Russian Liaisons, Polish Hellicorns, Alien Kickstarters, and Contraband Readings.

But before we get to any of that: The Revenge of the Attack Helicopters.

The 2020 Hugo finalists have been announced. If you scroll down the to the “Best Novelette” category, you’ll see an entry that you may find both familiar and not: “Helicopter Story”, by Isabel Fall.

Familiar because Fall and her story were the target of a virtue-signaling shitstorm upon first publication. Fall was harassed and bullied, called a transphobic troll and a TERF and a Neonazi (she is in fact trans herself), to the point the story was ultimately taken down at her own request. Unfamiliar because the story’s title has been changed from the intentionally-provocative (and spot-on) “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” to the mealier, self-consciously generic “Helicopter Story”.

It’s a story you can barely even find any more. It’s still not on Clarkesworld; The Wayback Machine lists the page it once inhabited as “excluded”. Wyrm Publishing apparently sold out a “limited-edition” ebook version back in December but it’s not anywhere in their catalog as of this morning. You can find it archived at Archive.today. It has been purged from the usual outlets, erased if not forgotten.

And it’s up for a fucking Hugo.

I may have more to say on this subject (and the bandwagon groupthink issues that gave rise to it) in the future, if I can find the time and the stomach for it. In the meantime: find this story and read it, if you haven’t already. Buy it, if it ever becomes available again. Consider voting for it, if you’ve got a Worldcon membership. Show the bastards that they may win the battle now and then, but the war is still up for grabs.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

*

I have been doing stuff, you know. I haven’t been slacking off, even if it might look that way.

It’s just that my life lately has been in bits and pieces; an interview, a short story, tentative collaborations still too embryonic for me to know if they’ll soar into the stratosphere or flame out before they even get off the ground. They range from the trivial—

(a video montage of me serially harassing all the tetrapod vertebrates in the Magic Bungalow—along with one ill-fated mealworm— to help French publishers Belial celebrate their 25th anniversary)

—to Way-Out-Of-My-League—

(an interview with the European Open Science Cloud as one of their “creative voices, visionaries and bold pioneers with scientific backgrounds” to “elaborate on visions of how research will and should be conducted in the future”. It wasn’t a total mess, but they should have listened to me when I told them I was unqualified. Cory Doctorow was far more insightful)

—to the Don’t-Look-Or-You-Might-Jinx-It—

(down in New York City, there exists an officially optioned Blindsight screenplay).

Maybe a dozen things crowd my plate at the moment: all have potential, none are huge, some I don’t feel comfortable talking about yet. But a few have already been announced, or even released into the wild; a couple are upcoming and could do with a bit of PR. None of them, in isolation, really warrant a standalone blog post—but bundle them all together and you’ve got a respectable word count.

These are their stories (dun dun).

*

Google Russia interviewed me a couple of weeks back, in service of a video they were assembling to commemorate Cosmonautics Day and Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering spaceflight. They’ve just posted the final product, at a very glossy two minutes eleven seconds: footage of space missions past and present, color-saturated nebula porn, real cosmonauts calling in from LEO. Triumphal music and inspirational sentiments delivered from labs and launch pads and living rooms. Then, just when you think the cheerleading can’t get any more brazen, they cut to a cascade of catastrophe: launch-pad explosions, falling spaceships, burning debris.[1]1

This was my intro.

That’s where they stuck me.

I have to admit: there’s a certain grim joy in being so appropriately typecast. I only got a single line (I think that’s pretty much all anyone got), so the hour-plus interview that produced it seems a bit excessive in hindsight. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The conversation was a blast just on its own terms. I even talked them into having it on Jitsi instead of their own Google Meet platform, based on Jitsi’s superior privacy policies.

A teensy victory, and ultimately meaningless. But these days I’ll take what I can get.

*

This fierce dark hellicorn was Konline’s official mascot.

I’ve had more lines elsewhere, albeit never in a venue with such high production values. During the time I was going back and forth with Google Russia I was also doing an extended three-part interview with a group of other Russians who, I have just discovered, go by the moniker “GrimDarkManClub”. (An English-only version has just gone up, and has already been described by one viewer as “sad and offensive”.) Back in March I attended Konline 2021, my first virtual con (based in Poland, naturally). I participated in a panel on the feedback loops connecting Science and SF, and gave a talk which was hopefully (if they used the thumbnail I provided) described as

The tees they sent us were somewhat less intimidating.

… a welcome departure from his usual doom-and-gloom lectures about how fucked we are as a species, Peter Watts virtually returns to Poland to talk about how interstellar travel holds the secret to redeeming Humanity by rendering it Inhuman. He then argues that the same principles should apply to any species with starflight capabilities. It’s probably bullshit, but when you’re predicting trends for a whole galaxy, how can it not be?

It went over pretty well, as far as I could tell from the Chat window (although you never know; no stream of emojis, no matter how long, will ever replace the feel of a live audience). It’s kind of a drag that this new neuro book I’m reading throws the whole premise of that talk into question, though. On the upside, the same book is taking Omniscience in new and unexpected directions.

*

Julie Novakova and The European Astrobiology Institute (the team behind last year’s Strangest of All anthology) have joined forces with Canada’s own Laksa Media to kickstart Life Beyond Us. It’s an anthology of exobiology-themed stories, with a twist: each story will be paired to a nonfiction essay written by a bona-fide expert in whatever field the SF author has chosen to brutalize. They’ve got twenty-two of us lined up, from current superstars like Mary Robinette Kowal to senior grandmasters like Gregory Benford. I’m in there too; I haven’t quite settled on what to write, or even the general arena my aliens might inhabit. I just hope Julie can dig up an expert on the biology of life-forms that live in the chromospheres of suns.

It’s a Kickstarter project—the first Kickstarter I’ve ever been involved with, actually—so I’ll take it very personally if we don’t at least reach a stretch goal or two. (Of course, they’re offering a variety of awards and perks to minimize the chances of that happening.) They’re currently at 15%. You know what to do.

*

And finally, something in the more immediate future: this very weekend, in fact. I’m participating in Flights of Foundry: another virtual con, whose designers— judging by the variety of bird-cat hybrids adorning their splash page— seem to have a thing for interspecies sex. You gotta register in advance, but it’s free, and it slants towards presentations that are useful: less Star Trek vs Star Wars, more How to make a Webcomic and Geographic Worldbuilding. I’m only up front in three events myself, but there’s a number of others I plan to attend out of pure personal interest (which believe me, doesn’t happen often when you’ve seen as many cons as I have).

The only real fly in the ointment is actually as much feature as bug: in keeping with their stated virtual location of “Anywhere On Earth!”, they’ve adopted UTC as their operational time zone and they’re running around the clock. Which means that depending on where you live, you might have to get up at 3am to catch that panel on Neurodiversity in SF. (On the plus side, two days of around-the-clock programming—in multiple streams, no less— means you get a lot of material to choose from).

My own schedule is pretty light: a panel on “Tackling Environmental Issues in Video Games” (April 17, 1400-1450 UTC, or 10am Toronto time), one on “Speculative Biology” (April 18th, 1900-1950 UTC, 1500 Toronto), and a reading (April 18, 2130-2200 UTC, 1730 Toronto). The titles tell you all you really need to know about the panels; the reading, though, is a bit unusual. I’ll be presenting a story that has never been published and probably never will be; it was commissioned as a tie-in for a limited TV series which, as far as I know, never made it to air. The rights remain with the production company, so I can’t publish the damn thing; but I’m willing to sneak it out in a live reading, if you all promise not to tell. Which is to say: I can’t vouch for the quality, but it’s very exclusive.

Hope you can make it.


    1 I almost expected to hear the lyrics my elder brother once taught a bunch of preschoolers to help them “deal with their grief” over the Challenger explosion: bodies flying through the air/All the horror everywhere…



This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 14th, 2021 at 5:38 pm and is filed under ink on art, interviews, public interface. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

31 Responses to “Russian Liaisons, Polish Hellicorns, Alien Kickstarters, and Contraband Readings.”

  1. Vasil Kolev

    Wow. The story is fscking horrifying, on par with some of the best anti-utopies there. Not sure about the other contestants, but it’s good enough to warrant a Hugo.
    (also, I don’t get what all that fuss is about, but I never knew where the “Apache helicopter” gender came from, and now I know. Thanks for sharing this).

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  2. Dov Shlachter

    Just finished reading the story and some of the commentary and meta commentary.

    I normally have a lot of respect and admiration for N.K. Jemisin, both for her work and her perspective on the genre as a whole. As a result, I was supremely disappointed at seeing her reaction to Attack Helicopter and learning that she had not read the story.
    This is a story that is subversive. It is is an attempt to take something vicious, thoughtless, and hurtful and twist it into something to force the reader to really think about something fundamental and often overlooked. I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter is an exemplar of the genre, both on the surface level and on the fundamental level of pushing thought boundaries.

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  3. Justin

    Went and backed the Kickstarter and am looking forward to the book! Was tempted to get the reward of the hour zoom chat with you as well, TBH.

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  4. Ashley R Pollard

    The response to “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was mind boggling. The pushback missed what the story was all about and focused on ‘the right to be offended,’ by both sides of the political spectrum it seemed to me.

    Totally fucking bonkers.

    I identify as left wing (whatever the fuck that means nowadays) but I’m appalled at what my supposed left wing allies/community are doing on social media.

    Will the madness never stop? Think of the children…! Whatever, I look forward to spending eternity as nothing in blackness.

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  5. Tran Script

    Continuously surprised by the viciousness with which the virtue signalling left-wing attacks even its own for straying slightly off the path of what you’re allowed to say think and do.

    Speaking of exobiology, I read Timelike Infinity + some short stories by Stephen Baxter lately and although his characters, to say it frankly, are flat as cardboard, his imagination regarding the forms alien lifeforms might take is just fucking amazing.
    *spoilers*
    For example, in Timelike Infinity, humanity is enslaved by sentient convection cells of boiling water. I’ll never look at turbulent fluids/gases the same way.

    Looking forward to see what you can do with sun aliens Peter. You probably already have some knowledge of magnetism from Blindsight, of which there is plenty in the sun, so I have faith.

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  6. PhilRM

    If I voted in the Hugos I would be putting Fall’s story at the top of my ballot. I hope its appearance among the nominees doesn’t lead to a renewal of the horrendous abuse she received when it was published.

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  7. Carbonman

    I backed the Kickstarter for the paperback but passed on wasting your time on a virtual meeting; I’d rather you spend the time enjoying your family and/or writing more for us to read. The aftereffects of your writing makes my brain ache in a good way.

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  8. Len

    Physicists develop theoretical model for neural activity of mouse brain.
    “One of the wonderful things about our model is that it’s simple,” says Morrell, who will start a Ph.D. program in physics at New York University in the fall. “A brain is really complex. So to distill neural activity to a simple model and find that the model can make predictions that so closely match experimental data is exciting.”

    Latent Dynamical Variables Produce Signatures of Spatiotemporal Criticality in Large Biological Systems

    Mia C. Morrell, Audrey J. Sederberg, and Ilya NemenmanPhys. Rev. Lett. 126, 118302 – Published 17 March 2021.

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.126.118302

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  9. Anonymous

    Ashley R Pollard,

    It’s attention-seeking more than anything else, like most of the insanity of the internet. Quite a lot of people make money every time a mob turns out to cancel somebody.

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  10. Jack

    Live cue SOUND. “And it’s six poppa-momma for the happening people keeping it straight and steady on the old Greenwich Mean Time- how mean can time get, you tell me, hm?

    Isabella Fall is a criminal.

    Sad Puppies, Rabid puppies. No MAN! We talking Confused Puppies.

    Global Covid-19 death toll passes 3 million as cases surge.

    Is fashion hacking the future? Gucci says yes. The sweater vest returns and it’s sexy.

    When we say TRANS at GT we mean TRANSGENDER. Not to be confused with transexual. “I’m just a sweet transvestite From Transsexual, Transylvania. Why don’t you Stay for the night. Night!”

    Crowds protesting the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright gathered once again in cities across America on Tuesday night, chanting his name from coast to coast. The demonstrations turned violent and unruly in places like Brooklyn Center, Minnesota — where the 20-year-old Black man was shot and killed Sunday during a traffic stop – and in Portland, Oregon, where a police union building was set ablaze.

    You committed a hip crime when you read Fall’s story.

    President Obama is the Former President of the United States of America.

    Jack was an archaeologist. He gave it up.

    The word is TEXTPECATION.
    Don’t look it up in the dictionary.
    It’s too new for the dictionary.
    But you better learn what it implies.

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  11. popefucker

    Ashley R Pollard,

    It all stems from a desire for attention, like most forms of internet batshit.

    Being offended and starting verbal fights is a great way to get attention. But you have to have some kernel of legitimacy or people will just ignore you as an obvious troll. Hence, you get people who are riled up over stories like “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” or movies like “Joker” when they haven’t even read/seen them, simply because of supposed transgressions (hehehe, TRANSgressions).

    Jack,

    Impressive.

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  12. Jeff Bonkers

    Can’t wait to read what you come up with for lifeforms “that live in the choromospheres of suns.” Talk about truly alien.

    Stephen Baxter wrote a book a few decades ago called “Flux,” centered on beings that live in a similar environment. But I think humans had something to do with creating them, so not completely alien.

    Have fun writing your own take on it.

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  13. Danny Hsieh

    On a completely unrelated subject. I’ve just reread Starfish and something really jumped out at me. The idea of Ganzfeld telepathy with the Rifters really seem to have a similarity with the Newtype phenomenon seen in the Gundam giant robot mecha series. Whereas the Rifters gain their abilities from the void of deep ocean the Newtypes in Gundam gain their abilities as a result of living in the void of space.

    Just a fun kind of convergent evolution there.

    Wondering if there are any other Gundam fans out there that noticed this fun coincidence?

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  14. has

    Ashley R Pollard:
    The response to “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was mind boggling. The pushback missed what the story was all about and focused on ‘the right to be offended,’ by both sides of the political spectrum it seemed to me.

    Totally fucking bonkers.

    Maybe; but look at the prizes they win by controlling what people will say and will not. Successfully shackling others’ language is prerequisite to controlling their behaviour. That is potent authoritarian catnip and intersects all sociopolitical strata.

    Abusers don’t win by abusing their victims. They win by convincing their victims to apologize for it.

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  15. Jeff Bonkers

    has, I don’t think it’s a question of winning and losing. In my opinion, and maybe others, it’s wrong to condemn scientific speculation in a short story.

    That’s all the story is doing. Whether you like the outcome or or not doesn’t matter. It’s a terrific story, powerful in unusually challenging ways.

    And also: most of nature is authoritarian, wouldn’t you agree? Survival of the fittest isn’t very democratic. And I’d say “winning” goes a lot deeper than shackling others’ language. I hear your well-presented points, and appreciate them. You seem intelligent and a good writer. Might you embrace a story that pushes the boundaries of thought, regardless of whether you agree with its principles or not? Especially a hard science fiction story. “Fahrenheit 451” drew a similar heated response in its day, people seeing it as uncomfortably subversive and anti-democratic.

    Now it’s a classic.

    “Helicopter Story” should be similarly respected. And now it is.

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  16. popefucker

    Jeff Bonkers,

    >And also: most of nature is authoritarian, wouldn’t you agree? Survival of the fittest isn’t very democratic.

    I think that describing natural processes with political terminology is a category error.

    >“Fahrenheit 451” drew a similar heated response

    I’m sure there were plenty of HOT takes about that book, yuk yuk.

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  17. fvngvs

    A Blindsight screenplay?
    Multiple squee

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  18. Gary Flood

    Dr Watts, thank you so, so much for publishing this for us (me). I was intrigued by this story from the title but had assumed it was lost for good. I think it’s amazing, moving and scary, and I have shared it with my very woke 15-year old daughter to see what she thinks of it. And the post gives us many other goodies, so I thank you doubly. If that’s a word.

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  19. Malovich

    Isabel Fall’s story is thought provoking on many levels; it answers an unthought question of ‘Can gender systems be turned towards authoritarian-political ends’ and the answer is a very loud “yes but you can’t accept that” to the lefty crowd and a strangely soothing story for the right crowd that they can’t put their finger on why or what that says about them as long as they don’t look weak and so she gets a Hugo.

    She deserves it. That story takes us places and has layers we can explore about her world that can take a while to get through if one is unfamiliar with Peter’s work. Since we mostly are here, it’s a peek under the slip of our constructed identity to get at the machinery of why we form societies in the first place and aren’t trying to murder each other for resources all the time that we are all familiar with but with an interesting twist.

    Fall puts us in the literal pilot’s seat, telling us what it would be like and making it *appealing*.

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  20. Peter Watts

    Justin: Was tempted to get the reward of the hour zoom chat with you as well, TBH.

    Well, you could do that. Or you could just ask me stuff right here.

    Ashley R Pollard: The pushback missed what the story was all about and focused on ‘the right to be offended,’ by both sides of the political spectrum it seemed to me.

    That’s how it presents. I think that underneath it,though, is the simple wetwired drive to enhance social status within the tribe.

    Jack: “And it’s six poppa-momma for the happening people keeping it straight and steady on the old Greenwich Mean Time- how mean can time get, you tell me, hm?

    I see what you did there. Invoking the prophet and all that.

    Jeff Bonkers: Have fun writing your own take on it.

    Well, writing it has gotta be more fun than researching it. I have no clue what “if we identify the subgroup leaving f0 invariant with H = fh 2G j hf0 = fg  G, the manifold would be given by the quotient M = G/H, namely, the set of left cosets fgHg of H in G” even means.

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  21. listedproxyname

    The “Helicopter story” success can be easily explained by the fact that it has transcended the regular bounds of writing and, what it is called in modern slang, has “gone meta”. It is now can only be viewed by Hugo as both “I Identify” and “Story” together, as a package.

    I am not claiming that it is just a regular story that can be written by anyone, I’m saying that since it almost accidentally hit the sore spot, it stuck in here like a well-thrown dart. It struck me as having the “grizzled modern warfare” flavor to it that “Malak” has, and this definitely contributed to a (certain measure of) success.

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  22. Peter Watts

    listedproxyname: It struck me as having the “grizzled modern warfare” flavor to it that “Malak” has, and this definitely contributed to a (certain measure of) success.

    Funny you should mention that. After the shit hit the fan, Neil Clarke had to actually issue a public denial that I had not written that story under a pseudonym.

    In my dreams.

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  23. Jeff Bonkers

    Hah! Me either. You should put that in there now.
    Peter Watts,

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  24. Oge

    Can’t wait till 2022 when my hour with you and the editor arrives so I can learn as much as I can of how you made it so easy to imagine that I am Siri Keeton, or major Bates, or a vampire etc.

    Also FYI on the Brave browser on Android, leaving a comment in this thread silently errors (https://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=9892&cerror=missing-input-response#respond)

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  25. wetcogbag

    How do you find Mark Solms’ book so far by the way?

    Also curious about your thoughts on neuropsychoanalysis, in general

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  26. Anonymous

    testing from Linux

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  27. Peter Watts

    Oge: Also FYI on the Brave browser on Android, leaving a comment in this thread silently errors

    Huh. Seems to work okay using Brave on Windoze and Linux. I suppose I should install Brave on my phone to follow up…

    wetcogbag:
    How do you find Mark Solms’ book so far by the way?

    Also curious about your thoughts on neuropsychoanalysis, in general

    I’m about halfway through and finding it fascinating so far. I remain skeptical that he can resolve the hard problem (as he claims), but I don’t know if anyone can. We’ll see. And in the meantime, I’ve learned some stuff that’s moving my whole outlook on consciousness in entirely new directions. (I may, for example, have had my head up my ass every time I shat on an AI-Uprising story by claiming that self-awareness does not necessarily imply a survival instinct.) I’m even starting to imagine scenarios in which scramblers themselves might wake up.

    I have no real thoughts on neuropsychoanalysis, at least not yet. I didn’t even know that was a thing until I started reading Solms. I suppose I would have been pretty dismissive before, but Solms makes a really good point that you can’t really solve the problem of consciousness if your entire field refuses to engage with phenomenal introspection— and however imperfectly, psychoanalysis was the only game in town that tried to do that.

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  28. wetcogbag

    Peter Watts: I suppose I would have been pretty dismissive before, but Solms makes a really good point that you can’t really solve the problem of consciousness if your entire field refuses to engage with phenomenal introspection— and however imperfectly, psychoanalysis was the only game in town that tried to do that.

    I was initially somewhat dismissive of it myself, especially with how they still seem to try to pigeonhole findings from neuro into the Freudian framework.

    In any case, your post got me interested so I’ve started reading the book myself the other day, I’d love to pick your brain about it when we’re both done if we could, especially on where it’s moving your outlook on sentience/sapience.

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  29. Ashley R Pollard

    I was so focused on the first part of your post Peter that I missed the reference to “The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness.”

    Having now rectified my error, I’m perplexed why does everything seem to go back to Freud whose theories of mind have literally been demolished for a multiple number of good reasons?

    Freud and Jung are both great for their poetic artistry, but suck at being scientists. As for philosophy, where people argue that without which we are doomed… doomed I tell you! It’s just a tool for a certain type of thinking, which can be useful.

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  30. Peter Watts

    Ashley R Pollard: I’m perplexed why does everything seem to go back to Freud whose theories of mind have literally been demolished for a multiple number of good reasons?

    I don’t think everything does. And it’s true Freud was wrong about a lot of things, and forced to lie about others. (Apparently the whole “rape fantasy” thing resulted after Freud discovered that a significant number of his female patients had been sexually assaulted by family members. Initially, he said as much; but the backlash from upper-crust Victorian Society— which is to say, the people doing the assaulting—was so great that he, er, “recontextualised” his conclusions to the effect that all these flighty females were merely having torrid fantasies.)

    The sense I get from Solms’ work, though, is that Freud’s initial ambitions were much more rigorous and biology-based than he’s been given credit for; it’s just that the state of the art back then wasn’t nearly up to that kind of research. But apparently, he was all about finding the measurable, biological underpinnings of human behaviour.

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  31. Tran Script

    Ashley R Pollard: As for philosophy, where people argue that without which we are doomed… doomed I tell you! It’s just a tool for a certain type of thinking, which can be useful.

    B-but muhh hard problem of consciousness.

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