The Experimental Memoir Day 17
(Note: This is two sections 15b and 15c pieced together. It appears as if a little bit may have been lost, so I'll try to clean it up in edits if I ever get around to doing more with this than posting to the blog. )
The passengers on the flight are not as curious to me as the passengers on the Brooklyn Ferry were to Whitman. On the ferry, it was a jostling crowd. On the plane, everyone is seated, strapped in, and facing forward. With the turbulence, the trip has felt more like an old train ride than either a plane or ferry ride.
I've often thought about the influence people we encounter have on us. Some of my thoughts took shape when I studied artificial neural networks back in the nineties. In these networks, the information is not stored in the nodes. Instead, it is stored in the different weightings of connections between nodes. As new information because available, the weightings between nodes changes through a process of back propagation.
If human minds are in fact neural networks, similar to the artificial neural networks I worked on years ago, then our social networks are simply networks of networks; or internet works of neural networks. Do the weights of our connections in our social networks change in similar ways, with information being stored in these connections?
I was at a conference on group psychotherapy a few years ago where a speaker described the self as existing at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks. It helped further shape my thoughts.
How does our internal neural network reshape itself based on the interactions we have with others? We can think of this on simple levels of peer pressure, but are there deeper dynamics going on? If information is stored not in the nodes, but in the connections, can the connections in our internal neural networks go beyond what we ourselves know?
And how does what we read shape us? The little bits of Whitman and Wittgenstein, of Kafka and Camus, or even some current day pulp writer, how do the connections we make with them and the characters they have created shape us. How do the dead shape us? When we write, we leave the ability for a connection to be made with those to come, similar, perhaps, to the connection Whitman wrote about.
One of the ideas about media that I've thought a lot about in terms of how the internet and social media has changed things surrounds the idea of post broadcast communications. For many years, we read our books, our newspapers, listened to the radio and watched television shows. It was all one way communications. Perhaps it shaped us, but we didn't have the ability shape things back. With the move to social media, communications has become more of a conversation, and the back propagation of our neural networks can go beyond our internal neural networks.
Perhaps this takes us to an aspect of how the death of a friend affects us. Beyond the grief, we find that our ability to communicate back, to back propagate information, if you will, becomes curtailed.
From this, we go to the interaction with animals. Animals have their own minds, their own internal neural networks. When we pat an animal, when we look in its eyes, when we call it, or interact in other ways, we are connecting our neural networks with theirs.
Can, or should we take this further? What about trees? What about inanimate objects like rocks? What about when an artist arranges rocks, or paints colors on a canvas?
There is the old saying that you are what you eat. Perhaps, we could say you are what you consume. How does our media diet, the media we consume, affect us? If we thought more seriously about this, would it change who we interact with and what we read or view?
This probably won't be part of my discussion about social media in Las Vegas, but it will be in the back of my mind.
On the leg of the trip from Denver to Las Vegas, I drink Wild Turkey, neat. I flip through some of the books I have brought. I've been reading Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes. Wasn't Hughes married to Sylvia Plath? In "Visit", the words jump out at me:
"'Daddy, where's Mummy?' The freezing soil
Of the garden, as I clawed it"
I remember taking time to lick my wounds after my first marriage fell apart. They told me to take time doing something enjoyable; reading. I joked that perhaps Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath weren't intended to be part of the lectionary. My eldest daughters were young then, nine and six. I wondered how they understood the time I spent away as the divorce proceeded and as I tried to wrap my mind around it.
After reading a few of Hughes' poems, I've had enough for right now. Can I incorporate some of Hughes' style into my experimental memoirs?
I set aside Hughes, and turn to a collection of e.b. white's essays. I often tell aspiring bloggers that they should read e.b. white's essays. They are masterpieces of taking personal experiences and creating topical essays. Afternoon of an American Boy starts off talking about white's neighbor J. Parnell Thomas, "who grew up to become chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities". The essay doesn't' manage to grab me this afternoon and I set it aside, all the while thinking about Occupy Wall Street, and the rest of the occupy movement. I wonder what e.b. white would have to say about this.
Next on my list is a collection of Jean Baudrlllard essays entitled "Screened Out". I turn to the title essay and read. "When the receiver and the source of transmission are too close together, a feedback effect ensues…" He goes on to suggest that this strips event of their historical dimensions. Again, my mind drifts to the online feedback loops of the occupy movement.
Later, Baudrillard writes about how "machines produce only machines". He talks about the "wearisome nature of films all this violence and pornographized sexuality, which are merely special efforts of violence and sex, no longer even fantasized by humans".
Does this provide a means of thinking about Las Vegas? Next to me, a young man with about the most tattooed ink I've ever seen on a person is watching "The Fifth Element" on a MacBook Pro. Is this what Baudrillard was talking about?
I look away out the window of the plane. Below me, barren ancient red rocks, cut into strange shapes through dry river beds slowly scrolls by.
The last time I was in Vegas was in 1983. I was hitchhiking around the country. In Boulder, I found a ride to San Diego by way of Las Vegas. The person driving was going to stop and visit his mother who was at a bowling convention there. We drove through the night through the barren lands.