The Wheel Of Time is a song I wrote in 2009 while I was renting out a studio by LAX, underneath the flight path of landing 747’s. The studio was your standard 12×10 concrete cell that we outfitted with some tacky green carpet, a couch, and a makeshift desk for my recording gear. It was a great place to escape from everything, and sink into my music.
I soon fell into a very productive routine. I usually got to the studio around 8pm to jam with my band or chat with my friend GG for a bit. His brother is Drew Goddard, writer for Lost and Cabin In The Woods – so I usually nagged him about the ending of Lost most of the time. But GG is also an amazing producer and sound engineer with replicas of every piece of gear Pink Floyd used…ever. (He even once flew to Italy to buy the actual rotary delay David Gilmour used in Live at Pompeii). I learned alot from GG about mixing – which frequencies go where, how to make the perfect kick drum sound, why taking the 500Hz frequency out of a guitar magically makes it sound better, etc. I owe him big time for that.
After social time was over, I would get to work – often moving from instrument to instrument recording ideas. I usually started with a programmed beat and a chord progression and built from there. Once the music was done, I would walk through the vacant streets brainstorming lyrics, and would often record the entire song before sunrise – to avoid the thundering sound of landing aircraft. At around 10am I would lay down on the couch and drift off to sleep, listening to an entirely new song I had just created.
I should probably take a moment to explain something people have been asking me about regarding the name change from Post Human Era to Ancient Lasers. In April of 2010, I had just finished an entire album that was to be the second chapter of a trilogy by Post Human Era. The album was called Echo Corridor, and I was literally days away from releasing it. I had sent the single, Building The Machine, to Daniel Anderson of Idiot Pilot – one of my favorite bands of all time. He decided to remix it, and after I heard the possibilities of what we could both do as a team, I asked if he wanted to do an entire album. We used songs from both To Build A Fire and Echo Corridor as starting points, but ended up with a much more visceral sound. Together, we decided it was too different from Post Human Era to label it as such, and thus, Ancient Lasers was born. Post Human Era, however, is far from dead – I am currently working on something that takes it into very different terrain.
This song in particular, The Wheel Of Time, deals with the insanity of religion. I grew up with a mother that had started out with a Catholic family, but then converted to Judaism; and a Jewish father, so I went to both Church and Synagogue. I remember dreading wednesday night Hebrew school, where I practiced writing an ancient language that was both extremely confusing and downright hard to learn. Yet, there was something mystical about it. When I walked into Beth Israel Synagogue in Bellingham every Wednesday and Sunday, it felt like I was instantly transported to some sacred, distant past. My rabbi was both a Star Trek fan and paleontologist, which was pretty damn awesome to a 10 year old boy – but hilariously ridiculous if you think about it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the early years I spent learning about Israel, having Seder for Passover, and lighting the candles for Hanukkah.
My mother’s side of the family was pretty faithful about getting together every Easter, Christmas (when we got the ‘good’ presents, as opposed to a book or something for Hannukah), and Thanksgiving (which I consider a Christian holiday). Those holidays, along with the Church experience, felt more commercialized – more ‘American’. They were alot of fun, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for the world.
Yet up until this point, I hadn’t really questioned either religion. Since I was learning about two separate schools of thought, I hadn’t fully submitted myself to one particular ideology. Everything was going as planned, until the moment arrived that would ultimately open my eyes to the world behind the world.
I was about to turn 13, and it was time for me to start practicing for my Bar Mitzvah. My father opened the study guide, which contained the Hebrew I would need to recite for the ceremony. We both sat down on the couch in the living room, and started to practice. After about twenty minutes, I remember looking up at him and asking why we were doing this. Why are we memorizing words that were written thousands of years ago to recite at a ceremony, just to prove that I was entering adulthood? And most importantly, what if I decided I simply didn’t want to?
In one life-changing sentence, he confessed: “We are doing this because my father wanted me to when I was your age.” We both realized that we were doing something simply because our ancestors before us had. Without questioning why; without deciding for ourselves if it was right – what we truly believed in our hearts. He let me decide for myself, and ultimately I decided that I didn’t believe in what we were doing. And I am eternally grateful for his decision.
The next sunday, instead of going to Synagogue, we went fishing together and experienced real life in nature, unfiltered by antiquated dogma and human ideologies. It was liberating for our entire family, and though we haven’t really talked about it since, I think they are thankful I spoke up – because everyone else was afraid to.
This is why we have Holy Wars, racism, and hate. People sometimes get scared to raise their hand in class when something doesn’t make sense. “Keep your head down. Do as you are told. Follow the leader. Memorize this. Don’t ask why.” When something doesn’t make sense, scream at the top of your lungs so everyone can hear you. We can’t change the world if we keep ourselves planted in the sands of the past. Refuse to believe what people tell you – until you know it to be true from your own personal experiences. No one knows anything more than you do, and that will never change.
The Wheel Of Time is about the continual habit of recursion we can’t seem to escape from. But I came here to throw a wrench in its gears. And every day thousands of people are waking up, as I did, from the peaceful sleep of herded sheep.
Ancient Lasers – The Wheel Of Time
The wheel of time repeats itself, it turns you into someone else
You’ll fight a war you’ll never win, you’ll make the same mistakes again
And now you finally see so many reasons behind the great confusion
You know the voices of the dead are really voices in your head
You wonder if you’ve lost your mind, you hope you get it back this time
They tell you what you want to hear, you wish they’d all just disappear
And now you finally see so many reasons behind the great confusion
You know the voices of the dead, are really voices in your head
Maybe we are doomed to repeat this, maybe we still haven’t found the way
But no matter what they say, the pattern’s here to stay
And every time you think you’ve reached the end, you watch it start itself again
Every time it repeats itself, it repeats itself, it repeats itself again
Have you ever done absolutely nothing for an entire hour?
I mean nothing.
On March 25th, 2012, I did nothing for the first time in my life.
I was invited to the private residence of Edward Arroyo in the hills near Pasadena to experience something called an Isolation Tank. I had known Edward since the Transcendent Man screening party, but I never had a chance to check it out until now. I recently saw him at an Ancient Lasers show, and I realized that, Holy Shit, I still need to do this.
It was a cold, rainy Los Angeles day – which set the perfect mood for introspection. Four of us arrived at his residence, where we were greeted by sandwiches and refreshments. He showed us many artifacts he has collected from around the world, most notably, something called Noah’s Ark – a black, obsidian, boat shaped rock. It only spins clockwise – that is, if you try to spin it the other direction, it vibrates, stops, and corrects itself.
The final stop on the tour was in the back building, where the isolation tank resides. It is basically a large metal chamber, with the interior completely blacked out. There is about ten inches of extremely salty water, which is warmed to the exact same temperature as the human body. The air is also warm, giving the illusion that you are completely submerged in something.
Edward led us back inside the house, where we made final preparations. I was first, so I took a shower, dawned a bathrobe and slippers, and took out my contact lenses (an act that in itself would be enough to render me deprived of all vision). Edward was to play sounds of the ocean and some kind of shamanic-sounding hum in the beginning and at the end, to let me know that one hour had elapsed. One hour is a good initial baseline for time, apparently. I followed Edward out through the rain to the Isolation Tank, and he handed me earplugs, and a couple towels. I think Drew, my drummer, was filming up to this point, but as I was about to get completely naked, they left me alone to take the plunge. I put in my earplugs, threw my robe on a chair, and climbed into the black abyss, closing the door behind me…
At first, it felt like you would expect – floating in the dark. But then I realized how buoyant the water was – it was like what I imagine zero gravity would feel like. If I didn’t know I was in a controlled, completely safe environment, that sensation would have been utterly terrifying. I mean, it was utterly terrifying for a few moments, but I knew what I was getting myself into. I am a sound guy, so I started to focus on the waves/hum noise, and realized how loud my breathing was as it started to fade away. Once it was completely silent, I kind of had a “now what?” feeling, but tried to focus on my breathing. At this point, my body had adjusted to the sensation, but I still felt tense in my neck and in my legs. That’s when I realized I was still actually holding myself up – to some capacity. I released every muscle in my body in one of the single-most refreshing instances I’ve ever had, and just really let go. Bingo. Now it’s time to fuckin’ FLOAT.
(From here on, it’s really hard to describe, but I will try.)
I first started thinking about all of human activities – like bills, my job, my band’s next direction, and things like that. This was probably about ten minutes in, from my estimate. When your brain doesn’t have anything else to do, you do a really good job thinking about things. Really fast, and with laser-sharp focus. It felt that in about five minutes, I had worked-through and addressed my now seemingly-mundane human ‘problems’ in my life. Well, now what do I think about, I thought to myself. I don’t know, why don’t you think about what you’re doing here? What do you want to do? What is all that stuff outside? Who are all those people? Do they matter? It feels like it. What are they? And what are you?
It felt like my eyes were moving deep into my body, like my vision was starting to come from my chest instead of my eyes. And right when I noticed myself slipping into that, I would jolt back awake. It was kind of like being on sleep deprivation at this point, but still remaining incredibly energetic. I started to hear foreign music and loud, thundering sounds – big bass notes and something like a trumpet in the distance. I decided to think about memories and friends from my past, and it was like walking through a party where I knew everyone. Every room was a different memory, and I could walk in and interact with it – bring it back to life. Then I really lost control.
It now felt like a DJ had showed up to the party and started remixing my brain. Memories, ideas, people, music, visual images…all started to get the mashup treatment, and I actually felt my brain using itself as its own sensory input. Like someone plugged a power strip into itself. I heard a voice say “He hasn’t started using his lungs yet”, which was pretty creepy (perhaps some kind of connection to being in the womb?). It felt like a bunch of people were above me, looking down, but there was no down, just out. I started to feel really guilty about things, but kind of ‘as everyone’. That as humans, we aren’t using all the tools we’ve been given properly, and that we are letting someone down. That there is some big thing we are supposed to do.
The ocean sound started to creep up and I started to sink back into myself. I was expecting to get that horrible sleep-paralysis feeling when I came back, but I had never actually gone to sleep…so I tried moving a finger. Moving one single finger a quarter of an inch after not having a body feels indescribable. I clenched my fist, one at first, then the other, and wiggled my toes. Yep, I’m in this body again. I slowly sat up in the tank, both exhausted and completely rejuvenated at the same time. I pushed open the door, and as my pupils shrank back into tiny black dots, I looked around for someone. Still alone. I blindly reached for a towel, and stumbled out into the real world again. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror on the way out had a certain completing-the-journey quality to it. After taking a shower to get the salt off, I sat around the outdoor firepit where everyone was. I tried my best not to talk about the experience as not to influence theirs, but I think that lasted about ten seconds.
After all four of us had gone in the isolation tank for one hour each, we all had completely different experiences and explanations – but we all agreed it was one of-if-not-the-single-most life-changing feelings we’d ever felt. And seriously, the way you physically feel afterwards is like getting a massage, doing a full workout, and getting 8 hours of sleep all at once.
Edward showed us the concept video for Floatspace, his next endeavor. He wants to set up isolation tanks for public and commercial use, and we talked about all the new possibilities that would arise. What if you could skype with other people while inside the chamber? What about virtual or augmented reality systems? If I could have, I would have invested a cool million right then and there.
With our journey complete, we thanked Edward I think about a hundred times before we climbed back into the car. The quality of sleep I had that night was unrivaled, and I was able to partially slip back into that floating feeling. This morning I woke up an hour before my alarm clock.
To sum it all up, go do this. I feel embarrassed that I haven’t done this before. Until you try it, you won’t understand what I’m talking about.
Karl Schroeder wrote a little book in 2001 called Ventus – a hard-sci-fi story that will undoubtedly be most remembered for its radical new theory about life on Earth…that gives us an insight into what life might be like after science.
Those of you who’ve read my novel Ventus may recognize “The Successor to Science” as the title of a fictional paper referred to in that book. The paper introduces the reader to the concept of thalience. As originally intended, thalience was an attempt to look past science to see what discipline would come after it–hence the title “A Successor to Science.”
You’re forgiven if you’re bewildered–after science? How does that make sense? Am I saying that science is just a cultural phenomenon, a fashion? No. But it is something that exists in a particular historical context, and the question I was asking with thalience was whether science might produce some new kind of activity that, while not replacing it, could be viewed as an offspring of equal value to us.
Let’s back up a bit. In Ventus I invented a new word, and gave several definitions for it–quite deliberately, because I believe that ambiguity is the life-force of words. The word is acutally defined now on Wikipedia, but the two definitions given there are only half-right. Vinge asked me whether the word has to do with distributed sensor nets–because the Winds of Ventus are a system of massively parallel nanotech AIs–and I said yes at the time, but didn’t expand on what that implied. If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, bear with me; you may find what follows interesting.
What if you could separate the activity of science from the human researchers who conduct it?Automate it, in fact? Imagine creating a bot that does physics experiments and builds an internal model of the world based on those experiments. It could start out as something simple that stacked blocks and knocked them over again. Later models could get quite sophisticated; and let’s say we combine this ability with the technology of self-reproducing machines (von Neumann machines). Seed the moon with our pocket-protector-brandishing AIs and let them go nuts. Let them share their findings and refine their models.
So far so good. Here’s the question that leads to the notion of thalience: if they were allowed to freely invent their own semantics, would their physical model of the universe end up resembling ours? –I don’t mean would it produce the same results given the same inputs, because it would. But would it be a humanly-accessible theory?
This is a better question than it might at first appear, because even we can produce mutually irreconcilable theories that successfully describe the same things: quantum mechanics and relativity, for instance. Their worldviews are incompatible, despite the fact that together they appear to accurately describe the real world. So it’s at least possible that non-human intelligences would come to different conclusions about what the universe was like, even if their theory produced results compatible with our models.
This little thought-experiment asks whether we can turn metaphysics into a hard science; and this becomes the first interesting meaning of the world thalience: it is an attempt to give the physical world itself a voice so that rather than us asking what reality is, reality itself can tell us. It is possible that thalient systems will always converge on a model of the universe that is comprehensible to humans; if so, then we will actually have a means of solving what were once considered philosophically imponderable questions–such as, what is the world really made of? How much of our understanding of the universe is subjective, and is truely objective knowledge even possible? A thalient system could tell us.
In Ventus, of course, the thalient system has lost the ability to communicate with humans; but the end of the novel holds out the hope that some sort of bridge can be constructed. Strangely, this bridge appears in the form of politics, rather than as a meeting of minds through Reason or Mathematics.
But there’s a further meaning to the term. If you were to automate science, and reap the rewards, what would you be left doing? Twiddling your thumbs while the AIs solve all the big problems? Well, not necessarily. The last definition of thalience involves the exciting possibility that, yes, multiple equally valid physical models of the universe are possible. Not one true “theory of everything” but many, perhaps an endless number of them. In this case, the conclusions we reach about our place in the universe when we understand quantum mechanics and relativity–or, for that matter, Newtonian physics–are accidental, by-products of the subjective side of objective research. So here is the grandest definition of thalience: it is the discipline that chooses among multiple successful scientific models based on which ones best satisfy our human, aesthetic/moral/personal needs. In other words, given two or more equally valid models of the universe, thalience is the art of choosing the one with the most human face. It is the recovery of the natural in our understanding of the Natural.
The ability to create non-human intelligences that can ask the same questions we ask leads to the possibility not just of answering ancient questions, but of turning science into the precursor of a new human activity. If thalient entities can create accurate models of the world that are different from our own, you may no longer be faced with the dilemma of taking either a religious, comforting view of the universe, or an objective and scientific–but not humanly satisfying–view. Thalience would consist in taking science’s results as raw material for building new mythologies–and possibly religions–which would differ from all previous ones in that they would all be scientifically, objectively true.
Now maybe you can see how science could have a successor: thalience would use objective truth as an artistic medium and merge subjectivity and objectivity in a creative activity whose purpose is the re-sanctification of the natural world. To believe in an uplifting and satisfying vision of your place in the universe, and to know that this vision is true (or as true as anything can be) would be sublime. Thalience would be an activity worthy of post-scientific humanity, or our own biological or post-biological successors.
I recently wrote about my experience at BIL 2011 in this article, but I absolutely have to update and tell you about BIL Conference 2012 – mainly because of how much it exceeded my expectations.
First off, there were more people in attendance. I believe we clocked in at over 800(!) people. It seems our message is truly beginning to spread and pick up speed, which is no surprise – alot has happened since March of 2011.
We are finally seeing the rise of the “Internet voice”, as made evident by the huge amount of activism by Twitter, Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, and many more connectivity-based movements. People are starting to step away from the computer (with iPhone or Droid still firmly in hand) and take to the streets. Information technologies are making people realize how much work there is to do to fix the problems our society still faces. Yet, many people that want and can do something to help don’t know where to turn. I didn’t. Before connecting with the people at BIL, I had motivation and knew what I wanted to do, but didn’t know there were thousands of other people that had the same ideas.
BIL, by nature, is a very geeky event. As a counter-culture shadow conference that not-so-coincidentally occurs right around TED, you would expect this. And by nature, these people don’t have alot of free time for social interaction – and most find the usual “club and bar scene” to be trite and superficial (myself included). The beauty in BIL is that it gives the nerdy, quirky, subversive, think-way-the-fuck-outside-the-box types a singular event to come and talk about all the insanely cool projects they’ve been working on in the past year.
New additions this year included:
Space Stage, where SpaceX and XCOR showed off some very cool, privately funded space vehicles. A
Burning-Man-esque….dodecahedron? (It’s a geometric shape I can’t describe in human language). People were relaxing and singing karaoke when they needed a mind-rest from talks.
At the closing ceremony, Reichart auctioned off a chance to sit in on a live reading of Futurama, with the full cast (as well as himself and Simone for dates). Their combined sexiness helped put a deposit for BIL2013! Maria Entraigues and myself also performed the first ever “BIL Anthem” – and we got Aubrey de Grey to jump on stage and bust out a smooth 16 bar rap verse about “biology, nanotechnology, quantum computing, more biology…” That was definitely a fitting way to end the conference. Special thanks to Reichart, Maria, Aubrey and Simone for making that happen with 4 days notice!
In conclusion, BIL expanded my mind and now I have a thirst for knowledge – and meeting the people who possess it. I know I’m leaving out tons of amazing people I met, and I apologize in advance. More posts coming! I have a big list of similar conferences, concerts, and events like BIL in my Google Docs, and I hope to check a few dozen off the list by the time 2012 is over.