Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Elements of Identity

So, I've discussed the ideas I've been tossing around about personal identity. Thus far I've gone through and defined the terms I want to use, and how (in my mind) I've categorised the different forms of personal identity. Mainly, they come down to four major categories, with subcategories underneath them. In some cases, I'm not sure if I'm confident about the definitions - I think I may be thinking about the same thing from two different directions...

Biological identity: the biological and physical self - the body and its aspects that are the source of one's own physical identity. The body exists before everything else.

Bio-physical identity: The continuity of body tissue back from the origin of the identity. Cells are created, shed, and die, but there remains a continuity: the new cells are attached to tissues that have their origin at the origin of the biological identity.

Genetic identity: the more-or-less unique genetic code that (to an approximation) every cell in a single body carries.

Bio-metric identity: the compiled aspects of the physical structure or function of the body that are believed to be fixed and unique to each individual: retinal patterns, fingerprints, voice-prints, handwriting. Facial recognition is a low-resolution form of bio-metric identification.

Geographical identity: the identity inherent to having a physical location within a 4th dimensional co-ordinate system.

Psychological identity
: that which defines the individual mind as a unique object.

Ego identification: the individual ego's perception of itself as a defined individual. The perception that the ego is itself and not another.

Continuity of memory: the individual mind's recollection of being a unique identity back to the origin of the identity itself. The memory of having been or creating other forms of identity.

Social identity
: the perception of the self by others as a unique individual. One's social identity allows others to determine that the identity is that person and not another.

Textual identity: the content of one's utterances and texts. Especially those ideas, beliefs, opinions, and other expressions that allows one to be identified as an individual.

Stylistic identity: related to textual identity. The body of stylistic features to one identity's language use, artistic expression, body language, or mode of interaction that defines the self as an individual.

Data-point identity: related to continuity of memory and codestring identity, data-point identity is the collection of personal and abstract facts that a person is expected to know as a unique individual. This differs from codestring identity in that each data point may be brought out in an identity challenge in an unpredictable fashion. It is related, somewhat, to continuity of memory.

Document identity: one's unique identity as defined by the documents issued by a social authority: passport, birth certificate, work/school I.D., and so on.

Ownership identity: having ownership of a set of physical objects and claim to a given set of geographical spaces as one's own.

Nominal identity: having a single, individual name.

Informational identity: the form of identity that accrues to having a presence within the manifold defined as the contemporary digital realm.

Codestring identity: those series of alpha-numeric strings that identify oneself within various communication systems: telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, account logins and passwords, financial account numbers, etc.

Network geography: one's more-or-less unique location within the digital information manifold: one's current I.P. address, cell-phone access point, etc. Somewhat related to geographical identity, but not necessarily congruent.

Ruminations on the Silver Key

"I dreamed last night that I was a butterfly. Or am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man?"

"No, you just log on regularly to ButterfliesOnline.Com"

First off, The Silver Key.

Hinduism, Platonism, certain modes of Buddhism, Hare Krishnaism, Gnosticism, and The Matrix all suggest that the world we experience via our senses is not the real one. They suggest that beyond the veil of what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell is a wholly different plane of reality. DesCartes postulated the possibility of the existence of a demon whose purpose it is to decive us as to the nature of reality. Further, most assert that this other reality is somehow fundamentally different. It is more real, or more important. Only an enlightened or illuminated few are able to perceive this world; lesser lights may feel there is something more to reality than they are able to know. But the goal of these philosophies is to attempt to break through and find out what one can about this true reality.

The theory of hyperreality also posits that the world we live in exists somewhere between the real and the virtually real. Disney serves up reality that is more real than the real thing. Joe Dowling wants fake red cabbages that look more like red cabbages than actual, real red cabbages. The milk in the pictures on the front of cereal boxes is Elmer's glue and water; it looks more like milk than milk. The symbol representing a thing is more real than the real thing [much more on this later].

Meanwhile, it has become fashionable in certain circles to decry "virtual world" web experiences and those who use them. Whether it's World of Warcraft, Second Life, or the world wide web as a whole, the recurring cry is "get a life!" Granted, this level of virtual reality is not total - although immersive, there is no way at present of mistaking WoW for sensory input in the real world. One biological body sends out signals to the mind: hunger, thirst, fatigue. Although there are those few persons who - considered psychologically unbalanced by many - confuse the importance of the two planes of exisistence, life goes on, at becomes easy to sense which is the more fundamental mode. Death is trivial in WoW, it is not in the human existence.

What puzzles me, then, is why choose? What makes some planes of reality more "real" than others? Why are some modes superior to others, and why choose? If we as a species accomplish a jump to a true virtual reality (or a multiverse of virtual realities), does that represent an expansion of ourselves, or a diminishment? Is enlightenment just a realization that all reality is virtual?

Tashi, version 1.1

A fragment:

Tashi v 1.1

The LCD screen floats in the darkness: a window into a separate world of towers, satellites, and interpersonal connectivity. A profound, throwaway single from last year’s Euro-dance electronica band chimes. Euro-dance: genres emerge, thrive, and vanish so fast that individual names become almost meaningless. Any sort of pure strain fails against an offspring of hyphenated mutants. Success in this darwinistic game is measured in the transmission of a certain musical genetic code – a sample that survives in the next generation’s genre. But tonight, in this room, it means one thing: Devin.

“Tashi? You awake?” Time was, every household had one phone line. Seven digits, rather than an entry in a portable electronic phone book. One thing you never knew for sure was who might answer any individual call. The caller’s only refuge lay in his own mystery; before caller ID was everywhere, one had to ask as soon as the phone was answered. There was a commitment to the conversation.

“Tashi?” Sometimes, you’d answer the phone just to find out who was calling. Now, you know before you answer, just as they know just which person’s number they’ve dialed. No one knows what to say. People today don’t say hello. They just start talking.

“Yeah. Devin. What’s up?”

“I’ve finished Exodus. Patterns are emerging. I feel like I can almost see through it.”

“It’s Hebrew, Devin. It’s easy to see through. Anyone can learn to read it. You don’t even have to be Jewish.”

Devin sighs. I can hear the tick-tick-tickle-tack of his keyboard in the background. It’s an almost human sound; in some ways more distinctly Devin than his voice. Which, as usual, is wire taut with caffeine and fatigue.

“Tashi, you know this as well as anyone. Hebrew has no separate characters for numbers. The Torah’s just a string of digits. Pure numbers, unburdened by the concrete. Long strings of pure numbers: God’s own cryptosystem.”

“Go to bed, Devin. I’ll see you tomorrow.” In the days of telegraphy, each operator had a distinctive way of keying the line: his fist. An experienced listener could identify who was on the other end of a transmission by the distinct timing of the dots and dashes. Now we’ve got unique phone numbers, caller I.D. Our wireless transmissions carry voices: supposedly a human way of telling each other apart.

But there’s recordings, voice synthesizers, automated phone operators. Lawyers spend days worth of billable hours arguing about the identity of a single voice on a phone line. But I know it’s Devin when he calls; a declaration of identity emerges from the sound of his fingers on the keyboard. A fist.

“Sorry to wake you,” a pause, “Yeah. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” A chirping as he hangs up. I’m denied even the lingering connection of the dial tone. The cell provider needs the bandwidth for another restless caller. This one disappears as if it had never been. Another entry in a call log to be ignored until it’s deleted. The memory of the conversation in my mind, sharing space with my dreams. An ordering of bits.

7:00 AM, Central Standard Time. GMT -6. Once a way to help ships at sea keep track of where they are, now it’s become a mechanism to keep the world on the same clock. Nothing happens in order anymore. Now it all happens at once, to the universal rhythm of Greenwich Mean. Seven in the morning. No point in chasing sleep, the echoes of my dreams. I might as well get up.

There’s a face in the mirror that hangs above the antique dresser. It’s a cute little Polynesian girl; dreadlocks cascading around an oval face. Sleep clouded amber eyes look out, pulling in data from this new world of morning. Looking into your own eyes in a mirror, it’s like a recursive loop of data gathering. Best be careful that I avoid any sort of resonance, lest the world collapse in the wail of feedback.

I’m dressing slowly, looking for decent and clean clothes from the piles, the dresser, the closet. This certainly isn’t the face one would expect to attach to ‘Doctor Linda Natasha Tanner’. Even ‘Tashi’ seems too much like a stretch. It’s a young face – radiates ethnic charm. You’d expect it in the background of an exotic travelogue or documentary on refugees from global warming. Certainly not teaching students at a university in the white bread, corn-fed American Midwest. “Dr. Linda Tanner, PhD. Post-graduate assistant, Department of Archeology, Northwestern University.” My mother never prouder than when I mailed her my business card.

The morning sequence is so automatic now, it almost feels like someone else. Like there’s a morning person living in my own engrams. One that knows how to start water boiling for tea and ramen; how to go boot the computer and log in for e-mail.

Nothing much. Spam. Students with the usual excuses; professors with the typical demands. G-mail can’t find anything else, no matter how much I will it to, no matter how many times I press the refresh button. The network is just a carrier – a mediator. It cannot make an e-mail out of whole cloth, can’t fill the gap if someone chooses not to send. I curse my monitor for its unfeeling stupidity. I feel silly and better at the same time. It’s a good thing there’s a smiley for ambivalence.

I’m waiting at the Foggy Bottom CafĂ© after work, as planned. Devin shows up ten minutes late, per usual. He’s clutching a sheaf of inkjet printout. Numbers sit like bricks on the page, the 10 point Arial font he prefers. I smile, remembering his rant against serifs. Devin rants frequently; it’s one of his more endearing qualities. The buzz of passionate discourse is the carrier wave of his being. His only real nod to intellectual honesty is his willingness to listen.

“Any word?” he asks. I chew my bagel and shake my head. “No. The only contact I’ve had with her is her absence. The clothes she didn’t leave behind. The food that’s not in the refrigerator, waiting to be cooked. Normally, people can’t help but leave traces of themselves behind. That’s the whole basis of the study of archeology. The things people leave behind. But Alice? Nothing.” Except a pattern of bits in my mind, I guess.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” he quips, trying to lighten the mood. I shake my head, as if banishing a mournful dream. It’s time to stare at my coffee: cream swirls on the surface, driven by the spoon in my hand. My ambivalence written into chaotic flow, the turbulence of liquids mixing. Two substances breaking the liquid barrier and blending into one – indistinguishable. Driven by need and a sense of loss.

“You know it’s just a couple of years. It’s a temporary situation. She’ll be back.” Whenever Devin starts to utter simple declarative sentences, I know he’s at a loss for what to say next. Not knowing what to say makes him distinctly uncomfortable. “She still cares for you, you know. It’s just…” he trails off, giving up.

“Yeah, I know. She’s always had a restless spirit. This project was just too good a chance to pass up. She’s going places and seeing things that few people will ever get a chance to. But even if she does come back, will she still be the same person she was when she left? People aren’t like computers, Devin. You can’t just roll them back to a previous state because you don’t like what they’re doing or what they’ve become.” I imagine how mournful I must look.

“Sure. They’re not like your books and pots, either, Doctor Tanner,” dripping here with his easy sardonic tone, “At least computer admit to some sort of internal change. Characters in a book are dead data.” It’s an old argument, one that slogs out of the grounds of a dozen cups of coffee just like this one. He’s trying to get a rise out of me, I know.

“So. Tell me about Exodus,” I throw in before he really gets started. “Making progress?”

His excitement easily changes channel and direction; he shifts conversational streams with ease. “Yep. I’ve got the whole thing in numerical text files. But, God, it’s tedious, reducing the Hebrew characters to their numerical equivalents and typing them in. Beats me why there’s no decent OCR software out there. I mean, how hard is it to read printed characters?”

“But you’re getting something out of it, right? Something to work with?” He nods, slurping his espresso. He barely swallows before the words come gushing out of his mouth.

“Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m still not sure if I ought to include the original text breaks or not. Cryptanalytic tradition would say not, but given the somewhat arbitrary nature of the division into books, chapters and verses, I suspect there’s some import to them.” Now he’s off into the minutiae of the project, debating with himself the need to sum whole words or whether the single characters are important. He goes on to consider the peculiarities of the original Hebrew text and characters, how the numerical values of the letters can change depending on placement.

It’s never really bothered him that I don’t care about the details. Nor is it important to him that I share his passion; indeed, if I did, I think he’d be annoyed. Mostly, I like to hear him talk. There’s a conviction that people have when they believe in something; a conviction that’s almost hypnotic. Preachers, protestors, or demagogues – there’s a fire in the spoken word. Right now, though, I just need to listen to someone talk about something. Devin’s exactly what I need: always ready to talk about his latest obsession.

He’s actually been at this project for quite some time. He’s convinced that the original authors of the Torah wrote it in code. Which is not a completely original theory: Kabbalists have been playing around with this idea for millennia. Devin’s convinced that modern computing and cryptanalysis techniques can be used to break the code.

So far, he’s still entering the raw data. The more he has entered, he believes, the more he’ll have to work with when it comes time to do the hardcore math. Breadth of data, he calls it. Breadth of data to be met by depth of analysis. I suspect he’s chasing a dream, though. I’m thinking all the meaning the Torah - or any other book - contains is derived from a more human analysis: the act of reading and understanding.

“For centuries, people have combed through holy books, searching for hidden meanings. Many people still do today,” I interject at some more or less random pause. “There’s little more there than appears to be there. It’s not about the hidden meaning behind the printed text. It’s about how people interact with that text; how people interact with people. It’s about letting the words influence how you deal with the world around you. There’s nothing written behind the lines, nothing hiding behind the characters.” It’s a re-run of a similar discussion he and I have had, but I feel the need to leave the audience and become a participant. I want a dialogue, not a monologue.

“Then why is there such an emphasis on preserving the text *exactly* as written?” he emphasizes. “Why all the dicta against adding or subtracting a single word? Why such emphasis on making sure that not a character is out of place? Rabbi Akiva once ‘hung an interpretation of the Law on the hook of a Gimel.’ The Rabbis have insisted that the text is pure and primary. For a two thousand year old document, that’s a pretty robust error-checking scheme.

“Besides, Tashi, you know it’s more complex than that. Or why were you in the same textual analysis class? You’re no more a biblical literalist than I am. Everyone reads books for what they want to see. At best reading a text is a dialogue for meaning between the author and the reader.”

“That’s a standard deconstructivist thesis,” I tell him, almost quoting our professor, “almost pure post-modernism. Really, though, do you think the original rabbinical authors – Moses or Yaweh, if you will – were sophisticated enough to hide the true meaning in a code that would take a twentieth century innovation to crack?”

“No way to know until you check,” he says with a grin. “Beats living your life on autopilot, moping over a girl that’s walked out of your life. Especially one who went so far away as Siberia.” He drains his cup quickly as a means to avoid my glare. He drops some cash on the table. “See you later,” he says. He leaves me staring at my cup again.

What begins as exciting and new, a hot blend of two very different substances has cooled to a homogeneous sameness. No amount of staring or stirring can revive it again. I’m left with the choice of finishing it quickly or leaving it for the waitress to come and pick up.

There’s an implicit challenge in the last inch of an espresso drink like this. I know there’s a pile of grounds and silt drifting around the bottom of the cup. Drinking it would be bitter and gritty – an unpleasant act of masochism. How much do I want to finish off? The further down I drink, the more bitter the results will be. Bitter dregs. How far do I want to push myself in the pursuit of the last sweet drop? I add my own bills to the pile, smile at the waitress, and walk out.

[MediaLurker is here]

MediaLurker: [Who is there? LCX] [All text to be replaced with numerical Hebrew. LCX]

DocT: I’m busy.

MediaLurker: [ What is going on? Who is there? LCX]

DocT: I can’t be distracted right now. I’ll talk to you later.

MediaLurker: [Are you an angel of the Lord? LCX]

DocT: Bye, Devin.

[DocT is offline]

“Tashi? Tashi? Don’t hang up.”

“Devin, I’m busy. I told you online that I don’t have time to talk right now.” I’ve got papers to evaluate, and I’m not really in the mood for Devin’s passions tonight. But he sounds panicked, almost frantic. His voice keeps the connection open.

“Something’s happened. Something weird,” he says.

“Weirder than you interrupting me to babble strings of numbers?”

“Yes – wait – what?”

“I was working earlier. Had a chat client open. You popped in babbling strings of numbers. I figured you were screwing around, sending me some sort of coded message. I didn’t really want to get involved with trying to interpret what you were saying. I though you were just trying to annoy me.”

“No, why would I do that? I mean, I would do that, but I didn’t do it tonight. I never logged in tonight. Something odd’s been going on with my computer.”

That’s got to be the understatement of the year. I sit up and listen much closer now. Devin is a self-identified cyberpunk. He gets paid by various media organizations to look up, run down, and pass along media clips from around the world. Need a news report from last weeks Osaka evening news? Or the manifesto of last months bomb-mailing luddite bunker crazy? How about a scientific report from last year on global climate change written in Russian? Devin will find it for you. In between, he pursues his own digital obsessions, often at the risk of his own online hygiene. For Devin’s computer to exhibit behavior he’d consider odd is unusual. Behavior weird enough to call me about is news of near-apocalyptic proportions.

“Devin, what did you do? It’s probably a virus or a worm or something.”

“I’ve run three different virus scans. Nothing unusual has come up. And it’s not a software bug. What happens is that I’ve got a chat client open. Every time I try to close it, it reopens. But it’s spewing noise. Numbers…”

“So maybe someone’s trying to screw with you. Can you trace the screen name back? It’s probably just some adolescent playing games with you. Block the screen name or something.”

“Tashi, it’s coming from my own account. And that’s not the most peculiar part. It comes through even when I pull my network cable out!” I understand now his distress. Something has refused to obey the clean, explicit rules of his logical universe.

“Wait. What kind of noise are you getting?” I ask him.

“Looks like random numbers. Long streams of num – wait… you said that I was sending you numbers earlier? Send me the chat log!” I walk across the living room and open my idling notebook. It takes me a second or two to pull up the log of the mysterious chat and e-mail it to him. Meanwhile, I ask him, “Does it look something like this?”

“Yeah! Pretty close, anyway. Hold on a minute, here. Some of these strings look familiar.” Devin’s always had a pretty good eye for numbers. If he’d had the drive, ambition, or willingness to obey authority, he might have made it in the NSA. Thank goodness he’d opted for a civilian life and tweaking the noses of online authority figures. “Yes. Some of the same sequences. So they can’t be all that random. Let me look at them a bit.” Without stopping to say good-bye, he hangs up.

Symphonic Cooking

"Most people eat to live, the French live to eat."

Food is a biological necessity, yes, but it serves so many other purposes. Food can be an art form that appeals to all of the senses, a social experience that brings people together, and a hobby that warms the whole house on cold and windy days.

Because food is a necessity, there seems no reason to scrimp on it. Food is one luxury that one must buy anyway, so why not spend a little more to make the experience more enjoyable. Fresh, quality ingredients make a meal so much more appealing.

Which is not to say that all food should be rich, sumptuous, or haute. Simple foods are enjoyable in their own right, and over cooking on what should be a simple occasion is as gauche as over dressing.

Properly prepared, food should be music. As music, in may range from rustic folk melodies to complex, ornate symphonies. It does follow certain rules of composition that - if obeyed - can turn the ordinary into the extrodinary. Dishes may stand alone, as single songs, or accompany other dishes as movements in a symphony.

Like good music, dishes seek a balance within themselves and with each other. Brassy acid sour flavors must be balanced with bitter woodwinds. Sweet strings must not be allowed to dominate, nor should salty percussion overwhelm.

One may build from the bottom. Carbohydrates are the basses: potatoes, bread, rice or noodles. These form the solid foundation that supports the higher voices. Though powerful, these are simple and staunch. Too much, and the dish will be heavy, slow, and ponderous, but too little and it may collapse in screeching. In beef stew, these are the potatoes and the bread accompanying.

The basses then work with the baritones and tenors: meat and sauce respectively. Meat adds the beginnings of counterpoint, and will be the bridge that holds the lighter melodies up from the bass. Beef or lamb bring a dark cello tone, while pork or fowl play a brighter and more soothing tone. The sauce may range from a darker gravy or red wine tenor that matches time with the meat, to the brighter white wine, cream, vinegar, or clear sauces that bring sparkle to the lower tones and counterpoint to the higher. Here are the chords played; either matching dark tenors to dark baritones and light to light for major chords, or dark to light or light to dark to achieve tension in minor keys. The beef stew plays upon three insturments here - the dark notes of the beef itself and the red wine and beef stock that accompany it.

Fruits and vegetables are then the alto voices. The acidic sour brasses of the fruits intertwine with the woodwind quality of the vegetables. Their flavors run their measures on top of the tenors of the sauce like horns and clarinets over cellos. With more fruit added, the dish can be regal and stern - too much and it becomes tinny and flat. With more vegetables, the dish becomes dark and woody - too much brings reedy and swampy overtones. Beef stew balances these with carrots (serving here as almost fruit-like in their sweetness) playing off of celery.

Finally, the herbs become the trebles. The dry herbs: sage, rosemary, bay, and thyme play fugues to the melodies of parsely, oregano, basil and dill. Too much of these, and the trebles will overdominate. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and tumeric can sweeten, but are best as trills, as an oversweetened dish becomes cloying.

Finally, the spices become percussion. In some dished, like salsa, these can be given free reign. In others, they must be restrained. Peppers and paprike, delicately applied, lend grace notes to the whole.

That, is symphonic cooking.

First Post!

There. I've done it. It needs never be done again.

If you've wandered here for the first time, let me explain a little what I intend to go on here. My intent is to use this medium as a means to self-publish those things I think about whilst staring off into the middle distance. They may focus on philosophy, psychology, current events, cooking, magick or whatever else occurs to me.

Some general principles:

1) This is not for keeping up with my life, nor for executing interpersonal drama. Intra personal, maybe at times. If executed properly, readers will find very little detail here about the author, or what's going on in my life. That's what e-mail is for.

2) This is my blog. All enteries are copyright Draconis Argentus, dated to the date stamp on the entry. You will ask my permission to use any material posted, and I pledge not to use anyone else's, except in link form. Any comments are mine to discard or edit as I see fit. Any whining will leave me greatly displeased. I'm a stong believer in free speach, but this is my soapbox.

3) Subjects are at my whim. Expect anything, and expect nothing.

4) I use polysyllabic and other big words. The OED is your friend.

5) "Et in Arcadia Ego" is the caption of Les bergers d'Arcadie by Nicholas Poussin. The painting depicts four shepards standing in various poses around a stone sepulchure. The phrase in Latin means either "I am also in Arcadia", a reference to the idea that death as a concept occurs in even the most pastoral and idyllic realms. Or it means "And in Arcadia I _______", lacking a verb. This interpretation is used by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln to imply a number of other things. Read Holy Blood, Holy Grail for details.