For a decade, Art Bell had the ears and minds of late night AM radio with Coast to Coast, his talk show exploring high weirdness of all kinds—from extraterrestrial conspiracies to doomsday scenarios, remote viewing, and Bigfoot. Sometimes, Bell himself became part of the “real life” X-files he addressed on the show. In 2018, a few years after retirement, Bell died at his high desert home (and former studio) in Pahrump, Nevada of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. But who was Bell? What did he actually believe and how much was he humoring his far-out guests? From a profile by Jesse Robertson in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
In what he termed “the Quickening,” a quasi-millenarian interpretive frame for Coast‘s diverse subjects, Bell observed that in “many areas of our lives the gravity of events seems to be intensifying,” leading towards monumental change at the turn of the century. “The world is not the same, not a place to feel safe in.”[…]
What exactly Bell believed was admittedly hard to pin down. He leaned libertarian but was a self-described “political mutt,” having supported Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992, warmed to Bill Clinton, and enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama. Despite engaging with theories of illicit governmental activities at the highest levels, it seemed he could never decide whether governmental reform or abolition was the solution. Speaking to Skeptical Inquirer in 1998, he was adamant that he regarded Coast‘s subject matter as “absolute entertainment” that was broadcast for one reason: business.
On air, however, Bell developed sociological and scientific theories and detailed his own UFO sightings. Most importantly, he let people talk. He didn’t cut his guests off or interject unnecessarily — except when he interrupted white supremacist Tom Metzger to say, “I am married to a brown-skinned Asian woman. What does that make me?” To which Metzger replied, “A traitor to your race.”
Coast‘s participatory format allowed for folkloric narrative construction and community formation that transcended Bell’s role as its host. The ambiguity and, at times, contradiction between Bell and his programming didn’t change what Coast had become for its listeners — in fact, it was so in spite of it.
An excellent perspective on the divided states of America by Jonathan Haidt of Braver Angels:
“Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three.”
I know that absolutely no one reads my blog, so it’s safe to post about a happy milestone this evening. I finally finished some artwork that I had “promised” more than 20 years ago. It is a surprise, so, “shhh!”
Originally, I had intended to do this in a familiar style of mine, which is a super fine point pen, ink, and watercolour pencils. After many false (and frustrating) starts over the years, this piece came together relatively quickly recently; Maybe 12-20 hours of work. The inspiration came from my restoration of old photographs. I realized that I had spent countless hundreds of hours mastering image editing software, and had been literally digitally painting over old photographs in order to make something interesting out of them.
I am super thrilled with how this turned out!
For more of my new artwork, please click the Bad Art tab on the NewFish header.
Imagine that when your great-grandparents were teenagers, they got their hands on a groundbreaking new gadget, the world’s first fully immersive virtual-reality entertainment system. These weren’t those silly goggles you see everywhere now. This device was more Matrix-y — a stylish headband stuffed with electrodes that somehow tapped directly into the human brain’s perceptual system, replacing whatever a wearer saw, heard, felt, smelled and even tasted with new sensations ginned up by a machine.
The device was a blockbuster; magic headbands soon became an inescapable fact of people’s daily lives. Your great-grandparents, in fact, met each other in Headbandland, and their children, your grandparents, rarely encountered the world outside it. Later generations — your parents, you — never did.
Everything you have ever known, the entire universe you call reality, has been fed to you by a machine.
This, anyway, is the sort of out-there scenario I keep thinking about as I ponder the simulation hypothesis — the idea, lately much discussed among technologists and philosophers, that the world around us could be a digital figment, something like the simulated world of a video game.
The idea is not new. Exploring the underlying nature of reality has been an obsession of philosophers since the time of Socrates and Plato. Ever since “The Matrix,” such notions have become a staple of pop culture, too. But until recently the simulation hypothesis had been a matter for academics. Why should we even consider that technology could create simulations indistinguishable from reality? And even if such a thing were possible, what difference would knowledge of the simulation make to any of us stuck in the here and now, where reality feels all too tragically real?
For these reasons, I’ve sat out many of the debates about the simulation hypothesis that have been bubbling through tech communities since the early 2000s, when Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford, floated the idea in a widely cited essay.
But a brain-bending new book by the philosopher David Chalmers — “Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy” — has turned me into a hard-core simulationist.
After reading and talking to Chalmers, I’ve come to believe that the coming world of virtual reality might one day be regarded as every bit as real as real reality. If that happens, our current reality will instantly be cast into doubt; after all, if we could invent meaningful virtual worlds, isn’t it plausible that some other civilization somewhere else in the universe might have done so, too? Yet if that’s possible, how could we know that we’re not already in its simulation?
The conclusion seems inescapable: We may not be able to prove that we are in a simulation, but at the very least, it will be a possibility that we can’t rule out. But it could be more than that. Chalmers argues that if we’re in a simulation, there’d be no reason to think it’s the only simulation; in the same way that lots of different computers today are running Microsoft Excel, lots of different machines might be running an instance of the simulation. If that was the case, simulated worlds would vastly outnumber non-sim worlds — meaning that, just as a matter of statistics, it would be not just possible that our world is one of the many simulations but likely. As Chalmers puts it, “We are probably sims.”
Chalmers is a professor of philosophy at New York University, and he has spent much of his career thinking about the mystery of consciousness. He is best known for coining the phrase “the hard problem of consciousness,” which, roughly, is a description of the difficulty of explaining why a certain experience feels like that experience to the being experiencing it. (Don’t worry if this hurts your head; it’s not called the hard problem for nothing.)
Chalmers says that he began thinking deeply about the nature of simulated reality after using V.R. headsets like Oculus Quest 2 and realizing that the technology is already good enough to create situations that feel viscerally real.
Virtual reality is now advancing so quickly that it seems quite reasonable to guess that the world inside V.R. could one day be indistinguishable from the world outside it. Chalmers says this could happen within a century; I wouldn’t be surprised if we passed that mark within a few decades.
Whenever it happens, the development of realistic V.R. will be earthshaking, for reasons both practical and profound. The practical ones are obvious: If people can easily flit between the physical world and virtual ones that feel exactly like the physical world, which one should we regard as real?
You might say the answer is clearly the physical one. But why? Today, what happens on the internet doesn’t stay on the internet; the digital world is so deeply embedded in our lives that its effects ricochet across society. After many of us have spent much of the pandemic working and socializing online, it would be foolish to say that life on the internet isn’t real.
The same would hold for V.R. Chalmers’s book — which travels entertainingly across ancient Chinese and Indian philosophy to René Descartes to modern theorists like Bostrom and the Wachowskis (the siblings who created “The Matrix”) — is a work of philosophy, and so naturally he goes through a multipart exploration into how physical reality differs from virtual reality.
His upshot is this: “Virtual reality isn’t the same as ordinary physical reality,” but because its effects on the world are not fundamentally different from those of physical reality, “it’s a genuine reality all the same.” Thus we should not regard virtual worlds as mere escapist illusions; what happens in V.R. “really happens,” Chalmers says, and when it’s real enough, people will be able to have “fully meaningful” lives in V.R.
To me, this seems self-evident. We already have quite a bit of evidence that people can construct sophisticated realities from experiences they have over a screen-based internet. Why wouldn’t that be the case for an immersive internet?
This gets to what’s profound and disturbing about the coming of V.R. The mingling of physical and digital reality has already thrown society into an epistemological crisis — a situation where different people believe different versions of reality based on the digital communities in which they congregate. How would we deal with this situation in a far more realistic digital world? Could the physical world even continue to function in a society where everyone has one or several virtual alter egos?
I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of hope that this will go smoothly. But the frightening possibilities suggest the importance of seemingly abstract inquiries into the nature of reality under V.R. We should start thinking seriously about the possible effects of virtual worlds now, long before they become too real for comfort.
As a person living with Major Depressive Disorder, I’m pleased to see any positive focus on public awareness and education around the topic of mental illness. Yet, I wonder about the real effect that Bell Media’s “Let’s Talk” awareness campaign has on reducing stigma where the proverbial “rubber meets the road”. Do we really equate mental illness with physical illness in instances where we engage those in treatment or recovery? For example, if someone has a heart condition or has diabetes controlled with medication and lifestyle choices, do we honestly view their challenges and recovery the same way that we view someone with an equivalently successful management plan for depression or anxiety? In my experience, it seems the answer to that question is varied. People seem to want to understand, particularly when mental illness affects someone they know. However, it seems that too many individuals (and some institutions) are entrenched in a mindset that, generally, those who are mentally ill need to “just snap out of it”. While it’s great to talk about it, our society may have a way to go before the stigma erodes to the point where people can feel comfortable openly discussing their own struggles, particularly when a person’s career or social life is part of the equation.
I think the point Philip Moscovitch made in 2017 in the Globe and Mail regarding Bell’s “Let’s Talk” was spot-on:
“There is little evidence that these kinds of campaigns have any significant effect on changing people’s beliefs or behaviour. A study published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2015 said that when it comes to the medium- and- long-term effectiveness of anti-stigma campaigns, there is “some evidence of effectiveness in improving knowledge and attitudes, but not for behavioural outcomes.” In other words, people might change the way they think – but not how they behave.
Even worse, the campaigns could be counter-productive. “The more we emphasize how widespread the stigma of mental illness is the more we may be reinforcing people’s stigmatizing responses.””
Throughout these past 22 months, mental health awareness has become a top priority for organizations and individuals because of an increase in mental illness “due to Covid”. However, mental health will always be an issue, no matter what the world is dealing with, and stigma remains a solid barrier to many for their recovery.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Stigma is defined as a negative stereotype. It is a fact that negative stereotypes lead to discrimination which is a behaviour that causes judgement and creates barriers to equal treatment for those living with Mental Illness. You have likely heard the connection between stigma and mental illness; It goes something like this: A friend or colleague confides in you about a recent mental health experience and then says, “Please don’t tell anyone. I don’t want anyone to know. If this gets out, I’ll lose my job/family/friends.” You nod, knowingly.
Sound familiar? The reality is that 42% of Canadians surveyed by the Canadian Medical Association in 2008 were unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness. The truth is that this percentage remains valid in 2022, underlining that stigma is still omnipresent.
The fear of exclusion, due to negative assumptions and stereotypes connected with mental illness, drive people to suffer in silence. In fact, 60% of people with mental health problems or illnesses won’t seek help for fear of being labelled according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. That’s stigma defined, but what does the impact of stigma from mental illness look like?:
Decrease in Self-esteem
Loss of confidence in one’s future
Exclusion from communities due to fear
A stripping of responsibilities for life decisions
An assumption that they need to be treated like children
By keeping stigma around mental illness alive, we could be contributing to a person’s downward spiral at a time when they need support the most.
So what can be done to stop the stigma and decrease the suffering caused by the stigma around mental illness? Here are three tips:
Educate yourself & encourage those around you to do the same
Pay attention to your attitudes and behaviours
Challenge misinformation and myths with facts as soon as you hear them, or read them on social media
Above all, normalizing mental illness will be the antidote to stigma. According to Dr. Douglas Turkington, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, we can all have paranoid thoughts when we get stressed, and even 14% (1 in 7) of us will have an episode of hearing voices. The human brain easily hallucinates when stressed. If we are all capable of sharing an experience at some point in our lives, isn’t it amazing then that stigma is still the main barrier to recovery? It certainly was in my case.
By understanding the impact of stigma on people impacted by mental illness, we can help create a more inclusive community, greater empathy for our friends and loved ones, and hope that we can eradicate stigma once and for all. Let’s not simply Talk; Let’s Do this!
“Tibb’s Eve” is the eve of Christmas Eve in Newfoundland, a day for mummering, drinking your face off, and generally making an ass of yourself with your friends. A bit homesick today…This photo was taken on a snowy Tibb’s Eve – December 23rd, 1989 at Quidi Vidi.
From “Winter in Newfoundland”: https://photo.cpaulcarter.com/winter-in-newfoundland
With thanks to Mr. Hersey — our High School art teacher, who taught us that “grey goes with everything”. Or perhaps that’s just how I remember it. On reflection, it was more something he blurted out to me in exasperation as he poked a finger at grey and orange before storming off to calm down in his “office”.
I’m pleased to be participating in the following conference in May, 2022.
A national conference, organized jointly by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP), the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices (CRISE-UQAM), and the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide (AQPS), will focus on the recent developments in knowledge and practices in the vast field of suicidology and suicide prevention. This event will provide a forum for people working in suicide prevention, clinicians, researchers, administrators, and members of the public, including people with lived experience and people bereaved by suicide.
The event will combine the 31st Annual Conference of the CASP and the Grand forum organized by AQPS every two years.
Program and registration information will be announced in the coming months.