Circa 1987

I am continuing to write a semi-regular series of memoir-notes posts. This all started because I realized that it was 20 years ago, in 1997, that I left the mortuary and moved to San Francisco. That led me to realize that 40 years ago, in 1977, my mom left my father and Los Angeles to move to the Central Coast (and appeared on the Merv Griffen Show!). And I have just recently realized that it was in the summer of 1987 that I ran away from home and was arrested. 30 years ago! Wow, time does fly! And wow, years ending in 7 seem to be big moving years…I wonder what big move 2017 may yet have in store for me 😉

But back to 1987, events are hazy –it has been 30 years after all and I spent most of the intervening time trying to forget this stuff!– and a lot of this is pieced together from my own memory, talking to my mom, and my high school transcripts which I recently acquired. I am hoping to fill in some of the details later but it is turning out to be harder than I thought to get any records from this time (and no pictures at all!). By 1987 I was 15 years old and starting the second semester of my sophomore year in high school. I had started 9th grade in the fall of 1985 and had done ok the first year. I was averaging about a C/C+ doing very well in classes I was interested, like Electronics (earning an A), and doing very poorly in classes I did not care about, like World Geography (earning a D). I remember thinking that these places they were telling me about didn’t seem real. I mean I believed they were there but I had never been there my self. I had only been in Los Angeles and the Central Coast of California and I had my own problems to deal with.

1985 is also the year that my mom started ‘studying’ with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I will come back at some point and talk more about this period (and this post on 1987 is turning out to be on 1985-86!). But I think some of this is important context. My mom had been going to various religious places of worship trying to find a place where she fit in for as long as I can remember. She had always been very spiritual (she tells me now) and had even wanted to be a nun when she was a child (I did not know this in the 1980s). She took us to a synagogue one time and I remember the way they wrote and how they did not write the name of God on the board, or whatever. My mom worked with a women who was a Jehovah’s Witness already and she had told my mom that God’s name was Jehovah and so my mom asked this Rabbi if that was true and he ‘rebuked’ her saying that no one knew the name of God and that it was unpronounceable by humans, etc. My mom was deeply troubled by this and, according to her, she called the local Kingdom Hall demanding to speak with someone. She said that her friend had been lied to and that they had no right to go around telling people that this was God’s name, etc. They asked if they could come and speak with her in person and she agreed. They sent over a woman named Sara (remember I am not using any real names) and they talked for hours and hours. That is how it began.

I had found the things they were saying more reasonable than the stuff I had heard from other places. They did not believe in Hell, for example, because it conflicted with their conception of God as all-loving and I found that reasonable. In fact I had been kicked out of Sunday School for arguing with the teacher about the existence of Hell. I said that I did not think God could love us the way they said if he was willing to have people sent to Hell for any amount of time. They told me to leave and not to come back until I did believe in Hell. Needless to say I never went back!  But even though I found the Jehovah’s Witness version of Christianity less objectionable and more logically consistent than others I did not believe what they were saying. At all. At the time what is called the problem of evil was really on my mind (I did not know that is what is was called of course). Why did God allow so much suffering? Jack the Ripper? The Holocaust?! My own life?

The answer? That God was waiting for humans to realize that they could not live without God (as Satan had suggested to Adam and Eve) and then once the scenario had played out, and there could be no doubt by anyone that humans could not live without God, He would step in, smite Satan and restore the Earth to the paradise state in the Garden. Then, there would a 1000 year reign of peace where the dead were resurrected and educated about the true nature of God, and then Satan would be let loose one last time and anyone who abandoned God at that point would be ‘erased from the Book of life’, which they interpreted as just ceasing to exist. It was an interesting story, and the 1,000 year bit at the end seemed fair. After all, God would not be hidden at that point (after the ‘great tribulation’ where Jesus comes back and all) so there would be a total epistemic shift, if any of this were real.

“But, why wait?” I asked. “Why not just smite Satan *now* and stop all the suffering which is currently happening (not to mention all the future suffering before ‘the end of this system of things’)?”

Because, I was told, in case anyone ever tries to suggest this again in the future God can say, “look we let that play out and it didn’t work,” but I found that unbelievable. Literally I could not believe that response. It used to infuriate me. God was supposed to know everything and so He knew how it was all going to play out, and Satan knew that God knew that; so why is everyone waiting? It made no sense to me at all. A supremely powerful, morally perfect being is trying to prove a point to someone? This doesn’t sound like a fully rational being (and neither is Satan, obviously, if there is no recognition that an all-knowing being already knows how this little rebellion will work out). No, this sounded more like Star Wars to me! That is, this sounded like a man-made story full of all too Human embellishments. In addition I never understood why there should be any consequences for rejecting God. If I am truly made with reason and free will then I should be able to do what I want. ‘But you owe God for your life’ I was told. No I do not. I remember endlessly arguing with these guys about this. How can I owe somebody for a gift that I did not ask for? Little did I know it but I was very close to being an Existentialist back then! I felt ‘condemned to be free’. It was as though someone shows up and says here is this wonderful gift I got you, a new house upstate (say), now to show me how grateful you are devote your life to me or I will burn the house down (while you watch after you have lived there for 50 years or whatever)! Give me a break! That is not rational behavior. That is desperate, moody, needy behavior.

In 1986 I started my sophomore year and did well again. In particular I took a speech class where I met the new English professor who had recently started a speech team at our high school. Due to my performance in the class I ended up joining the speech team. I really enjoyed the speech team, and competed in a couple of events. I vaguely remember one being in Simi Valley, or Moorpark College. I wish I knew when those competitions actually were but I cannot find anything about them online. I competed in several categories including original Oratory and Extemporaneous. There was a girl on the team who did Dramatic Interpretation and was really into Woody Allen. I remember sneaking out at night to see her and getting picked up by the police. The policeman brought me home and stayed to talk to my mom for hours. They ended up dating and as a result I had to join the Police Explorers club, which I hated. I recall having to direct traffic at one of the Strawberry Festivals they had, dressed in the uniform, and seeing some of the kids from school. They laughed and called me a Narc. At the time I wasn’t sure what that meant but I got the feeling it wasn’t good.

I also remember joining the Columbia House Music Club. This was one of those 20 cassette tapes for penny kind of things that could only have happened in the 1980s! I remember ordering all kinds of music. I used to listen to the Casey Cassum countdown and I liked some of the music (like the Beastie Boys) but I wanted some shocking music. Remember getting Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and a bunch of others, and not really understanding what all the fuss was about. I listened to Iron Maiden and liked the drawings of Eddy a lot but the music was too much like ordinary rock and roll. The one thing I did get from them was Metallica Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, which I was an instant fan of. I recall one speech competition that I was not allowed to go to, for some reason, and listening to Master of Puppets. That song, to me, was about being controlled and for me the controller was my mom. Later when I found out it was really about drug use I was surprised. But then again, that is just another form of control. That and Slayer, which I found out about shortly after that. When I heard Reign in Blood I knew I had found what I was looking for. Here was music that sounded as angry as I felt, and was as shocking to the world as I felt shocked by the world. Slayer became my favorite band, followed closely by Metallica.

And now back to 1987. Apparently I was taking books from the local library without checking them out. I had forgotten about this but I am pretty sure my mom is correct about this. She doesn’t remember when she caught me but I think it must have been in April or May of 1987. I had a lot of books that I wanted to keep and so instead of checking them out I would just put them in my bag and take them home. These were mostly books about math and physics that I used during my research for my Original Oratory speech that I gave at the competitions. It was a very basic speech laying out the basics of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the suggestion that this theory allows for the realistic possibility of time travel (what we now call time dilation and on a side note, I just bought Brian Greene’s kids book about time dilation!). Looking back on it I wish I had also found and read something on quantum mechanics but it was relativity that captured my interest back then. I would soon find out about string theory (in juvenile hall) and That was really fascinating. I was at the time hoping to go to Cal Tech or Harvey Mudd College and study theoretical physics.

At any rate my mom tells me that she went into my room and found stacks of books from the library and that some of them were never even checked out! She demanded that I return the books to the library and apologize and at the same time forbade me from going to any further speech competitions. I first went to the speech competition and then I did not go back home when we returned. It may have been a bit earlier and I am misremembering it but if I am right it must have been in May or June of 1987. I had a ten speed bike that I rode a lot (I had wanted to be in the Tour De France back then!) and I just started to ride. I went out through the back roads. I was familiar with the area from exploring plus from when I was going out looking for odd jobs (that is another story but back in junior high my mom would tell me to go out and not come home until I had earned x amount of dollars. I would would go door to door asking for work and end up raking leaves, washing cars, etc). I rode for the rest of the day and by night fall I was somewhere that I did not recognize. I can’t really remember where this was but it was somewhere out between Arroyo Grande and Atascadero. I remember riding my bike though some pretty sketchy and deserted places and along dirt trails through some kinds of hills or something.

Eventually I came to a place that looked like a small town. It was getting dark and there was a kind of crossroads situation. I did not know where I was or which way I was going. I also realized that I had not brought anything with me at all. I had the clothes I had been wearing during the day and my bike. That was it. I had been riding for hours and I suddenly felt very alone and scared. I remember sitting there on the side of the road and finally feeling overwhelmed and I started to cry. After a while though, nothing had changed. I was still sitting in the dirt by the side of the road with no money and no food and no idea where I was. I decided I had to do something. I looked around the little town I was in a bit and I eventually found a little saloon. It was closed by this point but I could see that they had food inside and a cash register on the counter. After a bit of hemming and hawing I eventually broke the window and went in. I had been stealing things for a while now, from mom and grandparents, and from my job as a paper boy and at McDonalds and at school in the coffee shop) but I had not broken into any place before. I was nervous but I was also hungry. I found some soda and some bread and checked the register. Nothing. But then I noticed that there was a lot of money on the ceiling of this place. It had stuff written on it like ‘good luck!’ and so on. But there was a lot of it. I took as much as I could. Most of it was one dollar bills but there were some bigger bills as well. I grabbed as much as I could and got out of there. With the adrenaline I was pumped to get back on the road and I got on my bike and rode out of town as fast as I could. At the time I didn’t quite realize what I had done but when I did I felt bad about it. Those bills were obviously from the opening of this place and I am sure whoever owned it was not happy at all.

A while later I was cold and tired and I needed a place to lay low. I found a movie theatre somewhere off the road I was riding on and thought that would be a good place to hang out for a while. I left my bike outside and went in. I am pretty sure Full Metal Jacket was the movie that I saw and it really blew me away. I knew my uncle had been in Vietnam but he never really talked about it, except very rarely. I came out of that theatre with the Mickey Mouse theme song stuck in my head and realized that my bike was gone. I wondered around a while and eventually, exhausted, found a pile of tires in back of a gas station that I tried to sleep on. I was woken up by some police officers who were asking me what I was doing there. Apparently a 15 year old white kid sleeping on a pile of tires aroused their suspicion. I was very frightened because my mom had told me once (in a fit of rage) that kids like me would be ‘eaten alive’ in jail. But these officers were very nice, asking me what my names was. They did not book me and they apparently had no idea about my earlier B&E. In fact they drove me all the way home. My mom was very angry but had been worried as well. That didn’t stop her from hitting me with a broom but I don’t want to dwell on those kinds of details.

My mom felt powerless and had not had a good upbringing herself. So when she hit me and screamed at me and told me she was sorry I had been born and that she wished she had not been so loyal and stuck by me, I know she was just a desperately scared woman who was reenacting her own childhood abuse. I know that now. But at the time I hated her with all my heart. I also hated the police for bringing me back home. From my point of view they had just taken me right back to the prison I had just escaped from. My grades in school were tanking. I ended up with all Fs that semester, even in the classes I loved most, which were my programming in BASIC class (where I first met ELIZA and dreamed of becoming a programmer and designing the Ultimate Zork-like game), Electronics II (where we built a robot from a kit and programmed to do basic tasks like drive down the aisle), and speech forensics (the speech team). I was required to work (I had been working officially since 1985 according to Social Security (but had been doing so unofficially since 7h or 8th grade) and I had no friends. I was not allowed to go anywhere expect school, work, and then home where I endured what I thought of as  mental and physical abuse.

By the summer things with me and my mom were coming to a head as well. She was taking me and my sister out to Fresno to attend a big Jehovah’s Witness convention which was held July 4th 1987. This was when my mom was baptized and officially became a Jehovah’s Witness. I am pretty sure my sister was as well. I was not. I absolutely refused to be baptized. I remember that we were all getting into the car and the car would not start. My mom started crying and saying that Satan was trying to stop us from getting to the convention and I thought that was malarkey. Why would Satan care about us getting there I asked? My mom told me that we were special and that we had a lot of power and could a lot of good for God, especially me she said. I must admit that I liked the idea of being the special chosen one battling the forces of evil. It had a very Star Wars feel to it but I just could not believe that our car didn’t start because of that. My mom prayed and tried again. The car started.

She turned to me and said, smugly, “see, Richard God is more powerful than Satan” and I remember feeling overwhelmed with rage at how stupid that very idea was! I was sure it was something mechanical that had failed in the car and it was just luck that it started after she prayed! Maybe she had flooded it and it just needed to rest. There were a million more likely explanations besides Satan’s special interest in my family! I don’t really remember too much about the convention itself except that someone there had a really new computer and I was really interested in it. Whoever it was that owned it was impressed by how much I knew (I was really into BASIC programming back then).

The details of all of this are hazy but it must have been a couple of weeks after her baptism that ran away again. I remember she was sitting in the bathtub, like she liked to do, and she was yelling at me about something I had done. She was screaming that I needed to study the bible and that this was her house and as long as she paid the bills I would follow her rules and I suddenly broke. I interrupted her and screamed “no! I need to start living MY LIFE” and I stormed out of the house. I am pretty sure I went to the library, which is where I spent a lot of time. I wanted to be a little smarter this time since I had been so easily caught the few times I had snuck out/ran away before.

At this time I remember I was working at a local minimart in a gas station. I wasn’t there for very long but I definitely did work there. I was going to work, going to the library and then sneaking into my room at night. The apartment we had at that time was upstairs and had a downstairs shed that we had turned into a separate room for me. I would sneak in late at night and then sneak out early in the morning. The only bathroom was upstairs and I did not go into the main house but there was a bathroom at the gas station I worked at and I remember brushing my teeth and washing up in there. I think I did that for a few days though I don’t really remember. My mom has told me since then that she saw the signs of my having slept there and felt comforted by that, knowing I was still around somewhere.

One morning as I was sneaking out I happened to see a motorcycle sitting in a drive way with the keys in the ignition. It was a big bike, and Honda 750 or something like that, with a dragon decal on the side and I wanted it. It had the keys in it so I decided to take it. I pushed it out of the driveway and down to the end of the block to try and start it. I remember it was very hard to start with the kick-starter and I did not know how to shift the gears so once I did get it started I kept stalling it out. But I did figure it out. I don’t know how long I had that motorcycle but I drove it to work, parked it out back and then worked. I am pretty sure I drove it to school and parked it in the main parking lot and everyone was looking at me. I have a feeling that this may have been for registration for the upcoming 1987-1988 year. My transcripts say that I was a no-show for that year so I don’t think I actually made it to any classes.

I wish I had more of these dates down! I don’t even remember how long I had this motorcycle for. Anyway, I remember at some point wanting a book from the library (yes I drove the motorcycle there) and they did not have it. They said they did have it at the bigger library in Santa Maria so I decided to drive up there. It was down the freeway about 20 minutes or so and I remember driving in my shorts and a tee-shirt on the freeway. The ground was moving so fast it looked like it was standing still! I think I made it to the library and was in there for a while and on my way home I noticed a cop car start following me. I tried to keep my cool and turned into a parking structure to see what they would do. They turned as well and I knew I was busted.

I had no I.D. on me and I was not from Santa Maria. I also remembered that the last time I was picked up by the cops they simply brought me back home and made my life worse (so I thought at the time anyway). So when they asked me my name I told them that it was Alex Wolfe. I had been reading the Ken Follett novel Key to Rebecca and I thought that was a great name (I had also previously written to the CIA requesting to become a sleeper agent so as to get away from my mom…this was after I read a book on how to apply to the CIA). So they booked me under that name and took me the holding room. I used to think they took me to the general jail but now I don’t remember. They may have taken me to a juvenile facility. I am not sure. I do remember being in with a lot of other people at some point and I obviously stood out. I was pretty much the only scrawny white teenager in the place. Some people asked me what I was in for and I told them steeling a motor cycle and resisting arrest and they all laughed. They said ‘yeah right! You?’. I remember feeling really angry at the time. Of course me, what the fuck were they talking about? Of course looking back on it now I can see that I was the beneficiary of white privilege. People looked at me and assumed I was innocent. After all didn’t I look that way? Blond hair, blue eyes with a twinkle? Check. Seemingly intelligent and inquisitive? Check. Seemingly outgoing and personable? Check. Couldn’t have been me. Of course I didn’t feel like any of those things but that is what people saw when they looked at me.

They asked me for an address and I gave them a made up one (I think I told them Lompoc or something, again not sure). I waited in lockup while they went to contact my parents. Remember that they were going to contact the parents of Alex Wolfe at a made up address. Obviously they found no such address and they came back to me and told me as much. I told them that the house was in the back of another house and that you could not see it from the road. I based the whole story on the way that my mom’s boyfriend’s property had had a guest house, with its own address, in the back of the property. So it was kind of true, at least it was true that there were places like this! But obviously they did not find that place either. I don’t know what my plan was but I kept to my story. I was Alex Wolfe from Santa Maria or, er, uh, Lompoc (or whatever). I was used to interrogation from my mom. She would question me for hours trying to get me to admit to doing something (stealing or sneaking out) and I would never do so. She tells me now that my silence drove her to a frenzy and she just wanted some kind of reaction from me. She would hit me and scream at me and I would try me best to just stand there and take it. Glaring at her but taking it. So when these guys were asking me questions in a friendly manner without any hitting or yelling about how they were sorry I was born and that they should drop me off somewhere, I felt like it was a cake walk.

As I remember the story it was a receptionist in the juvenile hall that finally recognized me. Believe it or not she was a Jehovah’s Witness and she had been at the convention where my mom was baptized and she had met both my sister and I. Somehow she contacted my mom and when she found out that I had just vanished recently she knew that it was me they had in custody. My mom came out and IDed me. I tried to insist that I did not recognize her but she had no problem establishing my identity. So now they knew I was not Alex Wolfe. And the only way they had ever known was through a random Jehovah’s Witness connection! At the time I remember the psychologist telling me that I had lied so convincingly that perhaps I had multiple personalities and asking me if I ever ‘lost time’…I remember thinking this guy was a jackass. I didn’t have multiple personalities, I just knew how to lie really well. And I was used to having to do it while resisting physical and verbal abuse. Sitting in a chair, comfortable and fed, the game was easy to play! I really wish I could see what those guys were writing down. This was the first of many encounters I had with ‘child psychologists’ and I always had the feeling of messing with them but I sometimes wonder if they knew that and were just playing along. I tried contacting the places I was at and they told me those records were long ago destroyed. I guess I’ll never know.

I really do not remember how long I was locked up in Santa Maria but I remember standing trial for Grand Theft Auto there. Someday I hope to get my arrest record and maybe even a transcript of this trial. Since no one took me seriously when I said that I had taken the motorcycle when I went into court and they asked for my plea, I pleaded Not Guilty. And so the whole thing went to trial. The owner of the motorcycle had to come and testify. The arresting officer testified. I had to testify. It was obvious that I had done it. They had caught me riding the bike! I was ultimately convicted and sent back to San Luis Obispo for sentencing. I wish I could find the transcripts of those proceedings!

I remember that when the time came to take me back to San Luis Obispo I had to be shackled and handcuffed. I was taken to a van with a bunch of inmates. These were people going either to prison or the California Youth Authority, which was were serious criminal offenders went. I remember being in there and being really scared. I did not know what to expect once I got to San Luis. So far things had not been like my mom told me but it was still new to me. At some point we pulled over to use the restroom and I remember them taking us one by one into the bathroom. I saw an elderly woman watching me shuffle by in my shackles and orange jump suit and she looked very shocked to see me. I have a memory of sitting there in the van, waiting for someone else to use the restroom, and talking with the driver who was watching me and someone else in the back. he started bragging about what a good shot he was and telling me how he could hit a deer from this or that far away and I said “bet you couldn’t hit someone running away”. He looked at me and said that he could hit me from across the street. I said “what?” and he said “yeah, I’ll unlock your shackles and cuffs and give you a head start. I’ll wait until you are across the street and the hit you in the leg. That’ll show you what a good shot I am”. I looked at the gas station. Could I make it to the pumps and hide and then dart across the street. I looked back and saw him eyeing me. Was he serious I wondered? I laughed nervously and said something like ‘yeah ok, right’ and the moment passed.

Again I do not have access to the exact dates but my high school transcript says that I was in juvenile hall in September of 1987 in San luis Obispo. I vaguely remember getting to the place that was called Juvenile Services Facility. It was a place I would come to know well over the next couple of years. I spent my 16th and 17th birthday in that place. Ironically it was located right next door (I mean literally) to Cuesta Community College, which I would attend 1994-1997, though I didn’t know it then. I was in the back of the van when we pulled up and when they took me in for processing I was very scared.

But this wasn’t the worst place in the world. It was coed and people mostly had their own rooms. Each room had a window, a bed, a toilet and that was it. I actually enjoyed it and did a lot of reading. We could also play chess and watch movies in the common area. For our time outside we had a volley ball court and we could play wife ball (no real bats for us angry kids!). I remember we used to play cards a lot and would play Speed for push ups. The in-house school had a computer and they even let me play Where in the World is carmen San Diego, which I actually liked a lot. It wasn’t Zork but it was still ok. All in all this place was ok, except for the occasional scuffle things were mostly orderly and there were no killings or extremely brutal beatings during my time there.

I remember watching Ferris Bueller on movie night for the first time and having a crush on two of the girls who came in and out. Nothing happened between us, I was way too shy back then to even think of trying to have sex in the bathroom of juvenile hall, but I heard that others did. This place was unique, I found out later, because it had private bathrooms. Of course they weren’t really private because they did not lock from the inside but they had a door and only one person at a time would be in there. What I remember most was having a massive crush on a girl, whose name was Sabra, and then she was sent home. That night I lay in my room and cried myself to sleep. It was so frustrating not being able to see her any more or even know if I would ever see her again. She was back in the next week.

I had a couple of incidents, one of which was over chess. My mom had taught me how to play and I used to play all the time. I never studied it and even though I was on the chess club in high school I was not very good. But I was ok. I beat some guy and talked shit about it and that started a fight. I held my own and was surprised how being hit in a fight was mostly the same as being hit at home. It didn’t really faze me. I could take a punch and not miss a beat, which comes in handy in a fight! That was the first time I experienced “the burrito” which was the technique used by the staff to subdue unruly teenagers. They had this thick fire blanket that they kept in the back. They would take it out and rush you and wrap you up in this blanket like a burrito, more like a rolled carpet, but then they would carry you to your room for solitary confinement.

Aside from that it was mostly school during the day and lights out by 9. I did really well in school and excellent on the standardized tests. At some point they bought me a calculus book and let me work on it at my own pace. I remember going to court while here and confronting my mom. She wanted me to come home and the judge was inclined to grant her request. He wanted to send me home. I could not believe it! After all this and they just wanted to send me home? I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if i had not been a blond hair blue eyed, semi-bright kid. At any rate I was made a ward of the court and assigned a case worker who was going to find me a group home. The one down side was that being a vegetarian made it hard to eat. We all ate in a giant mess hall area with benches. We were served the same meal and there was no negotiating. If you didn’t eat meat, and if they were serving ribs, or hamburger, then you either ate it or starved. I chose to starve and traded my meat to met eaters for extra milk, and veggie side dishes. This had the added benefit of making me popular with many different ‘kinds’ of people. There were people in gangs in there but I was not associated with any of them. When people asked me where I was from or ‘what I claimed’ (code words for a potential fight about to happen) I used to joke that I was from wherever my skateboard was at the moment or that I was from California. And it is true that for most of my life I primarily identified as a California (as opposed to an American, or whatever) I had moved around enough to not really feel like any place was truly home and I had not really left California at all at that point in my life. I will talk about some of this more but I found that being a skater definitely helped me in the group homes. Skating had a kind of rebellious-individual-who-can-take-pain image about it and that allowed me to stay neutral in the various clicks and ganges that I encountered, which on the whole was a good thing!

But back to the point, although I can’t be sure I think this may have been in October of 1987. I remember spending my 16th birthday in juvenile hall. My High School transcripts say that I earned credits from the San Luis Juvenile Court 9/87-3/88 and I am not sure if that means that the initial stay was six months long. At this point the dates become very hazy. I know that I was sent to four different group homes. Two I stayed at for very short durations. The shortest was a group home in Santa Barbara. This place was beautiful and I remember the house parents taking us out to the park and showing us around downtown Santa Barbara but somehow the other boys there didn’t like me. I was into skating at the time, I had just started getting into it before running away, after losing my ten speed. I think we got into a fight over some kind of surfer versus skater bullshit. All I remember is that it was four against one and I was getting my ass kicked. I managed to break away from them and ran to the bathroom. I locked the door and then they grabbed a screwdriver and were trying to get the handle off to get into the room. I panicked and jumped out of the window. I was totally paranoid that they would be after me and so I hid out for the rest of the day in Santa Barbara trying to figure out what to do. I decided to head back to San Luis and so I started walking. I walked all day and all night until someone pulled over and offered me a ride. I got in (stupid but I was desperate!). Luckily this person was actually nice and drove me to San Luis. I ended up staying with someone I had known from high school and who used to be a neighbor of mine at some point. The next morning I went to the police station and turned myself in.

You see, at that point I had started to like it in juvenile hall. I understood how it worked in there and I felt like I had more freedom to be myself there than I did at home. When I was brought back I found out that this was a typical pattern. There was a few kids that were regulars in juvy. You went back in, went before the judge, they added more time onto your ‘suspended sentence’ and then they started to look for another group home. There was a saying in Juvy that when you got out you could tell if you were coming back by whether you looked over your shoulder or not on the car ride out. I very often did find myself looking over my shoulder as I left (I must have been in and out at least 4 times). I would wonder what they were doing tonight, and miss my ‘friends’. How fucked up is that?

I didn’t know it at the time but there were basically three ‘tracts’ in the juvenile justice system. The first was your basic drug offender. These people came in and were sent to some kind of rehab. I never had any drug-related charges. I had, of course, been exposed to drugs via my mom and her boyfriends (it was the 70s! and then it was the 80s! I mean, C’mon!) but I did not really use any (I tried alcohol, and cigarettes and marijuana but I did not use them regularly like some kids did. My mom was way too strict for me to get away with anything like that!). The second was violent crimes. Depending on the seriousness these people could be sent to the California Youth Authority, which was the ‘big leagues’ for juvenile offenders. There were a few kids who came through who were ultimately sentenced to CYA, or “see ya!” as we called it, and they were kept out of the general population area. Though I got into occasional fights I was not classified as a violent offender and I never had any assault related charges as a juvenile (that I know of).

I was in a different ‘tract’ classified as a kid with ‘behavioral problems’. What this meant is that the kinds of group homes they looked for for me were all geared towards helping kids deal with behavioral issues. Each one was different. One was a large camp-like place focusing on discipline, (in Mendocino Ca), another was run by a single family and more like a foster home (Santa Barbara), another was more like a mental institution and had regular 9-5, 5-2, 2-10 shifts (San Luis Obispo), another was a bunch of different houses with live-in staff and group counseling (Fresno). I don’t really remember the order that I was in these group homes but I think after my initial processing into the system I was sent to the group home in Santa Barbara (in late 1987?), and then up to Mendocino California (in January 1988), and then in San Luis Obispo (in March/April of 1988). The final one was in Fresno and I am pretty sure I got there in the late summer of 1988 (and was released in 1989) but I will have to get to all of that later.

LeDoux and Brown on Higher-Order Theories and Emotional Consciousness

On Monday May 1st Joe LeDoux and I presented our paper at the NYU philosophy of mind discussion group. This was the second time that I have presented there (the first was with Hakwan (back in 2011!)). It was a lot of fun and there was some really interesting discussion of our paper.

There were a lot of inter-related points/objections that came out of the discussion but here I will just focus on just a few themes that stood out to Joe and I after the discussion. I haven’t yet had the chance to talk with him extensively about this so this is just my take on the discussion.

One of the issues centered on our postulation that there are three levels of content in emotional consciousness. On the ‘traditional’ higher-order theory there is the postulation of two distinct states. One is ‘first-order’ where this means that the state represents something in the world (the animal’s body counts as being in the world in this sense). A higher-order mental state is one that has higher-order content, where this means that it represents a mental state as opposed to some worldly-non-mental thing. It is often assumed that the first-order state will be some basic, some might even say ‘non-representational’ or non-conceptual, kind of content. We do not deny that there are states like the but we suggested that we needed to ‘go up a level’ so to speak.

Before delving into this I will say that I view this as an additional element in the theory. The basic idea of HOROR theory is just that the higher-order state is the phenomenally conscious state (because that what phenomenal consciousness is). I am pretty sure that the idea of the lower-order state being itself a higher-order state is Joe’s idea but to be fair I am not 100% sure. The idea was that the information coming in from the senses needed to be assembled in working memory in such a way as to allow the animal to connect memories, engage schemas etc. We coined the term ‘lower-order’ to take the place of ‘first-order’. For us a lower-order state is just one that is the target of a higher-order representation. Thus, the traditional first-order states would count as lower-order on our view but so would additional higher-order states that were re-represented  at a higher-level.

Thus on the view we defended the lower-order states are not first-order states. These states represent first-order states and thus are higher-order in nature. When you see an apple, for example, there must be a lot of first-order representations of the apple but these must be put together in working memory and result in a higher-order state which is an awareness of these first-order states. That higher-order representation is the ‘ground floor’ representation for our view. It is itself not conscious but it results in the animal behaving in appropriate ways. At this lower-order level we would characterize the content as something like ‘(I am) seeing an apple’. That is, there is an awareness of the first-order states and a characterization of those states as being seeing of red but there is no explicit representation of the self. There is an implicit referring to the self, by which we mean these states are attributed to the creature who has them but not in any explicit way. This is why we think of this state as just an awareness of the first-order activity (plus a characterization of it). At the their level we have a representation of this lower-order state (which is itself a higher-order state in that it represents first-order states).

Now, again, I do not really view this three-layer approach as essential to the HOROR theory. I think HOROR theory is perfectly compatible with the claim that it is first-order states that count as the targets. But I do think it is an interesting issue at state here and that is what role exactly the ‘I’ in “I am seeing a red apple’ is playing and also whether first-order states can be enough to play the role of lower-order states. Doesn’t the visual activity related to the apple need to be connected to concepts of red and apple? If so then there needs to be higher-order activity that is itself not conscious.

Another issue focused on our methodological challenge to using animals in consciousness research. Speaking for myself I certainly think that animals are conscious but since they cannot verbally report, and as long as we truly believe that the cognitive unconscious is as robust as widely held, then we cannot rule out that animal behavior is produced by non-conscious processes. What this suggests is that we need to be cautious when we infer from an animal’s behavior to the cause of it being a phenomenally conscious mental state. Of course that could be what is going on, but how do we establish that? It cannot be the default assumption as long as we accept the claims about the cognitive unconscious. Thus we do not think that animals do or do not have conscious experience but rather that the science of consciousness is best pursued in Humans (for now at least). For me this is related to what I think of as the biggest confound in all of consciousness science and that is the confound of behavior. If an animal can perform a task then it is assumed this is because its mental states are conscious. But if this kind of task can be performed unconsciously then behavior by itself cannot guarantee consciousness.

One objection to this claim (sadly I forgot who made this…maybe they’ll remind me in the comments?) was that maybe verbal responses themselves are non-conscious. When I asked if the kind of view that Dennett has, where there is just some sub-personal mechanism which results in an utterance of “I am seeing red” and this is all there is to the conscious experience of seeing red, counts as the kind of view the objector had in mind. The response was that no they had in mind that maybe the subjects are zombies with no conscious experience at all and yet were able to answer the question “what do you see” with “I see red,” just like zombies are thought to do. I responded to this with what I think is the usual way to respond to skeptical worries. That is, I acknowledge that there is a sense in which such skeptical scenarios are conceivable (though maybe not exactly as the conceiver supposes), but there are still reasons for not getting swept up in skepticism. For example I agree with the “lessons” from fading, dancing, and absent qualia cases that we would be in an unreasonable sense detached from our conscious experiences if this were happening. The laws of physics don’t give us any reason to suppose that there are radical differences between similar things (like you and I), though if we discovered an important brain area missing or damaged then I suppose we could be led to the conclusion that some member of the population lacked conscious experience. But why should we take this seriously now? I know I am conscious from my own first-person point of view and unless we endorse a radical skepticism then science should start from the view that report is a reliable(ish) guide to what is going on in a subject’s mind.

Another issue focused on our claim that animal consciousness may be different from human conscious experience. If you really need the concept ‘fear’ in order to feel afraid and if there is a good case to be made that animals don’t have our concept of fear then their experience would be very different from ours. That by itself is not such a bad thing. I take it that it is common sense that animal experience is not exactly like human experience. But it seems as though our view is committed to the idea that animals cannot have anything like the human experience of fear, or other emotions. Joe seemed to be ok with this but I objected. It is true that animals don’t have language like humans do and so are not able to form the rich and detailed kinds of concepts and schemas that humans do but that does not mean that they lack the concept of fear at all. I think it is plausible to think that animals have some limited concepts and if they are able to form concepts as basic as danger (present) and harm then they may have something that approaches human fear (or a basic version of it). A lot of this depends on your specific views about concepts.

Related to this, and brought up by Kate Pendoley was the issue of whether there can be emotional experiences that we only later learn to describe with a word. I suggested that I thought the answer may be yes but that even so we will describe the emotion in terms of its relations to other known emotions. ‘It is more like being afraid than feeling nausea’ and the like. This is related to my background view about a kind of ‘quality space’ for the mental attitudes.

Afterwards, over drinks, I had a discussion with Ned Block about the higher-order theory and the empirical evidence for the role of the prefrontal cortex in conscious experience. Ned has been hailing the recent Brascamp et al paper (nice video available here) as evidence against prefrontal theories. In that paper they showed that if they take away report and attention (by making the two stimuli barely distinguishable) then you can show that there is a loss of the prefrontal fMRI activation. I defended the response to this that fMRI is too crude of a measure to take this null result too seriously. This is what I take to be the line argued in this recent paper by Brain Odgaard, Bob Knight, and Hakwan, Should a few null findings falsify prefrontal theories of consciousness? Null results are ambiguous as between the falsifying interpretation and it just being missed by a crude tool. As Odgaard et al argue if we use more invasive measures like single cell or ECoG then we would find prefrontal activity. In particular the Mante et al paper referred to in Odgaard et all is pretty convincing demonstration that there is information decodable from prefrontal areas that would be missed by an fMRI. As they say in the linked to paper,

There are numerous single- and multi- unit recording studies in non-human primates, clearly demonstrating that specific perceptual decisions are represented in PFC (Kim and Shadlen, 1999; Mante et al., 2013; Rigotti et al., 2013). Overall, these studies are compatible with the view that PFC plays a key role in forming perceptual decisions (Heekeren et al., 2004; Philiastides et al., 2011; Szczepanski and Knight, 2014) via ‘reading out’ perceptual information from sensory cortices. Importantly, such decisions are central parts of the perceptual process itself (Green and Swets, 1966; Ratcliff, 1978); they are not ‘post-perceptual’ cognitive decisions. These mechanisms contribute to the subjective percept itself (de Lafuente and Romo, 2006), and have been linked to specific perceptual illusions (Jazayeri and Movshon, 2007).

In addition to this Ned accused us of begging the question in favor of the higher-order theory. In particular he thought that there really was no conscious experience in the Rare Charles Bonnett cases and that our appeal to Rahnev was just question begging.

Needless to say I disagree with this and there is a lot to say about these particular points but I will have to come back to these issue later. Before I have to run, and just for the record, I should make it clear that, while I have always been drawn to some kind of higher-order account, I have also felt the pull of first-order theories. I am in general reluctant to endorse any view completely but I guess I would have to say that my strongest allegiance is to the type-type identity theory. Ultimately I would like it to be the case that consciousness and mind are identical to brain states and/or states of the brain. I see the higher-order theory as compatible with the identity theory but I am also sympathetic to to other versions (for full-full disclosure, there is even a tiny (tiny) part of me that thinks functionalism isn’t as bad as dualism (which itself isn’t *that* bad)).

Why, then, do I spend so much time defending the higher-order theory? When I was still an  undergraduate student I thought that the higher-order thought theory of consciousness was obviously false. After studying it for a while and thinking more carefully about it I revised my credence to ‘not obviously false’. That is, I defended it against objections because I thought they dismissed the theory unduly quickly.

Over time, and largely because of empirical reasons, I have updated my credence  from ‘not obviously false’ to ‘possibly true’ and this is where I am at now. I have become more confident that the theory is empirically and conceptually adequate but I do not by any means think that there is a decisive case for the higher-order theory.

Dispatches from the Ivory Tower

In celebration of my ten years in the blogosphere I have been compiling some of my past posts into thematic meta-posts. The first of these listed my posts on the higher-order thought theory of consciousness. Continuing in this theme below are links to posts I have done over the past ten years reporting on talks/conferences/classes I have attended. I wrote these mostly so that I would not forget about these sessions but they may be interesting to others as well. Sadly, there are several things I have been to in the last year or so that I have not had the tim to sit down and write about…ah well maybe some day!

  1. 09/05/07 Kripke
    • Notes on Kripke’s discussion of existence as a predicate and fiction
  2. 09/05/2007 Devitt
  3. 09/05 Devitt II
  4. 09/19/07 -Devitt on Meaning
    • Notes on Devitt’s class on semantics
  5. Flamming LIPS!
  6. Back to the Grind & Meta-Metaethics
  7. Day Two of the Yale/UConn Conference
  8. Peter Singer on Climate Change and Ethics
    • Notes on Singer’s talk at LaGuardia
  9. Where Am I?
    • Reflections on my talk at the American Philosophical Association talk in 2008
  10. Fodor on Natural Selection
    • Reflections on the Society of Philosophy and Psychology meeting June 2008
  11. Kripke’s Argument Against 4-Dimensionalism
    • Based on a class given at the Graduate Center
  12. Reflections on Zoombies and Shombies Or: After the Showdown at the APA
    • Reflections on my session at the American Philosophical Association in 2009
  13. Kripke on the Structure of Possible Worlds
    • Notes on a talk given at the Graduate Center in September 2009
  14. Unconscious Trait Inferences
    • Notes on social psychologist James Uleman‘s talk at the CUNY Cogsci Speaker Series September 2009
  15. Attributing Mental States
    • Notes on James Dow‘s talk at the CUNY Cogsci Speaker Series September 2009
  16. Busy Bees Busily Buzzing ‘Bout
  17. Shombies & Illuminati
  18. A Couple More Thoughts on Shombies and Illuminati
    • Some reflections after Kati Balog’s presentation at the NYU philosophy of mind discussion group in November 2009
  19. Attention and Mental Paint
    • Notes on Ned Block’s session at the Mind and Language Seminar in January 2010
  20. HOT Damn it’s a HO Down-Showdown
    • Notes on David Rosenthal’s session at the NYU Mind and Language Seminar in March 2010
  21. The Identity Theory in 2-D
    • Some thoughts in response to theOnline Consciousness Conference in February 2010
  22. Part-Time Zombies
    • Reflections on Michael Pauen‘s Cogsci talk at CUNY in March of 2010
  23. The Singularity, Again
    • Reflections on David Chalmers’ at the NYU Mind and Language seminar in April of 2010
  24. The New New Dualism
  25. Dream a Little Dream
    • Reflections on Miguel Angel Sebastian’s cogsci talk in July of 2010
  26. Explaining Consciousness & Its Consequences
    • Reflections on my talk at the CUNY Cog Sci Speaker Series August 2010
  27. Levine on the Phenomenology of Thought
    • Reflections on Levine’s talk at the Graduate Center in September 2010
  28. Swamp Thing About Mary
    • Reflections on Pete Mandik’s Cogsci talk at CUNY in October 2010
  29. Burge on the Origins of Perception
    • Reflections on a workshop on the predicative structure of experience sponsored by the New York Consciousness Project in October of 2010
  30. Phenomenally HOT
    • Reflections on the first session of Ned Block and David Carmel’s seminar on Conceptual and Empirical Issues about Perception, Attention and Consciousness at NYU January 2011
  31. Some Thoughts About Color
  32. Stazicker on Attention and Mental Paint
  33. Sid Kouider on Partial Awareness
    • a few notes about Sid Kouider’s recent presentation at the CUNY CogSci Colloquium in October 2011
  34. The 2D Argument Against Non-Materialism
    • Reflections on my Tucson Talk in April 2012
  35. Peter Godfrey-Smith on Evolution And Memory
    • Notes from the CUNY Cog Sci Speaker Series in September 2012
  36. The Nature of Phenomenal Consciousness
    • Reflections on my talk at the Graduate Center in September 2012
  37. Giulio Tononi on Consciousness as Integrated Information
    • Notes from the inaugural lecture of the new NYU Center for Mind and Brain by Giulio Tononi
  38. Mental Qualities 02/07/13: Cognitive Phenomenology
  39. Mental Qualities 02/21/13: Phenomenal Concepts
    • Notes/Reflections from David Rosenthal’s class in 2013
  40. The Geometrical Structure of Space and Time
    • Reflections on a session of Tim Maudlin’s course I sat in on in February 2014
  41. Towards some Reflections on the Tucson Conferences
    • Reflections on my presentations at the Tucson conferences
  42. Existentialism is a Transhumanism
    • Reflections on the NEH Seminar in Transhumanism and Technohumanism at LaGuardia I co-directed in 2015-2016

Thinking about Higher-Order Thought Theories of Consciousness

I have on occasion been accused of being a “Higher-Order Theorist” and I suppose I will have to plead guilty to that at this point! I have spent a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about the higher-order thought theory of consciousness. A lot of that thinking occurred here at Philosophy Sucks! and so I have gathered links to the posts I have written over the past 10 years exploring various aspects of the higher-order thought theory of consciousness (some which have been incorporated into various publications of mine but others haven’t).

Altogether I counted 51 posts, which is about 10% of my total posts!

  1. Explaining What It’s Like
  2. Do Thoughts Make Us Conscious of Things?
  3. A Tale of Two T’s
  4. Two Concepts of Transitive Consciousness
  5. Kripke, Consciousness, and the ‘Corn
  6. As ‘Corny as I want to Be
  7. HOT Fun in the Summertime 1
  8. HOT Fun in the Summertime 2
  9. Gary and Jerry
  10. On Hallucinating Pain
  11. Consciousness, Relational Properties, and Higher-Order Theories
  12. Consciousness is not a Relational Property
  13. Varieties of Higher-Order Zombie
  14. Empirical Support for the Higher-Order Theory of Consciousness
  15. The Function of Consciousness in Higher-Order Theories
  16. That’s not an Argument
  17. The Introspective HOT Zombie Problem
  18. Is There Such a Thing as a Neurophilosophical Theory of Consciousness?
  19. Implementing the Transitivity Principle
  20. Priming and Change Blindness
  21. Priming, Change Blindness, and the Function of Consciousness
  22. Unconscious Change Detection, Priming, and the Function of Consciousness
  23. HOT Fun in the Wintertime?
  24. Rosenthal’s Objection
  25. Pain Asymbolia and Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness
  26. There’s Something about Jerry
  27. HOT (Still) Implies PAM
  28. HOT Theories of Consciousness & Unconscious Gricean Intentions
  29. The Higher-Order Response to the Zombie Argument
  30. HOT Imagination
  31. HOT Byrne
  32. Consciousness, Consciousness, Consciousness!
  33. HOT Dam it’s a HO Down-Showdown
  34. Unconscious Introspection and Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness
  35. HOT Qualia Realism
  36. HOT Block
  37. More HOTer, More Better
  38. Higher-Order Mental Pointing
  39. The New New Dualism
  40. Dream a little dream
  41. Phenomenally HOT
  42. Same-Order Theories of Consciousness and the Failure of Phenomenal Intimacy
  43. Explaining Consciousness and its Consequences
  44. Cognitive Access: The Only Game in Town 
  45. Explaining Cartesian Consciousness
  46. The Overflow Cup Runneth Over
  47. The Nature of Phenomenal Consciousness
  48. Introspection, Acquaintance, and Higher-Order Representations
  49. Kozuch on Lau and Brown
  50. Gottlieb on Presentational Character and Higher-Order Thought Theories of Consciousness
  51. Seager on the Empirical Case for Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness

Ten Years in the Blogosphere

It has come to my attention recently that I started this blog ten years ago back in May of 2007. Since that time I have written 487 posts and had over 120,000 visitors. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least!

I had begun blogging before starting this blog at The Brains Blog and had had some of my paper online since 2002/2003 when I was at the University of Connecticut, but this was my first real exposure to philosophy in the online world. At the time I was in the habit of jotting down ideas in Word documents. Some of these would get developed into conference presentations or papers for a class, but I had begun to accumulate quite a few of them.  At some point in March or April of 2007 I became aware that Pete Mandik had a blog and then found out that blogs were interactive. At that time I hadn’t quite realized that you could comment on the postings at the blogs and up till then I had just been reading the articles. It sounds absurd now but that is the way it happened! I recall we were waking somewhere after some talk or something and someone said ‘oh yeah that’s what’s fun about them!” I began hanging out online and arguing with Pete about his recent paper ‘Beware the Unicorn’ paper and eventually I thought that maybe I should contribute to a blog. I approached Gualtierro Piccinini who was the owner/manager of Brains at that time. He allowed me to become a contributor and I started posting regularly there in April and early May of 2007.

Soon afterwards I got an anonymous email from someone saying that people would enjoy my posting more if I did so less often and that if I had that much to say perhaps I should start my own blog. The email was sent from an anonymous gmail account and whoever it was said they did not want me to know who they were. That was a shock and I was pretty pissed at whoever sent the email. I forget what I said back but I don’t think it was nice. I never did find out who sent that email but I certainly do have my suspicions….Even so, though, they did make a good point. Maybe I should start my own blog, I thought to myself, and so I did!

I was still a graduate student when I started this blog and I certainly had more time to write back then! Once I got my tenure-track job at LaGuardia I had less time to write but blogging here was a very important source of excellent feedback on many of my ideas. I also learned a lot about how online interactions could spiral towards non-productivity. In fact some of the more unpleasant experiences I had here at this blog led me to include some kind of video component when I started the Online Consciousness Conference. I figured that if people could at least see and/or hear the person they were responding to it might change the tone of the conversation. I think it (mostly/somewhat) worked but who knows!

I am hoping to continue to blog here if only to work out my own thoughts about various issues. Just for fun here are some of the more active posts from the past 10 years.

Top 5 most viewed posts of all time (probably due to their being among the oldest but still):

  1. Why does 1+1=2?
    • [August 2007] -The basic mathematical truths are either true because of how the world is or independently of the world. How could we ever know which?
  2. A Simple Argument against Berkeley
    • [May 2008] -“last week I talked to this guy at the DMV who told me I need to file an address change” –are you now thinking of the guy I talked to in a way that defeats Berkeley’s master argument? I think so
  3. What is Wrong with Eating Meat
    • [November 2007] -a vegetarian/vegan reflects on eating meat (brought on by Thanksgiving and the resulting callous humor surrounding killing and eating turkeys). Can we separate the issue of eating meat from that of killing animals?
  4. The Philosophical Method
    • [August 2008] -‘A good argument for the conclusion that P is a reason to believe that P is true’ -I defend the claim that the method of philosophy commits one to reason and argument as a source of knowledge
  5. God Vs. The Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser
    • [February 2008] -If knowing which path a particle takes entails that the particle displays classical particle properties then God, who always knows which path every particle takes, cannot know about the wave-properties of reality. The main pushback to this line of argument was that this is a by-product of our way of coming to know but I think this interpretation of quantum mechanics isn’t right. It is knowing that matters.

Most commented on posts

My Issues with Daniel Dennett

Dennett has been absent from philosophy of mind conferences for some time now. In fact I seem to remember being at an Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness meeting in Pasadena in 2005 and overhearing him say that he was passing on the torch to the younger generation (I forget who he was talking to at that time, and in fact it may have been at the Neurophilosophy conference held at CalTech that same weekend). At any rate he was true to his word and was absent from the scene for a period of time. He came back to participate in a few conferences, including the Online Consciousness Conference in 2013, now with his new book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, he is back in full swing.

There has been a lot of discussion of his new book, including by himself, by Thomas Nagel in the New York Review of Books, and an extensive profile in The New Yorker, as well as a bunch of other places. I don’t know him personally, though we did email bunch as I co-ordinated the online consciousness conference and I did review a book that was devoted to his work and which had a response from him. Anyway, he seems like a really nice guy and he is certainly very smart but his philosophical views, and his way of doing philosophy in general, have always really bothered me.

I first encountered his work in a philosophy of mind course that I had with Kent Bach. This was at San Francisco State University and we were using the newly released The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. We must have read three of Dennett’s papers in that class and I remember being very irritated with Dennett’s Quining Qualia and Time and the Observer papers. At the time I was a staunch supporter of Ned Block in his opposition to Dennett and I remember I wrote a lot about how I thought that Dennett was a verificationalist about consciousness. I remember I was in my modern philosophy class and the professor was talking about Descartes and how ‘radical’ his doubt was and he asked us if we could think of anything that Descartes hadn’t doubted and I said that he hadn’t doubted his own consciousness. He never asked the question, “am I a zombie, with no conscious experience (even though I believe that I have it)?” and so his method of doubt was not as radical as he thought. Dennett, on the other hand, had a truly radical kind of doubt. One that seemed impossibly absurd to me but even so it was struggling with Dennett’s arguments and ideas that really drew me into the philosophy of mind.

I had to re-read a lot of Dennett’s work to write the review of Content and Consciousness Reconsidered (linked to above) and now I have read his latest book (and watched his Talk at Google) and I can say I am as frustrated as ever with his work. I understand that he has a view (and that it is an interesting and clever one) and that he has been at this for a long time but it is astonishing to me that there is absolutely no engagement with the literature on this stuff. He does cite a lot of work but it is mostly people that Dennett is sympathetic to (or vice versa) or past students of his. He makes almost no attempt to engage with anything like a serious version of the arguments that people who don’t share his views have. And one starts to get the feeling that this is because he hasn’t read anything in the philosophy of mind during his absence.

For instance, in setting up his polemic he trots out the usual Cartesian Strawman to beg the question in effigy. He says,

The problem with Dualism, ever since Descartes, is that nobody has ever been able to offer a convincing account of how these postulated interactive transactions between mind and body could occur without violating the laws of physics. The candidates on display today offer us a choice between a revolution in science so radical that it can’t be described (which is convenient, since critics are standing by, ready to pounce) or a declaration that some things are just Mysteries, beyond human understanding (which is also convenient if you don’t have any ideas and want to exit swiftly).

I am not much of a supporter of Caresian Dualism but I am a supporter of taking one’s opponents seriously, and this doesn’t even come close!

Later he goes on to say,

Doggedly pursuing the idea that qualia are both the causes and the intentional objects (the existing intentional objects) of introspective beliefs leads to further artifactual fantasies, the most extravagant of which is the idea that unlike our knowledge of all other kinds of causation, our knowledge of mental causation is infallible and direct: we can’t be wrong when we declare that our subjective beliefs about the elements of our conscious experience are caused by those very elements. We have “privileged access” to the causes or sources of our introspective convictions. No logical room for any tricksters intervening here! We couldn’t be victimized by any illusions here! You might be a zombie, unwittingly taking yourself to have real consciousness with real qualia, but I know that I am not a zombie! No, you don’t. The only support for that conviction is the vehemence of the conviction itself, and as soon as you allow the theoretical possibility that there could be zombies, you have to give up your papal authority about your own nonzombiehood. I cannot prove this, yet, but I can encourage would-be consciousness theorists to recognize the chasm created by this move and recognize that they can’t have it both ways.

It is passages like this that drive me up the wall. I am not a dualist and I have spent a lot of time arguing that zombie are not actually conceivable but it is absolutely not the case that once you allow the possibility of zombies you loose knowledge that you aren’t a zombie. To even try to conceive of zombies requires first acknowledging that consciousness is real. My conviction that it is real comes from my own experience of it. It is a perfectly coherent view to say that I know that I am conscious and yet there could be creatures who had ‘beliefs’ like mine and yet lacked consciousness. I don’t hold that view but Dennett is much too glib here!

This is a general problem with Dennett’s work. He may be (re-)presenting his world view but there is very little effort to engage with the other side in a serious way. It is as though it is still 1965 and the main bad guy is Descartes-as-Ryle-understood-him and that doesn’t seem true. In addition Dennett’s discussion is so vague that it could fit with any number of actual theories of consciousness, including dualist ones! And there is almost no discussion of what is probably his actual view on consciousness which is almost certainly Global Workspace Theory (with some special Dennett-spice added in).

Here is his big argument against dualism:

Let’s suppose then that there is a subjective property of some kind that “explains” your current introspective convictions and abilities. Let’s suppose, that is, that when you experience what seems to be a horizontal red stripe, there really is, somewhere, a horizontal-shaped red quale (whatever that is) and it is somehow the cause or source of your conviction that you are experiencing a horizontal red stripe, and that this rendering in some unknown medium is caused or triggered by the confirmation (the absence of disconfirmation) of all the expectations generated by the normal operation of your visual system. Just to make the supposition as clear as possible, here is a somewhat expanded version of the purported explanation of the red afterimage effect:

Fixating on the real green stripes in front of you for a few seconds fatigues the relevant neural circuits in the complementary color system, which then generate a false signal (red, not green), which does not get disconfirmed so long as the fatigue lasts, so somewhere fairly high in the process betwixt retina and, um … the philosophical conviction center, a red stripe-shaped quale is rendered, and it is the appreciation of this quale that grounds, fuels, informs, causes, underwrites the philosophical conviction that right now you are enjoying a stripe-shaped red quale.

This spells out the idea behind the rhetorical question: We need something like this— don’t we?— to explain the undeniable fact that it sure seems to you there’s a red stripe right now. You’re not just saying this (the way a robot might, if programed to be a model of complementary color afterimages); you believe it with all your heart and soul. Fine. So now we have qualia installed in our sketchy model of the process. What next? Something would have to have access to the rendering in that medium (otherwise, the rendered qualia would be wasted, unwitnessed, and unappreciated, like a beautiful painting locked in an empty room). Call whatever it is that has this access the inner observer. Now what do you suppose an appropriate reaction to this rendering by this inner observer would be? What else but the judgment that there sure seems to be a red stripe out there, part of an apparent American flag? But that conclusion had already been arrived at in the course of the nondisconfirmed expectations. A red stripe in a particular location in visual space had already been identified by the system; that conclusion was the information that informed the inner rendering (the way a bitmap informs the rendering of colors on your computer screen). The postulation of qualia is just doubling up the cognitive work to be done. There is no more work (or play) for consciousness to do.

Now again, I am no fan of dualism but this is not fair at all. To name just one thing, for the dualist conscious experience is a datum and a theory needs to account for that. This is a point I am in agreement with them on. We start from the first-person knowledge that we are conscious. Hypothetical zombies, were they really conceivable (instead of just seemingly so), would not start from the position of first-person knowledge (by stipulation we differ from them in this respect). In addition I would add that from the panpsychist or panprotopsychist position there is a role for consciousness to play as the fundamental basis of the causal powers manifested by physical objects but to know that you might have to read something that has been written in the last 10 years and Dennett seems not to have done that!

This is why it has been nice to see philosophers like Keith Frankish defending illusionism with actual arguments. In fact one might wonder if the HOROR theory that I sometimes defend should count as a kind of illusionism. On the HOROR theory phenomenal consciousness consists in having a suitable higher-order representation of oneself as being in a mental state. I was originally going to write something for the Illusionism special issue but the newly acquired duties of parenthood (not to mention a 6/3-6/3 teaching load) overwhelmed me.

But I like to think that if I had managed to write that paper I would have suggested that the HOROR theory is compatible with illusionism but I myself do not see it as a version of it.

Summer of 1997

It may be the warm weather and some wishful thinking but I have been thinking about the summer of 1997. In the last post I focused mainly on thinking about January-March of 1997. But actually the spring 1997 semester would have ended May 21st and I would have been back from spring break in early April so that left about a month and a half of the spring semester left out of the last post. So before getting to the summer let me back up a bit.

I wish I had more specific information on the dates of the events in question but as I mentioned in my previous post I think it must have been in March of 1997 that I found out about my storage space. I had put everything into storage except a backpack full of clothes, which I had brought up to SF with me. My naive plan was to go up and find a place to live and then come back for my stuff but after the fiasco that ensued, I became much more focused on surviving the day. Truth be told I forgot all about my storage space for a bit there and I was just trying to figure out how to sneak into the ‘mess hall’ of the dorms. But it was devastating to find out that I had lost all of that stuff. Sure it was bad loosing all of the big-item stuff. I had a snowboard at that point, and some nice furniture including a piece that my mom had refinished and given to me as a house warming present (if she only knew what happened at that house!), and a lot of music. It was all cassette tapes but I had a lot of them. That was bad but what was worse was that I had lost all of my clothes and all of my books from my classes at Cuesta Community College. I was one of those who liked to keep their books after the classes ended and those books had been paid for by the Private Industry Council with their book voucher program. I had even bought books for classes I did not take but that had interesting looking books. I used to love to go to the bookstore with the book voucher in hand and stroll down every aisle, looking at every class being offered and checking to see if any of the books looked interesting. So I had acquired a lot of books. All gone.

But the worst of all was that I lost all of my personal memorabilia. I had scrap books with lots of pictures. I really did not like to have my picture taken so I avoided it like the plague but I had a lot of pictures of other people and of my bands playing various gigs. I had recordings of all that stuff and some video, I had letters that I had written to various people, etc. I also had some very valuable artwork that my mom had done when she was she took her one art class at Cuesta College when I was young.That stuff was irreplaceable and when I asked about it they told me they had sold what they could and the rest had been thrown away. That was a real blow and at the time I remember thinking, ‘ah well, it’s like a fresh start without any baggage’. In a sense I had been born anew and I gradually convinced myself that letting go of all the anger and pain of my past was the best thing to do anyway. I still had my financial aid money for the fall yet to come and now I had a place to stay in the dorms so I decided to go back to SF State.

Right before I decided to go back up I was partying one night with some people and one of them told me they were a piercer. At that point all I had pierced was my tongue, I hadn’t put in any earrings (though I had had my ears pierced well before, and my nipple, and my belly button). I forget how it happened but somehow I ended up getting the skin between my eyes pierced. I guess this is sometimes called the ‘third-eye’ piercing, but I had a little horseshoe in and I thought it looked ok. I forget how long I had that in, I eventually took it out because it was hard to wear sunglasses with it in, but I know that it was in when I went back to SF and into the dorms. I had already taken the Greyhound bus once, with unsuccessful results, and I was still very broke, so I think this is when I decided to take the Green Tortoise back to SF (honestly it may have been a different time but whatever). This was a pretty laid back bus/hostel and people were actually smoking weed on the busride on the way up. It drove all the way up the coast and dropped me off at the green tortoise hostel. From there I went downtown to the bus station to check on my backpack and they had it! After that I made my way back to campus and checked into the dorms.

After I returned to SF I picked up where I had left off, class-wise, and moved into the dorms (i.e. located myself and my backpack there) but I had missed a week of classes. Some of my professors did not care but in others I had missed an exam, or a paper, or some combination of them both. In the English class I had especially missed some work that was important for my grade. I did not now how to get out of this so I lied and told the professor that my mom died. I could even produce a fake death certificate if I needed to since I had access to the paper work at the mortuary. As it was the professor immediately forgave all of my work, which was great, but then I had to see them for the rest of the semester, and sometimes even afterwards, and then I would have to pretend I was still sad over the whole thing. Looking back on this I am again amazed at how unnecessary all of this was. I am sure this person would have let me make up the assignments, or that it would not have been a big deal to fail, but at the time this was the only way I knew how to navigate an institution.

That would have been in early April. Later in April, but when I don’t exactly know, I also remember going to see the local band T. J. Kirk with a girl I had met in the dorms. One of my roommates from the mortuary, Ethan (remember I am not using anyone’s real name), had introduced me to Medeski, Martin, and Wood and I really liked them. In fact one of my early email addresses was ‘medeski’ or something like that. I ended up seeing them play quite a bit but at the time I was excited to see T.J. Kirk. Their drummer was amazing and Charlie Hunter is a musical phenom who plays the bass and guitar on the same instrument (seriously).

Speaking of email, and as a bit of a digression, I remember the reason I had to get a new email address was because the one I had chosen as my SFSU email address was really inappropriate. It was…at the time that I thought of it, believe it or not, it did not dawn on me that this phrase had sexual connotations.

It is a bit of a long story but there was a band that I really liked called Weapon of Choice. They were a freaky funky group that were obsessed with nutmeg. They sang about it a lot, and we even tried it at the mortuary because we heard it really messed you up, but it never really worked. It did make it hard for me to ever eat nutmeg again! Even in small doses it reminds me of the tea we made. Anyway, the point is this band talked about nuts a lot. The singer called himself meganut and all their songs were about nutmeg (‘highperspice’, ‘nutty nutmeg fantasy’, and such). I saw these guys open for Primus the night I had my tongue pierced on mushrooms (that is a story for another occasion but it was May 4th 1996…actually by the time this happened it may have been May 5th :)) and they really made an impression on me. At any rate the point is that at the time I moved into the dorms I listened to these guys a lot and I picked bustanut because of that. But no one else had ever heard of this band and everyone thought it was a reference to sex so I had to change it. I am not sure when I changed it, it may not have been until I was starting to teach at SF State as a graduate student in 2000…but I am not sure about that…either way luckily I did not have to use that email address very often! Then when I changed it to people thought my name was Medeski and that’s when I came up with ‘onemorebrown’.

But getting back to the T.J. Kirk show, I actually forget the name of the girl I went with, someone from the dorms, but she had some good acid. We took the acid and I remember we went to the venue, I am not sure where it was but I have a feeling it may have been the Maritime Hall, but we went in and no one was there. We sat in the floor by the front of the stage and we were talking and starting to trip. I remember being pretty nervous because this was the first time I had really tripped since The Incident (a story for another time, but The Incident took place in June of 1996 (at the Free Tibet concert in Golden Gate Park) and at the time I swore it would be the last time I ever took LSD in my life).  But then it felt like I turned around and whereas a moment ago there was just a few people now there were many people and the place was in fact packed! I turned back around but the band was playing and I was tuning in to them. They were not nearly as tight as they were on their album and the night was a bit of a disappointment. I vaguely remember that I did not enjoy taking the acid. I explained to people that it just felt like I skipped the fun part and went straight to the brain-fried feeling I had had at the end of The Incident. But it wasn’t as bad. Still, I wasn’t looking to do it again.

As a side note I should say that I stopped taking these kinds of drugs back in 1997 but from about 1990 or so until 1997 I experimented heavily with drugs. Mostly LSD and mushrooms but also some other stuff here and there. I have resolved to try to be as open and honest about this as possible but it may not reflect well one me all the time and I certainly do not endorse all of my previous actions from the vantage point of old age. It is strange to think that there was a time when I felt more like myself when I was on LSD than I did when I was sober. But there it is. I will discuss all of this at a later point.

At some point I found out that a girl I had known from back in SLO had gone up to UC Davis and I went up there to hangout with her a couple of times. She was really smart and I liked her a lot but things got complicated. I will leave out the details but I will just say that I regret the way things went. Even so, going up to Davis was really cool. This town has a nice small college town vibe about it.

Finals would have been done sometime towards the of May. My first semester at a four year college! Part of me couldn’t believe that I had finished it. I wondered how I did in my classes but did not know. Back then you could call a number and get your grades but you had to wait a couple of months before you could do so. In the meantime all you could do was to call and wait to see if it said ‘no update’. So, what was I going to do over the summer?

Somehow I had met another girl in the dorms who said that I could come with her to her home in Riverside after the semester ended and crash for a bit. We got along really well, but it was strictly Platonic. She had a really intense boyfriend who had even cut off the tip of his finger to impress her with how devoted to her she was, and I was not interested in getting caught up in, or between, anything like that. Her name was Hillary (remember I am not using any real names) and, as I said, we got along great. I had nothing else to do until the Fall semester started and so I figured I would bum around for the summer. I did not officially have a place to live that summer but I thought I could hang for a while in Riverside then head over to Redondo where I knew still another girl who was working in a coffee shop for the summer.

I didn’t have anything with me except a backpack full of clothes and some books so it was easy for me to move. The dorm room was furnished and everything else I had was lost in the great storage place fiasco, so I was good to go. We headed down to Riverside and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We got there and I found out that she was staying at her parents house and it was big. I mean huge. I don’t think her parents were there or if there were I don’t think I ever met them. And there was a guest house out back where I could crash. This was living in style, which was good because I had very limited money until my financial aid check came in for the Fall.

The guest house was nice. It had two stories, a big TV and a fully stocked bar. I met her boyfriend and his friends. They were all younger than me but pretty cool. They were into the local punk scene and some played in a band together. I cannot remember the name of the band but they liked that I used to play in a death metal band. Hillary kept saying that her friends usually didn’t like anyone, but they really liked me. I had that line before but I was having fun and things seemed to be going well. That is until a couple of major incidents.

The first of these happened at a big party that Hillary and company took me to. This was a very large house party and it was fun. We were partying and everything was going great until all of a sudden we heard gun shots. I don’t recall all of the details but I did recently find an article in the LA times about the incident. I was in the courtyard in the back, as far as I remember, and the shooting took place outside. I was not injured and no one I was with was either. It turned out that one of Hillary’s friends had their car shot up by the police in the exchange. The police kept us in the court yard and were letting people out one-by-one and questioning them. Meanwhile we were just kept waiting, and with nothing to drink or smoke (or eat)!

Eventually it was my turn to get out and I remember talking to the police. I had no ID, and no money in my wallet. Nothing but sand actually. I remember the policeman looking at the sand and jokingly asking me if it was crystal meth. It wasn’t. It was sand. They let me go without incident but the whole thing shook me up. I saw the bodies in their body bags and the blood on the street and it reminded me of being in the mortuary. It wasn’t long ago, I thought to myself as I looked at the zipped body bag in the street, that I would have been pulling up in my van, with my nice suit on, ready to pick up these bodies and take them away.

I don’t remember too much after that. Only that I had not slept and then when I finally got back to Hillary’s I was too wired to sleep. I sat on the big couch and turned on the big TV. Independence Day was on so I decided to watch it. For some reason I became very emotional while it was playing. So much violence, so pointless. Does it really go on and on forever? Throughout the galaxy, the universe, is it just one crushing nightmare after the next? Looking back on it I was probably in some kind of shock or something but it was not fun.

That would have been in June of 1997. I don’t know how long after that but one night we were partying with the whole crew. There was a lot of drinking. A LOT. Towards the end of the night Hillary’s boyfriend gets into her parents private bar, where the good stuff is. She objects but he is drunk and not having it. He wants to do shots with me and I remember we get into this macho shot-taking space. We were going through all the different bottles: a shot of this, a shot of that. Slam it back! Next one! I don’t know how many I had or what happened but the next thing I remember I am being hit in the head. it was like a lightning strike and suddenly I was like what is going on here, why did you hit me?!! It was a mess. Everyone was shit faced.

The next morning I had a hangover like you could not believe plus I had a big black eye. Hillary came up to the room at some point and gave me a vallium and some water. I think I was out for the entire next day. at some point I got up and Hillary started to tell me what had happened. Apparently everything was fine and then I started yelling at her boyfriend telling him that the kind of music they listen to wasn’t really punk and that they didn’t know shit about the real world out here in Riverside. I had absolutely no memory of this but apparently he did and he still wanted to kick my ass. But, due to the fact that they all really liked me he had decided not to fight me but to just exile me from Riverside! I felt bad but I had already by that time adopted my policy that if I had said something when I was drunk then I must have really meant it. Hillary told me I had to get out right now. So I left.

I was still feeling really hungover but I decided to just speed up my plan and head over to Redondo beach. So I started to hitchhike. I don’t remember how long I waited but I did eventually get picked up by someone. Th traffic was bad but this guy had a nice car, which was a convertible and he was drinking beer from a can. He offered me one and made small talk while cruising down the 10 freeway. I made it to Redondo that day but it turns out that my other friend, Chrissy, was not in town. The people at her work said she had gone on a camping trip and would be back the next day. Ok, I thought, so I’ll wait.

It was warm out and we were at the beach so decided to sleep on the beach. I had a book with me. I don’t exactly remember which one it was but I do remember that at the time I was reading a lot of Anne Rice. I had read the vampire series and it wasn’t in that series. I think it may have been Lasher, but I don’t know. What I do remember is that it was a beautiful moonlit night and I was virtually alone on the beach. I used my backpack as a pillow and had a blanket I had brought with me. I was out there curled up in a remote part of the beach, well past midnight reading my Anne Rice book and it was creeping me the fuck out. I did not sleep a wink that night. Every noise I jumped, every wave I flinched. Great book!

The next day I get up and bum around the beach. Shower in the ocean and then off to hook up with Chrissy. And I am in luck. She is there but she is planning on heading back to SF the next day for some family stuff and then to go see the House of Smoking Grooves tour at Shoreline. This has P-Funk and Cypress Hill and Erika Badu and sounds like fun so I tag along.  I think we even got into a fender bender in SF in her truck while trying to find a 7/11 (one I would later live by and frequent all the time!) but I am not 100% sure this was on that trip. At any rate the concert is awesome and she has to drive back down to Redondo and then do some family stuff but she offers to drop me in San Luis on her way back down to LA, which is good for me.

I don’t know all of the details of this bit either but I end up back in San Luis and planning an epic adventure with Ethan from the mortuary and a bunch of other people from the old group. We start with a trip to Ventura to see Phish at the Ventura Fairgrounds. The plan was to make a quick/short tip into Mexico to go down to Rosorito, and then head up to Northern California to go to Reggae on the River. I can’t remember if we went to Mexico before Phish or not, but that seems likely. However I don’t think we were there for all three days of reggae on the River either.  Phish was playing July 30th and Reggae on the River was happening August 1-3 so it was tight but doable! We decided to not waste money on hotels and we brought a tent. Our plan was to crash on the beach as much as possible.

Overall the trip was a blast but when we tried to sleep on the beach in Mexico we ended up getting robbed. Luckily we had buried most of our valuables (i.e. drugs) at a rest stop before crossing the border but it was still not fun. We were sleeping and then someone was tapping me in between the eyes with a gun. When I woke up they told me to give them all of our money and we did. They left but we were scared they would come back and so we did not sleep well at all. the next day we headed back across the boarder.

Once across the boarder we saw Phish and the slept on the beach. This time we found a nice secluded place and slept in a tent. I am assuming someone we met at the Phish show had the tent but really it is a blur. We woke up in the morning and there was a massive swarm of insects. We were all dirty and stinky and I suggested we go to the local school and use the showers in their gym. I had learned the hard way that there were all kinds of things one could find on a campus. We ended up finding Santa Barbara Community College and we all took a shower there. I think I have a vague memory of someone catching us or something like that. But everyone escaped and was a lot cleaner!

I don’t remember much about how we got up north or what happened at the river but I do have a vague memory of camping and swimming and having a blast. I also feel like for some reason they wanted to leave before I did. I was with someone, but I forget who but I think it was Patrick, and we decided to stay and hitchhike back. Patrick was a local boy from San Luis or thereabouts and he was a bit wild. As a bit of a digression Patrick was famous in the Morro Bay area because he partied really hard and one night, while he was passed out, his friends put him in the back of a pick up truck and were going to drive him hime. He woke up back there and, confused about his whereabouts, stood up to see what was going on, and flew out of the back of the truck while they were doing about 65 or 70. He survived!

Anyway, Patrick and I got picked up by some people heading out of the concert and they had some nice black diamond gel tabs and shared some with us. We took it because we were drunk and high and in a car. Once we got to SF we realized these guys were not going back to San Luis. They dropped us off in SF and then there we were, a long way from anyone we knew, and the acid was starting to kick in good, plus it was getting dark. I remember standing there in downtown SF, a place I would later know very well, but which at the time seems very dark and menacing. The streets were very dirty, with newspapers flying around and the shadows were starting to creep. In the back of my mind I could begin to hear the eerie music familiar from The Incident. I was starting to lose it…

…when I suddenly remembered that I had the phone number of someone I knew from the dorms. As I remember it the number was written on a scrap of paper in my backpack and we had to dig it out and use a public payphone (remember those?) to make the call. It was getting dark and the numbers were moving and breathing on the scrap of paper but I could read them! I had to hurry and dial and hope someone was there! This was a long shot as Noah was the drug dealer on our floor and he always had good weed. We weren’t really friends at that point but I had seen him and bought things from him. I called him up and said we were here in SF. He said that he and his friends had their own apartment and we should come by. They gave us directions and we made it over there. I am sure they must have thought we were weird because we were frying balls, but they were also partying and no one seemed to notice (or at least I don’t remember them noticing!). Noah let us crash there and I think we ended up staying a couple of days with them. They were in the Stonestown Galleria, which was an apartment complex right by SF state. I don’t remember how long I stayed in SF that time but I do know that classes began August 27 so I had about a month to kill before having to be back. And I had no place to live.

I seem to remember that Patrick and I hitchhiked back to San Luis. At least I remember that we panhandled a lot and made some actual money for food. In fact I seem to recall that at some point a gay couple picked us up. They said they had seen us there an hour before and then came back to see if we were still there. We were. They said they could take us to half-moon Bay and we thanked them. Then the said they would take us to Denny’s and feed us, which they did. Finally they decided to just drive us all the way back to San Luis Obispo! One thing hitchhiking will teach you is that everything is hopeless until it isn’t! By that time I had begun to think of hitchhiking a bit like fishing. You sit in one spot and cast a line and, if you are patient and wait long enough, you will eventually get a bite. And if you’re lucky you might meet someone interesting!

I don’t remember exactly how it happened but some girls I knew from the dorms had an apartment and needed a roommate. Maybe I heard about this from Noah? I am not sure. But I did make arrangements to move in with them. One of them even became a longterm girlfriend of mine. And then afterwards I ended up living with Noah and his group of friends until I left SF. And so, much like a typical student in the dorms, I had made connections that would last my entire college career. I felt like even though I had arrived in a non-standard way living in the dorms was a good experience. Granted I did it for only half of a semester and I had been homeless before that so maybe I am putting too much of a rose tint on the dorms!

At any rate with a place to live, a fresh infusion of financial aid money, and a wild first semester and summer behind me I was ready to get back to SF State. I had registered for 6 classes: all of them upper division philosophy classes! I was planning on taking existentialism with Helen Heise, ethics with Peter Radcliffe, Nietzsche and postmodernism with Sandra Luft, ethics in medicine with Anita Silvers, as well as history of Christian thought and ancient philosophy both with John Glanville. The fall 1997 semester was really exciting and at that time I loved studying philosophy. I even made the Dean’s List for the first time in fall of 1997. This was really the first time I can remember when I felt like I was doing something that I enjoyed and also was good at it! At least in terms of the grades and feedback on papers goes. In other areas the two had not gone together. I wanted to be good at skating and I tried very hard to get better, practicing all the time, and still never really got good. That was frustrating. With drumming I had the experience of getting better as I practiced but I knew, having seen firsthand what people could do with training and dedication, that I didn’t have it in me. At this time I didn’t even have a drum set and so wasn’t sure I would ever play again. But with academics I suddenly felt like I remembered ‘oh, yeah! I like thinking about this stuff! And I’m ok at it!’. It certainly was a lot more fun than working at McDonald’s or Burger King! Now…could I make any money doing it? That was the question.

I will have more to say about the fall of 1997 but looking at my financial records from back then it is funny to see that I had $310.00 in (taxable) earnings for that year! I can’t help but wonder where that came from. Was it a residual paycheck from the mortuary? I really can’t remember working at all in 1997.

Also since the topic came up I can say that September 14th 1997 was the last time I took LSD. Somehow I got some paper tabs and was going to go see Santana at the Shoreline Amphitheater, a place I knew well and had tripped at many times before, but the acid was not any good. We spent the entire night waiting for something to happen (talk about introspection!) and Santana was cheesy and uninspired. If I were to be very very dramatic I might say that that first time I took acid and wondered if I would ever be sane again seemed a distant thing of the past and in retrospect it was somewhat comforting to take some and NOT trip…it felt like the end of an era. Maybe the whole thing had been one long bad trip…yeah, that would explain a lot…luckily The Matrix hadn’t come out yet!