Two questions I see a lot, in fiction and on the internet. Do you want to live forever? And, why are rich and powerful people so cartoonishly evil? I think the two might be related (and this is by no means an original conclusion, I’ve seen it sprinkled throughout so many movies, books, TV shows, songs, and works of literature, just articulated in different ways). What I think is worthy of relaying is the way the two are related, as I see it.
What if complexity of thought, the process of weighing relative abstract inputs into a cognitive model, sentience, for lack of a better term, of dogs or of people, was an accident? Science tells us this is probably so, an outgrowth of the imperative of survival expressed through additive iteration. Evolution. But what if, as is the case with the copying of cells and the transfer of genetic material to offspring, our minds also suffer a kind of inherent defect, a disease that is the logical outcome of the weight of awareness of cognitive or emotive networks of sufficient complexity?
I’m not talking specifically about unhappiness, although that is part of it. The oft-cited ‘rat park’ you can find on any internet forum talking about addiction or socioeconomics, whereby a mind either subjected to sufficient stimuli or deprived of it, or the less well-known ‘pit of despair’ experiment where a mind is subjected to torture until it breaks, effectively ceding decision making control over the body and accepting any subsequent torture. These, I think, are both pieces of the same puzzle of when a complex abstract modeling capability becomes a liability rather than an advantage for an organism, for a mind.
We all know that minds have a ‘breaking point,’ a point in the curve of awareness and efficacy beyond which cognition and awareness and modelling themselves see diminishing returns, a point at which simply being aware is dangerous to the mind itself. People lose their minds. People overdose. People drink themselves to death and commit suicide. Why? Because the perceived weight of the abstract model, and whatever their position inside of it, becomes too great and they want to turn off the model. Animals generally do it through catatonia resulting in thirst or starvation (yes, it is possible to do this to an animal, in a lab setting or in the case of my dog by the previous owners beating the hell out of it and playing games with its food). People do it through self-destructive behavior (lighting their own lives on fire to feel the warmth, any warmth, before the end, basically).
But I don’t believe the breaking point in people has necessarily to do with material comfort, or with proximity to other humans, or any of the other planks in the platform of psychological stability offered to us in fiction or in academic literature. I think the breaking point is, as previously noted, the point at which the cognitive matrix of modelling, both input stimuli and abstractions like emotions or perceived relationships between people and things or other models, becomes a burden to the internal viewer rather than a tool they can use or a vantage from which they can enjoy reality.
Now, most people don’t reach this point until very late in life, at which point they generally just wither to the point where they can’t perceive their own internal model with sufficient complexity to cause a cascade failure in their own ‘will,’ for lack of a better word. Some distract themselves for decades. Some just aren’t capable of hitting the wall in the curve because, frankly, they lack the complexity to find it on their own (without, as previously mentioned, being experimented on or actually tortured). ‘Living in the moment’ or ‘being down to Earth’ would actually be defense mechanisms against the problem, if my reasoning is correct, which is why animals and kids, or particularly mundane adults, bounce back quickly from adversity.
But this leads us to the question ‘if someone’s world is largely without adversity, materially, socially, sexually, and transcendently (being able to ‘actualize’) why would anyone not want to go on forever, or why would they spend their time and resources being a son (or daughter) of a bitch to everyone?’ And, I think, dear and patient friends who are still reading, the answer to this question covers the other two.
I think there are two factors to the ‘collapse’ of a mind, or at least to the start of the downward slide in the curve. First, there is the complexity of the mind itself. How much ‘relative information’ can it hold? Too little and the mind is basically immune from this disease of advanced cognition. It can go on forever without, as previously mentioned, willful torture. Too much inherent complexity and, well, you’re in savant territory and you’re a glass cannon of cognitive power and you’ll solve incredible math problems or write symphonies until you hit the first rock in the road and then that’s that (unless you’ve got a trust fund and some very nice people around you who want to exploit your gifts for as long as possible).
Anyway, the second factor is more concerned with the middle ground between these two mind types. The mind that can hold a great deal of ‘relative information’ in its model, but not so much that it can’t function in normal life. With a little luck in life, or with a great deal of determination, these are your rich and powerful people, your well-known types. Particularly if their model has been tuned to prioritize social relationships right alongside what we’ll call ‘ascending necessity’ (doing things with the goal of making your position better). I’m not saying all rich and powerful people are smart. They are not. But their minds are within this channel of capacity for large cognitive / emotive models and ability to process this data in a useful way consistently over the long term (not too much, not too little, just right, for decades).
So, if they’re so fucking capable and well-adjusted, why are they such shits? Ah, that is the question, isn’t it, dear readers? And it also leads us to an answer to another. I believe it is possible to experience sufficient complexity in modelling (how you perceive or imagine circumstances, not only of yourself but of the other systems and models with which you interact) that fundamental, almost childlike or animal-like ideas about the world, things like beauty and love and goodness and justice and destiny, even the basic enjoyment of things like eating or sleeping or interacting with others… all the things that art and science tell us make us human, essentially, can become background noise. As the realization dawns on the internal nexus of the complex model (you, sitting inside of your head thinking about the world) that these points of reference, these rocks in the roiling seas of life, are merely abstractions that mean very little, nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things, it is possible to become somehow the opposite of the previously discussed catatonic animal in the pit of despair.
Instead of shutting down, one is inclined to pursue minutia to an almost pathological degree. All of these facets of human life become fixations or playthings as all of the warmth seeps out of the light of the world and only cold illumination remains. There is no longer a prism to refract that light into rainbows, because you don’t believe in rainbows anymore and you don’t believe there’s a prism that could refract them anyway, because they aren’t worth refracting. It is possible to become a kind of robot, a dead thing walking, capable of modelling, analyzing stimuli and concepts but no longer placing them in any real hierarchy that isn’t transient or subservient to a momentary inclination. Ever-chasing, the same way the supposedly less-sophisticated addict does, any immediate comfort to warm the soul. And so nothing is enough and nothing matters, because you’ve discovered that all of your struggles and hardships and triumphs and loves and hatreds, and those of everyone else, were meaningless, and will always be so. The model is detached from meaning, and thus what we would think of as the ‘soul’ departs the cognitive matrix. You’re just a machine. You consume, you kill, you die. Your monstrous offspring, feeding on your corpse, repeat this process in their own descents.
And we cannot and must not ignore the role that our kind of society, that hyper-immersion in information and data and goings on, that alienation and capitalism and the noise of it all, plays in these transformations. And, with this, I believe that we have also answered the question about living forever. Absolutely not, not if you have any sense at all. As I see it, death is the one kindness granted by a dark universe. It is the one salvation we are given against what would otherwise be the most perfect hell conceivable for any sentient life, to become so aware as to notice the inadequacies of the universe itself, and yet to live on. To walk through wastelands in our own minds for years or decades, without warmth or the hope of warmth. Never to know happiness or fulfillment again, and to know that any we had known was always false. Hell no I don’t wanna live forever, fam. My soul’s pretty much used up. I don’t even wanna know what the ones the billionaires and politicians are carrying around are like, and I certainly don’t want to spend eternity, even an eternity measured in bonus decades or centuries, with them.
Anyway, I couldn’t sleep and there’s no booze left in the house. Happy Friday! 🙂