ACID, ADDERALL, AND OUR NATIONAL INSANITY

America is in the Middle of a Bad Acid Trip. We Don’t Know How to Come Down From It.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t.” — Mad Hatter — Alice in Wonderland

What if you were tripping on acid but didn’t know it? How would you behave? What if the precise effects of the drug were to make you absolutely convinced that you were sober? Absolutely convinced that your reality was “real” and it was everyone else who was suffering under some mass hallucination.

Well, you don’t have to imagine it. Because this is our new reality. This is the question every American is and should be asking of themselves this evening. The question has greeted us at first slowly and now all at once. It is a question regarding the fracturing of our national reality so deep, so severe, that to assume we all at least can agree that 2+2=4 would already be to presume too much. The question being begged; Is there anything at all we can all agree to anymore?

I want to make an argument here that rises above the typical political litigations and standard operating scripts that have become now stupefyingly predictable from both sides of the political aisle over the past 4 years. In fact, I want to say something much bigger than that. I want to argue those tribal scripts and tired political narratives that we all get so merrily drunk off of when they come from our particularly favorited political Vinyard will ultimately be the death of us. Because it is to miss the point entirely. It is to miss the biggest problem staring us right in the face.

That problem is that our generation is now faced with a national crisis. And it’s not a fight against the Nazi’s or the Russians or Terrorists or even a looming climate catastrophe… but rather against ourselves. Our battle is an epistemic one. An existential one. And until we accept that fact, all other problems become quaint second-order luxuries.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t some GOOP podcast on self-acceptance or some Eckhart Tolle tome about finding yourself. This is an argument from physics. An argument about the basic laws of civic reality, and how dangerously close we are to breaking them completely.

YAYOI KUSAMA: INFINITY MIRROR ROOMS

How to Achieve Infinite Knowledge

1.)“All fiction that does not violate the laws of physics is (eventually) fact.”

2.)“Without error-correction, all information processing, and hence all knowledge-creation, is necessarily bounded. Error-correction is the beginning of infinity.”

The first of these statements suggests that with enough knowledge (patternized information) all things are not only possible but inevitable. That with enough time, attention, resources, and knowledge-creation, any problem can and will be solved. Conditional only to the laws of physics being obeyed. I.e. no creating matter from nothing, no moving faster than the speed of light, no occupying two localities at once (although quantum might disagree.), etc.

The second of Duetche’s statements asserts that the way to unleash that knowledge-creation and open up the doors to Infinity is through processes that support error-correction. Feedback loops that match on to some approximation of objective reality. If the nerve endings that send pain signals to your brain (error correction process) are not working properly, you will touch fire and not realize it is burning you. The knowledge that “fire is dangerous’’ is thus never actualized and individuals or groups that don’t respect the dangers of fire don’t last long enough to pass their genes on. These ECP’s are not just confined to our biology though. They exist all around us. In our relationships, our institutions, our political movements, etc. The three branches of the US government in unison with a functional fourth estate all act as one giant civic error correction process.

The equation roughly stated then is:

{Knowledge + Error Correction Process} x {Time + Resources} = Anything your mind can dream up.

It would not be hyperbole to suggest that all of human civilization is built on top of these ECP’s. Nor would it be a stretch to suggest that a tribe’s evolutionary fitness is highly correlated with how precise and coherent their ECPs are. Processes that tell a group whether they are heading in the right direction or wrong. Whether their maps of reality are useful or not. Even more profoundly, some of these feedback loops play out in nanoseconds while others sometimes take centuries to unfold. Some seem to have relatively benign consequences (a baby putting bitter or sour foods in its mouth) while others can be devastating (the Challenger Shuttle exploding because temperature-sensitive O-Rings are faulty causing the rocket-boosters to explode.)

Adderall Problems

What is important here is that there is nothing intrinsic to any national crisis that requires us to break the laws of physics in order to solve it. It stands to reason that if we throw enough knowledge-creation, enough time, and enough resources at a problem, we can ostensibly solve it. This is an Adderall problem. A Problem where more attention, more focus, more intensity ultimately will yield solutions. Adderall problems are systems problems. Adderall problems are Moon Landing problems. Nowhere was there greater evidence of our global system being so efficient at solving an Adderall problem than in the production of a massively effective vaccine for a novel virus in under a year’s time.

Adderall problems always come with trade-offs of course. The time, resources, and knowledge-creation spent towards one problem will come at the expense of many other resource-sensitive sectors. But they are still solvable nonetheless. Adderall problems are Infinity problems. And what history has shown us is that as long as there is a reliable ECP implemented, humans can be quite ingenious when solving for infinity.

And so if we are to accept Duetche’s conceit as true, then there is quite literally nothing we can’t accomplish as a country and a world if we put our attention, time, and resources toward solving it. All that needs to happen is that we need to decide to do it.

Acid Problems

What if though, the very mechanism that gets us to that decision point is broken? What if our cultural error correction process has a virus? What if our knowledge-creation gets bounded inside the system and we get stuck and big solutions to giant Adderall problems can’t ever emerge. This is how nation-states and cultures crumble. This is how civilizations die out.

And this is exactly the current epistemic crisis we find ourselves in. The filter through which we mediate our beliefs and values and ideas about the world around us is preventing our ECP from performing efficiently. Preventing us from deciding whether or not to go to the moon in the first place. That filter of course is Social Media & News dissemination more broadly. Or rather, those are just the tablets that the acid is administered through.

And these epistemological crises are incredibly difficult to solve precisely because they are immune or indifferent to more focus and attention and resources. In fact, sometimes more energy and focus can make the problem worse especially if that focus and energy are fueled by an absolute insistence that you are sober, and those who oppose you must all be delusional. Instead, this is an LSD problem. A civilizational acid problem that requires distance and reorientation and perspective before you can apply focus and energy that results in anything productive.

All liberal democratic societies rely on consensus making in order to utilize knowledge-creation and to solve problems. When the ECP breaks down and we fail to be able to converge on even the most basic facts regarding our reality, our ability to solve the big system’s problems then breaks down with it. We become trapped in a world of non-convergent relativization. Trapped in a bounded system that is referential only to itself. The world of the Mad Hatter.

Imagine for a moment if during the lead-up to World War 2 our country had social media while trying to assemble some sort of Manhattan Project or considering the merits of even going to war at all. Twitter and Facebook trending pages would be littered full of hot takes and Op-eds:

“Hitler isn’t the real threat! Stalin is!”

“Why are we worrying about the rest of the world when we can’t even take care of our own citizens?”

“War with Japan is racist!”

“The Manhattan Project is just another example of a liberal big government spending program!”

“Nuclear Arms production is sponsored by George Soros in order to protect the Jews!”

These headlines would bounce around the platforms, reverberating up through the broadcast news, and ultimately end up shaping the world views of the very legislators in power that would vote for approving or denying the measures in question. Depending on how committed to a particular media narrative their constituents were, these same legislators would then adopt those narratives as their own public-facing “truth” in order to garner votes and increase enthusiasm among their base. (See: Q-Anon congressmen and women)

It’s easy to see how quickly this all can spiral into an Alice in Wonderland where words, definitions, goals, objectives, and even reality itself all begin to bend back in on itself. Without feedback loops that are anchored to an external reality, everything turns nonsensical overnight. We all become unwitting guests held hostage at a Mad Hatter tea-party.

The Tea Party That Doesn’t End

And yet that is exactly where we are. Our cultural ECP is malfunctioning. Highly vulnerable to the reality distortion field that our news dissemination platforms all create. As a result, our national nerve endings are misfiring. Pain is good. Up is down. Backwards is forwards. It’s the Mad Hatter assuredly telling Alice, “I’m under no obligation to make sense to you” and then multiplying that phenomenon across the entirety of western civilization. It is an Acid problem on a global scale. Social Media has induced the entire world into an LSD trip and then given us permission to assume self-righteously and indignantly that each of our individual distortions represented an accurate map of reality.

In our new ECP defunct world, every new data point unearthed can be contorted and warped to serve political micro-constituencies. Every new discovery can be molded and formed to fit a Mad Hatter ideology. Fake News! Conspiracy! What social media has done is given us just cause to question the legitimacy of our ECPs altogether. After all, how do you know anything is real anyway? “We’re all just floating through the Matrix bro.”

If you think I am being hyperbolic or over-exaggerating my case, consider for a moment that it took an incredibly small amount of time, money, and sophistication to convince a not-insignificant portion of the western world that Bill Gates had caused Covid and that he wanted to microchip all of us for nefarious reasons. And Gates, one of the richest men in the world, was powerless to reverse this conspiracy once it gained traction.

The greater the demand for Bill Gates conspiracies the greater the number of articles and tweets and content validating the conspiracy populated the internet ensnaring more and more followers into its net and increasing the demand again as the cycle repeated itself. Tonight’s recent episode at the Capitol where a cadre of cult followers all stormed a building in the name of anything other their own self-delusion about a stolen election that never was is just a small taste of what I am alluding to here.

And of course this is all just the tip of the iceberg with respect to what’s to come down the pipeline. Deep-Fakes, Synthetic Media, Information Fatigue, and entire hostile Nation States investing in weapons-grade information warfare systems. Meanwhile, the only countries that get out of this acid trip relatively unscathed are the ones who don’t need their citizens to have accurate maps of reality at all. That is — dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. In fact, it could be argued that they benefit the most when their citizens’ maps of reality are maximally distorted (i.e. North Korea et al.)

And so as long as the incentive structure for how news and reality is filtered continues to bias toward surreality, sensationalism, confabulation, and political group-think, and as long as it continues to be the lens through which we then organize our own personal realities, we will continue to be stuck inside of Deutsch’s bounded system. Unable to escape. Incapable of unleashing the potential of unbounded knowledge-creation. Incapable of harnessing agreement on anything save the cuteness of Puppy Dog videos.

SO WHAT THEN?

Failing to come to terms with this “great war” will not only ensure our continued governmental and partisan dysfunction but will all but guarantee we lose our capacity for knowledge-creation altogether. Handcuffing ourselves to our chairs and getting drunk off mushroom tea at the Mad Hatter’s party for the foreseeable future. Perpetually stuck in the bounded system, forfeiting infinity…indefinitely.

Culture, Media, Tech, Science. Also Dogs. Instagram&Twitter @Robhealy__

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