record, here is R.E.M.'s actual set-list as reported in the Kansas City Star. I didn't do too badly reconstructing it from memory, but I totally forgot "World Leader Pretend" and substituted "Begin the Begin" for "These Days" (both from "Life's Rich Pageant").

In order (?):

Star 69
These Days
World Leader Pretend
Fall on Me
Gardening at Night
Maps and Legends
Bad Day
The One I Love
The Great Beyond
Losing My Religion
I've Been High
She Just Wants to Be
Imitation of Life
Man on the Moon


Everybody Hurts
Country Feedback
Walk Unafraid
It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Monday, September 22, 2003

I just realized that science fiction author Rob Chilson has his own website. (Praise be to Google, the search engine that's also a minor deity.) I met Rob in high-school. He was the first professional writer I'd met, and his encouragement was and still is appreciated.

Rob has this to say on the back cover of my first book, published in '95: "Mac Tonnies has a gift for words and a bright, bent vision." Not bad! I'm still flattered. I just emailed Rob to let him know I have a nonfiction book coming out. I can see him shaking his head in quiet disapproval of the subject matter, but if I send him a free copy maybe he'll warm to it.
"Human Devolution" has me walking an intellectual tightrope. Cremo does a credible job of looking at nonlocal consciousness through the lens of Vedic creationism; I'm enjoying the ride.

I'm increasingly convinced that close encounters, near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences are aspects of a central overlooked phenomenon; deciphering one will in all probability cast light on the others. While I don't believe in "life after death" as typically envisioned by religion, I'm sympathetic to the concept that consciousness is more than a dance of molecules. William James thought that the brain acted as a receiver for consciousness, rather than actually producing it. This idea is appealing. Consciousness may not be an effect, but an actual "stuff" or force -- however intangible it may seem to us.

This is where New Age nomenclature fails utterly; how to address something as strange and vast as self-awareness when limited to pseudoscientific jargon? I roll my eyes at vague references to "essences" and "vibrations" -- but is mainstream science really doing any better? Both camps are, to some degree, spinning their wheels. If a new paradigm is to emerge, we'll need a new syntax. And to make sense of a new syntax, we might need to purposefully mutate. Even if consciousness is eternal and omniscient, we still have to filter it through our carbon-based brains, with all of their neuronal shortcomings . . . at least for the time being.

Again, I wonder if the UFO phenomenon is attempting to demonstrate something along these lines. It seems virtually certain to me that the "aliens" are not literal extraterrestrials or manifestations of the psyche. They're likely real beings, some more "physical" than others -- and yes, I'm aware this sounds disappointingly like Victorian spiritualism. John Keel ("The Mothman Prophecies") seems to anticipated this with surprising lucidity; his casefiles mesh nicely with Cremo's Vedic model. (Apt chapter title from Colin Wilson's "Alien Dawn": "Goblins from Hyperspace.")
I've been up late redesigning my Cultural Phenomena page. Instead of one big page full of links, the various sub-topics now have their own pages. Some of these are rather brief, but I'm always on the look-out for new links. I've almost reached the limit of my allotted memory, so I'll probably be upgrading soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

This essay on the psychological development of George W. Bush (or the lack thereof) is one of the better commentaries on the worst "President" in American history.
Not only do I have to contend with professional panhandlers, Hare Krishnas and self-important street performers, but I now have to field literature from Jews for Jesus. As if the American landscape really needs any more evangelical posturing.

By the way, I'm really fucking tired of limousines full of shouting preadolescents, overdressed highschoolers spilling out of rented "party buses" and haughty ex-yuppies who think walking arm-in-arm somehow helps restore their irretrievable (and most likely squandered) youth.
I started Greg Egan's "Permutation City," a novel about uploading minds into computer simulations. It's not unthinkable that mind-uploading will be available in the next 50-100 years; I think we need to seriously consider the existential and political ramifications of such technology now. Should an uploaded human have rights? (Yes.) Would uploads be self-aware in the sense that carbon-based human brains presumably are? That's certainly cause for debate -- much of it semantic. The uncomfortable truth is that I can't even "prove" that my next-door neighbor is self-aware (a generally accepted prerequisite for "humanity"), but this doesn't justify my killing her on opaque philosophical grounds. What sort of political entity gets to decide if uploads (or "Copies," as Egan calls them) get to live or die? How does one justify digital genocide?

If mind-uploading actually happens (probably as an outgrowth of medical scanning technology and advances in computer storage capacity) the first Copies are likely to find themselves marginalized. Whether or not they interface with normal reality will depend on the processing speed of their computer hosts. In "Permutation City," for example, Copies' thought processes run seventeen times slower than meat-based thoughts, resulting in a communications lag with the outside world. For this reason, Copies inhabit virtual environments in the hope that increased processor speed will allow them to return to the "real" world in animatronic bodies (or, farther in the future, organic clones).

It's just possible that aliens, if they are visiting us, are a machine-based intelligence, as postulated by historian Richard Dolan. They might upload/download themselves into a variety of specialized mechanisms and bodies as casually as we change clothes or trade in old cars. Whitley Strieber's testimony certainly suggests something like this. When apparent aliens speak of "souls," are they necessarily alluding to something metaphysical or "spiritual"?

Maybe the "technology of consciousness" I mentioned a few posts back is closer to actuality than religious interpretations would have us believe. I suppose it might be demeaning for some to discover that awareness is something that can be plotted within the guts of some future diagnostic imaging machine, but I'll take it.

"Permutation City" refers obliquely to the hubris and failure of cryonic suspension. Apparently in Egan's imagined future it never panned out, and it's entirely possible that it won't. But I remain hopeful; as a prospective cryonics patient, I suppose I have to be. Cryonics just might flourish before mind-uploading, or maybe both technologies will enjoy a mutual coming of age.

Ultimately, it's a matter of dealing with a single, mind-stretching question: Given the opportunity to become virtually immortal, will we take it? Do we dare overrule the tyranny of our DNA or are we hardwired for death?

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Now this is intriguing: Plasma balls hint at new form of life . . .

I wonder if some "earthlights" and UFOs might be relatives of this phenomenon. We could be coexisting with an entire biosphere of plasmic life-forms and not even realize it.

Friday, September 19, 2003

I met a friend for lunch at a great Mexican place this afternoon.

Today and this weekend is the annual Plaza Art Fair. I can view this event as

a.) a stimulating cultural event complete with free music and readily available beverages


b.) an invasion of insolent tourists with poor driving skills trampling all over my home turf.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

I realized that many of my Posthuman Blues archives were inaccessible. I republished the blog and that seems to have fixed it. My apologies.
R.E.M., Kansas City, 9-17-03: "I was there!"

Songs performed (not necessarily complete or in order):

Star 69
Begin the Begin
Maps and Legends (one of my favorites)
Gardening at Night
I've Been High (a high point on my wish-list)
She Just Wants to Be
The Great Beyond
Fall on Me
Losing My Religion
The One I Love
Imitation of Life
Animal / Bad Day (both from forthcoming "Best Of" compilation)
Man on the Moon
Walk Unafraid
Country Feedback
Everybody Hurts
It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

My seat was excellent. Even so, I quickly abandoned it in favor of a better view from the aisle. Security wasn't as stringent as I feared it might be, and I watched the show from up close. Michael Stipe was unexpectedly chatty, introducing practically every song and offering random commentary on the 2003 tour, his affinity for the Midwest, and the perils of laser eye surgery.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Last night (9-15) I had two of the most vivid dreams in recent memory. The first was an engaging lucid dream that took place in what seemed to be a future society or an alternate present in which all human activity took place in massive enclosures lined with vertiginous buildings.

There's a common misconception that lucid dreaming allows the dreamer to consciously control every aspect of the dream experience. In my experience, I can only offer "suggestions," which are absorbed into the context of the dream and regurgitated with sometimes unexpected results. Even though I'm partially if not fully aware that I'm dreaming, the experience is terrifically weird.

My other dream had lucid elements, but contained so much detail that I was preoccupied with taking it all in and didn't "experiment" as I had in the previous dream. Very briefly, this was an "end of the world" dream -- something to do with an impending comet impact. I remember looking at a satellite image of the continental United States and seeing it progressively covered with ice and snow, as might be expected in a "nuclear winter."

For some reason, trains play a recurring role in many of my dreams; I really have no idea why. In this case, a desperate parade of rail-mounted vehicles sought refuge from the increasingly dangerous weather. In retrospect, it's unclear if the comet (or whatever) had already hit, or if people were readying themselves for an inevitable demise a la "Deep Impact." My clearest, most lingering impression was the stoicism demonstrated by Earth's population. No running wild in the streets, looting or mass suicides. For the most part, everyone seemed almost alarmingly calm and resigned.

I think this dream might have been inspired by the fringe-science speculation that the nuclear-powered Galileo spacecraft, doomed to crash into Jupiter as it finishes its mission, might explode, igniting the gas giant's hydrogen and filling our sky with the celestial equivalent to the Hindenberg catastrophe. ("Oh, the humanity!")

(Personally, I don't have any qualms about living in a binary star system, however short-lived. There would be some devastating environmental effects, of course, and there would cease to be such a thing as "night," but the overall effect of Jupiter undergoing fusion reactions might force the world to look up and contemplate our collective vulnerability. This might be a naively utopian view, but so be it.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Two new changes to the Cydonian Imperative

I've purchased a "safety net" plan from my ISP so that the site won't go offline if I happen to exceed my data transfer allocation. I wouldn't even have considered doing this a month ago, but with the amount of visitors I'm receiving now, I thought it was a sensible move.

I've also added a PayPal account, which acts as an online "tip jar" for anyone who wants to make a donation. I've been generally negative toward this practice, as it seems somewhat self-congratulatory ("You know, my site is so cool that you really should give me some money for looking at it. No pressure or anything") and needy. But I've overcome my prejudice. If someone drops me a few bucks, I can certainly use it to help offset the cost of my increased data transfer.

Tomorrow I see R.E.M. at Starlight Theatre. For a pretty good on-stage photo taken from the current tour, see my music page. Expect a full report.
I just checked the website counter for my Mars site. So far today (Monday), I've received 2511 hits, the vast majority in the last couple hours due to Rense.com headlining my story about the D&M Pyramid (see previous post). I'm actually afraid that I might exceed this month's allocated data transfer if this deluge of visitors keeps up.

More significantly, I'm receiving some interesting email. Physicist Bernard Haisch wrote to ask why I thought the new image of the D&M Pyramid was evidence of artificiality. Haisch finds the D&M too "irregular" to be anything but a natural formation. I reminded him that Earth's surface is home to plenty of "irregular" structures known to be artificial, such as various "earthworks" left by Mound Builders. Why the interplanetary double-standard? Granted, we don't yet know if there are extraterrestrial artifacts on Mars, but that's what the Artificiality Hypothesis seeks to find out.

I went walking around 10:30 after a day of staring into my computer screen. The Plaza was virtually abandoned. I stopped by a coffee shop, bought an espresso, and wandered, really enjoying the cool air and the unmistakable red glow of Mars leering overhead. A fat woman, who I suspect might be homeless, was sitting on a white plastic milk crate outside Pottary Barn and Barnes & Noble playing a gratingly bad rendition of "New York, New York" on a saxophone. Apparently passersby were expected to give her money for performing this unsolicited service.

I actually like most of the street musicians here, but I always feel a vague pang of jealousy when I see the dollar bills heaped inside their guitar cases; why I can't I receive tips for, say, writing? Or reading a good book? I should buy a fold-up chair, park myself outside Starbucks, boot up my laptop and put a "tip jar" on the ground. How bohemian.

This just in . . .

I had made a link to "www.pottarybarn.com" above, strictly for the hell of it. When I tested it, I was directed to a porn site. (Seriously; try it yourself!) Interior decorating . . . wild sex. I don't get the connection. The last time I was in Pottary Barn things were pretty sedate. Lots of furniture but no naked 18 year-old girls. It must be some sort of zoning ordinance.

Wait! I can explain!

I just ran a Google search to figure out how to access Pottery Barn's site. I had misspelled "pottery"! Maybe "pottary" (note the incorrect "a" as opposed to "e") has some alternate meaning that I'm not aware of. (Juxtaposed with "barn," I'm not sure I want to know . . .) My best guess is that the porn site's author chose the domain name to dupe trendy would-be interior decorators. As a former Art minor, I feel pretty damned stupid for not knowing the correct spelling off the top of my head. Then again, I actually managed to fail Pottery. But that's another story.

Monday, September 15, 2003

The "D&M Pyramid" on Mars has been reimaged in high-resolution . . . finally.

Click here for my initial report.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

I spent most of today reading "Human Devolution." Cremo's thesis is that the universe is constructed from matter, mind and consciousness, the latter defined as a cosmic wellspring from which all else originates. Cremo notes that physical matter of the kind regularly experienced by human beings is the basest of the universe's three ingredients -- hence "devolution."

Cremo's model can be read as a spiritual version of Extropian/transhuman philosophy. Instead of upgrading humanity via cybernetics and genetic engineering, Vedic cosmology offers the idea of ascension through transmigration. A leap of faith, to be sure. But Cremo does a good job of putting his evidence on the table: fossil anomalies, the perils of using mitochondrial DNA as a tool for dating the human species, "psychic" abilities, etc. There's even a chapter on UFOs which I haven't gotten to yet. Along with a few iconoclastic titles like Michael Talbot's "The Holographic Universe," "Human Devolution" has made me reevaluate what I think I know. So even if Cremo's balancing act fails and his discussion "devolves" into pseudoscientific posturing, at least I will have learned something.

Of course, professional skeptics will have a field day with this book. Let them; they're missing the point. Even if one ignores the bulk of archaeological strangeness that forms the basis of Cremo's dissatisfaction with the mainstream evolutionary paradigm, one still has to find a consistently plausible prosaic explanation for various out-of-body states, psychokinesis, religious "miracles," and UFOs. Personally, I don't think this can be done. There's a real mystery here, every bit as existential as scientific. "Human Devolution" likely doesn't contain the whole story, but it's a sincere, informed attempt.

Whitley Strieber and other alien contactees/abductees have described their "visitors" as enlightened beings with an implicit interest in human consciousness. If consciousness is a distinct material capable of existing without matter or mind, as suggested by Vedic scholars, then it's very tempting to wonder if the "aliens" are constructed of pure consciousness. They may be forced to adopt a temporary (?) material existence in order to interface with us in a meaningful way. But the fact that we ourselves are conscious as well as decidedly physical beings implies that the "visitors" (to use Strieber's designation) can control their material aspects in ways that would leave modern physics mystified. The UFO intelligence (or Philip K. Dick's VALIS, which is likely the same thing) probably employs a technology of consciousness.

In "Transformation," Strieber describes dormant alien bodies stacked like cordwood, awaiting future use. Strieber's visitors appear to have the ability to inhabit and discard gross material bodies at will. The craft they allegedly pilot are similarly dualistic, appearing alternately as amorphous, physics-defying masses of light and structured vehicles. Close encounter witnesses grasp for "nuts and bolts" explanations when they describe entities walking through walls. But for the visitors, there are no walls in the sense that we perceive them; in "The Matrix," a similar revelation allows Keanu Reeves' "Neo" to sever his connection with a seemingly omnipotent virtual cosmology once he understands its inherent unreality).

Supposedly, apparent aliens once told a witness that they "recycled souls": hardly the sort of task one would expect of beings as simple as extraterrestrial anthropologists. If true, then presumably human consciousness persists after biological death. The presence of so-called "aliens" intent on insinuating themselves into our collective technological mythology presents fascinating questions. As Strieber argues, it would be incredibly naive to dismiss close encounters in which the witnesses see deceased relatives working in tandem with "Grays" simply because the prospect clashes with the prevailing materialist interpretation of the UFO phenomenon. Perhaps a hidden "spiritual ecology" is at work, with "aliens" functioning in some vital -- if unknown -- capacity.

Recently, physicists presented a model of reality in which everything can be reduced to pure information. People, houses, quasars, galaxies -- in theory, all can be reduced to a series of "yes" and "no" questions reminiscent of binary computer code. Maybe human affairs are as inconsequential as the antics of Rudy Rucker's Boppers, with the "aliens" possessing the equivalent to "system operator" status. Interestingly, Rucker, a mathematician with extensive experience with the concept of infinity, envisions "God" as a sentient pure white light. It may be no coincidence that both UFO encounters and near-death experiences often begin with the awareness of an all-encompassing light or glow. Psychologist Kenneth Ring maintains that "alien abductions" and near-death experiences are essentially the same subjective experience, with only minor cosmetic differences.

Returning to Cremo's thesis, perhaps our goal as a (partially) conscious species is to become one with the Cosmic System Operator -- an entity that may well be godlike in many respects, although I'm wary of any overtly religious definitions. It might be the "maddening simplicity of unattended clockwork" posited by astrophysicist and UFO researcher Jacques Vallee, or the artificial intelligence to whom psychic and showman Uri Geller attributes his abilities.

I'm reasonably certain that nonhuman forces are attempting to guide us closer to some unguessed revelation. Assuming we indulge them in their playful dialogue, will their message ultimately assist us or deal us a shattering blow from which we can never recover?
Two more R.E.M. songs I hope I hear on the 17th:

1.) "Daysleeper"
2.) "Falls to Climb"

Both of these are from "Up," the first album recorded after the departure of drummer Bill Berry. "Up" is a strange and enigmatically beautiful album that has as much in common with R.E.M.'s own "Automatic for the People" as it does with Radiohead's "Kid A."

Meanwhile . . .

Recently I've been more interested than usual in the "what is consciousness" debate. I take that back; maybe I'm not necessarily "more" interested, but I seem to be taking a more philosophical perspective whereas before I tended to commit (if more flexibly than most) to materialist theories in which self-awareness is epiphenomenal and of little or no intrinsic meaning. (Conceivably, all that we hold dear -- love, the capacity for awe, desire, passion -- could be "mere" neurochemical ephemera.)

But the strong evidence for nonlocal consciousness makes the question infinitely more intriguing. Are we, as Michael Cremo asserts, energetically devolved beings? Put very simply, we don't know who the hell we are or what we're supposed to make of this labyrinthine infinity we quaintly call "the universe." Perhaps nothing. Maybe we're just along for the ride; I'm certainly the last person to suggest that we're here to fulfill some special cosmic agenda.

Boppers doing their thing.

Rudy Rucker wrote an interesting software program called "Boppers." It's an artificial life laboratory: you set the parameters and the "boppers" -- simple-minded digital wildlife -- go about trying to eat, reproduce, etc. without falling prey to starvation. Could this ill-defined thing we casually call "reality" be some vastly imagined artificial life program or cosmic screen saver?

Attorney/cyber-ontologist Peter Gersten (of Citizens Against UFO Secrecy) refers to what he terms the "Cosmic Computer Program": a loosely scripted holographic drama in which the human race is a central participant. But what if our existence is mere happenstance? The universe (or multiverse) may very well turn out to be an inconceivably elaborate simulation, but that doesn't mean that we're anything more than an unforeseen "emergent property," to borrow a term from cognitive neuroscientists who seek to explain consciousness (and there's no shortage of them). Humanity itself may be an a epiphenomenon, an hallucination in what Philip K. Dick called, quite plainly, a Vast Active Living Intelligence System.

Throw UFOs and Jung's "meaningful coincidences" into the mix and you've got what amounts to the most jaw-dropping conspiracy theory ever conceived. I suppose there's a case to be made for my being the most singularly paranoid person on the planet.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Like any other email-user, I receive a variety of links to various humorous/satirical sites from friends and acquaintances. Most of them are usually pretty good. (For example, you can't go wrong with The Onion.) But this one deserves some kind of award . . .
I almost saw a UFO last night. I was in my ninth-floor kitchen really early in the morning when I noticed a large, dark shape hovering outside my east-facing window. At first I thought it was a helicopter, but it seemed unusual. I went closer to the window and the sense of mystery dissolved; an office highrise is being constructed just down the street from my apartment and the "UFO" was an object suspended from one of the giant cranes being used to haul building components from ground-level. I didn't have time to put my glasses on; otherwise I would have seen the supporting cable right away.

(Yeah, I know what you're thinking: "That really was a UFO, Mac. The aliens simply disguised their craft so they could make close approaches to highly populated areas without being noticed.")

More books to read:

1.) "The Sirius Mystery" (Robert Temple)
2.) "Incident at Exeter (John Fuller)

Friday, September 12, 2003

I'm reading Ray Stanford's account of the Soccoro UFO landing. Here's a multiple-witness case in which an egg-shaped vehicle landed in clear view, disgorged two child-sized humanoids and left a variety of irrefutable physical evidence, including burning vegetation, "landing gear" depressions and possibly metal samples. And this is just one case. Clearly, some UFOs are physical devices of some kind.

Although I tend to reject the "nuts and bolts" hypothesis for UFOs as a general phenomenon, there are certainly exceptions. If alien craft occupy another dimension or parallel reality, as suggested by both eyewitness reports and world mythology, then perhaps materializing in our "ontosphere" is rather like deep-sea divers suiting up for an underwater safari. Physical reality, as we define it, might not be the ufonauts' native habitat. Or maybe their technology is advanced enough that they take little or no interest in differentiating between "their" reality and "ours." After all, the existence of two parallel worlds suggests there might be many, many more (i.e., John Keel's "superspectrum").

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I just realized a couple hours ago that today is the second anniversary of -- what was it again? Something to do with Syria?

By the way, take a look at this. It's abdundantly obvious that the US is becoming a virtual dictatorship, but is it too much to ask for the Department of Homeland Security to lay off the swastika motif?

I was browsing Barnes & Noble the other day and found the official US guide to resisting terrorist attacks. It's an overproduced mass-market paperback and goes for a cool $10. Is it just me, or shouldn't the government be falling all over itself to hand this information out for free? It can be argued that the same information contained in the book is available via Internet, but there's the "digital divide" to consider; not everyone has easy Net access. Hell, I own a computer and live in more or less constant fear that it's going to crash just when I need it most. In the event of a nuclear attack, computers are going to be lobotomized by the EMP blast anyway.

"What? No more ESPN?"

This isn't to say that the hints contained in the book are all that useful. Or even intelligible. For example, here's a sagely bit of Bush Administration advice in case of a terrorist nuclear attack: "Use available information to assess the situation." Well, what else are you going to do? Use unavailable infomation? Isn't that logically impossible?
Another torrential rainfall.

Books to read:

1.) Socorro "Saucer" in a Pentagon Pantry (Ray Stanford)*
2.) Man and His Symbols (Carl Jung)

*Stanford wrote this in '76 and mailed me a free autographed copy. It's the only book I know of devoted solely to the Socorro, NM UFO landing. The illustrations are impressive.
My schedule has been atypical lately, hence this late-night post. Technically, it's Thursday, but to me it simply seems like a protracted Wednesday night. Mars is still visible, although not nearly as impressive due to the glare of the full Moon.

I'm pleased to note that the Plaza has removed the fashionably patriotic red, white and blue lights from its flagship tower and replaced then with white and gold.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Dreams of transit. Japanese-style tube-train; subsequent amnesia. Improbable vehicles like Dali-esque cockroaches, utopian lakeside suburbs . . .

Monday, September 08, 2003

I stayed up late last night and finally managed to track down all of the graphics needed by Pocket Books, which I emailed to my editor. Although I've claimed to have been "finished" with my Mars book on at least one other occasion, I mean it this time. Everything -- the writing, editing and photo captions -- are completed, and my second advance is "in the mail." I didn't make the initial deadline, but considering the difficulty of tracking down some of the original photos on Malin Space Science Systems' website, I didn't do too badly. Now I get to enjoy the pre-publication process. For example, I have no idea what the cover will look like, so it will be fun to see what the art department comes up with.

The book comes out in early 2004. For updates, click here.
My thoughts on Michael Cremo's "Human Devolution" resulted in some interesting correspondence. (No, I am not a Hare Krishna.) The disturbingly popular Rense.com and Cremo himself, on his "Human Devolution" homepage (click "Reviews"), are carrying the version of the essay I posted on my Mars site.

Since I have yet to finish Cremo's book, I hope including his ideas on my website isn't construed as an "endorsement"; I'm giving his hypothesis a chance, but at the same time I'm naturally skeptical. Most people seem to operate on the quaint assumption that one is necessarily a "believer" or a "disbeliever." I prefer to keep my conclusions in a state of willful flux, as unforeseen new developments always threaten to challenge the prevailing paradigm.

I'm half-done with John Shirley's "Eclipse." It's a scattered book, but when it hits its stride it moves like a laser.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Either the "Sobig" virus (with its mailbox-eating attachments) has blown over -- unlikely -- or Yahoo! has succeeded in eliminating it from its mail accounts. For the last couple days the amount of junk mail I've received has been reassuringly normal. Which means I can resubscribe to the UFO UpDates list.

Morrissey: Last of the Famous International Playboys.

I've finally found a good -- if self-indulgent -- use for my music page, which has always been the weak link in the MTVI chain. The bottom of the page now features a selection of CDs that I've been listening to, with easy access to Amazon.com in case you feel like buying any of them. I plan on keeping the selection periodically updated. Let me know if you like this arrangement. Or not.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Last August, a unique crop formation depicting an alien alongside ASCII computer code "appeared" near the Chilbolton Observatory in England. This was the third such message in an apparant sequence; the Augusts of 2001 and 2002 also witnessed formations in the observatory's vicinity. (For my analysis of the 2001 formation, please see my Mars site.)

This August, many crop-watchers hoped and expected that a fourth formation would appear. It never did. Why am I not surprised? Whoever left 2002's coded message had this to say:

Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES. Much PAIN but still time. EELRIJUE. There is GOOD out there. We OPpose DECEPTION. COnduit CLOSING [bell sound]

"Conduit closing" -- an esoteric way of saying "Signing off"?
Yesterday I received a review copy of Michael Cremo's massive "Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin's Theory." With Richard Thompson, Cremo authored the underground classic "Forbidden Archeology," a 900-page encyclopedia of "impossible" -- but scientifically verified -- archaeological finds that point to a human presence on Earth lasting millions of years.

As I read the introduction to "Human Devolution" last night, I realized I had read "Alien Identities," one of Thompson's independent works, without realizing his affiliation with Cremo. "Alien Identities" is an impressive cultural study that seeks parallels between the modern UFO phenomenon and ancient Indian Vedic texts. Both Cremo and Thompson are consummate scholars. Cremo, in particular, has some impeccable "mainstream" scientific publications to his credit. So it was most interesting to find that not only is he essentially a loner in a field governed by a crippling, monolithic paradigm, but an adherent to the philosophy of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

I promptly started reading "Quest for Enlightenment," a hardcover compilation of Bhaktivedanta's teachings, to learn what Cremo's "Vedic alternative" might be. As the title of his new book makes clear, Cremo thinks Darwinian evolution is flawed. This isn't an easy claim to support in today's academic and scientific climate. But given the wealth of archaeological anomalies described in his former work, it's clear that some explanation is in order, even if it merely compliments natural selection, as opposed to toppling it. As a fan of Darwin and evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins, I can appreciate the magnitude of what Cremo is trying to achieve.

The main reason I'm sympathetic to Cremo is because he's willing to introduce entirely new disciplines that deal with such "abstract" concepts as consciousness. Krishna cosmology views physical reality as a devolved plane of existence which we can occasionally break through via out-of-body experiences and "psychic" phenomena. Rather than subscribing to a "nuts and bolts" universe composed of matter, advocates of "Krishna Consciousness" believe that reality is fundamentally "spiritual" (whatever that word means; I honestly don't think humans have a proper syntax for nonconventional states of being, let alone a practical understanding).

If my preview of "Human Devolution" is accurate, then Cremo thinks that we can transform ourselves into an entirely new, enlightened order of beings. (Shades of the people in "The Matrix" shedding their subservience to enforced virtual reality; Vedic literature warns us that the world we think we inhabit is a flawless illusion composed of maya.)

Will Cremo succeed in dethroning Darwinism? I don't know, although I will concede that he's already made a dent. It's disturbing -- no, terryifing -- to consider that we really might not know who we are and that our "rational" questions, while well-intentioned, have been somehow perverted by the fact that our consciousness, acting on a physical level, lacks the requisite dexterity.

Another R.E.M. song I hope I hear at their concert: "The Lifting," which I'm using as an epigraph in my book alongside some good quotes by Carl Jung and Thomas Kuhn.


The scenario in this Kansas City Star article seems lifted, in part, from Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49." I don't think the reporter knows a whole lot about astronomy (Jupiter is hardly a "burning" planet) but he does a good job following up on leads and asking logical questions. The parallels to the crop circle mystery are intriguing. For more on this, see What Is It?

Friday, September 05, 2003

Not only is Private Jessica Lynch an American Hero(tm), she's an author, too!

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I find Japanese pop-culture uniquely repugnant, yet fascinating as a postmodern spectacle. What on Earth is the appeal of "manga" comics? The artwork is bland and the plotting, from what I can tell after thumbing through a few representative titles, diffuse at best. The heroines of manga are big-eyed waifs that defy ethnicity (not to mention biomechanics). There's something obscurely prurient about this stuff; manga characters seem to embody the repressed libido of an entire subculture. (For an alarmingly good science-fictional take on this, read Richard Calder's "Dead Girls" trilogy. It's about a nanotech plague that turns women into sadomasochistic quantum-mechanical "gynoids." You'll like it.)

There's even a thriving population of real-life cartoon avatars (predominantly female, as far as I can tell) who adopt the personae of manga characters through a Web-fueled movement known as "cosplay" (short for "costume play"). I was alerted to this phenomenon when my Mars website started receiving tons of hits from a site in Italy. I checked out the site; it's managed by a girl infatuated with "cosplay" who lists Cydonia (home of the "Face on Mars") as a "favorite place" on her personal profile.

Several months back, William Gibson remarked on his blog that one of his favorite magazines was "Giant Robot," which is devoted exclusively to Japanese pop. I found "Giant Robot" in a Borders and it's indeed great: a gallery of uncorrupted absurdity. Japanese consumer culture is like some cross-cultural fever dream in which Hello Kitty figures as nothing less than a minimalist deity. But a deity of what, exactly?


A while ago I was attempting to track down the origin of a meme that had infected the art departments of major book publishers, causing them to produce an anomalously high number of book covers depicting small plastic figurines and stuffed animals. (This can be verified by digging through the Posthuman Blues archives.)

I now think I have a possible "fix" on the meme's vector: none other than The Cure's album "Wild Mood Swings," which featured a crude sock-puppet on its cover. The covers of the singles from "Wild Mood Swings" comply with the same theme; I personally own the single for "The 13th," which features a wind-up, drum-playing panda bear. (I've discarded the cover; otherwise I might have realized the significance sooner.) The singles for "Mint Car" and "Gone!" continued the "antique toy" theme.

My best guess is that graphic artists in the publishing industry found the Cure covers whimsical and "borrowed" the concept after several years of incubation.

(Does this make sense or is my brain swimming in near-toxic levels of dopamine?)

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Here's Nick Pope's reply to my review of his book, posted on UFO UpDates.


Open Skies, Closed Minds was a difficult book to write. I was still working for the Ministry of Defence, and the book had to be vetted by the Publications Clearance Branch. This process wasn't without its dramas, and I was genuinely surprised by some of the reactions within the Department. Despite having been careful not to include any classified information, I was nonetheless asked to take out a considerable amount of material. Having signed the Official Secrets Act, I naturally complied with the instruction.

The irony was that during the first Gulf War I'd worked as a watchkeeper/briefer in the Air Force Operations Cell in the MOD's Joint Operation Centre, and had myself been involved in vetting books after the war. I was surprised that clearing a book on UFOs proved quite as difficult as proved to be the case, especially given the fact that some books on Special Forces operations seemed less problematic. I try not to be too conspiratorial about all this.

With the above in mind, Open Skies, Closed Minds could only ever be an overview of the phenomenon, with some general information about the British Government's UFO project, and details of a few of the cases I'd investigated.

You mention my views on the alien abduction phenomenon. My views on this have evolved somewhat since I wrote Open Skies, Closed Minds, and I wrote a book called The Uninvited, which concentrated solely on abductions. You may well disagree with some of my conclusions, but I would be interested to hear your views on this book, in due course.

Best wishes,

Nick Pope

This afternoon I started reading Francis Fukuyama's "Our Posthuman Future" in earnest. I had read the first chapter while standing in line to see "The Matrix Reloaded" but had moved on to other things. I appreciate Fukuyama's concerns -- any sane citizen of the biotech century should -- but I can't help but take issue with his philosophical argument. Whereas I think that "human nature" is mutable and subject to redefinition, Fukuyama sees attempts to subvert the status quo via neuroscience and genetic engineering as necessarily dystopian and wrong-headed. But at least he's conerned about the future, which is more than you can say for most people; I could probably have a fun conversation with him.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Monday, September 01, 2003

I started reading Nick Pope's "Open Skies, Closed Minds" and, to my surprise, I really like it. I'm not learning anything fundamentally new, but I like Pope's sensibility -- which is totally at odds with the American paperback edition's sensationalistic cover. I generally like British books on the paranormal; Colin Wilson's "Alien Dawn" and John Michell's "The Flying Saucer Vision" are a couple good examples. Way too often, American UFO books are humorless and stilted, steeped in the same tired arguments and biases.
"Have you seen?
Have not, will travel
Have I missed the big reveal?
Do my eyes
Do my eyes seem empty?
I've forgotten how this feels

I've been high
I've climbed so high
But life sometimes
It washes over me"

--R.E.M., "I've Been High"

I always thought that the word "reveal" in this song was "premiere," but it reads "reveal" on all the lyrics sites I checked. I'm looking forward to seeing them in September. Here's a short wish-list of songs I hope I get to hear:

1.) "The Great Beyond" (from the "Man on the Moon" soundtrack)
2.) "Country Feedback"
3.) "Losing My Religion" (It's an R.E.M. concert, right?)
4.) "Wichita Lineman" (I know this won't happen . . .)
5.) "I'll Take the Rain"
6.) "Saturn Return"
7.) "Airport Man"
8.) "Find the River"
9.) "Orange Crush"