After Life by Simon Funk

I read this two years ago (it’s available online here). It’s still good as ever, despite my having read basically a lot more of the same stuff since then.

Here’s a quote on love:

But now she seems quite impervious to the idea that her love for me, too, is mechanical. She insists again and again that it is “genuine”. I try to tell her there is nothing ungenuine about the love of which I speak, but she cannot make the leap between them, cannot see how they are the same, that her plainly evident introspective feelings are the outcome of a mechanistic process.

“Love” is such a slippery word to begin with, like “God”. It is exactly whatever the speaker means by it at the moment, and thus impervious to any challenge. If one drills down too closely to its meaning, one finds it has moved and become something else; because when it becomes too clear what you are talking about, well, that can’t possibly be love.

As my own mind is progressively shaped by the thoughts of those before me (those who once were me but not, and thus my own thoughts, but not) I find the concept of love neatly partitioning itself within my mental vocabulary, attaining a new crispness of expert familiarity. As with the many Inuit names for the handful of truly distinct things we just label snow, my mind has a unique name for each facet of love. With this simple arsenal, the slipperiness fades and the matter becomes downright ordinary.

Perhaps I will endeavor to invent spoken words for these distinct concepts, introduce them implicitly to Laura over the course of time, give her mind the same handles that mine has, to see if this enables her to grasp it as I do.

Having distinct facets laid out neatly before me also allows me another type of analysis: to see what is truly common amongst them all, and thus just what subconscious twinge it is that leads people to bind them all under one word–in effect, to see the true meaning of love.

It is, quite simply: to value.

Love is the induction of something or someone into our implicit mental list of things which, in service of our own ultimate and unseen goals, need to exist. The various feelings of love are the ways in which that list perturbs our wants and focus in a given moment, the way each hypothetical action or outcome is assigned its emotional color in service of that love.

There are many types of love, and many distinct mechanisms behind them, but the common thread is pain at the thought of an object of that love being removed from our sphere of existence. The converse is often true but not always, and this is the source of much confusion over the meaning of love. Not all love brings joy or pleasure.

Love comes in many magnitudes, from the love of ice cream to the love of country to the love for one’s child. Some do not call it true love until it approaches or even surpasses love of self. And love comes from many directions, programmed into us gradually through an integration of emotional associations, or suddenly, through genetic imperatives.

Some do not call it true love unless it defies conscious explanation. Indeed, many forms of love explicitly defy the conscious mind, as they must to redefine what matters to us.

Thus love is, in a sense, the very foundation of consciousness, the helm of our will, the spark of purpose that turns a calculator into a directed being. A machine without love–and I mean love in the most mechanistic way–is just a machine. A machine with love, now that is a dangerous thing. A spider, a snake, a man, a tinc, an avatar, an elder. One must ask of each: what do you love?

Here’s one on the gene-centric view of life (a la Dawkins’ replicators and vehicles idea, the expository article being a brilliant read in itself):

She had no reasons for it. It’s just how she feels, she said.

Just how she feels. Still this hasn’t changed. How sorely people underestimate the totality with which their feelings define them. One has but to relentlessly ask themselves “why?” to realize this. In particular start with “why am I doing this?” whatever “this” is at the moment. It always bottoms out in “want” or “feel”, which is as far as one can go with direct introspection. Though one can go further with inference, or more accurately so with neuroscience.

Neuroscience shows us that we are ultimately just vehicles for our genes, and our most sacred spiritual essences are simply those genes asserting themselves above our comparably transient bodies and minds. What is love but genetic self-interest? Love drives people to many things that seem to defy rational cause, but not so when you view the gene as the center of individual identity. Far from its popular association with benevolence and selflessness, true love is the ultimate expression of genetic narcissism.

Emotion is the core of all practical intelligence, it is the fuel and cause behind all choice and action. Emotion answers the question, “Why am I doing this?” And the answer is, “Because my genes say so.” Or, in my case, because my genes said so, back when they defined my organic brain from which this one was copied.

The rational mind, the conscious self with its delusions of self-preservation in a body that was designed to decay in the end, these are tools of the genetic core, subroutines used by the emotional substrate to carry out its bidding. “I don’t care how, but eat these, fuck that, and protect this with your life.” And so we dutifully obey, because at root we have no will besides this, this genetic program evolved over millennia. It is our will; it is us, and we are it.

Even religion, like love, is an evolved trick of the genes. It is the adaptive portion of our genetic emotional substrate, the firmware between the hardware of the genetic brain and the software of the rational mind. Religion and the gene live in a symbiosis with each other, where religion provides the firmware to optimize genetic success within the current socio-economic context–a form of adaptivity much faster than hard evolution of the gene itself could provide–and the gene in return provides a mechanism in the brain for downloading this firmware. The human species as a whole is the soup in which religions evolve, and whichever find the most effective symbioses thrive and multiply while the others wither and eventually become extinct.

Thus, again, where religion appears irrational at the level of the conscious, embodied individual, it is our mistake of perspective to believe the root of thought is there. The root of thought is in the goals of the gene. And religion, and love, and all of the other nearly ubiquitous contradictions with “rational thought,” serve it well.

Those born without these traits, the hopelessly rational or atheistic or self-interested (indeed even those too intelligent or introspective to be properly ruled by their emotions) are as defective as if they’d been born missing arms and legs. Forays down dead-end branches of the evolutionary tree, they are pruned as fast as they occur. The common man, for all his apparent flaws, is definitively just right.

This view is echoed again and again:

The human gene itself is a living entity, I realize, each life shed like a lizard’s skin when it grows old and worn, each new birth a branch in a single living tree, a tapestry of gene fragments mixing and matching in symbiosis, working as one organism like ants in a colony.

Perhaps more like a fungus; it is, after all, a mindless machine. No, worse than mindless. It grows minds like flowers on a vine and then drops them dead to the earth when it’s done with them.

The gene is a vile creature, isn’t it?


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