Trains of Thought
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VI. 27/02-04/03/17; memetic

Alan Turing showed that a machine can do arithmetic without understanding what it is doing. Most competence does not depend on comprehension.

Consciousness as a user-illusion, as an app. A decision is an illusion too. The yes/no dichotomy masks the conscious and subconscious thoughts that precipitate into action when a decision is made.

The timing of a decision is more telling than the decision itself. Successful deal makers delay a decision until an optimal moment. They do not let events run them into a decision. It’s like Buffett famously says: investing is like baseball except I don’t have to take a swing unless I want to. You can wait for the pitch you want.

The train is refreshingly empty. The temperature is perfect; a slight breeze. Across the aisle a man browses his Facebook feed taking time to investigate some of the pictures from the feed in detail. Feed is the right word, it looks like a drip-feed of inanities. The visions of David Foster Wallace are becoming true. The phone is our entertainment cartridge.

We are becoming a picture driven society, text is relegated to the captions.

He has rewound to the beginning several times and then configured for a recursive loop. He sits there, attached to a congealed supper, watching at 0020h, having now wet both his pants and the special recliner.

In front of me a woman reads her Kindle, something about a detective Angus Henderson.

Randy Pausch makes a few good points in his last lecture. It’s a good idea to go back and think about childhood dreams. There’s always the question of why one should focus on one thing and not another. Going back to childhood is one way to secure a sense of provenance for our day-to-day activity.

It’s cold and the train is delayed by 10 minutes. The platform is more crowded than I have ever seen it. It’s quiet except for a vacuum machine sound and birds singing. The display catches up by two minutes. Faces look pink and fresh in the cold air. The driver apologises for the late running of the train. “We had trouble setting the radio up in Cambridge.”

A good mix of commuters today: the man across the aisle is reading a paper which has diagrams that look like illustrations of chemical bonds and reactions and re-configurations of those bonds. Opposite him two people with computers on their laptops. The male wears a very large watch and his finger strokes the touch-pad. He is copying something from a hand-written notebook. His neighbour is less active, it looks like she is in a trance. Around me: one Metro reader, thinning hair combed back, interesting tie with a bronze flower pattern overlaid with the blue ribbon to which his work ID is attached. Next to him a man has almost finished a very large paperback. White shirt with sleeves rolled up. Polished shoes, new-looking. Dark eyes. Next to me a woman is reading “A day in the life of – Joe Conservative, Speak out“. Green sweater and lighter green scarf.

The sun is bright, the fields are green, the trees are still brown and leafless skeletons, the train is making up lost time.

I wait to see what book the man is reading. On the spine is a picture of a red planet with a blue shaded face just behind. It is Peter F. Hamilton, Night without Stars.

Dental hygiene: I am convinced that when the metal part of the spinning polishing machine hits the enamel it causes some minor scratching. These imperfections all add up and contribute to the gradual general decline.

Across the aisle a man with a fresh haircut, very slick all around. Immaculate worn-in shoes with squared off tip. What is that kind called? Grey suit trousers, his coat has an inside lining that can be zipped up. An entertainment cartridge sits comfortably in his left palm. Left thumb curled across the corner and his right hand is cupped over protecting the screen. I wonder whether we will acquire new instincts over time: for example the instinct to protect the screen of our devices. Instincts could develop out of memes.

He is sleeping and his head regularly drops from its upright position before snapping back. It’s a regular motion occurring every 10 seconds or so and there’s a rhythm to it. The initial drop and snap-back is followed by 2-3 more with smaller amplitude. Then there’s a pause. It’s a live demonstration how our subconscious actions are shaped by a traversal through layers of consciousness. The head-bobbing reminds me of faithful men praying at the wall in Jerusalem, especially when the head-drops are deep down and the chin is almost touching the chest and then the snap-back is very pronounced.

The intensity of Jerusalem is easily evoked ten years after visiting the city. Wilson’s arch packed with people. The devotion attached to a particular space. The electric atmosphere and the absence of technology and the unimportance of time, no rush to get out.

There are varieties of sleep like there are varieties of clouds and wine. For example: the kind of sleep you get when you are so tired that you sleep for 20 minutes during a speech or a commute and you are totally knocked out and you wake up and it feels like hours have passed. This sort of spontaneous oblivion is bliss in a way and watching someone else in that state triggers a shadow of that positive state. You forget about everything for a time.

It’s curious that when someone else coughs you feel the urge also, or you cough without realizing it. It must be the same mechanism that underlies yawn infection. The degree of susceptibility to the yawn/cough infection (meme?) must depend on one’s emotional state. What might susceptibility or lack thereof imply?

A man stands next to me and he is struggling to keep snot in his nose. Deep sniffs of air. A wet path in a field, a strip of light blue sky with fluffy clouds encroaching on the dark grey cloud ceiling.

The fringe of the cloud ceiling illuminated by sunlight, grades of yellow and grey and blue about 10 cm wide from my perspective. But as the landscape fills in with industrial and residential buildings the only sky available is straight above and it is a consistent, bluish grey, like a wash swirled onto rough canvas with an old stiff brush.

Patches of trees: over the next month or so the bare skeletons will come back to life. You won’t notice the gradual change unless you pay attention every morning.

Green trousers, a fine silky fabric, unkempt curly hair with curly wisps over the forehead, seasoned brown shoes, blue jacket. Reminds me of Harry Eyres. Two mandarins and an apple in the netting of his bag and a plastic water bottle, the classic original kind. Quite tall, approx 190 cm, rugged face. Walking away towards the station he is three coloured blue green brown.

The 07:29 is just as quiet as the earlier trains. Glimpse of a wet street, back-lights reflecting off the street, a bridge further down the road.

Shorn field with round bales of hay stacked at the near corner, but some have rolled off. Gardens and bedroom windows at eye level from the train.

This one is hard to describe: hair combed to the side, an obtuse triangle formed by the hairline: one side of the triangle is formed by the line that runs up from the sideburns at the level of his nostrils to the temple. The other line is formed by the hair combed to his right. Curls of hair behind the ear stand out like feathers. He has not had a haircut for a while. The forehead is a well proportioned rectangle about the size of an iPhone 6, slanting outwards into the world. Three major creases. Eyes are covered by rectangular glasses with a flat, wide, black frame. Heavy frown, the skin pinched together. Thin, delicate nose, a downward yawn reveals a clean, crooked lower set of teeth. From the nose downwards, the face slants inwards towards the neck. It’s a long lower-half, with lips framed by jowl lines. Now he shifts to lean with his lower back against the window to type on his phone, he glances around and raises his eyebrows each time, exercising those three creases.

An interesting quote to see in a business-book:

How did I get into the world? Why was I not asked about it and why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? How did I get involved in this big enterprise called actuality? Why should I be involved? Isn’t it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to be involved, where is the manager—I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?

Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition

Two birds fly towards a chimney from different directions.

A commuter who looks a bit like Dominic Barton with grey silver hair strictly parted looks intently out of the window. Black modern glasses with square frames, arms folded across the chest, an interesting blue and red striped tie: it looks from afar like it is not just a flat piece of silk but in fact contoured. It’s an illusion. The top of the red and blue stripes are lighter and this make it look like the wider parts are elevated.

A ringing bell changes pitch as we drive past.

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