worldview interview with BEAST: identity, personhood, and the act of creation

October 30, 2021

This is the first publication in a series of posts, which will share a similar style and format, but vary in content. I'm interviewing volunteers with the intent of exploring their worldview, and trying to gain some understanding of how they see the world.

The project originated with this tweet.

This time, I interviewed BEAST (@BLUNDERBUSSTED on Twitter). My goal was to facilitate the conversation and draw out the ideas that seemed most relevant and interesting. I make no effort to cross-examine, or poke holes in arguments. I should hope that disclaimers are unnecessary, but I will simply state that I neither condemn nor endorse any of the perspectives shared in this interview.

•   •   •

Ben: Who and/or what are you? When you talk about "I," or say the word "you," what does that mean? What is being referred to?

BEAST: That's an exceptionally broad question. So, whenever using the term "I," it's a placeholder (for convenience) that allows other people to address… whatever entity I am.

Whenever I investigate "me," there really seems to be several things going on. It's an amalgam of experience: whatever I'm processing at a given moment, whatever is coming inward at me, and then the reaction to those things. So, at the very least, there's those three elements that leap out to me at this moment. There's this kind of fractious sense of self.

And then there are all the ways that I'm perceived. So when I'm in conversation with any individual, the "I" shifts; when I'm in conversation with myself, the "I" shifts; and when I'm engaged in any form of creation or conversation, the "I" shifts as well. It is kind of this sense of ego. But because the "I" is a mutable term, it's a tool that one can use to carry all the senses of oneself into any given situation.

So, when I am referring to "I," it's always going to be a different "I." And yet, for your convenience, you will always see and you will always hear it titled as myself, BEAST. You will see the history of my interactions, and I will see the history of our interactions, and what I'm intending to portray. That's a very broad answer.

Ben: That's a good answer, though. So, if the "I" is something that's different, contextually, then what would you say is the connecting thread that weaves those together? Is there anything that makes the "I" consistent or coherent across all those dimensions? Or is it not consistent?

BEAST: Generally speaking, it's inconsistent. I have been an individual possessed of many states of consciousness, yet there is the build of experience that provides that thread.

So while I may perceive different experiences over the years, and the "I" is different now than it was then, I think the vessel of the body is a big component in the "I." And the thread of experience building into the vessel of the body at any given "present" is the thread.

Ben: It sounds like experience and memories are the connecting thread, and that's stored within the vessel of the body.

So, if suddenly you woke up tomorrow and you had a different set of experiences and memories, that would be kind of a disconnect; you would not be the same "I."

BEAST: Yeah.

Ben: Now, turning from looking inward and instead looking outward: what is the world? What is this place around us, this universe that we find ourselves in?

BEAST: One of the important things to express with regard to understanding and engaging with my worldview is that I don't necessarily hold any given sense of truth; I hold many different visions of truth in competition with one another in my head at any given moment.

And I love the competition between them; I have this sense of probabilistic competition for a lot of them.

So, with that out of the way: the universe at any given moment is expressed as an extension of the self. It's an incorporation of all my experiences and what I project onto the world as being.

Ben: What I'm hearing you say — correct me if I'm wrong — is that you are part of the universe and that the universe is not something separate from you. It's part of you, and you're part of it, and it's all kind of interconnected. Is that fair, or is that off the mark?

BEAST: I want to express this as two different halves.

Whenever I'm referring to the universe, I'm inherently referring to my perception of the universe. There's no separation of that. And in that sense: I agree, yeah, absolutely.

But that also denies the existence of a third party, a universe that exists outside of myself. And I do believe in the existence of that.

I also think that, to a certain extent, it's inaccessible.

This is a very well-trodden path of philosophy, generally speaking. There are immutable rules; there are things that I don't have the ability to whittle away; they imprint on me.

So my individual sense of the universe is often what I'm referring to when I speak of "the universe," and yet something separate must exist.

Of course, there's infinite debate on that; solipsism and whatever, but… it doesn't resonate with my being. I don't think solipsism is a joy, and it doesn't provide me with a lot.

Ben: This universe — whatever it is, external or extension of the self — how did it get here? Or is that an irrelevant question?

BEAST: That's an impossible question.

Ben: It's just an impossible question to answer?

BEAST: When I was very young, I searched for answers like that. I thought I would become a physicist. But it turns out that when I'm not on amphetamines, I don't like math that much.

I did the classic exploration. I was raised as a Jew; initially, you know, IN THE BEGINNING God speaks the world into existence. So when I was very young, they would just explain how God made everything, blah, blah, blah.

Then you start getting into all the nuances, and a young Jew starts poring over the texts and starts playing with semantics. You start questioning things.

Then I started reading Nietzsche, and Hindu scriptures, and Buddhist scriptures. And I came up with different little theories in mathematics. I read some scientific theories: there's an infinite number of universes, perhaps each dimension exists as a kind of layer, and every universe that exists is like a collision between dimensions.

Ultimately, it's all nonsense to me because I have no practical mode of interacting with any of these theories. I could recite a series of scientific and religious platitudes, or cutting-edge theories, and yet I would not be any closer to any kind of truth.

To me, the question doesn't hold a tremendous amount of relevance, similar to questions like, "Does free will exist?" (which I find to be a useless question)

•   •   •

Ben: You touched on something briefly and I want to steer back towards it: what is true and what is false, and how do you differentiate them?

BEAST: That's an interesting and useful question, but I'm gonna moan at every single one of these because they're all problems I've encountered at various points in my life, and I've generated a million different answers for them.

Ultimately, I come down to the present and I think that what is true and what is false essentially corresponds to what resonates with the self, or what conclusively kills you because you are wrong.

Truth seems to be whatever corresponds to sensation with the greatest percent of efficacy, and falsehood seems to be whatever steers away from that.

Again, it comes down to the self — having what we perceive correspond with what we believe.

Imagine you have this symbolic set of perceptions and memories and whatever, and you find that this set of symbols most closely corresponds to this set of things that I have experienced, and therefore, that is Truth. Conversely, you may encounter another set of symbols that bears no resemblance to what you have experienced in life, and therefore, it is falsehood.

Ben: You mentioned earlier that there has to be some kind of universe or some externality that is separate from the self. Can I ask: is there such a thing as truth separate from the self? Or is truth and falsehood always tied to individual experience and subjectivity?

BEAST: When I was young, I was insistent upon the existence of an immutable set of truths beyond human experience.

I was educated in Political Science. One of my first classes was Western Heritage in the Global Context. Essentially, it was my discipline to read a bunch of theory that led into the foundational Western philosophical theory. We played with Plato, and we played with Aristotle, and you read Leo Strauss, who was very much a neoplatonist in a lot of ways.

So there is a great body of literature that backs this idea of there being immutable right and wrong, and a lot of that is couched in aesthetics and the human sense of beauty. There's this deep embedded sense of the thing beyond us.

Yet, people are cultivated in different civilizations, in which "right" and "wrong" vary dramatically. Our sense of right and wrong varies dramatically from generation to generation. Our understanding of life and our definitions of life vary across cultures. There is such a diversity of these things.

On the other hand, there are things that seem to be universal that we strive for. I almost hate to bring in the word "lindy" but… there are things that have existed for a long, long, long, long time, and they seem to hold utility for us.

So I think that the answer is Yes and No.

There are a million different versions of the world. There are a million different values, and you can hold them all in your head, but they're all invented. You have to choose one. You have to have your own convictions, and breathe life into them; and through this, you've made your choice, whether it's right or wrong. And that is life. We choose our values and we have to live them.

Ben: Okay, I have a couple of things I want to follow up on. You used the word "aesthetics" a couple of times; in my experience, that's a pretty nebulous word that means different things to different people. Could you talk a little bit more about what aesthetics means to you?

BEAST: Yes. Essentially, it would be the form of a thing — the form itself being the thing.

Ben: Like in a platonic sense?

BEAST: No, I would say it's more the form of a thing in terms of how that thing looks, how it appears. Aesthetics can aspire to platonics, but I don't think that aesthetics are platonic.

Ben: Is there any chance of coming up with an example here on the spot to illustrate?

BEAST: Yeah — the aesthetic of the 40s and 50s, this retro-futurism. You have these graceful spires, arches, and lines… You know what I'm talking about when I mention American retro-futurism, right?

Ben: Yeah, I do.

BEAST: It's quite the image. It's striking. And there's an implication to a lot of it that affects the way you feel. These forms provide a sense of emotion; they provide a sense of space. They provide a place for your brain to live in, and something for you to grapple with, as an emotional, feeling, sensing being.

Ben: There's another word that I want to follow up on. You mentioned "utility" a few times, in the context of things having utility for us or for a given culture. Talk a little bit more about what you mean by utility.

BEAST: Utility is a very specific term; I'm just using the straightforward, raw, utilitarian kind of definition. Does this thing provide more value than not? Can we use this? Does it cause harm? Does it invade space and provide no use?

Ben: That's pretty straightforward.

Here's the next thing I'm curious about: you also mentioned values, and you talked about this Nietzschean sense in which you choose values and breathe life into them. If I were to ask you to describe your most important values, what would you say?

BEAST: Oh, Christ. I don't know. See, there's the split individual: there's the individual who lives, and then there's the individual who aspires. And, as a person, I have shifted over time. That's because I'm no longer a child. And because I'm no longer on amphetamines. And my very personality has changed over time.

But throughout my life, I think my best traits have been the pursuit of understanding, and the pursuit of understanding the self in particular. Also, I value being good to the people in my life; to a certain extent, they're an extension of the self. And then of course, I value being good to myself, continuing to learn, and being healthy.

That's pretty much it.

•   •   •

Ben: I want to ask: what is a person?

BEAST: I have a fairly limited conception of it to this point, but it's essentially just a human being.

Ben: Is that a one-to-one relation? Every human is a person, and every person is a human?

BEAST: Funny that you say that! I suppose that if there was an intelligence that approximated humanity, and it wished to be defined as a person, then… I think that would make everyone reconfigure their notion of personhood. So, intelligence is where it's at.

Ben: If intelligence determines personhood, and any entity with sufficient intelligence can choose to be defined as a person, then is every human necessarily a person?

BEAST: This is interesting because we have the term "human," and then we have the term "person." So should we split those off from one another? I'm just thinking through this off the cuff here.

Ben: There's also the legal concept of personhood, in which you find odd things such as corporations being defined as persons.

BEAST: Which is false. That's just straight-up false. So we have our limits.

And you have edge cases like the anencephalic — the individual who is born without a brain — and is that a person? They're not whole. They don't have any of the capacity to form memories or thoughts, or to engage in symbolic reasoning, or to have a child. So then, am I denying that individual personhood? It seems that way, doesn't it?

So to define a person, I think I would have to ask questions like, "Is this a living, thinking being that can engage in independent thought?"

But then again, you have dolphins and other creatures that can think. So, is it the symbolic rationality that creates personhood? Or is it strictly a human who can live reasonably independently and thus bears a certain number of responsibilities in the eyes of society?

Ben: Sounds like it's a fuzzy distinction, as are all distinctions.

BEAST: Yeah. It comes down to the idea that there are different concepts of personhood. There's the legal concept, there's the individual concept, and there's a religious concept.

Ultimately, I use the term "person," and others get a vague sense of my meaning, and I get a vague sense of my meaning, but it's still very nebulous.

I don't have an answer for you.

•   •   •

Ben: What things should you do? Are there things you shouldn't do? Is the word "should" even useful? Is there such a thing as an "ought" or a "should?"

BEAST: Yeah, there are. I'll tell people what they should or shouldn't do, but at the same time, it doesn't fucking matter. I can't care what everyone's doing in the world. I get upset about this because it implies that individuals have responsibility to other human beings.

Ben: Yeah, there's a strong implied obligation.

BEAST: Yeah, there is. And that turns part of me off; I just can't fucking handle it because it's not my responsibility.

Live and let live. In some cases, live and let die, because you don't have a choice.

But for God's sake, don't let it stop you from rendering proper judgment, and applying whatever moral and intellectual rigor you have.

When you see someone about to commit harm to themselves, try to help them. And if you can't, then it's really not necessarily your responsibility. But goddammit, at least try a little.

Ben: So, as a human — as a person, as an entity capable of independent thinking — what responsibilities and/or obligations do you have, if any? And if so, where do those come from?

BEAST: Well, that's a horrifying question. It's something I've engaged with over the years, and come away tired.

When I was young, I was raised in a faith which taught that you have a responsibility to the world. There's a term for it: "tikkun olam," which literally means "repairing the world."

Man is placed in the garden to name the animals and to tend to it. God created an unfinished world. We have an unfinished world, and a community and laws that we are beholden to.

But what if you're irreligious? You have a responsibility to uphold tenets of that manner of socialization, because they have provided you with a certain measure of good. Those rules are good.

But then you also have the absolute nihilistic sense. I've never been able to trend towards proper nihilism, because it's disgusting and it's also suicidal.

There are standards that we should hold ourselves to, because they make our lives better. "Better" being whatever makes us feel well and be healthy; also, our wellness is enhanced by the wellness of others. We ought to live in a community that we care for, among people we care for, and enhance their lives.

In that kind of mutual society, I think everyone benefits. Our responsibility is to try not to hurt people, and to enrich their lives where we can.

Ben: It sounds like what you're saying is that our responsibilities and our "should's" emerge from social contracts that we voluntarily engage in, with other people for the betterment of all.

BEAST: Yeah. And, to a certain extent, also involuntarily. Because I didn't choose to be born. I didn't necessarily choose to enter into a lot of the social interactions that I have. But here we are, and what are you gonna do? Be a prick?

•   •   •

Ben: What goals are worth pursuing during your time in this world, existing as the entity that you do? How do you choose what to do — what to pursue — and how should you pursue those goals?

BEAST: Well, that's an interesting question because that is always on my mind, and I haven't really done a good job of that in my life.

I can only answer this for myself, really. I think the driving force for me is the moments where I am creating things — where I'm writing, or engaging in a type of work. And the word "work" suggests that it's hard, but there are times when I feel joy in my whole body — when I feel totally engaged in what I'm doing, and there's love in the act of creation.

So for me, it has always felt like the only things worth pursuing are the things that make you feel love.

Ben: Tell me more about the act of creation. That's a really interesting concept.

BEAST: The act of creation is the only thing that I've really cared about. The act of creation is the act of constructing thought, the act of constructing ideas, the act of constructing objects. It's the act of construction.

It's the ability to bring something into the world that was not there before. There's really nothing more to it. It's compulsive; if I'm not doing it, then I feel like I'm wasted.

For me, creation is an attempt to bring coherence. It's about providing symbolic coherence to a feeling, and being able to share that with others (and also with myself).

Ben: Who or what is capable of the act of creation? Is that something that only "persons" can do? Do non-human animals ever engage in acts of creation?

BEAST: Non-human animals do create tools and make things, and they are able to express and share. But I think it's about the act of bringing coherence.

Animals are able to create offspring, and to a certain extent that is a creative act. But creation is largely about bringing an order to things, and then sharing that.

Ben: Capability for creation scales with intelligence — is that fair to say?

BEAST: Absolutely. And we also have tools that allow us to create more efficiently and proactively.

•   •   •

Ben: Now to switch gears a little bit: what does the future look like? Where are things headed? What is the trajectory of history (if it even makes sense to talk in terms of a "trajectory")?

BEAST: Well, any prognostication I make will necessarily be inaccurate, so I'm going to start with that big disclaimer.

What does the future look like? I think we will see expanded intelligence in machines. I think we will see a melting of the traditional national system that was constructed in the wake of World War 2, and the erection of a network of international corporate entities that demand citizenship in their own ways.

I think that we will see an increasing gap between those who have the capacity to live longer and access greater resources, and they won't have any need to really produce, or to uplift anyone around them. So I think there will be a greater stratification in terms of not only intelligence and intellectual capacity, but also in terms of raw physical capacity. Individuals will control big systems that are largely automated, which will be able to subject a wide, wide number of people while expending less and less traditional human effort.

I don't think that this necessarily has to be a dystopian kind of thing. Although, I do think we will see a pretty terrible war coming up relatively soon. I don't know what that is going to look like — because, well, no one does. I don't even know if it's going to be this decade.

We have massive shake-ups all the time, in a lot of ways; it's just that we don't really notice them very well. I mean, who the fuck knew what was going to happen with the Internet? And there have been wars we don't think too much about, because our standard of living hasn't really decreased. But, hell, the United States collapsed a few countries, and there's huge shit going on constantly: the ongoing Chinese uplift, the constant persecution and genocide.

These are all historical events, and they're massive, and they shift the literal genetic fabric of the human race. You have massive population shifts, and you have massive things happening constantly. I do think that it's kind of like a glacier moving, but a glacier is enormous and slow.

In summary: what is happening will continue to happen, and new things will happen as well. I return your vague question with a vague answer of my own.

•   •   •

Ben: I want to briefly return to something you said quite a bit earlier: you mentioned that you have this constant tension of conflicting views in your head, and you're constantly entertaining different ideas. I believe you said there's also something like a probabilistic element to it.

A lot of people seem to feel really uncomfortable with embracing that kind of tension, and they feel a lot of cognitive dissonance. Could you talk more about what that's like? How do you hold different views simultaneously? What is that like in your brain?

BEAST: When I was younger and on more drugs, I used to think that I needed to have this perfect vision of things. I thought that THE raison d'être was to work on the creation of a perfect, all-encompassing worldview. Essentially, to develop a philosophical theory of everything, and to never be a hypocrite or to hold any kind of dissonant ideas in one's head. I felt like I had this world around me and I wanted to cut away at it with a scalpel until it made sense and I was always right.

Age (among other things) allows one to realize that... you will never be completely correct. Ever.

No one ever will. Most people are full of shit.

I used to look to other people for answers; and to a certain extent I still do, but I have lost my discomfort with holding multiple ideas in my head because I have found that every individual is assembling their own ideology out of flotsam.

I think the rationalist community pretends that they are not doing this, but they are. Sure, I use Bayesian reasoning to sort through the chaff, and it's a great tool. But at the end of the day, everyone's working with the same general set of data and material. And I find life to be a complex, richer tapestry than the rationalists often portray it to be.

When I engage with the multiplicity of ideas in the world, in all their fullness, it allows for a better understanding of what it means to be human, rather than the conception of the human being as a rational machine that works relentlessly towards a capital-C "Correct" vision and ideology.

It's just that I don't think I'm a bad person for allowing myself to engage in the kinds of thoughts that other people may consider "incorrect" or "immoral," or to hold opposing viewpoints in different areas of my experience.

•   •   •

Ben: What would you say are some of the main influences that have led you to your current worldview and your general way of thinking and approaching things?

BEAST: Being raised a Jew. Being raised in America. Having a stable family, with two parents who loved me.

Being placed on amphetamines for many years (and coming off of them).

And then, of course, the various trials that I've been through in life.

Ben: My last question is actually just an "open mic" — is there anything else you'd like to discuss or share about yourself?

BEAST: There's such an enormous base to the self, that to describe myself fully would take my whole life.

Ben: In a sense, that's what your life is — it's the act of describing and defining yourself.

BEAST: Yeah. There was a story that I wrote about a year back; it was about this character — a kid.

We come upon this character, and he doesn't seem to need to sleep. He's sitting in a park one day, and he starts making up a song. He begins playing the music, and then he just never stops. Never.

He just keeps playing and playing and playing. He attracts an audience, and people bring him more instruments, and they bring him food. But he never talks, and he never stops playing.

The song grows in complexity, and the song grows into its sound, and he becomes a local attraction of sorts. The whole world starts to listen, and to export this music. There are live streams, and everyone finds interest in it.

Eventually, entire academic departments take whole semesters just to investigate and study, say, three hours of work. They're intrigued by this in a musical sense, but also in a literature sense, because he will sing on occasion.

Then, ultimately, he dies. The music stops.

But it had gone on, day and night, for many, many years — for decades, in fact.

Near the end of this story that I wrote, there was a sentence: "When human life extension reaches the point where people can live for many lifetimes, some people will listen to his song multiple times, and they will know the name of God, but other people say not."

People can claim that they are going to describe themselves succinctly and adequately; and in some cases, they do hold themselves to rigorous notions of logic and ideology. They do act in a relatively predictable way.

But I think that what's most important and engaging about questions like these is acknowledging the constant change that we are undergoing.

Even if your answer is rigorously thought out and "perfect," it is not the whole of your being; it is not an adequate address. You will never confront any single moment fully, with all of yourself.

And to that end, my statements today have been inaccurate.