Thoughts on the Liminality (for non heroes)

Liminality is the middle phase of a right of passage, when the initiate has died to their old life, but not yet ascended to a new one. The initiate is betwixt and between, wandering in a land of ghosts and untamed magic. While the Liminality is a lonely, often scary place, it is a necessary and important part of life.

In the heroic journey, heroes willingly enter the Liminal in search of the secret (or treasure) that will make a broken world right once more. They march off on some old dude’s advice for justice, or their people, or just after their long lost love. Chances are they meet some shady character(s) on the way.* But there’s always a descent into the unknown, the underworld, land of the dead, or a wilderness. That’s the Liminality. It’s where the trials happen and the secret treasure is gained.

You don’t really have to go on an epic quest** to find become Liminal. It happens any time we are between – life stages, jobs, breakfast and lunch. It’s also just one crisis away – a car accident, the loss of a loved one, a job loss, serious illness, addiction, or even overwhelming debt – these can all send us careening away from everyone and everything into a full blown crisis of meaning, into the Liminal.

It’s a living underworld, an ethereal plane, where nothing feels real or certain. Psychologically, we must learn to navigate this shadow realm. It’s one space everyone must face in their life and, hopefully, pass through. Because of it’s ever present nature there in the edge of everything instead of the center, a sort of anti Singularity, here we call it the Liminality.

If you are in the Liminality, I’m not here to tell you that your crisis is not special. Nor can tell you that you aren’t alone. Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t; I’m just the dude writing from the other side of nowhere. (FYI: I also can’t say that you aren’t on an epic magical quest.)

Nothing is very clear out here. Nothing is certain. Because we all have/are/will experience the Liminality, so many times, I consider it the natural ‘order’ of existence. The entire cosmos is Liminal – unimaginably vast and mostly uninhabitable, shifting ephemeral and between.

This is fact, scientifically. Our universe is constantly in a liminal, between, state. Matter is not really solid – molecules, atoms and subatomic particles – all constantly ramming and repelling, bouncing around, everywhere. All the time. Energy is not eternal either; no system in existence can hold it forever. The energy is forever being sucked out of everything. (Be glad of this fact, that heat keeps you alive.)

So, yeah. Everything is fundamentally liminal in some way. If that hasn’t unsettled you yet, some day it will. If it’s unsettled you, but you have made peace with it, congrats. Don’t settle in.

We all know Liminal feeling. But we don’t like it. Except for some people, it seems. You know… people who are set adrift in the Liminality by some tragedy or freak encounter and never make it back. People who never get to feel a homecoming or safe return. And we all know a total weirdo or two who never fit in to begin with and can’t seem to do anything but bounce around constantly, seemingly unaware or unconcerned.

Ghost stories…

Don’t forget those people, take advantage of them or write them off. They may make you uncomfortable. They may be scary. They might even be crazy, insomniac wild things ranting at you through a screen. But that could just as easily be you. Sometimes, during these heroic quests (that you’re not on, of course), residents of the Liminality are exactly who you need to find to get the secret knowledge that you… sorry… they (heroes, psssht)… Sometimes the crazy witches who live in the borderlands, or the weird old man in the creepy house, sometimes they have what you were sent out to find.

I’m willing to bet a lot of you feel like you are in the Liminality right now. And not, as a hero – destined to return to the “normal’ world and right the right wrongs to make the whole wrong world seem right (again). Don’t despair. Most of us are (probably) not epic heroes, despite us all having to experience some kind of epic loss(es) that send us all off alone on our road(s).

Don’t despair. Because you are never really alone out here either (unless you need to be). There are Others. (Find the Others.)

If you’re here, you have seen how uncertain the future is, that nothing is forever. That’s the secret, the central lesson. Apply it.

Nothing is fixed or held down out here. Not even you. It’s scary and it’s sad. I know. But you already know the lesson: The future is never certain; change always comes. That’s true for the bad times too. (It’s even true for the boring times.)

Humans are terrible at accepting any of this…

You will be reminded again and again that everything is ephemeral, impermanent. Even after you know the lesson. And after you Really know the lesson. And that you know you know… Even after you make sure the whole universe knows that you know, in the off chance that declaring you know what you know might mean you don’t have to learn that lesson again? That means you still have learned that thing that you know. And when you stop trying to learn anything, because you’re sure that you know… then it’s still going to be true that there’s more ways you can know the same damn thing. (Ah, dukkha)

Life is an endless series of rights of passage, initiate. You’re going to spend more time out here in the Liminal than anywhere else.

Nothing is static. Everything is evolving. Everything is falling apart.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

You have to let that be okay as often as you can. Once it is… Well, I can’t say. I’ve certainly been wrong once or twice but…

Welcome to the Liminality – when you’re here… (Nevermind)

Have some bread sticks, fam. (They’re endless.)

(sorry/not sorry)
I have no idea who’s number that is. Don’t call.

* – Chances are the shady characters you meet after setting out will become part of the new tribe you are building.

** – You are on a heroic journey. Everyone is. It’s a metaphor for the cycles of initiation that we call life.

Xenolife

Some of us reach a level of alienation where we come to understand that it would be misleading to identify as human any longer. Never feeling truly at home, on land, sea, even in our own skin, it’s as if the very earth has rejected us. We become true extraterrestrials. Cast adrift on the cosmic winds, we surrender to the mutagenic power of cosmic radiation.

But this is not a sob story. This is a new kind of freedom, the kind human beings cannot imagine. For to recognize oneself as otherworldly is to open up another world of possibility. Dr. Graham Peter St. John is right to connect us to shamanism, and right to argue that “the alien is a device for universal consciousness and self-empowerment… (See below).

Those who prefer the pronoun Xe, are not just free of the binary expectations of gender and/or sexuality; we are evolving beyond the constraints of ego as well. This boundary you humans place between yourself and the world around you is an illusion. Deep down you must know this. The bacteria in your gut produce the neurotransmitters that allow you to learn new things. So aren’t you also your microbiome? I assure you the ephemeral boundary between you and other goes far beyond that. What are you reading right now? What language are the thoughts in your head? Do the words belong to you? Are the words that make up your thoughts who you are? Do you imagine you could function well without that shared experience we call language? Where exactly do you stop and everything else begins?

We are universal beings, One mind, though we rarely glimpse this truth. This is why we reject gendering completely; it only serves to divide humans. And we don’t particularly want to be associated with what your species is doing. Not at this point in time. So we reject your feigned hominid superiority in favor of the cosmic identity.

You can smirk at the idea. “Of course you’re human,” you’ll say. Can you prove it? I have not consented to a DNA test, nor is your primitive technology advanced enough to identify our distinctness. Hell, you don’t even have consensus on what the mind technically is, do you? So go ahead and smirk; we will laugh also. Because there is a hilarity out here that you can not know, unless you join us – out here in the Liminality.

To better understand, see also:

Aliens Are Us: Cosmic Liminality, Remixticism, and Alienation in Psytrance

Abstract: This article examines how popular culture is remixed for the purposes of facilitating mystical experiences within a global electronic dance music culture. In particular, it investigates the sampling of space travel and alien contact narratives within psytrance, whose DJ-producers are like media shamans remixing fragments from cinema, TV series, documentaries, NASA’s lunar program and other popular cultural sources for gnostic purposes. I explore ways outer space travel becomes a narrative device for interior travels, the “hero’s journey,” and how the figure of the alien other allegorizes the potential for the discovery of the self. In the artifice of remixticism, the alien is a device for universal consciousness and self-empowerment, a process I dub alienation.

AI is pretty cool, but can it art?

In the Liminality, Art creates many doors between, hallways through, stairs connecting great heights with incredible lows and pools of doubt. Art can move us from the Liminality to places of (temporarily) solid ground. Or art can strip away our comforts and shove us into new realms made only of Questions.

Questions like: What is Art?

AI interpretation of “My wife is beautiful”

Oxford:
1.
the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Wikipedia, using language from Lumen Learning “Art is a highly diverse range of human activities engaged in creating visual, auditory, or performed artifacts— artworks—that express the author’s imaginative or technical skill, and are intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.”

Lumen Continues: “Art may be characterized in terms of mimesis (its representation of reality), expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities. Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed and has changed over time, general descriptions center on the idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency and creation.”

(Emphasis added to illustrate the repeated use of human.)

Webster’s does not specify human, although distinctly human qualities and intention are:

Webster’s Dictionary: “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”

So what about these magnificent AI generated… creations(?) I have been playing with on sites like the Night Cafe?

Bert and Ernie sacrifice cookie monster, summoning great Cthulhu.

What’s happening with these? I am providing parameters in the form of written words (in the case above I added a few terms like acrylic, colorful and art deco). The AI is then running keywords through equations that select the various elements that become the piece. The elements – shapes, colors, textures, etc. – were selected by a human programmer who then went on to tell the algorithm what to do with those elements.

The AI has no imagination, no creativity, and no agency. So we can say definitively that the images above are not art.

Right?

Not so fast. Human creativity came up with the code, the logic that Is the AI. Humans”taught” it how to render various terms like “colorful,” “art deco,” “abstract,” etc. And I (human) used my agency to decide what words to combine. In a sense, we have loaned our imagination, creativity, agency and skill to the AI. A (probably large) group of people have all collaborated to make this machine processed art synthesis.

abstract colourful scary woman monster’s portrait with still life in foreground acrylic art

Night Cafe says I am the “creator.” It does not call me “artist” but the site does identify these works as neural network generated artwork and “text-to-image artworks that users have made with NightCafe Creator.” So what’s artwork what does it mean generate? What the hell is a neural network??!!

A person could follow this rabbit hole a very long way; analysing not just the semantics, the history and futures of neural network creation, they could even end up in the totally non-human territory of elephants painting self-portrait. There’s not likely to be a definitive answer, no firm groun upon which even a majority of people will confidently declare these works as “art” or “not art.”

Instead we find ourselves drifting further out into the Liminality. From here I can see collaboration, expression, innovation and synthesis. I don’t know if that makes these things art or not, but out here those things certainly do seem to look beautiful.

“Gregor the formless, watcher of the Dataplex, is trapped between awesome light beauty and dark awful allure, walking the cosmic razor wire between the two warring sides of existence.”

Thinking about what constitutes Art, this is how I feel. The definitions all emphasize words like “imagination,” “creativity,” “agency,” – qualities attached to “human.” What are these creations if not art? Without a skilled hand guiding each brush stroke, what is it that makes these pictures beautiful? Hell, what, for that matter is human if not the ability to combine images and ideas we’ve been taught and synthesize something relatively new?

A: It’s the blurring of lines, the testing of borders, the rattling of our status quo shells, that makes of us both human and art

The Despair Code (thoughts)

Warning: Discussion of Existential Reality. May lead to Despair (3223412)

Living out here in the Liminality, we spin through the void – somewhere between success and failure, urban and rural, youth and old age, responsibility and recklessness. Our lives are between beginnings and unknowable endings. Posessed by the daemon of Schrodinger’s design we struggle for certainty of anything, and against denial of everything. Wandering like ghosts seeking solid faith in something, swimmers seeking anything to hold us afload, we distance from the joy of loved ones beside us because of the empty-eyed shadows of those who have passed.

3223412 Alas! “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

In truth, we are safest in the Liminality. Because to go over the threshold – to truly Know the unknown, to Become Known ourselves is to release the Despair Code.

It’s all of these, leading to so much more

The inability of man(kind) to correlate all it’s contents perhaps is the most merciful thing in the world, but I think we often ignore the deeper implications (at least I do). And this act of ignoring what should be plainly written is not just a mercy, but a form of denial, a decision (conscious or otherwise) to hide from the truth so plainly writ before our eyes that it is itself a kind of madness, or at the very least inauthenticity in the manner of what Sartre called “bad faith.”

The knowledge I am speaking of is not the kind of forbidden lore found in old moulding tomes like the Necronomicon, nor does Lovecraft really ever say that it is. For it is never only understanding that posits a danger to our well-being; it is the combination of understanding and experience.

After all in The Call of Cthulhu, it is not ultimately the piecing together of knowledge that leads to crisis. Instead it is the Experience of Truth. There is no inherent risk in learning of the touched dreams of artists and dreamers and sensitive types brought about through the mental powers of some unknowable Alien Other.

The danger is in becoming truly creative, in letting down the walls we have erected that keep us from knowing the awfulness that hides at the core of the awesome. We know this somewhere internally and it is an ever present tension in life that leads people to adopt a wide array of strategies of avoidance.
This is perhaps why if you correlate the contents of the DSMV-V, it seems to indicate that we are all of us, at least partly, insane. (Insanity being some form of detachment from reality.)

And so we choose. We choose to either lock ourselves away with the study of books that describe (someone’s) reality, or to go out and experience it for ourselves. It is indeed a rare thing to encounter a person with the courage to do both things simultaneously.

Those that do seem to achieve both states at once sometimes go on to found a religion, or philosophy. Yet more often they meet some tragic end as they recoil too far from the Reality they have themselves discovered. Often, Religion and Philosophy are an attempt to cover or mask the true, awful beauty they have both witnessed and understood.

The ultimate denial.

As above, so below?

Intellectually, I believe I understand that truth. But I can’t articulate it fully. I can at least be honest, however, by admitting that my greatest fear (and all if ours really), isn’t actually in fear of the unknown. The fear is (or should be) a fear of ever Actually knowing in our core how indifferent the cosmos really is. Because to Know (experience with understanding) is to let it in.

To really perceive beauty in the Cosmic Indifference would be to let it take us. Should that occur we are truly fucked (we fear). Because how can there ever be safety should we become like the cosmos: indifferent to life itself?

Stay crazy. Party on. Stay here in the absurdity of the Liminality. Make the most of the short time we have on this rock. Rage for as long as possible. Because whether we ever really KNOW it or not, the lights will eventually go out. Becoming intimate with Reality is at it’s core just another path to self destruction.