Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Be Seeing You!

Pattern recognition is both the blessing and curse of sentience. Discerning patterns provides structure to our lives, and made possible the rise of the scientific method, the one reliable way of understanding that wolves and bears are bigger threats in the forest than witches and trolls. Still, an excess of patterning is what gives rise to paranoia and conviction that black helicopters are following you.

The conclusion of AMC's recent remake of The Prisoner reminded me of nothing so much as the fourth and final section of Thomas Pynchon's classic novel, Gravity's Rainbow. In both works, paranoia and plots build up relentlessly in the previous section, only to have no real denouement or answers in the conclusion. Plots are neither foiled nor victorious, but made irrelevant by the processes of entropy ripping everything asunder.

The difference in the two works is that in the final act of Pynchon's GR, "The Counterforce," said counterforce is not a coalition of resistance nor a band of outlaws. It is a rushing force of nature, the entropy that makes things fall apart, and the gravity that makes a rocket return to Earth. One can no more argue against Tyrone Slothrop turning into Rocketman than one could argue against the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

In The Prisoner, a moral choice is made to become an agent of The Spectacle, to become the guardian of sleep. Michael (6) and Sarah (313) are not making poor moral choices by "serving the man," they are recognizing that the dreaming of building a spectacular world provides some broken people with necessary crutches. In both versions of The Prisoner, the forces at the top were posited as evil because they did not give the residents choices about coming to The Village, thus they played out the typical morality sagas regarding free will. In the newer version, Michael returns to the corporation to be CEO and to The Village to be (Number Two?), but it scarcely seems to be a surrender to fascism.

This all related in a way to my previous post regarding the supposed necessity of memory. If we dive into the river of experience (notice how the Web creatures at Defrag kept talking about "lifestreams"?), we may decide to abandon patterns and memory for the excitement of random events. Pynchon would tell us we are succumbing to nature. The authors and directors of The Prisoner would say we are recognizing the necessity of created worlds and created consciousness. And before someone brings up a protest about "playing God" with manufactured consciousness, it's useful to remember one of the most devious elements of Gravity's Rainbow - Pynchon's suggestion that the evil inherent in human culture may not be due to the depraved nature of the species, but might be a reflection of living in a universe created by a perverse higher power. How do you assign morality to entropy?

I'm not passing judgment on the conclusions of Gravity's Rainbow or The Prisoner. Like Heraclitus and Dylan, I'm just jumping into a different river every day and watching it flow around me. But it gives a clue for interpreting the wheel of reincarnation. Maybe the important thing is not remembering and cataloging the details of past lives. Maybe the important thing is to treat all lives as one, and immerse in the flow without worrying about memory, patterns, plots, or paranoia. Be seeing you.


Ruth said...

Wow. A scientist-mnemonist writes about living in the moment. Wonderful.

shoreacres said...

An intriguing post. Much was beyond me, but I was caught by your linked essay on paranoia and patterning. I found myself wondering if imagination itself might represent a (more benign) form of "hyperactive pattern recognition".

After all, the ability of the artist to "pay attention" to the world with more intensity and inclusivity than most of us mere mortals is also on a continuum with the "hyper-awareness" and "hyper-sensitivity" of the schizoid personality.

As for your conclusion that "...Maybe the important thing is not remembering and cataloging the details of past lives. Maybe the important thing is to treat all lives as one, and immerse in the flow...", it reminds me of another line of Heraclitus, quoted by Annie Dillard:

It ever was, and is, and shall be, ever-living fire, in measures being kindled and in measures going out.

Loring Wirbel said...

Shoreacres, I LUVVVV Heraclitus.

And I fully subscribe to your concept of imagination as overactive pattern recognition. You're probably aware that most versions of autism and Asperger's do not involve withdrawal, but rather an inability to filter out the irrelevant from the relevant. The torrent of information gets to be so intense, the person avoids the world of the sentient to keep life manageable. Wired magazine wrote about a woman who wrote a blog about autism (she had a moderate case herself), who said that the repetitious banging on walls or number-chanting etc. that many autistics engage in is their own private language, and that those who wish to understand should immerse themselves in the particular language and experiential flow of the autistic person. Same would be true for schizophrenics, I suppose.