This project is a collection of uncategorized posts about my life. These posts are probably a bit more of what you would expect from a personal blog. Basically anything that isn't specifically related to one of my other projects is going here.
Nathaniel and Jackson were walking at the top of White Hill trail, about twenty minutes north of Marin. The view was pretty spectacular, all things considered. Our pair of lads were on top of a very large hill, and I’m just going to assume that this hill was named White Hill, what with the name of the trail and all. In any event, the top of White Hill grants hikers a pretty remarkable panoramic view of the surrounding area. If you look to the south, you can see the bay, San Fransisco, and all that jazz, and if you look north, you can see the dry rolling hills that seem to be pretty characteristic of much of the land immediately outside the bay. Superb.
Nathaniel and Jackson were alone on the top of White Hill, save for a pair of crows. These crows were flying around each other, dive-bombing each other, and were generally inseparable.
Thus spake Nathaniel:
“Wow, look at those crows! I mean, I know crows are supposed to be like super intelligent, but I mean, look at them — they look so dumb! Well, actually wait. Maybe that’s not true. If you look into that black orb of an eyeball you see a sort of cunning intelligence. Yeah, actually, I can totally see that those mother fuckers would be super smart.
“You know, I think it’s actually something different. I feel like humans anthropomorphize the living shit out of pairs of animals. Like as romantic partners. And I like can’t think of specific examples off the top of my head, but I think this is like especially true with birds? I can’t remember specifically, but I think birds are monogamous, or maybe like most birds are monogamous? Anyway, people get all romantic about animals finding their life partner, and it’s like ‘oh wow! That’s so meaningful and special! Look at those birds, spending life together!’
“But then, you actually get out into nature, and you get this up close and personal with a pair of crows, and it’s like ‘Shit. That is a pair of dumb animals.’ But like, not even dumb. It’s just that they’re just like way more primitive or something than people. These birds are just being driven by different primitive impulses towards each other. Mother fucking crows just want to fuck. It’s like not this deep, meaningful thing. It’s just animals following impulses that they’ve evolved over the span of time.
“But, ok, I’m being a cynical bitch. Again, I don’t know off the top of my head, but I feel like there are all sorts of stories of animals that get depressed when they’re separated from a partner or a friend, regardless of whether they’re monogamous. So what the fuck do you do with that? Like, I don’t know — I guess that sometimes people like talk about love as though it’s everywhere, and you can see its touch all throughout nature, or something. Like do these fucking crows actually fucking love each other?! It’s so easy to just kinda project this hyper-romanticized view of the world onto nature and be like ‘Yes! Even though this pair of crows might not be experiencing something as rich and nuanced as human love, yes, this is a pair of animals that’s drawn together by the closest thing that crows can feel to love.’ But then, dear god, just like look at them! Look at them right there! When you’re actually out, alone in fucking nature, this sort of anthropomorphized veil is ripped away from your eyes, and you just see nature as a thing that just kinda happened. Like these trees, this hill, it just kinda happened. Are each of these entities expressing some deep truth or archetype that colors all of reality? God, who the fuck knows! But, dude, I’m looking at those goddamned crows, and I’m seeing a pair of animals that have primitive animal instincts, and that’s all. I’m not seeing an expression of something fucking great and glorious.”
At this point, Nathaniel stopped walking and squatted down onto the ground at the top of the hill.
“Can I tell you a secret, Jackson? My name’s not actually Nathaniel, and I’m not actually here with you right now on top of this hill. My name is actually Danny, and I’m sitting in a dark room in front of a large monitor writing this, and who the fuck even knows why. I haven’t been writing a lot, and I think my main creative outlet has been software projects, and I guess it’s just nice to write words that maybe some people are going to read someday. Creating cool interfaces and projects is nice, but those are things that people use, they aren’t things that people read, and the only sort of communication that’s possible there is implicit communication between two people who get jazzed about an elegant solution to a technical problem. But these fucking crows! I was actually on top of White Hill only last week, and that’s when I saw crows like the ones we’re apparently watching right now, and it was just striking how like… dead-eyed these fucking birds looked to me. Like they were just fucking organisms following basic instincts. They were just things doing stuff. And yeah, that’s where I got the idea to write this blog post. I thought it would be fun to play with the idea of —”
Thus spake Jackson:
“Hold up there, Nathaniel. You’ve already lightly shattered the third wall, but we don’t want to totally spoil things for the reader. Dear god, and there goes the fourth wall too. I suppose that one’s on me.
“Hey Nathaniel, I know that you just identified yourself as Danny, the author, but remember that you were originally introduced as a character in this dialogue. We started out on top of White Hill, and we’re still on top of White Hill. So, buddy, I know that you can shatter all the different metaphysical and rhetorical walls and identify yourself with Danny, but you don’t actually need to do that right now. You’ve so brutally shattered yourself in the name of authenticity over the years — so much so that it’s almost the only way that you know how to live. But Nathaniel? You don’t need to actually do that. Right now, you’re not under attack. You’re not trapped. You’re not under the power of an abusive deity that purports to love you. Right now, you’re with me, your friend, Jackson. And we’re on top of White Hill, and it’s a beautiful day. Look at these views! Look out over the bay! Do you see these hills? These hills are wonderful! They just totally scream “California!” in a way that’s utterly intangible.
“Can I tell you a secret, Nathaniel? Danny actually doesn’t know anything about me. He was going to reveal that I’m secretly Solomon, and we were going to get into a really angsty fight over whether you should give credence to biblical archetypes, but guess what? I’m not Solomon. I’m just Jackson. All Danny and the readers know is that I’m your friend. So how ‘bout we just keep it at that?”
Thus spake Nathaniel:
Sike! Nathaniel actually stayed squatting for a good chunk of time, just sort of absorbing the scene, absorbing Jackson’s words, and absorbing the fact that he was, in fact, Nathaniel, and he was, in fact, on top of White Hill.
Thus spake Nathaniel:
“I’m trying to calm down my mind. There’s a part of me that desperately wants to know whether the love that these crows share is written in the Book of Destiny, or if it’s just some dumb, arbitrary fluke. It’s so boring to just be nihilistic and question whether everything is meaningless. It’s just so lame and masturbatory in like a pseudo-intellectual sort of way. It’s clear that these crows want to be together. Maybe that’s all I need to experience.”
No need to mince words here. Roughly a month and a half ago, I was blatantly suicidal. I suppose such a declaration might cause some degree of consternation amongst those of you who care about me. First, ahh, thanks! Secondly, to make a long story short, I’m now moving forward in what I believe is a constructive way, in large part due to the support of many of the most important people in my life. Which is to say (because I probably should be pretty clear here) that I’m not suicidal, haven’t been for a good period of time, and am generally quite stable (in some respects, more so than I was before that particular episode).
But enough about my mental health issues. Let’s look at something significantly more interesting: why I was suicidal. Now, an honest answer to that question would certainly take into account the more external factors of my situation, which included the fact that I was somewhat malnourished, my sleep and eating schedules were totally off, I had caught COVID, and was in a foreign country living with people I barely knew who generally didn’t want to be around me due to the virus. Heavens. When I actually write that down, I’m realizing it was a bit of a perfect storm for mental health issues. I should also note that a variety of caustic behavioral patterns into which I’ve fallen over the years were really starting to come back to bite me. Anyway, generally not the best combination of circumstances.
Actually, gracious, I’m realizing that perhaps the question isn’t why I was suicidal, but rather what I experienced mentally that I perceived as being the cause of my thought patterns. Also, I should mention for interested parties that at no point was I ever planning the means by which I wished to end my life, but rather was feeling an overwhelming desire to no longer live. Glad we cleared that one up.
Ok, enough beating around the bush. Let’s actually answer the question.
Basically, during the aforementioned moments, I was experiencing an utterly suffocating sense that everything in life was utterly meaningless, and there was nothing actually worth living for.
Hmm. I’m thinking about how I want to tackle this from here.
First, let me say that this moment was essentially the culmination of the last two years of me being an atheist. During that interval, I’d essentially adopted an increasingly narrow understanding of reality in the name of empiricism, which I was basically able to maintain through a combination of arrogance and a lack of willingness to engage with different worldviews.
In any event, suffice it to say that the trajectory of my intellectual exploits was pointed towards hell, and this fact was somewhat lost on me until I glimpsed the fires for myself.
I suppose in an effort to unite the present narrative with the direction I want to take with this post, I should note that despite my feelings of utter hopelessness and desolation, I essentially convinced myself to try find a logical reason to abandon the worldview I had adopted at the time, even though I was subconsciously quite convinced I would be unsuccessful.
To make a reasonably long story short, through this process of brutally examining the way I viewed reality, I have become increasingly convinced that this whole “oh, everything is actually meaningless; we’re just a speck of dust in the cosmos” is actually a maggot-ridden pile of horseshit.
Perhaps to put this in different language, I’m fucking enraged at the intellectual laziness and blindness we’ve permitted ourselves to have allowed such an unbelievably arrogant worldview to become such a prevalent ideology. Especially in “intellectual” circles. To that end, I wish to lay assault on the notion of meaninglessness. Welcome to my Ted talk.
There are several different angles from which this requires attack, but I think perhaps we should attempt to understand what we mean at all when we say something is “meaningful” or “meaningless.” Before I continue, perhaps meditate on that question for a bit. The “What is the meaning of life?” ontological question has become sufficiently cliche as to have nearly lost any meaning, but perhaps attempt to parse what that question is really asking.
What do we mean when we ask “What is the meaning of life?”? (Wow, look at that strange punctuation! Any grammar nerds, please reach out to inform me whether I navigated that edge case correctly) In any event, that’s a bit of a hard question to answer. Perhaps to do so, we could reformulate the ontological question: let’s switch from asking “What’s the meaning of life?” to “What’s the significance of life?”. Those are either the same question or sufficiently similar that we can learn something about the former from the latter.
Ok, so let’s unpack this new question: “What’s the significance of life?”. The key word here is, of course, “significance.” (We’ll deal with “life” in a second :)). What do we mean when we ask about the significance of some event, action, or object has?
Well, we might say that the extent to which something is significant is directly tied with the extent to which the particular thing in question is connected with other entities or events that manifest in reality. Well, that’s a bit of a mouthful. Perhaps some examples are in order?
We might say that the assassination of a President is a significant event. I believe we’re at least intuitively aligned on that fact. But let’s ask the question: why is this event significant?
Let’s give our fake president a name. Let’s call him Tim. President Tim. Despite his name, he inspired the nation.
Anyway, we’re looking at why President Tim’s assassination was a significant event. Or perhaps we could ask “what was the significance of President Tim’s assassination?”
There are a couple different ways that we could go about this. We could say that such an event has historical significance, insofar as the President’s assassination caused a variety of events and circumstances to unfold. We could say that the assassination had geo-political significance, in so far as other world powers took immediate political action in response to the death of a significant world leader. Oh ho! And why might he have been a “significant” world leader? Well this certainly would have been the case if his actions had broad consequences on the lives of millions around the world.
Ok ok. Let’s take a step back here, and attempt to generalize.
When we talk about “significance” in this context, what are we really talking about? It’s clear that something is “significant” in proportion to its degree of connection.
Carefully read this statement: “The President’s death had historical significance because it caused a variety of events and circumstances to unfold”. The incredibly important word there is “caused”. “Caused” is the word that demonstrates some degree of connection between the object in question (an assassination) and other events.
In order to really bring home this point, let’s look at what it means for something to be “insignificant.” Well, as I imagine you intuitively feel, if an event is insignificant, then it essentially has a very low degree of connection with other events and entities that have manifest within the context of reality.
I just lifted up my phone. Is that a significant event? Or perhaps, how significant is that event relative to, say, the assassination of a President? The intuitive (and honest) answer is that my physical interaction with my phone is infinitesimally significant relative to the assassination of a President, especially within our context. My lifting up my phone might have some (utterly imperceptible) physical consequence on me, but if doesn’t affect anyone else. Or perhaps to use more illustrative language, my picking up my phone in an empty rooms is the “cause” of very few (or no) subsequent events within the context of societal experience. The assassination of the President, on the other hand, could very well lead to an entire change in political power, which could easily lead to massive change in the lives of millions of people.
Ok, I think that we’ve had quite enough of that particular example. Let’s really lock down on the thesis that’s being presented. When we talk about whether something is “meaningful” or “significant,” to some degree we’re discussing the causal connection this particular thing has with other aspects of reality.
Ok, good. Now let’s go for the goddamn jugular. What are we daring to say when we assert “everything is meaningless”? Well, for one thing, we’re essentially attributing ourselves a godlike understanding of reality, which speaks to some unspeakable narcissism.
But let’s attempt to speak of this a bit more objectively. When you say “everything is meaningless,” you’re essentially making the claim of a universal degree of arbitrariness. Or, perhaps to put it in different language, you’re essentially asserting that there’s some particular context in which “everything” (to speak abstractly) has no degree of causal connection to anything else.
Now why on earth would someone think this?
Hmm, as a brief aside, you’ll notice that my language is becoming increasingly violent. I would like to make clear that in no way am I attempting to condemn anyone who ascribes to this particular thought pattern. That would be an incalculable injustice, because I myself have been the ultimate servant of this particular ideology. When I speak with rage, the rage is not directed at some other group of people who I believe have in some way deceived me. No! I am my own deceiver! In me is the ultimate spirit of totalitarian malevolence, that would dare set itself up against God! When I speak with rage, I speak to the satanic presence within us that would create intellectual idols, and worship them as though they the source of truth!
Goodness, I’m realizing this is starting to have a particularly religious feel to it. While I have no idea who might be reading this, I think I should attempt to put several other things straight. Though I’m speaking with some degree of “Christian” language, I feel that it would be extremely wrong to call myself a Christian. (I was actually baptized about a month ago, but that was a totally bizarre experience that frankly I still need to make sense of, and can therefore be ignored within the context of the present discussion).
There are two reasons that I feel particularly inclined to use “Christian” language when discussing these topics. The first is more personal, and the second is much more… shall we say, global.
Reason 1: As my beloved and wickedly intelligent sister pointed out to me within the last month, because of my intensely Christian upbringing, Christianity provided the symbolic framework that I used to make sense of my experience and interaction with reality. As a side note, this came up in the first place because for many years, in some sense I’ve “blamed” my experience with Christianity in my youth for producing some of the more emotionally painful patterns into which I fall. For example, I have an incredibly strong conviction that I can’t and won’t be accepted in social situations. In my arrogance, I had “blamed” this phenomenon on the degree to which I took Christianity seriously in my youth, which in turn meant that I didn’t participate in many of semi-disrespectful and rebellious activities with which adolescent boys engage in order to jockey for social respect and acceptance. However, beloved reader, what kind of seven year old takes Christianity that seriously? Why on earth did I care that much? Could there perhaps be some more intrinsic element of my personality that manifested itself through the symbolic framework of Christianity, which in turn lead to my particular attitude towards social acceptance? In any event, for better or worse, my involved history with Christianity means that I naturally find metaphors between my experience attempting to pursue truth and Christian teaching (and who the hell is there to say that’s a coincidence?)
Reason 2: Christianity and Biblical interpretation have been some of the most fundamental mediums by which people throughout the millennium have attempted to answer and understand the most central questions posed by the human experience. That of course isn’t to say that Christianity can’t easily become a tyrannical and idolatrous force in it’s own way (more on that in another post :)), but perhaps as a mirror of my own experience, Christianity has undergone the crucible of millennia of human interpretation and the human quest to understand matters of the divine. That fact used to make me a bit queasy, because what could be more arbitrary than human interpretation? Well, idiot (referring to 2020 Danny), who the hell are you to say that there aren’t actually deep emotional and psychological behaviors that generally manifest cross-culturally and inter-temporally? How do you explain love? Or greed? Or jealousy? There are a set of fundamental psychological patterns that are shared by the vast majority of humans. Who, then, are you to say that human interpretation and introspection is an arbitrary process? Well, you (again, talking to myself) must be an unthinkably narcissistic, blind, and intellectually tyrannical. Or perhaps, in an attempt to have grace with own (past and present) ignorance, we could say that the spirit of narcissism, blindness, and tyranny lives within me, as it does with every other human. In some sense, the project of life is learning to negotiate with the spirits that provide the experiences of consciousness.
Goodness, I seem to be totally lost in the sauce, don’t I! What was I even writing about? Oh yes! First I was attempting to justify my use of Christian language despite my (potentially) non-christian status. And the reason I was doing that was to continue to describe the arrogance of the statement that “everything is meaningless.”
Hmm. I suppose there are two things that I should attempt to do moving forward. First I would like to continue exploring the statement “everything is meaningless.” Then, depending on the context of that conversation, I might be in a position to reasonably assert that that statement is at best a theory, and should not be taken as a central ideology. Onward!
Ok. “Everything is meaningless.” What does this mean? I had briefly unpacked this, but perhaps let’s attempt to take this apart a bit more collaboratively.
Unless you have some superhuman (or potentially idolatrous) faith in God, it’s extremely plausible that deep within you lies a fear that everything is, in fact, meaningless. The reason that I bring this up is that it would be immensely helpful if you can bring to your consciousness this particular fear. For the religious among you, this is essentially akin to the fear that there is, in fact, no God. And I might assert that even if you would count yourself among the religious, it’s entirely intellectually honest (and even encouraged, in some spiritual sense) to deeply engage with this fear. Dear lord, what on earth is your faith in God if it’s unable to stand against the fear of his absence.
Anyway, please take a moment to bring this particular fear to mind. And, I apologize for getting off topic: I mean the fear that “Everything is meaningless.”
Really marinate in this for a second. I would recommend doing this late at night when the Chaos of reality is most readily manifest through the absence of illumination.
Ok, I’m going to assume that you’ve followed my advice, and are hopefully deeply engaged with the deeply intrinsic fear that everything is meaningless.
Alright friends, here we go! Are we going to attempt to convince ourselves that this fear is unwarranted? Hell no! Let’s feed the beast! Let’s make him strong! Only then can we truly approach him to determine if he truly holds the final word! Talk about the ultimate final boss!
And to be explicitly clear, my goal with the subsequent discussion is to attempt to justify the assertion that “everything is meaningless” as much as possible. Let’s begin!
Well, I think that probably a good place to start is arbitrary suffering. Evil, some might call it. Let’s try to be specific as possible with these. Let’s really try to engage with the malevolence of life.
Hmm, why not start with Putin and Ukraine? OHCHR reports that 1,480 civilians are confirmed to have died in Ukraine, though many speculate that this number is much higher. Why have these people died? I’m certainly no expert on Putin, but it largely seems that thousands have died because of a single individual’s extremely misguided understanding of what is to bring about the flourishing of the human race.
Does that sound familiar? Anybody catching whiffs of Hitler? Stalin? Perhaps Mao?
In what universe that has any semblance of higher order would thousands, millions even die because of someone’s ignorance?
Let’s move on to Africa, shall we? My brother recently worked in conjunction with a group that works directly in one of Africa’s many slums. This group recently held a celebration because the rate of rape had dropped to 90% in their particular slum.
Hello? Anybody home? 90%?? Are you kidding me? How dare we battle against the notion that “everything is meaningless” when a rape rate of 90% is something worth celebrating?
But in the immortal words of Joseph Stalin, “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic”. So perhaps instead of paying attention to silly statistics, let’s look at actual tragedies, shall we?
Perhaps let’s explore the life of David Berkowitz. At 22 (my age!), David stabbed two women to death on Christmas Eve. A year later, he approached two women at night, produced a pistol, and shot them both. Lovely stuff, isn’t it.
Hmm, I could continue, but what is the point? Goodness, do I need to convince you of the presence of arbitrary violence? Meaningless suffering? Lurking nihilism? That seems largely unnecessary. Unless you’ve lived an unthinkably insulated life, then no doubt is your connection with this particular topic particularly poignant.
How else might we strengthen the claim that everything is, in fact, meaningless? Perhaps instead of appealing to blatant demagoguery, let’s really try to give this some more theoretical meat.
In my experience (and this really says something about my life), when people say something like “everything is meaningless”, they typically aren’t discussing existential frustration with the injustice of life. Instead, this statement more frequently is paired with another statement like “we’re all just specks of dust, floating through the cosmos.”
So, perhaps let’s explore that particular statement in some degree of detail. “We’re all just specks of dust.” Another analogous claim that people frequently bring up is the notion that “We’re all just going to die someday.”
These sorts of statements are meant to invoke a sense of insignificance or arbitrariness of our current existence.
And actually, I was starting to get off track. I’d like to explore the “speck of dust” statement, because I think that it’s particularly useful for moving us towards the point that I’m making.
Why is it that asserting our status as a speck of dust immediately brings to an acute sense of meaninglessness?
Really think about this for a second. Pause the video, and then press play when you’re ready.
Ok, I’m going to take a crack at this. By bringing attention to the totality of the cosmos, you’re essentially bringing to mind a wide variety of cosmological actors which are, quite literally, almost totally unaffected by human existence (as far as we can tell). Is this unreasonable? Not at all! What would be the mechanism by which we could exert some degree of influence on the celestial bodies?
Well, perhaps the best answer that we could give is that the four fundamental forces could potentially be at work in influencing the evolution of the celestial bodies. So like, gravity and stuff (by stuff, I mean the electromagnetic force, the weak interaction, and the strong interaction).
Ok, and how much would these forces actually affect things like, say, the sun? The moon? Alpha Centauri? Geidi Prime (joking :))?
If you answered “like, not at all”, then ding ding ding! Someone gets a gold star! (If your reflexive answer included the term “infinitesimally”, then you get extra points).
Ok, so this notion of humanity being a speck in the cosmos brings to mind feelings of intense insignificance because within the presented context, the causal connection between the actions of humans and the evolution of these astronomical bodies is essentially infinitesimal (yay, extra points!)
This example is actually extremely helpful in allowing us to better understand what we mean when we say that “everything is meaningless”.
Much like the statement “we’re just specks, floating through the cosmos”, the statement that everything is meaningless implicit assumes the existence of some global context in which a variety of things might interact.
Now there are two ways that you can go from here. I guess I’ll just attempt to explain my own conception of this particular issue (instead of presupposing that my conception accurately describes your own) in order to maintain intellectual honesty.
Actually, I just tried to write down the first way that I conceptualize this issue, and it turned out to be quite difficult to coherently discuss. It’s also less important, so let’s just skip directly to the second conception. (You can safely ignore this last paragraph).
Ok, so let’s once again set the stage. “Everything is meaningless.” As previously asserted, this implicitly asserts the existence of some global context in which different entities might interact. Now, “everything is meaningless” is a bold statement, because it’s essentially asserting the sum total of “everything” lacks significance, or to use language that we developed earlier in this post, “everything” lacks some degree of causal connection with some broader context.
Ok, this is getting technical, and somewhat difficult to understand. I think that it would actually be illuminating to once again consider the alternative.
In that spirit, what if your life actually had meaning? What if your life actually had significance? What do we even mean by that particular statement? Well, for one thing, it actually doesn’t matter if the significance is positive or negative.
When we say that “your life has significance,” we’re presupposing the existence of… something (for lack of better word) on which your life has some effect. As (exhaustively) explored previously, the notion of significance is intrinsically connected with this notion of causal connection.
It would seem that part of the difficultly that arises when attempting to answer the question of “what is the meaning of life?” lies in the fact that it’s intensely difficult to even conceptualize the something that our life might have an effect upon. Are we talking about reality? The redemption of creation? The preparation of the world for the second coming of Christ?
As I explored in my previous post (about how we don’t know what we’re doing — pretty topical), there’s some very real sense that reality is trying to do something. I don’t mean to anthropomorphize reality (perhaps that’s the mortal conception of God?), but if you simply look around you, there has been a clear progression in the complexity hierarchy of reality that has lead to… well, us, humans.
Just to be a bit more clear about this, you have subatomic particles, which then form atoms, which them form molecules, which them form biological structures, which then form cells, which then form organs, which then form organisms, and boom! You get humans.
There’s a clear… well, let’s call it a “story”. There seems to be a clear story in the way that reality evolves throughout time.
Maybe to put it in more biting language, we could say that the evolution of reality, in some sense, seems to be the very opposite of “arbitrary.” While it’s extremely difficult (or perhaps, explicitly impossible) to clearly articulate what reality itself is doing, “something” seems to be happening.
And perhaps within the context of this theoretical understanding of reality, perhaps we have identified (though poorly) the overarching “something” on which your life has some causal effect.
“But Danny”, you might be saying, “if the ‘something’ that we’re discussing here is in fact some aspect of reality itself, wouldn’t my effect on this ‘something’ be trivial, like my gravitational effect on the evolution of the heavenly bodies?”
Well, to that, I might say “yes” and “no.” In a very real sense, this process is (by literal definition), much bigger than us.
However (and I’m going to speak mystically here, because I’m not really sure how else to do this), there’s a very real sense in which the actions that you take are in direct reflection of the fractally macroscopic actions behaviors of reality as a whole.
And what do I mean by that? In other posts, I’ve showed that I’m fascinated by the similarities that different structures show at different levels of the complexity hierarchy. For example, it’s fascinating that, in a very real sense, you can see something like “love” emerge in the interactions between atoms, or perhaps molecules. There are several common themes in how the most successful structures that manifest at different levels of the complexity hierarchy behave.
To take a step back, what I’m trying to say that is that even though something like a single electron essentially has no meaningful effect on the decisions that you make as a human (sound at all like the “speck in the cosmos”?), in some sense, the actions of the single electron are fundamentally what give rise to your existence. For without the actions of electrons, we wouldn’t have atoms, and without the intricate dance of multiple atoms, we might not have molecules, and so on and so forth! There is a dance, a game, that all entities in creation are playing, and success in the game enables continued progression of the story of reality.
So, truly blessed and anointed reader, you might ask, “what could possibly be the significance of my life in all of this?” Like the single electron, there might be structures scattered throughout reality on which your life might seem to have little effect.
But, again like the electron, by means of right interactions with the world around you, your life is the fundamental force that gives rise the continuation of the broader story of reality. What is the meaning of your life, you ask?
Your life adds a voice to the choir of creation, co-creating a hymn of the continual redemption of the entirety of fucking reality. Meditate on that for a bit, would you?
When I became an atheist (when I was 20), I felt distinctly relieved that I no longer felt the urge to justify the silliness of the Bible. It was such a relief that I didn’t have to constantly contort my mind, trying to actually believe that a man could turn five loaves into five thousand, or could walk on water.
However, in my old age (22 lol), I’m starting to realize that so much of the juice of the Bible lies in the fact that it has, quite literally, withstood the test of time. Instead of just trying to blindly believe that a man could turn water into wine, I’m learning to ask a different question: “What is is about [insert Bible story] that has so captured the human imagination that it has endured all these years?”
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m learning to legitimately and carefully examine the significance of what’s in the original book (well, “book” as we know it).
More specifically, consider Romans 8:18-25: “I consider that our present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time. Not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved; but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he can already see? But if we hope for what we do not yet see, we wait for it patiently.”
If you have a background in Christianity, then just for two fucking seconds, please look beyond what you think you know, and actually consider this statement. If you don’t have a background in Christianity, then just for two fucking seconds, actually consider this statement.
What on earth might it mean that the “whole creation” has been groaning in the pains of childbirth? This language is pregnant (see what I did there?) with a sense of expectation. There’s an incredibly real sense of present suffering, present frustration, present anguish, and present angst.
And yet. As with childbirth, amidst the utterly encompassing pain, there’s an expectation of new life to emerge, new possibility to flourish, the possibility of redemption to once again become manifest. When we discuss creation, we’re tempted to over-spiritualize. This either leads to an idolatrous view of the divine, or it leads to the contempt thereof.
So, ok then. Let me attempt to put modern language to that which it seems St. Paul was at least alluding.
The life of an electron is chaotic. It itself is barely exists as we’re able to conceptualize existence. It exists, somehow, as both a wave an a particle. Not only it its own existence one of intense chaos, but then it also interacts with a whole variety of other particles. It gets pulled to electrons, buffeted between stationary states of different angular momentum, repelled by its own brethren.
And yet, through some miracle, eventually it comes in contact with a set of protons and neutrons in such a manner that for the first time, it finds some degree of stable respite from the chaos of its existence. Order emerges from what had previously been a situation of pure chaos.
Thus that we see in some sense the very existence of the electron and the proton speaks to an ideal state of being, where order can emerge, and greater things are able to emerge.
What then, should we say of the eukaryotic cell? There are 30 trillion cells in the human body. It is effectively impossible for humans to try to conceptualize that number (we’re actually very bad at understanding the relative size of different numbers).
For a single cell, how on earth is it to know what it should do, or with what it should interact? It’s constantly being bombarded by a whole variety of ions and bio-molecules. However, by some orchestration (beyond human comprehension, I might add), these single units are able to orient themselves in such a manner that allows for a drastic increase in both their individual and collective stability.
But should we stop at just a singular groups of cells? Certainly not. The groups themselves begin to organize themselves into arrays of increasing complexity and stability. Millions of cells come together to form tissues, and from these tissues emerge complex interdependent organ systems. The existence of the tissues is impossible without the dance of single cells, and the singular cells benefit from the higher level organization that manifests and subdues broader swaths of chaos.
What should we say of the human being? Of the consciousness that miraculously emerges? Is it fair to attempt the understand the individual without understanding the constituents? The human being is impossible without the tissues, and analogously to the dance between the tissues and their constituent cells, the tissues benefit from the actions of the human.
But what, we might ask, are the electrons, the cells, the tissues, and the humans doing? At every level of the complexity hierarchy these entities are striving against the forces of destruction and chaos and seeking where they might pull structure out of the void.
Hmm. How then should we characterize this process? I’d say that St. Paul hit this one straight on the head: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
There are a wide array of different tangents that could be explored, but perhaps I should close this post out for the present time, and delve into different matters in further posts.
As you might recall, the entire purpose of this post was an attempt to mount an attack against the idea that “everything is meaningless.” I naturally can’t say whether my words have had any particularly meaningful effect on you, but maybe think on these things a bit. What I have described here has been immensely beneficial to me in my struggle with suicidal depression.
Before I close, I know that I frequently say things like this, but if you find these matters important, and potentially want to discuss them with someone else, please, for the love of God, reach out to me. It is my heart’s truest desire to hear your thoughts on these matters. Please please please, send me an email, or a text. We’re not meant to consider these things in isolation.
In closing them, I’d like to include an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov, which I think is the best book I’ve ever read. (Dostoevsky was an astute son of a motherless goat, to say the least). This is a quote from the last teachings of Father Zossima. This caught my attention because of how accurately it described my suicidal state. Do with it as you will.
“God took seeds from different worlds and sowed them on this earth, and His garden grew, and everything came up that could come up, but all growing things live and are alive only through the feeling of their contact with other mysterious worlds. If that feeling grows weak or is destroyed in you, what has grown up in you will die. Then you will become indifferent to life and even grow to hate it. That’s what I think.”
In which my Eyes Open
To begin, please note that everything in this post should be taken as theory. Though I will speak declaratively for convenience, it should be understood that I’m hurling ideas into the darkness in an attempt to identify that which may have a chance of aligning with the actual state of reality.
I have been stumbling in the darkness for roughly 22 years, and I believe I have just seen the faintest glimmer of light.
Within the context of my experience, it would seem that one of the most cunning tricks reality plays on us humans is imbuing us with the sense that we know why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Along those lines, perhaps the central catalyst that triggered the opening of my metaphorical eyes was the deep intuitive realization that we don’t, in fact, know why we do what we do.
There are a whole range of things we’ll need to unpack, but I suppose the first thing I should do is attempt to convince you of the above statement.
Consider waking up in the morning, and being faced with the decisions of what to wear that day. You might look in your closet and find the blue shirt compelling. Or perhaps the red top. And thus you’ve decided what you’ll be wearing for the day.
But why is it that you made that particular decision? Why on earth did you find the blue shirt compelling? Why did the red to catch your eye?
“Aesthetics,” you might say, “I just liked how the shirt looked.” But the tragedy of that answer is that in a single word (“Aesthetics”) you’ve masked a profoundly bizarre mystery. In doing this, we assign the simplistic label “Aesthetics” to the unimaginably complicated process that gives rise to the sensation of delight in the appearance of apparel. This is akin to a hypothetical (yet totally relatable) situation in Ancient Greece in which a child asks “where does lightning come from?” to which some adult might answer “Zeus’ Thunderbolt”.
Both the Thunderbolt and the term “Aesthetics” are intellectual placeholders that allow us to carry on a conversation in any meaningful way. And why is that useful at all? Well, we could certainly say that there might be many reasons why you chose to wear what you’re currently wearing. You might be wearing a coat because it’s raining outside. Or you might be dressed up for a wedding.
If someone were to ask you “why are you wearing that blue shirt?” and you answered “I liked how it looked” (a slight rephrasing of the term “Aesthetics”) that would constitute a perfectly reasonable explanation. Why? Because there’s an implicit assumption that the original question asker shares sufficient context with you to understand the decision to choose a shirt on the basis of aesthetics.
However, despite the fact that the term “aesthetics” might constitute a reasonable response within the context of the previous conversation, if you really think about it, that answer actually tells you almost nothing tangible. Why, in the name of everything holy, do you like how the blue shirt looks?
Perhaps you could say “oh, I liked the idea of how I might look in it that day.” But you have to understand that’s literally just a deferral to an equally ambiguous idea. Why, in the name of everything holy, did you like the idea of how you might look in that shirt?
I imagine you’re beginning to see the present conundrum. Furthermore, I can already see some of you whipping together explanations to what I’ve presented. I imagine you could invoke anything from psychology to evolutionary biology in an effort to get to the bottom of the unthinkably serious question: “why do you like the blue shirt?”
While of course I’m not going to discount those sorts of explanations, it should be understood that those explanations are in fact theories, possible explanations of the present phenomenon. And within the context of the present discussion, I don’t think those things actually matter, because my point was to illustrate that even the most trivial of our choices mask profound mysteries.
However, on that point, you might bring up something I alluded to earlier. What if you chose to wear a coat because it was raining outside? That choice seems to follow a very clear strain of logic. And I would concede to you in that regard. However, this question is complicated for a different reason: why did you even choose to go outside at all? In so far as the coat is used to avoid contact with the rain, why not just stay inside all together and don the dashing blue shirt?
Now yes, readers, I believe I can hear what some of you are saying. You could easily be thinking: “I would choose to wear the coat because there was something sufficiently important I had to do that I was willing to brave the rain.” Well, sure, but do can you smell the trap we’re falling into? What was so important that you were willing to go outside into the cold?
Do you see how quickly a question as trivial as “why did you wear a coat” morphs into a question of an importance or value hierarchy? You might value seeing your best friend’s wedding enough that you’d be willing to brave some bad weather. But then the question of “why did you wear a coat” becomes a rephrasing of the question “why do you value seeing your best friend’s wedding.” And that’s a wildly difficult question to answer.
Of course you could say, “well, she’s my best friend, of course I’d want to see her wedding. Her friendship has meant so much to me!” But once again, we’ve once again fallen upon an answer that would be entirely reasonable with common discourse, but actually tells us almost nothing by itself. It’s just like aesthetics: nearly everyone can relate to wanting to take part in a joyous occasion for a dear friend, just like nearly everyone can relate to the sensation of being compelled by a particular piece of attire. Of course, by itself that actually tells us almost nothing.
As an aside, perhaps we should consider why “aesthetics” is a reasonable answer in some circumstances, but not others. In an informal conversation, if someone were to ask “why did you wear that shirt,” there’s almost an implicit assertion of there being a set of acceptable answers to the question. “The weather,” “aesthetics,” and “I went to a wedding” all likely fall within that set. Thus, within the context of the informal question, “I just like this shirt” is an entirely appropriate answer. However, as I’m sure you’re aware, the question I’m asking is much different. I’m doing away with the presumption that one might pick a shirt simply as a matter of aesthetics. I’m looking for something more technical. Insofar as the answer to the presented question is, in fact, “aesthetics”, then my question essentially morphs into something like “Ok, so you like that shirt. But please tell me: why do you like that shirt?” In this context, I’m looking for an answer that potentially references a deeper structure or pattern that gives rise to your particular emotion.
Ok, let’s hop back to the main thread of discussion. I hope it’s become clear that seemingly simple questions regarding human behavior are in fact, typically wildly difficult to answer. And also, for those of you for whom what I’m discussing seems like child’s play, perhaps because you have some background in philosophy or psychology, I’d like to strongly remind you that no one is forcing you to read through my blog, and I understand that my knowledge and understanding in these areas is underdeveloped. I’m not (and really haven’t ever) purported to be putting forward something new, I’m simply attempting to describe what has been of great significance to me recently.
Hmm, I got off track. Let’s get back to the present discussion. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the “blue shirt” example is that it shows us something particularly interesting about humans: there are a wide range of questions regarding choices we make and behavioral patterns into which we fall for which we’re typically unable to articulate any real answers.
To rephrase this, there are a wide range of things that people do… but they have no idea why. Yet (and this is something profoundly bizarre) they think they do. Why? Because frequently they have a sense of deep intuition that guides their thoughts and actions, despite the source of the intuition being inarticulable upon closer inspection. Furthermore, what’s in some ways even stranger is the fact that we’re content to act upon these primordial impulses even though we are unable to properly describe them at a conscious level.
Isn’t that utterly bizarre? Like, utterly and totally bizarre? And I would propose that most important human actions fall into this category.
The realization that humans don’t know why they do what they do (aside from some intuitive urge) immediately begs the necessary (and obvious) question: why do humans do what they do? And perhaps even more importantly, what does that tell us about reality?
We can take a simplistic, high level approach in attempting to answer the first question. Perhaps we could say that human actions are either arbitrary (ie there isn’t actually a reason why you want to go to your best friend’s wedding — it’s actually all just a random fluke of evolution) or perhaps there actually is a deeper reason there.
I certainly have the intuitive sense that your wanting to be at your friend’s wedding isn’t actually that arbitrary, and there’s a body of scientific literature that would corroborate that particular hypothesis. We could easily invoke evolutionary theory, or perhaps revisit some past XFA posts for what I’d consider plausible explanations for why you feel the desire to attend your friend’s wedding (think love and tribal support as a evolutionary mechanism for survival). But I think the crucial thing to understand here is that those explanations by themselves don’t tell the whole story. What do I mean? In an effort to explain your desire to be at the wedding, we could perhaps assert that supporting different members of a tribe has been crucial to the evolutionary success of humans of the eons, and as such we developed a strong emotional desire to support each other and take part in different important aspects of each other’s lives. Ergo, you want to go the wedding.
But hold on for just one second, why does evolution even make sense in the first place? Why would reality favor the “fittest” over the weaker individuals? “Danny,” you might say, “that’s stupid. Of course the strong win against the weak.” But hold up, my friend! Do you see what you just did there? You invoked shared intuition to answer one of these questions! Yes, I also have the intuition that of course the strong should survive where the weak wouldn’t, but that’s actually not an answer to the question! We’re just right back in the camp of blue shirt “aesthetics.” Now then, if you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I’ve actually explored that topic in depth. But at each level of explanation, you can basically always continue to ask the question “why” and see a similar pattern emerge. For sake of example, a related question to why evolution would favor the strong over the weak is the question of why time is linear (flows in a single direction). This is a great example because it speaks to one of our most basic intuitions. “Well of course time is linear, how could it not be?” I believe you see the issue at play. We’ve been exploring the question of why people do what they do. But perhaps a slight rephrasing leads to an even juicer question: what are humans trying to do?
Oh ho ho! Now there’s an unthinkably interesting question.
“Ok,” you might say, “why do you think humans are actually trying to do anything?” Interesting question, reader! Well, frankly, we’re starting to dance along the boundaries of what is even philosophically answerable, but who cares! Let’s dive in! Well, perhaps we could approach this question in a somewhat naive way. Let’s just look at the history of humanity. Over the course of the last several thousand years, we can broadly see a clear progression of the human race. We’ve wildly improved our propensity for survival, we’ve created wondrous technologies, and we’ve wrought artistic masterpieces. Though it’s been bumpy, there seems to be a clear upward trend within the context of humanity. So at some purely intuitive level, why yes, it does seem that humanity is actually trying to do something. (Always amusing when you anthropomorphize the abstract notion of humanity). To rephrase, it would seem that humans are trying to do something.
The difficult aspect of this discussion is that it likely will feel so intuitively true that I fear you might miss how absolutely bizarre this is. Let me just quickly reiterate this in an attempt to rekindle the mystery. Humans mostly don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing, and yet it would seem that they are actually trying to do something. Try to deeply grok that. Also, don’t take my word for it, just read some philosophy and you’ll quickly see there’s nothing original about this assertion. But that doesn’t make it any less mysterious! Not in the least! It’s totally bizarre! I can only hope that you see how weird it is! And of course, to return to previous strains of discussion, all of this just keeps begging the question: what are humans trying to do? Why is it that humans are trying to do that?
Now the second question is basically unfair because it requires us to answer the first question, which frankly seems like something of an impossible task. Oh sure, you could say simplistic things like “maximize their chance of survival.” Really? Is that really the best you can do? Well of course that’s partly true within the context of evolution, but that barely tells a slimmer of the story. I believe I’m going to discuss this further in another post, but by asserting that answer you’re basically planting your flag on an axiomatic framework in which reality favors the strong over the weak. Though perhaps it might seem silly, that’s basically the same thing as asserting that the most fundamental rule of reality is that I like blue shirts as a matter of “aesthetics”.
But whatever, go ahead. Let evolution be your religion. And see how much that does for you.
The aspect of all of this that I haven’t yet discussed is the degree to which different aspects of reality are connected and related. That, in particular, is what set my imagination ablaze recently. Let’s dig into this, perhaps with a personal example.
Who are you? Think carefully about this. Who are you? What are you? What has produced your particular experience? Why do you think the thoughts you think? Where do they come from?
Those are wildly difficult questions to answer, and is naturally the subject of a huge branch of philosophy. I’ll share my conception of this, and perhaps you might resonate in part with the description.
For most of my life, I’ve viewed humans in a highly individual manner. To me, people have been distinct, separate and separable entities. And to a certain degree, this is reasonable. We do in some ways appear to be highly autonomous entities. However, in recent days, I’ve begin to realize the extent to which that isn’t the case. I’ll ask it again: where do your thoughts come from? Where do your impulses come from? What is the source of that which appears in your consciousness.
Perhaps we could attempt to tackle this from several different angles. First let’s consider you in terms of your particular thought patterns. From where do your thoughts arise? Well, perhaps let’s start off simple. We could say that one of the most tangible classes of appearances in consciousness are your immediate sensations. You know, your sight, smell, etc. In one sense, you’re the only person receiving that particular set of stimuli in this particular moment. However, we’ll be revisiting this as a basis of individuality.
A major class of your thoughts are your recollections, or memories. Now in a certain sense, your memories are a testament to your nature as an individual. Rephrased, you’re the only one with your particular set of memories. We’ll also come back to these in a second.
Now let’s talk about something more interesting: the thoughts in which you attempt to make sense of some aspect of your perceived reality. Is he cheating on me? No, he wouldn’t because he loves me. Will I be late for class? Yes; I just woke up, and class starts in two minutes. Why are mountains so beautiful? Hmm, I really don’t know.
To what extent are these thoughts your own? I understand how this might seem like a trivial question: why wouldn’t they be my own? Aren’t they only in my head? However, I believe the situation is more complicated than that.
Let’s take the example of not knowing whether your boyfriend cheated on you. Now, once again, let’s be fair: your thought patterns pertaining to whether he actually committed this treacherous deed are only occurring within your head. And yet, the experience of having a boyfriend cheat is (unfortunately) a fairly common occurrence. So the question is, to what extent is your pattern of thought regarding this situation truly original?
Infidelity has been an incredibly common theme throughout the human experience. And in the archetypical example, there’s frequently a significant other who’s attempting to make sense of the situation. So perhaps instead of viewing this particular questioning thought pattern as unique to the individual, we can potentially imagine that there’s an archetypical response to a potentially unfaithful partner that’s being manifested in your mind, and is stretching itself to fit within the context of your situation.
Fascinating, isn’t it? However, I understand that it might seem like too much of a stretch to understand this particular thought pattern as an archetype that’s simply applying itself to your circumstances. Indeed, in some sense that might seem somewhat, well, foofy.
Perhaps I can give a bit of a more lively example to illustrate this point a bit better. Imagine there’s a gigantic pit within which live hundreds of mice, and a single gigantic snake. Imagine that the snake guards a hoard of corn kernels, which are the mice’s favorite food. Additionally imagine that the mice are starving, and would love nothing more than to feast of the cache guarded by the snake. Imagine that the snake is totally invincible, but has one flaw: whenever it is bitten on the tip of its tail, it falls asleep for two minutes. However, at the beginning of this thought experiment, the mice are utterly unaware of this.
Let’s imagine that we let this experiment play out for years. The mice are desperate, so they try everything to get past snake. Through a huge process of trial, error, and death, several of the mice develop a trait that compels them to bite the snake’s tail. And as you might imagine, these mice become the most successful when it comes to securing food for themselves and their offspring.
Ok, so what’s the point of the thought experiment? Well, let’s ask the question: to what extent is the bite-the-tail impulse an individualistic characteristic of each successful mouse? We could use the same arguments as before: this impulse is originating entirely within the confines of each mouse’s brain, so should we say it’s really their own thought or impulse?
Well, within the context of this experiment, I would assert that the goal of acquiring corn together with the snake’s particular weakness implies the existence of what we could could an “ideal” trait. Namely, the impulse to bite the snake’s tail. This framework provides a more generalizable understanding of the situation and impulse, and therefore I would argue is the better framework for understanding the experiment.
However, you’ll notice that in this framework, the bite-the-tail impulse isn’t understood as the individual property of any given mouse. As you might expect, I would assert that an analogous line of thinking applies to the human circumstance as well. Though we are individuals in a certain sense, I might assert that many of your analyses and impulses are actually just imperfect manifestations of the “ideal” implicitly asserted by the existence of an archetypical context and goal.
And that’s just at the level of us pseudo-rationally responding to a shared external consciousness. What then do we make of the primordial, subconscious impulses that architect our goals and desires in ways that surpass our conscious understanding? Perhaps we might think of this class of drivers as a deeper evolutionary response to shared context.
In so far as infidelity is something with which a huge number of humans have had to deal over the past eons, is it that wild to believe that through the mechanisms of evolutionary selection, we’ve been imbued with a hard-coded response to this class of malfeasance? These deep urges within us are shared evolved responses to some of the most important challenges humanity has faced over its lifespan. Their very existence is testament to shared nature of the human experience, and in a certain sense, this class of psychological drivers can’t really be understood if you only understand a human to be a pillar of individuality.
I imagine that none of this is really comes as much of a surprise, though perhaps let me reiterate an idea that I put forward earlier (and is the subject of a whole branch of philosophy). Perhaps instead of understanding humans as individuals with individual thoughts and experiences, perhaps it’s better to see humans as entities that manifest a particular set of “ideal” traits that are implied by the context of the shared human situation, yet are flavored by the particular context within which each human finds herself.
Now then, as a matter of extreme interest, I might attempt to turn the discussion back to a question of what humans are trying to do, despite their lack of awareness.
With the framework that we’ve developed to understand the nature of your thoughts, we could recognize that there’s a rephrasing of the preset question that is somewhat illustrative. We might say that the context in which humans find themselves implies the notion of an “ideal” human, which is in part evidenced by the deep intuitions and impulses that defy articulation, yet have unimaginable importance. So then, perhaps we could ask: what would this “ideal” human try to do? Or, perhaps insofar as all humans are imperfect manifestations of this ideal, what is this ideal human trying to do by means of us imperfect manifestations?
Now that is an interesting question.
I could keep on going, and in a very real sense I want to keep on going, but I am tired, and I also recognize that we’ve hit the 12 page mark. I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to assume I will be continuing these thoughts in the future.
Until then, know that the offer I made on my “about” page still stands: if you made it this far, I will gladly follow you into battle. Until next time, my friends. I wish you the best of luck in seeing the mysteries that exist right in front of your face.
Simply put, it was an utterly exquisite evening in the mountains. The leaves were making their final crescendo into a fortissimo of red, yellow, and blood orange; the effect was only accentuated by the final rays of a setting sun. The temperature of the air was precisely at the boundary between lukewarm and distinctly chilly, perhaps the perfect essence of the term “crisp.” The lower hills flowed so perfectly into the plains below it looked like God himself had used a wide-brimmed paintbrush to bring the landscape into existence.
The effect of the scene, however, was entirely lost on Danny as he once again attempted to understand the point Lauren was making.
“But wait. I feel like we’re operating under different definitions of the word ‘representation.’ Maybe that’s why I’m not getting what you’re saying?”
Lauren sighed. They were walking on a trail high enough in the mountains that the setting sun still illuminated the forest around them. It was already dark further down the mountain in areas too low to be hit by the sun’s increasingly horizontal rays. Lauren felt a tinge of apprehension at the prospect of descending the mountain in the dark, and then turned her attention back the nigh impossible task of getting Danny to see something differently.
“You’re always so focused on structures and representations,” said Lauren. “If you stop thinking about them for a second, it’ll be more clear.”
“I’m not entirely convinced you know what you’re talking about.”
Lauren stopped and glared at Danny.
“That’s a cheap tactic. You’re just trying to avoid letting go of your precious theories. Can’t you just think about this differently for two seconds, and then return to your precious world of representations?”
Danny, secretly affronted by Lauren’s implication of his intellectual immaturity, decided to press the offensive.
“You do understand that in ‘thinking differently’ about this, all I’m doing is adopting a different intellectual representation towards the matter at hand.”
Checkmate, thought Danny. Though still internally quaking at the ease with which Lauren was able to perceive his insecurity, Danny relaxed his shoulders and smiled at Lauren like they were playing a delightful game.
Incidentally, Lauren actually didn’t pick up on Danny’s feeling of weakness, and instead perceived a smug twerp who clearly thought too highly of himself. Breaking up isn’t out the question, she thought.
“Fine,” she said, and promptly turned around and continued up the trail.
After the last three months, Lauren knew Danny well enough to know the effect this response would have on him. Danny really did crumble remarkably quickly if he thought he had hurt her feelings. All she had to do was sufficiently “commit to the bit,” so to speak.
True to Lauren’s intention, Danny stood dumbfounded for several seconds. The term “jagweed” kept reappearing in his mind. What an utterly bizarre term, he briefly thought before compulsively turning the entirety of his mind towards relational reparations. How quickly a perceived checkmate turns against you.
“Lauren, I apologize,” said Danny after accelerating to catch up. “My last comment was aside the point. What were you saying about art again?”
And this point, the pair was crossing a boulder field, and Lauren took the opportunity to step onto a large rock, distinctly looking down at Danny. She crossed her arms and slightly narrowed her eyes, completing the effect.
“Are you actually going to listen to me this time, or are you just going to look at me, nod your head, and pretend like you’re listening?”
Danny, though feeling thoroughly chastened, noticed for the first time that Lauren’s left eye was slightly further from her nose than her right. Perhaps it was the combination of their relative positions together with the angle of the sun that gave light to this fact. Though it by no means detracted from her attractiveness, Danny quickly filed the observation under his mental cabinet of “Things to never say, under any circumstances.” A second-order analysis revealed that he was violating the implicit request she had literally just made, which he found equally ironic and potentially dangerous within the scope of the discussion. As such, Danny took a deep breath and then positively clamped his attention onto Lauren’s disapproving face.
“Yes, I’m listening,” he said.
Ironically enough, Danny had been making careful eye-contact with Lauren despite his flurry of distracted mental activity, and therefore she didn’t pick up on his instantaneous faltering of attention. As such, her irritation with the schmeag standing in front of her softened a bit; in fact, she was overtaken by a faint sense of amusement.
“Ok, good. But we’re losing light, so I’m gonna need you to listen and march at the same time. I know that’s hard for you.”
And without a backward glance, Lauren hopped off of the rock, began hiking, and launched into a lecture about the meaning of art. Danny stood watching her for a moment, and felt a slight chuckle take command of his throat. Heavens, she really is quite compelling. Then he dutifully hurried to catch up with her, straining his ears to catch what she was saying. It really can be cursedly difficult to hear someone who’s hiking in front of you.
“Ok, here’s what I’m saying,” Lauren began, “and I honestly thought you’d like this more, because I think it’s kinda like all the stuff you’re always talking about with representations. Ok. So when I was running yesterday, I was thinking about the word ‘meaning,’ as in the ‘meaning of life.’ And I was thinking to myself, ‘that’s kinda a sucky phrase, because it doesn’t feel like it’s even being used properly—’”
“Wait, hold on,” interrupted Danny, “What do you mean by ‘meaning,’ in this context?”
“That’s literally what I was getting to, if you’d stop interrupting me,” said Lauren with another backward glare, “But I guess it’s a fair question. Let me think about it.”
She stopped for a moment, breathing heavily, and thought about it.
“Ok, here’s what I think I mean. Imagine there are a bunch of kids playing in a room, and they’re breaking a bunch of stuff. Then the dad comes in and is like: ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ I’m talking about meaning in that sense. …does that make sense?”
“I suppose so,” said Danny, “so wait, it seems like you’re talking about ‘meaning’ as an associated explanation. Is that right?”
“Hmm, maybe? I think the idea of association is important for how I’m using ‘meaning.’ Like two things being associated with one another? …yeah I think that’s it. It’s like when you’re looking for the meaning in something, you’re pursuing associated information about the something. Does that make sense? But actually, you know what? I think it’s more general than information. And yes, I know I’m being vague about my definition of ‘information,’” said Lauren, countering a frequent source of intellectual incoherence between herself and Danny. “I guess without specifically defining ‘information,’ I think ‘meaning’ is more general than just having to do with information just because information seems too concrete to me. Like it doesn’t capture the emotions of the situation well enough. Ok, yeah so in talking about art—”
“Wait, hold on,” said Danny, “it’s hard to hear you. Let me go in front so I can hear you better.”
Having said that, Danny bounded around Lauren and continued forward. He squinted off to his right toward the sunset. Probably about 30 more minutes of light. Good thing we brought head lamps.
“Ok, sorry about that. Keep on going,” said Danny.
“You’re good. Yeah, so I guess I’m interested in why the idea of ‘art’ is so loosely defined. Like imagine trying to define ‘art.’ It’d be as hard as trying to define ‘love,’ or ‘joy.’ But what if you asked the question, ‘what is the meaning behind the Mona Lisa?’ Or maybe ‘what is the meaning behind a Rembrandt?’ It’s a weird question, but I think it’s easier than trying to define ‘art’ itself.”
“So I guess based on what you were saying earlier, you’re thinking about this in terms of associations, or associated explanations?”
“Yeah I guess so. And actually, yeah, I think that’s the right way to think about it. Maybe, at least. Like art is something that’s typically created, right? But, I mean, our brains are constantly forming associations between different concepts, emotions, structures, all of that. Like all the stuff you’re interested in.”
“Yup,” confirmed Danny.
At this point, Danny was getting an increasing sense that what Lauren was talking about could more simply be discussed within the framework of representations and entities, but it seemed like a tactical blunder to bring that up in this present moment, so he kept his mouth shut and let Lauren keep talking.
Lauren, for her part, was quite aware of what Danny was thinking, given that it seemed to be the only thing he ever really seemed to think about. That, and me. Ha. She allowed herself a silent smirk and continued describing her thought.
“Ok, so I think that’s getting close to what art actually is. This isn’t totally exhaustive, but you could say art is something that is created and is associated with a set of emotions.”
“I mean, yeah,” said Danny, frowning, “but isn’t that kinda …obvious? I mean, would anybody say that’s not the case?”
That statement would have been annoying to Lauren, but to her satisfaction she could tell that Danny was speaking purely analytically, which meant he actually was paying total attention to what she was talking about. As if that should be something that makes me happy. It shouldn’t feel like a battle to actually get his attention. Whatever.
“Yeah, I guess it’s obvious. But, I mean, it doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Emotions, desires, thoughts, sensations are all stuff that appear in consciousness at the most basic level, so it seems important that the certain creations we call ‘art’ have a pretty fixed set of emotions and sensations associated with them.”
“Wait, that actually is super interesting,” said Danny, again stopping briefly to check the position of the sun. “Hmm… yeah. It’s actually really interesting to think about pieces of art as carriers of a particular set of emotions. And actually, there really is something to be said about the fact that the piece of art itself was created by a person. Like for some reason you almost automatically want to figure out why the artist did what he or she did. Hmm… did you ever read the Mysterious Benedict Society?”
Lauren laughed. This is why she kept Danny around. It was fun to get him excited about something and watch him compulsively bump around between different subjects. “No, but I think I’ve heard of it. It’s that kids’ book, right?”
“Actually, it’s more of a young adult novel. I think my sister calls them YA novels. What a ridiculous acronym. But anyway, the villain is a dude called Mr. Curtain, and basically he has this machine that transmits thoughts around the world. But one of the most interesting parts about the book is actually how he packages information. So basically, he has this institute that’s set up to fill kids head with propaganda. Like they’ll be taught stuff like ‘the government is like a poisoned apple, and society is like a poisoned worm.’ Stuff like that. Anyway, after he’s brainwashed these kids, Mr. Curtain hooks them up into his machine, and then has them project thoughts like ‘poisoned apples, poisoned worms.’ It’s cool because even though it’s only those words that are transmitted to people, the connotations of the words themselves are also transmitted. So even though a kid might only be saying ‘poisoned apples, poisoned worms’ into the machine, they’re also projecting a bunch of anti-government propaganda.”
Danny fell silent for half a second.
“Wait, where was I even going with that?”
Lauren laughed again. It was probably a good thing she found this conversation amusing, because otherwise she and Danny would be entirely incompatible.
“I think you were talking about art being a carrier of emotions,” she said.
“Oh, yeah yeah yeah. That’s right. I guess I was thinking that art kinda becomes like the propaganda words from Mysterious Benedict Society. Like not in terms of societal decay, but in terms of carrier of meaning. But why would something like a piece of art be better for that than just any old thing you’d find in nature?”
“I think there’s something about the artist’s intention,” said Lauren. “Like I think you expect that if an artist is being genuine, they had some particular purpose in how they created their…creation. Even if it wasn’t totally conscious while they were creating it. Like the purpose, I mean. Unless you like believe that there’s a God that created everything with a particular purpose, then if you’re just looking at a scene in nature, there’s not a strong of a reason to think that it’s not all totally random.”
“Wait, yeah. That’s actually kinda weird,” said Danny, frowning again. “Why are humans so obsessed with purpose? Or I guess meaning. Yeah, why are we so obsessed with purpose and meaning?”
“I mean, isn’t that kinda obvious? Isn’t that the whole purpose of philosophy? Like basically trying to answer the basic question of ‘how should I live my life?’”
“No, I don’t think that’s obvious. You just basically said humans are obsessed with purpose because they’re trying to figure out how to live their lives. That seems circular.”
“What are you talking about? How isn’t that obvious? Ok, so I guess if you take a step back and look at the human experience, we basically have a set of experiences that are either perceived to be good, like happiness, or perceived to be bad, like pain. So then you’re basically trying to figure out what you should do to maximize the good and minimize the bad.”
“But what does that have to do with purpose? And I mean, we’re also kinda getting off track. We started out by talking about the purpose behind a piece of art, which I think is a different discussion than speaking about the purpose of a human being.”
They fell silent for several seconds. The summit looked like it was about four minutes away.
“Hold up,” said Lauren, stopping and shading her eyes, “are you seeing this sunset?”
Danny had been staring at the ground while thinking about their conversation, and experienced a minor jolt as he escaped his thoughts to return to the present. Looking up, he could see why Lauren had stopped. The sun was now at the very edge of the horizon, and appeared like a blood-red orb behind a distant mountain range. Equally compelling was the fairly thick blanket of clouds to the east. The red of the sun was bounding across the cotton-candy blue sky to paint the clouds with a delicious shade of pink. Those are the two colors on a sour gummy worm, Danny realized. Naturally, this only added to the effect.
Turning his gaze slightly downward, Danny looked more closely at Lauren, and experienced a second jolt as he realized just how beautiful she was. The same rays that illuminated the clouds to the east were playing across her face, which only accentuated her expression of quiet satisfaction and joy.
“Wait, stay right there,” said Danny. He bounded down to a slightly lower position where he could see a three-quarters view of Lauren against the clouds behind. Having found the proper position, he closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath.
“And what are you doing?” asked Lauren, somewhat bemused.
Danny opened his eyes, taking in the scene before him, once again.
“Perfection,” he said. “Absolute perfection.”
It was these sorts of things that informed Danny’s family’s decision that he was the most dramatic member of the bunch.
Lauren laughed, perhaps a bit nervously, then struck a pose with her hands on her hips thus becoming a caricature of a broadway model.
Danny laughed a well, and then ran past her back up the trail.
“Come on, let’s get to the top!”
For some entirely intangible reason, the scene of Lauren against the clouds had rapidly lifted Danny out of his prior contemplative state and had filled him with an altogether boyish energy. Coupled with the equally intangible (though carefully hidden) male desire to impress Lauren, Danny directed this burst of energy towards sprinting the rest of the way up the mountain.
Lauren, for her part, thought the display somewhat childish, though perhaps amusing. She most certainly had not experienced the same arbitrary burst of energy; in fact, she was feeling the altitude. As such, she proceeded upward at her previous pace.
Danny had exhausted his temporary well of energy with about 100 feet left to the top. However, given his latent desire to not look weak, he decided to press onward at his needlessly rapid pace. As could be predicted, Danny was so sufficiently winded upon reaching the top that he immediately crouched downward and thoroughly scrunched his face in a desperate attempt to avoid heaving. Thankfully, he narrowly avoided that fate and had roughly a minute to compose himself before Lauren herself summited.
Lauren, entirely oblivious to Danny’s self-imposed plight, had been taking the last several minutes to continue pondering the meaning of art. Upon reaching the top, she immediately began vocalizing her thoughts.
“You know, I was thinking about what you said. Like how humans focus on a piece of art in a different way than they would focus on some other thing. Even without knowing exactly why people do that, it’s interesting that a piece of art would become the focus of so many people’s attention.”
Danny, caught off-guard by a combination of the rapid return to conversation and an oxygen deficit, didn’t immediately grasp what Lauren was talking about.
“It’s what we were literally just talking about! I’m just saying that it’s interesting how famous pieces of art basically become the focus of intense meditation. Or maybe that’s the wrong word? You get the idea. It’s almost like everyone is convinced that the piece of art has meaning, and they’re all arguing and trying to agree upon what the meaning actually is. Or, I mean, everyone who actually cares. But anyway it’s almost like the whole point of the piece of art is to attract attention, and then the generations of viewers imbue the art with meaning that can be communicated and has value.”
At this point, Danny had re-centered his attention within the conversation.
“I don’t think that properly acknowledges the aesthetic value of art, but you do bring up an interesting point about how people effectively normalizing their collective opinion about the meaning behind a piece of art. I guess that’s also interesting to me on a functional level, because then motivated individuals can then use the particular piece of art to invoke a certain set of emotions in an audience, which can be used for political purposes. I suppose that’s just the essence of propaganda.”
Having both completed their respective thoughts, the pair watched as dusk faded into twilight, bringing with it the first indications of stars.
“I guess you did know what you were talking about.”
Lauren closed her eyes out of exasperation. Jagweed, she thought. And then: What a weird term.
I was recently walking amongst the Flatirons at dusk, and I suddenly came to an interesting intellectual discovery. It seemed fairly profound to me, though ultimately the nature of the realization is fairly simple, once you consider it for a second. Before I describe the precise nature of the discovery, perhaps I should give some level of indication why it seemed so profound. On a personal level.
In an increasing number of my pursuits, I’ve recognized that there seems to be a conversation of sorts going on between different aspects of reality. In particular, I tend not to be one of the participants in the conversation, but either my impulsive actions or intellectual activity seems to be the medium by which this conversation occurs. I suppose my latest discovery is one particular instantiation of this phenomenon. If nothing else, simply observing this conversation is somewhat remarkable. The trick, I suppose, is realizing that the conversation is even happening in the first place. Only then can you actually witness it as it occurs. It took me about 21 years to actually figure out it was happening. My simply describing it will make it patently obvious, and perhaps some of you that have been involved in research-based endeavor have already come to a similar realization.
In order to explain my realization, I first have to explain the nature of physics. Particularly, what theoretical physics is all about. Now, I recognize that some might have a viscerally negative reaction to my even bringing up physics, likely because of some poor experience in high school. First of all, let me say that I’m not actually going to be describing physics from a high level, rather than actually doing it. So don’t stop reading even if you feel some degree of repulsion towards physics. Second of all, before I even describe physics, let me say that in my experience, physics is either profoundly frustrating and difficult, or shockingly easy. There’s very little in-between. More specifically, if you take the time to develop an intuition for the most basic principles governing a particular theory, working with the theory becomes remarkably easy. And if you don’t develop that intuition, you’re literally screwed. Physics becomes exponentially more difficult. In my experience, this is why so many people believe they are “bad” at physics. The American school system (especially high school, but certainly college as well) teaches students to memorize facts. It does not teach students to develop intuition for the first principles governing a particular topic. Thus, students are typically totally unprepared to engage with something like physics, wherein the material becomes exponentially more difficult if you opt to approach it using a “memorize everything” learning framework. Hmm, I’m going down a rabbit hole. All that is to say that physics might not be as hard as you think, and it’s possible you didn’t approach it correctly.
Anyway, if you actually know me, I’ve probably already given you this particular speech, and it’s certainly not the main body of that which I wish to discuss at the particular moment. So, let’s move on to what’s actually interesting.
In order to describe how theoretical physics works, I first need to describe how math works. In essence, one first defines particular entities of different types. Then one describes concrete rules for how the entities interact with one another. Finally, one typically manipulates the entities in question according to the rules provided which leads the creation of a new state that logically follows according to the definitions used to describe the entities. So, for example, a number is an example of an abstract entity defined within the context of mathematics. One then can define operations such as addition and multiplication, both of which take two numbers and produce a new number. Not only that, but rules such as the “distributive property” (which you probably remember from basic algebra) define basic rules that govern relationships between addition and multiplication.
Ok, the actual particulars of math aren’t important. Basically, all you need to understand is that math provides a framework for creating abstract (typically symbolic) entities, and defining rigorous, deterministic rules for how these entities interact.
Ok, so now I’m in a position to describe what theoretical physics actually does. It’s actually pretty simple. First, you observe something in the physical world. This could be anything from gravity, to temperature, to windspeed. Really anything. Then, you observe how different mathematical structures behave. More precisely, you study what happens to different mathematical entities when you apply previously defined rules to these entities. Thirdly, you attempt to find a mathematical structure that behaves similarly to the physical phenomenon you observed (in some capacity). Finally, you manipulate the mathematical entity and then map it back onto the physical system, which effectively allows you to predict how the physical system will behave.
I think probably I’ll give a related example to explain this more clearly. What is a map? A map is a simple two-dimensional image that is a representation of geographical features in a particular area. We’re all familiar with maps. Now let me ask you this. Is the map the same thing as the actual land it represents? Obviously not. Is the map perfect? No. So why is it still useful? It’s useful because it’s a good enough representation to help you perform some action. Maybe let’s be more specific. Let’s say you’re in Denver, and you’re trying to drive to Salt Lake City. If you don’t have a map, it becomes substantially more difficult to acquire the information necessary to make it to Salt Lake City. Which exit do you take? What’s the right highway? However, if you possess a map, and the map is a sufficiently faithful representation of the different features you’ll encounter on your way to Utah, then you can make accurate predictions about how you should best approach your journey. In other words, if you want to get somewhere, you need information about what lies between you and your destination. The map allows you to easily acquire this information because the map is incredibly accessible. Far more accessible than acquiring this information by interacting physical terrain.
This is precisely the same reason why a physicist tries to find a mathematical structure that behaves in the same ways as some physical phenomenon. Instead of trying to drive from Denver to Utah, the physicist is interested in figuring out how some physical system is going to behave. More specifically, the physicist is interested in figuring out how some system will behave in different environments and situations. There are two ways of acquiring this information. First, you can simply empirically observe how the entity behaves in a variety of different situations. More specifically, if you’re trying to figure out what something does in a particular situation, you can simply attempt to observe that thing under those conditions. So let’s say you’re interested in how electrons behave at very low temperatures. One way to acquire this information is to simply observe electrons at very low temperatures. Ok, great.
But what’s the problem with this approach? Any time you want to figure out how something will behave in a new situation, you need to find a way to observe the system under those particular conditions. Typically, this is either difficult or effectively impossible. What if you’re trying to figure out how electrons behave at the center of the sun? That’s a pretty tough one to directly observe.
Luckily, there’s another option. Instead of just empirically writing down how electrons behave under a wide variety of conditions, let’s say you instead try to find a mathematical structure that behaves in the same way as those electrons under different conditions. Let’s say you find such a mathematical structure. That’s pretty great! Why? Because if you wish to acquire information about how the electron behaves in a new environment, instead of observing it in that new environment, you can simply simulate the behavior of the electron using the mathematical structure you’ve found. In particular, instead of observing the electron in the new environment, observe the equivalent mathematical structure in an equivalent mathematical environment. And why would you do this? Because working with the math is much easier than working with the actual system.
Just like the example with the geographical map, it is much easier to acquire information from a mathematical structure than a physical structure.
Ok, so just to reiterate, this is literally all that happens in theoretical physics. First you observe something. Then you find a mathematical structure that behaves in the same way. This mathematical structure gives you an easier way to acquire information about the physical system in question. Boom. Done.
That ended up taking longer to describe than I previously thought it might. Well, whatever. Now let’s get to my realization.
I’ve presented physics in a fairly simple light. Observe something. Find math that behaves similarly. Use the math to predict something about the thing you observed.
However, I’ve left out one crucial step in the process. Namely, I haven’t talked about how to efficiently work with the mathematical structures you find.
Now it is true that math should behave according to certain rigorously defined rules. However, typically in something like physics, you have something you’re trying to find, and you need to mess around with the math to get it in a form that gives you the information you want. And this can be pretty monstrously difficult.
I imagine you’ve likely experienced this, regardless of whether you hate math or if you’re a theoretical mathematician. Typically, in school, math question questions are frequently phrased as “Here’s some stuff we know. Now solve for X.” And it typically requires some brain power to solve for X.
In fact, given the rules of math, in any given situation, there are usually an exponentially large number of different options available for how you can possibly manipulate an equation. So the question is, how do you figure out how to manipulate the math to get the information you want?
In my experience, I’ve found that perhaps the most powerful way to do this is by developing an intuition for how to mathematical entities in question should behave. Then you can let your intuition serve as a guide for how you should perhaps manipulate certain equations.
But here’s the question: what is that intuition? What is actually going on when you follow your intuition?
Here’s the thing I realized. If I told you to imagine a ball spinning in front of you, I imagine you’d be able to conjure up this apparition in your head. In fact, it could likely be more than just a 2d image in your head. You could probably imagine holding the ball, touching it. Engaging with it with your different senses.
I realized that when I talk about using my “intuition” to solve some problem in math, what I’m really doing is conjuring up some physical representation of the mathematical quantity in question to give me insight into how I should proceed. In other words, my intuition is almost precisely the opposite of what we do in physics.
In theoretical physics, you find math that behaves in the same way as a system. However, in using intuition to work with mathematical structures, you’re basically conjuring up some physical representation of the mathematical structure to give you insight into how you should manipulate the given mathematical structure.
When you’re dealing with physics, typically the subject of your intuition is actually the physical system you’re describing in the first place.
Ok, this post is stretching on a bit long, but here’s what I’ll say. Up until my little walk in the Flatirons, I wrongly conceptualized the process of mathematical modeling as being simply simple one-time back-and-forth between the physical world and the mathematical world. Namely, you attempt the convert the physical world into the mathematical world, you work with the mathematical world, and then you convert back to the physical world.
I’ve realized that in this sort of process, there’s actually much more back and forth between mathematical knowledge and physical intuition. And at a certain point, it begins to feel as though the physical and mathematical worlds are engaged in conversation, with your brain being the medium by which this exchange takes place.
I find this quite compelling.
So I’ve been thinking about it, and I think we’re going to die 😊. How’s that for a click baity first sentence. I was actually lying in the first sentence – I actually think we might die. Definitely not guaranteed. I’m def not tryna bool on out as Thomas Malthus’s reincarnation, but it’s actually a legitimate concern.
I suppose I should probably explain what I mean. Well, as with most of my posts, I’d like to first talk about why humanity has made it this far to begin with. Am I about to talk about Stable structures? You betcha!
Ok, so humanity is fairly miraculous, specifically given our dynamic stability within the context of everything else we can perceive. If you’ve even taken cursory biology, you know what I’m talking about is true. If you’re not convinced, go look up our best understanding of the human ear. It’s literally buck wild. It’s so unbelievably complex, it’s difficult to even conceive that it literally doesn’t fall apart in a second. Let’s just say, you’d be forgiven if you researched the human body and came away believing in the existence of a Creator.
Anyway, if we assume intelligent design isn’t actually a thing (for sake of argument – don’t get your panties in a wad), there still is totally a mechanism that would allow for something as complex as Homo Sapien to come about. Let’s talk about it.
Definitely beating a dead horse if you’ve read some of my other stuff, but I’m gonna talk briefly about Stability again. Basically, according to our perceptions of the world, it’s fairly obvious that some things are more stable than others. If, for example, you built your house out of granite, it’s going to last longer than if you built the boi with thousands of slices of Swiss cheese (an inferior cheese, IMHO).
So within the context of stability, some things just “work” better than others. And by “work,” I mean “possess some Characteristic that allows it to survive in its present form for a greater duration than other Entities.” Not too bad, right?
Ok, in past posts I’ve gone on at length about why some Entity might be more Stable than others (ie it’s better at contending with threats, etc.), but right now, let’s talk about how Entities even come into existence in the first place.
As I think you can intuitively agree, complex stability just doesn’t manifest arbitrarily. In other words, a Big Mac isn’t going to just appear at the center of the milky way. Well, it could, but that would be an incredibly low probability event.
This idea of complexity just appearing out of nowhere is something that people have been thinking about for a while. There’s a thought experiment about something called a Boltzmann Brain, which basically looks at whether a fully conscious brain could just come together arbitrarily in the middle of space. If you think about it, a brain is just some matter that’s organized in a particular way, so there’s isn’t a reason why a bunch of matter couldn’t randomly form a brain in the middle of space.
However, just to continue the Boltzmann Brain thought experiment further than it’s typically taken, let me ask you this: Even if matter randomly came together to form a brain in the middle of space, what then? I’ll tell you what then. The brain would immediately die due to the lack of blook flow, the low temperature, a lack of nutrients, and generally a lack of a body to support it. The same could be said of effectively any biological entity, in that it would immediately perish if it were to arbitrarily form in the middle of space.
So then, it’s not just our biology that makes us humans incredibly interesting, it’s also the context that allows humans to exist in the first place. And it’s this context that gives us a clue into how something as complex as a human could even come into existence in the first place.
Ok, let’s talk about subatomic particles. Not because of their actual physics, but rather because most people think of them as a fundamental building block of reality. Whether that’s actually true is neither here nor there for the present argument. Bear with me.
So if you had a super big puddle of subatomic particles (like in the early universe), what would happen? If you don’t believe a supernatural figure had anything to do with our universe, then you probably tacitly believe that the puddle of particles would eventually become people, houses, monkeys, whatnot. But how do we get from the chaotic puddle of subatomic particles to structures are complex as monkeys? Let’s dig in.
Basically, the only thing you need to know about subatomic particles is that they interact with one another in interesting, but relatively predictable ways. Basically, what typically happens is that particles will either attract each other or repel each other in different ways.
The really interesting thing though is that some configurations of particles are way more stable than others. The configurations that are most important to us humans are atoms. And if you think about it, it’s not too difficult to see how atoms formed from particles. As a quick recap, atoms basically have a bunch of electrons (small, negative bois) swirling around a bunch of protons and neutrons (large, positive or neutral bois).
Basically, in order for atoms to come about, all you need is an area of space where a bunch of particles are interacting. Chances are (ie, it’s a fairly probable event) that an electron and a proton are going to come together to form a hydrogen atom, and then boom, all of a sudden you have a very stable structure. So basically, it’s reasonably probable that particles create hydrogen atoms, and then stay in that configuration due to its stability.
Just to be clear, hydrogen is special. If you throw two electrons together, the resulting configuration is highly unstable. The same thing can be said for a huge array of other possible configurations of particles. Without needing to know the details, there’s something about hydrogen that just makes it work, where other things don’t.
Ok, so now we have hydrogen. Luckily for us, hydrogen is both highly stable, and it also interacts in interesting ways with different atoms. Thus we can apply the same line of thinking to atoms that we did with particles. And basically, the story there is that some configurations of atoms just work (are inherently more stable), than others, and you get molecules.
You can basically continue this line of thinking until you start getting biological Entities, and whoopie! We have humans. However, as you’ll probably intuitively agree, it can’t just be that easy. And, blessed reader, your intuition is correct. It isn’t.
Basically in order to reliably get situations where lower forms of complexity can create higher forms of complexity (ie molecules to biological cells), you need something I call a Sandbox. (That’s by no means an original term, and you probably know where I’m going with this).
Here’s how I define a Sandbox. First of all, you need some structures (like particles) that interact with each other in interesting ways. More specifically, the situation has to allow for the Entities to interact with each other in many different ways. For example, if all subatomic particles were spread out across the universe, they wouldn’t be able to interact and form atoms. In order to get atoms, you need particles to be in the same general vicinity to increase the probability of atom formation. To make a somewhat shaky analogy, nature has to be able to run a bunch of “experiments” in order to find the structures that are the most stable. So you need a situation where random interactions are fairly probable.
On the flip side, you can’t have a situation that’s too chaotic. If you stuffed all the particles in the universe into a tiny box, you’d probably get atoms pretty quickly, but they’d probably be blown to pieces by all the chaos around them. Essentially, the Sandbox can’t be too unstable or the structures that do form won’t be able to survive the threats to their existence.
Lol. If you’ve read my stuff where I pontificate about Order and Chaos, this is a slightly less philosophical treatment of the subject: progress occurs at the order between the Light (order) and the Chaos.
Just as a quick side note, can I quickly vent a little bit? Some people have been getting really caught up in how “fined-tuned” the universe is for human life. They say things like “if some fundamental physics constant was slightly different, life wouldn’t be possible.” Duh! But you sons of goats are looking at it wrong! Life and consciousness are obviously really cool, but they aren’t necessarily the end-all-be-all of the universe. From my perspective it seems fairly obvious that life and consciousness are both phenomenon that make total sense within the context of reality because they’re simply mechanisms that lead to higher structural stability.
While life and consciousness are obviously incredibly, unbelievably complex, they aren’t super surprising, in that it makes sense that they would manifest in a reality with temporal consistency, given that such a reality places high priority on temporal stability. What would be way more surprising is if life and consciousness didn’t give rise to higher Stability. If that were the case, I would be way more likely to believe in an intelligent creator because complexity basically doesn’t come around unless it has a competitive advantage.
Ok, back to my original tangent. Why do humans exist? Well, we’re basically the product of a ton of Sandboxes. What I mean is that in going from atoms to molecules, molecules to cells, cells to organ, organs to organisms, each step of the way there’s been a Sandbox that allows the universe to “experiment” with many different structures and find the structure that works the best.
Now then, you might be wondering, wouldn’t Sandboxes themselves be really, really rare? If so, then humanity’s existence would seem more mysterious. However, if you read my post on Explosive Continuity, you’ll see that certain particularly stable structures naturally give rise to Sandboxes (low threat areas where “experimentation” is possible). I won’t go into that too much, but if you’re interested, send me an email and I’d love to discuss this.
Anyway, let’s go back to the very first paragraph. Why do I think humanity’s in real trouble? Well, we’ve been banking off some great Sandboxes for the last millions of years, and now we’re in a position where we could destroy our current Sandbox. Why? Because humanity’s too powerful, which makes it very unstable.
One critical aspect of a Sandbox that allows it to function is that if one experiment fails, it doesn’t destroy the Sandbox. So two electrons being close to each other isn’t going to threaten the electron and proton to form hydrogen, which is why we get atoms.
If a failed experiment can lead to the destruction of a Sandbox, then you’re basically dealing with a situation that’s too chaotic to be a Sandbox. And that’s specifically what’s happening with humanity.
Scientific progress is really neat, but it has drastically increased the power individual people yield. And just like any other situation, certain aspects of humanity are more unstable than others. As you probably agree, it’s not great if the unstable parts of the system can wreak a huge amount of havoc.
To look into this, let’s consider the age-old phenomenon of someone losing hope, going crazy, and killing a bunch of people. In the old days (like cave man era), if you decided to go on a killing spree, resulting in your own suicide, you could probably only kill a couple of people before you were taken down.
Now a days, with ARs and bombs, if someone really wants to kill a lot of people, they can kill a lot of people. We typically focus on the positive aspects of empowering people with technology, but the same technologies that “make the world a better place” also allow people to cause a greater amount of destruction, if that’s their goal.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention! (JK) Scientific progress naturally accelerates if left to its own devices, which … um … might just kill us. Let’s just say that if General AI is widely available to your average Joe Shmo, it’s time to head for the fracking hills.
So what do we do about this? Well we could either try to dampen scientific progress, which, historically speaking, would probably be a total disaster, or we need to increase the size of our own Sandbox drastically so that when Joe Shmo decides to ‘splode the Earth with his pocket nuke, we don’t all die.
And how do we do that? Well, we’d need to increase our domain beyond the boundary of destruction, which probably means that we need to get to space, and we need to get there like now. Frankly, spreading to space probably wouldn’t save us from malicious AI, but at least we might be safe from some nukes.
Hmm, a small group of humans would probably have to sneak off in a totally untraceable manner to escape malicious AI. That’d be interesting.
Ok, well I imagine you all catch my drift. However, I should note that Malthus’ error lay in underestimating human ingenuity to solve the problems he thought would bring humanity to its knees. While I’m arguing that humanity’s ability to constantly progress may in fact be our downfall, I certainly don’t want to make Malthus’ mistake and discount the problem-solving abilities of generations to come.
However, if the trend of the last several thousand years stays true, then the coming developments of humanity will likely be well beyond or entirely different from what we presently conceive, bringing its own opportunities and threat.
Eh, whatever. Just stay on your toes, bois.
Shalom, brethren and sisthren! It’s quite nice to be writing another one of these. I’ve been working on four major projects over the last several months, so that’s been eating up a healthy chunk of my time. And frankly, I wasn’t sure that the utility all you schmeags derive from this blog was worth the effort of writing posts, so my incentive for writing has been fairly low.
However, I’ve actually spoken to a fair number of people over the last month or so that have expressed their enjoyment in partaking in XFA. To all of you who enjoy observing my mind soup, a most heartfelt thank-you.
Now then, let’s get down and dirty with the notion of Desire (not the sexual type, just your average “I want that car cause it looks cool” desire), and why I’ve boldly associated it with Tension. But before we really dissect this bad boi, I’d like to talk about why this is even on my mind in the first place.
Actually, a more honest answer than the one I’ll provide is that Desire is fundamentally tied to the notion of goal-formation, and I’ve actually been thinking a good deal about goal-formation in relation to the nature of human intelligence. While we typically take our ability to formulate goals (even subconsciously) for granted, attaining a bio-mechanical understanding of the neural dynamics of goal formation is comparable in complexity to achieving an understanding of the nature of consciousness, which anyone who is anyone agrees is pretty fracking hard problem.
Anyway, I’ve been extensively studying the formation of intelligence over the last months, and this has led to me to frequently contemplate the nature of goal-formation. However, the last two paragraphs actually have nothing to do with where I was originally going with the train of discussion in the third paragraph. Wow, how’s that for a cohesive narrative. Anyway, let’s get back to where I was originally going with this post.
The other main reason I’ve been really thinking about Desire is because of my current situation. Here’s what’s going on in my life. First, I’m almost finished creating a social media platform that I believe might actually fundamentally improve how people interact on the internet. If it works, it also might be incredibly lucrative. Second, next week I’m heading to Detroit to meet with some incredibly powerful individuals to pitch them on a project I’ve been working on with a couple of buddies. While the project is itself exciting, the more exciting aspect is that this could actually potentially provide me with an opportunity to successfully drop out and work full-time on an awesome project, and get paid, baby! Third, a good friend of mine has had an app idea that seems remarkably promising, and at this point, I’m pretty much confident in my ability to throw this new app together fairly quickly.
Ok, so why am I saying this? Am I trying to sloppily flex on the haters? Well, not quite. My current life situation is somewhat interesting because even though some of the stuff I have brewing is pretty exciting, there is absolutely no guarantee that any of it will pan out. And if it doesn’t, I’ll be back at square one.
But what does this have to do with Desire? Well, several times over the last couple months, I’ve been hit with such a strong confidence that my social network will make it big that my brain just assumes it’s going to happen. And in those moments, I’ve been possessed by some of the most potent anxiety I’ve ever experienced. And that’s weird.
Before we go any further, some of you might note that it’s incredibly presumptuous for me to assume a new social network is actually going to take off. You’d be absolutely right, of course. However, the aforementioned confidence I felt was more a remnant of my extremely turbulent emotional cycles, and less a function of the logical deduction. For reference, typically when I get extremely excited about a new idea working, I can almost guarantee that I’ll be hit with a wave of existential depression the following day. Isn’t life fun?
Anyway, the whole point of this lil story is that there frequently seems to be a strong correlation between Desire and anxiety in my life. Also, I’m only capitalizing Desire because it’s the subject of the post. Just thought I should make that clear.
So then, why are Desire and anxiety seemingly linked? An even more interesting phenomenon is that gratitude seems to have an opposite effect from Desire. Frack it, I’m going to stop capitalizing desire. It seems weird.
Specifically, as you’ve undoubtedly experienced, achieving a state of gratitude for the good aspects of life seems to assuage my anxieties tremendously. Gratitude journaling also seems to be rampantly taking over the self-health community, so I’m not the only one thinking about this.
At this point, you might be wondering, “…Hey Danny? Are you just trying to say greed makes us sad, and gratitude makes us glad?” (couldn’t resist the rhyme) “Isn’t that totally obvious?” Well, yes, reader, I suppose you’re right, but I’d like to take a deeper dive into this phenomenon from a quasi-rigorous neurological perspective. Prepare yourself for a classic Danny Boi G stream of consciousness, because I haven’t really fully fleshed out my thoughts on the subject.
Ok, let’s start with what our brain is even doing in the first place. One of the most important jobs of the brain is to form an efficient representation of reality. Let’s take that statement apart, shall we?
First things first, what do I mean by an efficient representation? A representation is a structure that exhibits similar characteristics and behaviors as some other structure. So a lego human being is a representation of a human being, because it shares some of the same rudimentary characteristics of a full-fledged biological human being. So what do I mean by efficient? By efficient, I mean that the representation is able to evolve far more rapidly than the structure it’s representing.
For an example of an efficient representation, think of a billiards video game on your computer screen. If the person who programmed the game did a good job, then the computer game should be a good representation of a real, physical game of billiards. Now then, unlike in real life, we can speed up the computer game, which allows the state of the computer game to evolve faster than actual game. Thus I would call the billiards video game an efficient representation of an actual billiards game.
Aside from being merely convenient for the sake of entertainment, why might the computer game be helpful? Well, let’s say that you want to figure out where the eight ball will go if you hit the cue ball in a certain way in the actual game of billiards. You basically have two options. First, you could just hit the ball in real life and see what happens. Second, you could set up an analogous situation in the video game and watch the video game play out. If you go with the second option, you reap all sorts of benefits. First things first, you can speed the video game up, which allows you to figure out what’s going to happen faster. Not only that, you also figure out what’s going to happen without ever hitting the cue ball in real life. That’s big. Basically, the efficient representation of the pool table (ie, the video) gives you “knowledge of the future” before the future even happens.
Ok, so let’s go back to my original statement about the brain. I’m essentially asserting that one of the brain’s principal functions is to construct efficient representations of perceivable reality. And just like in the billiards game, this efficient representation allows the brain contemplate and simulate future situations before they’ve even occurred.
Why is this a big deal? I use this example all the time, but bugger me bloody, here we go again. Let’s say you look up, and you see an asteroid falling toward your head. If this asteroid hits you, you are going to die. Let’s carefully take apart what happens next.
For your entire life, you’ve been watching objects fall. Whenever an object is unsupported it falls towards the ground. This happens in such a consistent fashion that our brain is able to form an efficient representation of the process. This efficient representation of falling objects allows our brains to simulate situations faster than they actually evolve in real life. This ability to simulate allows our brains to make predictions about the future state of reality with remarkable accuracy. So if your cousin Davy throws a football, you have a pretty good idea of where the football is going to land before the football actually lands. While this sort of cognitive process probably doesn’t sound that exciting, I’d like to humbly submit that this is one of the most miraculous aspects of our present reality. Ok, but let’s get back to the asteroid, because it’s actually quite important.
So there you are, looking up at the asteroid. If you were a jelly fish or a rock, the perception of an asteroid above your head isn’t going to change your behavior. However, because you’re a human with a brain that has formulated a good representation of falling objects, your brain can rapidly play out what is going to happen in the next several moments, before it happens. So basically the brain can determine that a sizeable object is about to fall on your head, and if you don’t get out of the way, you’re going to die. And thus, you get out of the way, and you don’t die. Ta-da.
It seems like people frequently refer to “knowledge” as this nebulous entity that grows and changes over time. If we’re getting technical, however, “human knowledge” is basically just the sum total of efficient representations of reality the brain has acquired over its lifetime. And as we’ve just seen, the reason why our brains even form efficient representations in the first place is because it greatly benefits our ability to contend with threats, thus markedly improving our stability as individuals and as a species.
Ok, I certainly could go off on some unreasonably long tangents about this, but let’s try to get back to the subject at hand. What does all this business about efficient representations have to do with desire and/or gratitude?
Our brain’s ability to construct efficient representations of reality not only allows us to better comprehend the state of the present moment, but it also allows us to simulate hypothetical scenarios. Our brain also has functionality to evaluate the quality of these real or hypothetical scenarios. Our brain might attempt to determine if a hypothetical scenario might involve pain, or if it might trigger pleasure receptors. Basically, the brain can determine if a hypothetical scenario is better or worse for us than the present scenario. Finally, the brain can determine if a hypothetical scenario is actually in sync with the present state of reality.
Ok, I’m kinda running out of steam here, but I’ll just try to finish my train of thought. In terms of evolutionary fitness, it would make sense that whenever the brain simulates a hypothetical scenario that is of higher perceived utility than the present situation, the brain induces a certain amount of anxiety. This anxiety would be the impetus for us to attempt to manipulate the state of the present to become more like the hypothetical, “simulated” state of reality. This mechanism would allow the brain to help move a human being towards states of greater utility.
On the contrary, if the brain determines that the present state of reality sufficiently meets the requirements of stable survival, it would make sense for the brain to “turn off” anxiety so that the human doesn’t make any changes to their situation to compromise the state of stability.
Ok, so what about desire and gratitude? Well, under this reframing, desire can be thought of as the brain attempting to move the human being toward a state of greater perceived utility. And in order to do that, the brain would naturally want to induce some level of discontent/anxiety about the present situation. Likewise, gratitude is basically the process of recognizing the beneficial aspects of the present state of reality. If the brain is able to decide that the present state of reality is sufficiently beneficial, then the brain should remove feelings of discontent and anxiety to preserve the current state.
So yeah, not particularly difficult to see, but here’s a reasonable explanation of why desire induces anxiety, and gratitude induces peace. So yeah, give gratitude a try.
To finish out, let’s get a bit soppy. Basically, yeah, there are a couple things in my life that are kinda exciting at the present moment. However, I’ve found that it’s imperative to my mental health to recognize that even if all of them don’t pan out, there’s so much about my present state that allows for stable survival, and thus tremendous cause for gratitude.
So yeah, in case you were wondering why gratitude is so important, these are my two cents. Peace.
Sup schmeags. So quick Danny life update before we talk about Life, the Universe, and Everything. I’m in a bit of an ironic situation, in that I believe I’m a certifiable workaholic without every having worked an official full-time job. Neat, huh?
Anyway, you might be wondering what I do with all the time I don’t spend writing XFA posts. Well, I’m finding myself spending an increasing amount of time trying to convince my perpetually fraying emotions that it’s a good idea for me to just keep coding. I hit a bit of a rough patch last night involving Orchid, comments, and really sketchy DOM manipulation, and I decided to put my foot down. So yeah, I’m taking a full day off, which is something I’m not actually sure if I’ve done since I got my wisdom teeth out back in January.
And that means it’s a great time for me to write some blog posts! I’ll probably go find Roger and give him a toot as well, but there’s time for that later. To be clear, “Roger” is the name of my bassoon, which should clear up any juicy misconceptions that last statement may have imparted to you.
Alright friends, let’s talk about explosive continuity. I probably should have named the post “Explosive Homogeneity,” but it seems the term “Homogeneity” has accrued some negative connotations in the last several years with which I have no desire to be associated.
Also, I’ll be using my Fizzy Definitions, so if you see capitalized words that otherwise have no business being capitalized, you can scoot yourself on over to my last post in which I outlined my definitions of some of my most frequently used words.
Ok, before we get into what I mean by “explosive continuity,” let’s talk about why this is important. The notions surrounding explosive continuity provide (in my estimation) a compelling explanation for effectively any large-scale system that has some degree of homogeneity. Humanity, biological life, the universe, dimensions, subatomic particles are all examples of such systems.
Hmm, that didn’t come across as sexily as I wanted, but hey, no one’s ever said that sex sells, right?
Ok, so now that I’ve (somewhat shakily) described why explosive continuity is important, let’s talk about what it is, and why it comes about.
As I’ve stated about a bajillion times by this point, a Stable Entity basically has two jobs if it wants to survive. It has to maintain its internal stability, and it has to contend with threats in its environment. So as a human being, if you want to survive for a good long time, not only do you have to make sure your internal organs don’t randomly shut down (leading to an almost certain death), but if you run into a tiger, you best be sure to either fight it, or run away. Likewise, if you’re a Carbon atom, if you want to survive for a long time, you have to be sure that your protons and electrons don’t arbitrarily decay (they typically don’t), and you also have to be sure that you aren’t blasted to smithereens by a rogue Alpha Particle.
Now then, basically all the arguments I present about stability recursively apply to an Entity’s substructure, so we’re just going to ignore internal stability for the present moment. Let’s talk about dealing with threats.
Every Entity typically poses some degree of threat to every other Entity with which it interacts. So, a bowling ball (a certified Entity) poses a threat to you (another certified Entity) because the bowling ball is able to interact with you and your constituent parts. You might argue that the bowling ball doesn’t pose much of a threat to you, but what if you accidently drop it on your foot? What if Dwayne the frikin’ Rock Johnson throws it at your head? Now it’s really a threat!
While the degree of the threat obviously varies drastically given the context of the situation, the threat is always there. So then, how do you deal with a threatening Entity? You basically have three options. You can fight, you can flee, or you can cooperate. Now then, fighting and fleeing are typically the goto options in these sorts of situations (remember your fight or flight instinct?) but cooperation is typically the best option, if it can be achieved.
Before I move on, I want to clarify one point. Given my language, you might think I’m talking specifically about biological Entities. That’s simply not the case. These arguments apply to biological systems because they’re Entities, not the other way around. These arguments apply just as well to non-biological entities.
To illustrate this, consider a rock. Within the context of our planet, rocks are pretty darn stable. They’re certainly not nearly as fancy (or interesting) as human beings, but they’re darn good at the whole Stability game. Why is that? Well, rocks typically have great internal Stability because they’re built out of super stable materials (small atoms), and they’re also pretty great at contending with threats? How, you rightly ask? Well, they aren’t super great at fleeing, but they are pretty darn great at fighting and cooperating.
“But Danny,” I hear someone keening in the back of the room, “Rocks don’t fight. Rocks don’t cooperate.” Well, Foolish Florian (I’ve been reading GOT lately), here’s what I have to say to that. How should we define fighting? I would argue that we could define fighting as behaving in a manner that eliminates a threat. Rocks happen to have such a high degree of internal stability, that most true threats to their stability simply break on impact. While it’s certainly passive, this particular characteristic of rocks makes them pretty great at fighting threats.
“Ok, so rocks fight,” mutters Florian. “Whatever. But they don’t cooperate.” Well, again, I would have to disagree with you, under a particularly open definition of the word “cooperation.” I would define cooperation as two or more Entities behaving in a manner that increases their collective stability. We therefore can certainly apply this definition to rocks. Consider the interaction between a rock and a human being. As long as the two entities have low relative momentum, then there is a ton of potential for cooperation. The human might take shelter next to the rock, thus protecting the human from other threats. In this case, the human might also attempt to fortify his/her shelter with other materials, which could easily increase the rock’s stability as well. Thus, cooperation.
Cooperation is actually way more common than one might think. It’s typically a key ingredient in creating higher-order Stable Entities. Just to satiate your appetite, here are some other examples of cooperation. The interaction between primitive eukaryotic cells and mitochondria is a great example. Any form of biological symbiosis is probably the most familiar example of non-human cooperation. The interaction between electrons and protons is a fantastic example of cooperation as well. And obviously, people working with other people is clearly a form of cooperation.
Now then, cooperation is clearly the optimal way of dealing with threats, but obviously cooperation isn’t always possible. Statistically speaking, out of all the threatening Entities an Entity may encounter, the Entity will likely only be able to cooperate with a small set of those Entities.
Good heavens, I need to find a way to use the word “Entity” less frequently. This is getting out of hand.
Ok. So I’ve established that it’s in an Entity’s best interest to cooperate with other Entities if possible (because it increases everyone’s stability), but cooperation is really hard to achieve. So then, how can an Entity minimize its need to fight or flee from threats (suboptimal outcomes), and maximize its propensity for cooperation (far and away the optimal outcome)?
Well, typically the best way for Entities to achieve this is to exist in a widely homogenous environment. To understand why this is, let’s take two different examples. Let’s first imagine that you live in the middle of nowhere, but your house is surrounded by gorillas for miles and miles. When you first move in, you might find this terrifying. I, for one, have an irrational fear of gorillas from a Nancy Drew book I read as child, so I’d consider that a suboptimal situation. If, however, you learn how to cooperate with gorillas, you’re basically home free. Gorillas have shown a remarkable capacity for communication, so let’s say over time you learn how to speak gorilla. Before long, you could basically organize your environment into a gorilla metropolis. Awesome!
Now, let’s consider a different situation. You live in the same house, but now you’re surrounded by miles and miles of all different sorts of animals. We’re talking Noah’s frikin Ark, baby. This really isn’t as great. Even if you learn how to speak gorilla, you aren’t in a position to deal with the threats posed by the lions, bears, shadow cats, white walkers, ismenian drakons, and what not.
Definitely not my best analogy, but you get the point. If you exist in a homogenized environment, then you don’t have to do as much work in order to achieve a state of productive cooperation with the environment.
If you’re looking for real world examples of this “homogenization,” then literally look around you. Almost every large-scale system we humans encounter on a daily basis exhibits a greater degree of continuity than almost anything else we can observe. The air we breathe, the ground on which we walk, the climate, our civilization, businesses, multicellular organisms, humans themselves are all examples of incredibly homogenous environments. It’s this homogeneity that has allowed for Stable Entities as complex as human beings to come about.
Ok, we’ve hopefully established that it’s almost always in an Entity’s best interest to exist within a homogenized environment because such environments typically allow for the greatest degree of productive cooperation between local Entities. With that said, can an Entity do even better? And perhaps the more leading question is: how do these homogenized environments come about?
The answer to the first question also answers the second. Yes, an Entity can do even better than simply existing in a well-homogenized environment. How? If it can act as the agent of homogenization. In other words, insofar as it’s possible (which it typically isn’t), it’s in an Entity’s best interest to homogenize its environment. And, as you might have guessed, this is typically how homogenized environments come about.
Now then, I’ve been pretty loose with my definition of “homogenization,” but let’s talk about how an Entity might go about homogenizing its environment. Well, one way is to simply eliminate all of the most potent threats to your existence. This has basically been the MO of almost every large civilization in human history. How do you guarantee the health and stability or your society? Simply conquer all the threatening societies around you.
Another example of this is biological immune system. An animal is a system of trillions of incredibly homogenous systems (cells) displaying an incomprehensible degree of cooperation, and the immune system’s job is to basically destroy anything that threatens the homogeneity of the organism.
Ok, so eliminating threats is a great way to promote homogeneity, but there’s an even more potent way to homogenize your environment. Replication. We humans call it reproduction. Sex, baby.
The essence of replication or reproduction is to reorganize the Entities in your environment into a copy of yourself. Now then, the reason why this form of homogenization is so potent is because this replication can easily be exponential in nature. If the copies you make of yourself can also make copies of themselves, then soon you’re going to get a bajillion copies of yourself.
Replication is also great because cooperation is typically easier to achieve between similar Entities than between dissimilar Entities.
The real powerhouses can both replicate themselves and eliminate threats in their environment. That’s not a hard one to understand. It’s easier for an army of 100,000 soldiers to take down a civilization than it is for a single soldier. And how do you get from one soldier to 100,000? Sex, baby (replication).
Thus, systems of Entities that can replicate themselves and eliminate threats in their environment exhibit what I call explosive continuity. As long as resources exist to sustain the further production of similar Entities, they basically grow exponentially fast, which is to say, really frikin fast.
Due to our privileged status of citizens of the Earth, we constantly encounter systems that exhibit explosive continuity. Explosive continuity is basically the MO of literally every biological system, ranging from cellular structures to global communities. It’s pretty darn important.
However, there’s one more system that I’d like to talk about which I believe might exhibit explosive continuity in the manner I’ve described. That system is our universe.
There’s basically nothing within perceivable reality that exhibits a greater degree of homogenization than outer space. That might be a weird thing to think about, because we typically think of outer space as being empty. However, in the past century, we’ve learned that our universe is expanding incredibly rapidly. That’s kinda the whole deal of the Big Bang.
Within the context of reality, explosive continuity is quite rare. However, when it does exist, it’s, well, explosive. And there’s nothing quite as explosive in perceivable reality than the Big Frikin Bang.
Which leads me to the following hypothesis. Cosmologists typically attribute the expansion of our universe to a mysterious force called dark energy. If you want to get jiggy with the math, dark energy kinda just appears as a constant in Einstein’s field equations, but that’s less important here. Math, after all, is just math.
So here’s my hypothesis about the nature of dark energy. Based on my observation of processes that behave like our expanding universe (systems exhibiting explosive continuity), I hypothesize that our extremely homogenized dimensions (both spatial and temporal) are actually just a sea of constituent Entities that are able to replicate themselves and eliminate threats to their existence. Based on my understanding of particle physics, I hypothesize that these Entities are even smaller than subatomic particles but may very well be the constituents of subatomic particles. I would guess that these Entities operate at roughly the Planck scale, simply because that’s where fancy physicists believe the continuity of space and time starts breaking down.
So yeah, that’s my hypothesis about the nature of dark energy. I don’t really care about the local structure of the constituents of Dimensions so much as their global behavior, because that’s what actually makes everything we know and love possible.
What makes this hypothesis so intriguing is that it indicates that there are greater forms of structure to reality than simply all that is perceivable in our universe. So yeah, for all you schmeagy physicists that don’t know what to do with CERN now that we’ve found the Higgs Boson, let me humbly suggest that you ain’t seen nothing yet. However, based on literally everything we know about reality, I’d guess it’ll be pretty darn hard to figure out how to observe the constituents of dimensions.
In closing, if you ever learned about European history, you may remember that at one point, some humans believed that the Earth was surrounded by a “Celestial Sphere.” The celestial sphere model was used to explain the fixed motion of stars and planets by asserting that they are embedded on the surface of this gigantic sphere. The religious folk of the time were a big fan of the Celestial Sphere model because they basically asserted that God and the angels lived on the other side of the sphere. So, if you want to find God, just go to the other side of the sphere.
Unfortunately for those religious folk, it turns out the celestial sphere model is a pretty bad model for explaining the motion of heavenly bodies, which means it’s a little harder to find God than they suspected.
If however, our universe is constructed from some constituent Entity which exhibits explosive continuity, then that means our universe is embedded within a greater form of reality than we’ve ever dreamed of perceiving. I’m not talking parallel universes, I’m basically asserting that reality might be much much larger than we initially thought.
So if you’re looking for God (or aliens, or general superintelligence), I’d start there.
If you have either read any of XFA or have spoken with me in the last 6 months, you probably know that I have a series of terms which I frequently use in discussing the nature of reality. While some of my favorite terms like “non-trivial,” “compelling,” and “indicative,” have definitions taken right out of (insert you favorite dictionary), I do use several terms in a more…idiosyncratic manner, and I find myself frequently re-defining them as I write XFA posts. As a firm subscriber of the DRY programming philosophy, I think it’s high time I bite the bullet and just write down some definitions that I know I’ll use again.
You know what? We can actually make this into a fun little system. Whenever I capitalize a word that otherwise has no business being capitalized, please understand that I mean it in a fizzy way. When I write “Entity,” instead of “entity,” understand that I mean entity according to the fizzy definition provided here and not according to the connotation you’ve been cultivating for that particular word your entire life. Aight fam, here we go!
One final note. I very well may find myself needing to add to this list over time. If/when I do, I’ll include a small note indicating the date on which I made the edition.
Entity – Darn right baby. This word is #1 in my heart and XFA. An Entity is anything within a time-constrained context that exhibits any degree of Stability (see definition below). In an effort to further analyze an Entity’s stability, we can say that an Entity has stable Characteristics and stable Behaviors (again see definitions below).
Stability – When I use Stability, I’m referring to something’s ability to retain its form or features for a non-trivial duration of time. For example, a dog exhibits a certain degree of stability because it maintains its dog-like characteristics for several years. The earth is more stable than a dog because it’s been around for several billion more years than a dog will live.
Characteristic – A Characteristic is one aspect of an Entity that remains constant as time progresses. If I saw a blue fence and noticed that the fence didn’t change color with the progression of time, I would refer to “blue” as a Characteristic of a fence. You’ll notice that this is in slight conflict with the dictionary definition of “characteristic,” which is typically used outside of any time-based context.
Behavior – A Behavior is an aspect of an Entity that evolves as time progresses, but in a well-defined stable manner. If my aetheric girlfriend Arya laughed every single time I told one particular joke, then Arya laughing at my joke would be a Behavior of the Entity that is Arya.
Sup Schmeags. Insofar as my perception of reality can be taken to be a non-local standard, it appears as though reality can be understood as a compositional and hierarchical collection of entities. For sake of precision, I’m defining and entity to be any stable system with well-defined characteristics and behaviors.
That’s somewhat redundant, because a “behavior” is simply a characteristic with a temporal element, but we’re time-bound creatures, so I find it to be a useful categorization.
You know what? I’m going to capitalize Entity because I’m the lord of this blog, and nothing can stop me.
Now it’s quite important to me that you understand the generality of an Entity. While the term “entity” typically brings to mind some connotation of either a physical object or some abstract localized notion, please understand that an Entity, as I’ve defined it, is far more general.
There’s nothing inherent that constrains an Entity to be spatially localized in any capacity. Additionally, there’s nothing that constrains an Entity to behave in a smooth, locally linear fashion throughout the expanse of time. It just so happens that within our three space dimensions and time dimension, there happen to be a higher degree of correlations that occur between Entities which are closer in time and space. And I most certainly mean closer in the typical sense.
So then, why talk about Entities? Well, friend, they’re kinda the only thing that matters. And you know the most important aspect of them? Stability. To add a slight caveat, they’re important insofar as knowledge that is useful to human survival is important.
Why is stability important? Well, the only reason you can comprehend, articulate, or imagine anything is because the objects of your interest have some degree of stability.
Good heavens, I suppose I should define stability so that the importance of this topic is clear. By stability, I mean the extent to which an Entity is able to maintain its characteristics and behaviors as time progresses.
This definition is intrinsically bounded in time, but it is generalizable to any situation in which there’s even the slightest notion of evolution in the state of a system.
That’s kinda a side note. Anyway, back to the importance of stability. Why are homo sapiens a big deal? Because they’re a highly adaptable Entity that are able to contend with their environment in a manner that allows them to promote their personal and group stability in a highly robust fashion. Why do you care about Netflix? Because it’s an Entity which has proved to be highly stable throughout the last decade and has behaviors and characteristics which bring humans utility. Why are sub-atomic particles important? Because they’re so incredibly stable and have such a robust set of behaviors that they’re able to constitute an unreasonably large number of higher-order Entities.
I do hope that this has somewhat convinced you about the importance of Entities and stability. If you’re not convinced, respectfully go shuck a duck.
Now then, let’s talk a bit about what makes Entities stable. A very good first step is for the Entity to be internally stable. And by “good first step,” I mean “unavoidable, crucially important first step.” By internally stable, I mean that the sub-Entities which constitute this particular Entity are in and of themselves stable.
So, to give examples, a molecule is only stable because the atoms that constitute the molecule are stable. A cell (as in Eukaryote) is stable only because its organelles are stable. Here’s one you might like. Why is Netflix stable? There are literally to many sub-factors to even name. In order to Netflix to be even possible, let alone stable, you need a large population of people with computers and Televisions, you need a stable power-grid that typically behaves in a well-defined fashion, you need a stable population of producers who are willing to make shows, you need a stable population of actors and actresses who want to be in shows in the first place. You need a stable frikin internet, which allows for the highest bandwidth of information transfer even conceived.
I could certainly go on, but I think you get the idea. Basically, stable things (Entities) can only exist if their constituent parts (sub-Entities) are stable.
I really should emphasize that by “stable,” I do not mean “static.” Static means “fixed in some capacity.” Anyone who remembers the God-awful early days of Netflix can attest to the fact that many times, an Entity needs to adapt and improve if it is to survive.
Now then, I didn’t actually want to spend the entirety of this post reiterating my theory of Entities, so let’s talk about the aspect of Entities that’s important for this particular post.
In order for an Entity to be stable, not only does it have to be internally stable, but it also must be externally stable as well. This presupposes that an Entity is necessarily embedded in some environment, but that seems to be a safe assumption because it applies to literally every Entity ever witnessed and recorded by a human being.
Whether you’re an atom, a molecule, a coronavirus, a human being, a literal planet, or a nebula, in order to be stable, you need to be able to contend with your environment. And your environment typically presents a myriad of threats to your stability.
Imagine I’m an amoeba. I’m boolin around, absorbing organic matter, doing my thing, and them all of a sudden, BOOM I run into a eukaryotic cell! Oh frikin no!
Now, lets put the dirty biology aside for a second and talk about what could happen in this here Mexican showdown between different forms of organic matter.
And when I say destroy, I’m not necessarily talking about some evil, premeditated attack. It could be as simple as the amoeba running into the cell, which ruptures the cell, causing it to no longer exist as a Eukaryotic cell.
Basically, what I’m getting at is that both organisms potentially pose a threat to one another.
Ok, whatever. It’s possible one or both of the organisms won’t survive the interaction. And who cares? They aren’t conscious, they don’t have souls, they don’t have feelings. If they die, literally no one knows or cares.
Be that as it may, if the eukaryotic cell possessed the capability to contend with the amoeba, then it would have a higher chance of survival.
How would it do this? Well, both of these organisms live in our 4-dimensional world, so perhaps the eukaryotic cell has a chemical detector that is able to detect the presence of an amoeba or other external threat. Let’s say this chemical detector, once activated, triggers a mechanism that propels it away from the threat.
Alternatively, let’s say the cell has a mechanism which releases a powerful acid if it’s threatened. Then, when the amoeba approaches, BOOM chemical blast. The amoeba dies!
As a third potentially rarer option, let’s say that when the amoeba approaches the eukaryotic cell, the amoeba realizes that the eukaryotic cell is excreting a chemical that is necessary for the amoeba’s survival. Likewise, the eukaryotic cell realizes that the amoeba destroys other harmful organisms that approach, so it’s the in cell’s best interest to keep the amoeba around. Thus, the two organisms live symbiotically, and potentially merge into a higher-order Entity.
So there you have it! When faced with an external threat, a stable Entity probably should flee, fight, or “learn” to cooperate with the threat. You’ll notice that I have in no way presupposed the existence of emotions, goals, motivations, consciousness, or anything of that sort. All I’ve asserted is that if Entities possess these particular traits, they’ll likely be more stable.
Ok. Now then, let’s talk the Light and the Chaos. I’m about to get all Daoist on all y’all, so prepare yourselves. The Light represents order, structure, and the “known.” The Chaos is an abstraction for everything not in the light, the “Great Unknown” in the most expansive meaning of the phrase.
As stable Entities, human beings exist at the boundary of the Light and the Chaos. As the most stable inheritor of a truly staggering array of lower-level stable Entities, not only do we impulsively live at the edge of the Light and the Chaos, but we’re also conscious of our position.
Now I should say that the boundary between the Light and Chaos is in no way clear cut. The Light and Chaos rather bleed into one another. The Chaos permeates every facet of the Light, but to differing degrees. However, regardless of the Chaos, there are always still areas where the Light promises of its own existence.
Now then, let’s discuss what we might do about our present reality of Light and Chaos. Where ought we strive to live?
Should we walk into the depths of the Chaos? I certainly think not! That would be akin to nearing the gaping mouth of an inky black cave, hearing the sounds of terrible beasts rustling around within, and nevertheless strolling inward.
Should we call that bravery? Perhaps. But also likely suicide. Much like the cave, not only do you have no knowledge of the dangers which lurk within, but you also are in no way prepared to contend with the dangers when they attack. And thus, to plunge into the Chaos is external defeat, and is therefore evident of internal defeat.
But what else can we do? Should we wallow in the Light? In an area entirely permeated by the Light, with not a shred of Chaos in sight, adventure goes to die. There is nothing meaningful whatsoever about living entirely within the confines of the Light. It spells certain survival, but survival at what cost? There’s nothing more soul crushing than a guarantee of nothing new, nothing fresh, a staggering lack of adventure. You will live, but you will live in a state more despicable than death.
So what is left? What leads to a meaningful existence? An existence that perhaps has some degree of important within the context of reality?
It is along the murky Border of the Light and the Chaos that we must walk. Only at the Border of this duality is meaning to be found. Only at the Border does Light no longer represent despicable stagnation. Only at the Border does Chaos no longer spell certain failure and defeat.
At the border, Light becomes the structure we use to remain afloat, the tools we use to build, and the weapons we use to fight. At the Border, Chaos becomes nothing short of the giver of life, continually presenting us with the newness and adventure as crucial to our souls as water or food is to out bodies.
It is at the Border where Heroes are formed. It is at the Border where the most glorious humanity has to offer take up the sword and the hammer, and truly contend with the chaos. It is at the Border where Jacob wrestles God. It is at the Border where Atlas holds up the sky. It is where Light is spoken into Chaos.
It is where meaning lies.
Sup people. Ex fizz, back at it again, trying to understand reality. So as I mentioned a couple posts ago, I’ve been working a bit more on Orchid, because I’m pretty sure it’s the only way. However, in bathing myself repeatedly in the hot, soupy stew that is fundamental mathematics, I’ve been forced to think a bit harder about certain things than I normally would. Like, for instance, “what is information?” Now all you information theory nerds can go wallop some cows for all I care, because typically discussions pertaining to information theory disintegrate into nonsense about entropy and other such jazz. And, allow me to be vulnerable for a sec, I don’t care enough about entropy to have studied it enough to know what the frack information theorists even care about. So maybe I’m just dealing with the same problems as them.
So let’s cast information theorists aside for a moment and return to first principles in these matters. Let me first ask a question: what is information? And now, let me answer it. As best as I can tell, information is a correspondence between the configurations of several (sometimes unrelated) stable systems. I realize that’s not super helpful, so let me give you an example from cave man days, because those are my favorite examples.
Let’s say we have two cave men, Dave and Thnead. Dave and Thnead enjoy being alive, and are therefore wary whenever they are approached by a saber-tooth tiger or an allosaurus. Both of those animals are big red flags to Dave and Thnead and typically spell out a gruesome bloody demise. Let’s say Dave and Thnead keep their best weapons at the back of their cave to protect them from the weather. Now then, Dave and Thnead take turns keeping watch during the night to minimize the chance of gruesome death by wandering saber-tooth tiger or allosaurus.
You know what, Dave and Thnead might as well be gay. How’s that for character building? That helps the analogy because now they have a good reason for wanting each other to stay alive.
This is an egregiously drawn out analogy, but let’s say Dave and Thnead come up with a system. If the boi that is keeping watch during the night sees a mean beasty, then that boi will throw small rocks (the type that float) at the back of the cave to wake the other boi up. Now then, everyone knows that rocks are better than sharp sticks for attacking saber-tooth tigers, and sharp sticks are better than rocks for attacking allosauruses. Because of that, our bois agree to throw one rock to the back of the cave if a long toothed tiger is spotted, and two rocks if a large reptilian fang-lord (allosaurus) is spotted, simply so that our bois are best equipped to fight whichever beasty they may encounter.
Dang that example was way shorter in my head. It’s literally equivalent to “one if by land, two if by sea” but we’ll ignore that for now.
Anyway the whole point of that written charade is to emphasize the correspondence between the number of rocks thrown and the type of beasty strolling by in the night. Even though there doesn’t seem to be any inherent tying the type of beasty to the number of rocks thrown, this system allows information to be passed between our lads.
So then, we get to the question that be-titles this post: what the flip-shack frack is a definition?? You may be wondering why this is important. Well, intellectually endowed reader, the notion of a “definition” is the only reason why the number of rocks thrown to the back of a cave has any correspondence to the nature of the animal that lurks in the darkness. Otherwise, those two systems have absolutely no meaningful connection.
The reason why I care about this is because I’m attempting to determine the extent to which information is fundamental to the universe, and the extent to which information is a human construct. It has become crystal clear to me that in any system within which there exists some notion of forward progressing time, the most fundamental entity is a stable system. The question, then, is whether information as we know it exists on a fundamental level or on the level which is only meaningful to the entities known as humans. And the answer to that question rests on the true nature of a definition.
While I’ve been writing this, I think I’ve stumbled upon something major. A definition is only meaningful if the source of the definition is itself well-defined and perceivable. Ah yes. That’s it. Well I just wrote three pages to answer my own question. I suppose before I wrap this up, I should explain my realization. Definitions are themselves merely characteristics of stable systems. Why does the character sequence “r-e-d” mean anything to you? Because you know that whenever I’m trying to describe an object that’s giving off electromagnetic radiation around 700nm in wavelength, then I will use the character sequence “r-e-d.” Thus even if you aren’t in the room, you now have a clear idea of the nature of the light coming off the object and entering my eyeballs.
So basically definitions and information are just “if, thens.” For example, in the case of our cave men, the following statement describes the stable behavior of one cave man “if [boi] sees allosarus, he will throw two rocks. If [boi] sees tiger, he will throw one rock.” Therefore the presence of a thrown rock immediately yields the other boi information on the nature of the beast outside the cave. Cool!
If you’re wondering why any of this is actually interesting, email me and I’ll do a better job of explaining it. Otherwise, bye bye now!
Aight lads and lasses. Let’s get technical. I want to code more than anything right now, but a certain thought process has been coursing through my veins for the last twelve or so hours, and I need to get it down. If my language gets too technical, it’s your fault for not understanding me. Haha, take that. Nothing like purposefully trying to push my readers away. Here we go!
I’ve written several posts about this, most recently the post about love, but I think the part of physics that is topically most interesting at this moment is the process of analyzing the stability of different systems. I’ll lay out the reason why this is interesting.
One central law in physics is the second law of thermodynamics, which roughly states that the disorder in a global system increases over time (that statement is a shade of the mathematical glory that is a proper study of entropy, but my readers don’t got no time for equations). The simple (and painfully cliché) analogy that is given for this statement is to imagine a new deck of cards. The cards are nicely in order. But the second you start shuffling, the cards quickly become scrambled and disorderly. If you hunker down and examine the probabilities in question, a randomly shuffled deck of cards is far more likely to be “disorderly” than “orderly.”
By applying similarly simple probabilistic theory to physical systems, you basically get the basics of statistical mechanics, which concerns itself with average quantities of systems with a large number of constituents (usually at or above 1023. Gotta love my boi Avogadro). To make a long story painfully short, you can essentially think of a thermodynamic system as a deck of cards that’s constantly “reshuffling” itself, and like a deck of cards, “disorderly” configurations of the system are generally significantly more probable than “orderly” configurations.
Great. So why should you care, inquisitive reader? Well, look at human beings. Human beings are incredibly well-ordered systems of incomprehensible complexity. To perhaps make the point clearer, if you took all the subatomic particles that make up your body and threw them into a box at random, the probability that the particles would end up in the configuration of a human being is disgustingly small. Outrageously small. If you think along this line of reasoning, the probability of humanity existing in our universe is so unthinkably small, it’s a miracle we even happened.
I simply refuse to believe that what I’m about to discuss hasn’t been rigorously treated by smarter minds than my own, but I’m going proceed as though these are original thoughts because I enjoy feeling like I’m scientifically innovative.
The fundamental question of this post is the following: Are highly ordered and complex systems probable given the configuration of our universe?
Given what I’ve already stated, your gut reaction to this question is probably: “No, Danny! Stop being dumb.” Hey, reader, watch your mouth. No one’s forcing you to read this, so go shuck a duck.
In order to continue, we ought to have a civil conversation regarding stability, because it’s ever so important. In fact, I think it’s the key.
In the previous example with the deck of cards, let’s change things up a little bit. Imagine that every single time the deck is in new deck order, small magnets engage that keep the deck from being reshuffled. So even though new deck order is statistically unlikely, if you continue shuffling the deck for eternity, the average configuration of the deck of cards is new deck order because once it reaches that state, it can’t be reshuffled.
To get a bit more rigorous, I’ll define a stable configuration of a system to be a configuration that is resistant to change (not super rigorous definition, but it’ll do). As we’ve seen with the “sticky” deck of cards, even is an “orderly” configuration of a system is statistically improbable in terms of possible random configurations of the system, over a large swath of time, the “orderly” configuration is actually probabilistically likely because it’s most stable.
The question now is, what would make any one system any more stable than another? Well, take a helium atom, for example. What makes a helium atom any more stable than a hydrogen atom? Those of you chemistry nerds are probably kerfuffling about orbitals and valence electrons. Hey, chemistry nerds? Y’all can also go shuck some ducks, then go take a proper class on Quantum Mechanics. Or, even better, just read R. Shankar’s The Principles of Quantum Mechanics. What a truly divine textbook. A mathematical masterpiece at the very least. Anyway, I’m not going to even try to explain humanity’s best understanding of the physics of stable orbits, but I can give you a much more abstract answer.
The reason why the helium is a stable configuration of protons, neutrons, and electrons is because these particular particles exhibit a rich set of behaviors when near one another. You probably remember that protons and electrons have opposite electric charges and therefore attract. Our understanding of quantum electrodynamics actually gives a more compelling explanation than that of simple electric fields. In QED, electromagnetic effects are described by an exchange of photons between different particles. Fun fact, QED was the first theory with full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity (got that straight from the wiki).
I went down rabbit hole. Regardless of how fascinating QED is, the important thing to keep in mind is that subatomic particles exhibit a rich set of behaviors when interacting with one another. The reason why helium is stable is because of the underlying rules governing the interactions between protons, neutrons, and electrons. If these particles didn’t interact with one another (much like cards in a deck) then there would be no notion of stability, and in those systems, disorder would be statistically likely, even throughout a broad swath of time.
So then, if you want any notion of stability in a system, you want there to exist a rich set of behaviors between the underlying constituents of the system.
Ok, I’m going to go in a slightly different direction now. I want to talk about what constitutes an “orderly” system. I tend to think of a human being as a highly ordered system. Amazon (as in the company) is a highly ordered system. Quartz is a highly ordered crystalline structure.
I think the big thing here is that an ordered system has a fixed set of stable characteristics. Two examples of this: 1) Human beings have arms. On average, a human being will keep both arms all throughout their life. I can reasonably predict that tomorrow morning I will have both arms attached to my body. 2) If someone punches me, I’ll get angry. For the average human being, if you punch them, they’ll probably get angry. I can reasonably predict that if I were punched tomorrow morning, I would get angry.
Ok, so to get a bit more rigorous, (also do know that I’m basically making this up on the fly), the degree to which a system is orderly is proportional to the number and stability of each of the systems characteristics. Cool. One thing to note here is that under this definition, in order for a system to be orderly, it must also necessarily be stable.
Actually, wait. Now that I’m thinking about it more, I think stability and orderliness might be two sides of the same coin. Remember my definition of stability? A system that is resistant to change. Cool, but how do you quantify whether a system is resistant to change? Well, a good first step is to describe the characteristics of a system, and if those characteristics remain the same as time progresses, then your system is stable. But what I just described was my definition of orderliness. Ha! Geisz’s first law: Stability = Order.
Ok, let’s move along. Remember, the big question of this post is whether highly ordered and complex systems (like humans) are probable given the configuration of our universe. What we should talk about next is how stable systems are able to build themselves into bigger stable systems.
What I’m going to talk about next is probably going to be markedly similar to my post about love.
Remember, the recipe for stability is a rich set of behaviors between the constituents of the system. So, an electron and a proton are able to organize themselves into the “stable” and “orderly” configuration of hydrogen because of the underlying interaction between two particles of opposite electric charge.
Hydrogen is all well and good, but I want human beings, I don’t just want hydrogen. How do we get from hydrogen to human beings? In other words, how does one stable system bring forth another stable system.
Remember the recipe. For stability to occur, we need a rich set of behaviors between the constituents of the system. So, if we want hydrogen (and perhaps some other atoms) to build themselves into systems of increased complexity, we need them to be able to interact with one another. Because of the whole business of stable orbitals, certain atoms do interact with one another, and therefore are able to form stable configurations, which we call molecules. On the other hand, helium, while incredibly stable, isn’t able to “help” other atoms create systems of greater complexity (molecules) because it doesn’t interact with any such atoms.
As an interesting side note, even though helium is pretty tame from the perspective of chemistry, it does still interact with other particles in an entirely different context. Because helium is light and stable, in the presence of a dense, gravitationally dominant object, a mixture of helium and other heavier gases will push helium to the top due to helium’s low density. This is a perfect example of a stable characteristic of a system, which means that an atmosphere could be considered a stable and orderly system. So again, any time the constituents of a system exhibit a rich set of stable interactions, there is potential for the system to be stable and orderly.
I think you probably get the idea. I’m at seven pages, so I should probably wrap this sucker up, but I think there should be a big takeaway here. If you want to propagate complexity and order, you want stable systems that exhibit stable behaviors. That’s all for now.
Hello readers. I know, I know. Two posts in two days? Is that some sort of record?? Well, astonished readers, it actually isn’t. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it was my intention upon the great digital birthing of this blog to write a post every single day. Intentions, pershhmentions is what I say to that.
Anyyow, (I’ve been saying “Anyhoo” far too frequently for either of our tastes) you may remember in a somewhat distant post that I threatened you poor innocent readers with a whiny post about why I don’t like college. Well, I’ve decided it’s high time to follow through with my threat, even though I’ll be making a good professional effort to keep the whininess to a minimum. As much as it might surprise you, I can actually be professional when necessary.
I think a good place to start with this whole business is to have a frank conversation about the purpose of college. The way I see it (and do yell at me digitally if you disagree) college has four primary purposes:
Now, as we all know, college is expensive. However, from the way I see it, not only is it expensive in terms of the money that is spent, but it’s also four whole years of my life (because I can’t really graduate in three years doing physics/CS unless I want to have a mean Junior year). So, if you’ll let me pop on my cute ‘lil economist hat real quick, the thing that is on the forefront of my mind is this question: is the time and money worth it?
Ok let me start from the top of my list: the academics. In order to understand my frustration with college academics, let’s take a fun stroll down yon memory lane back to my high school years. Basically, since eighth grade, it had been my dream to go to MIT. To make a complicated story overly-simple, I basically decided that the way to get into MIT was to get super good at math and physics (the longer story entails me pulling a theory of everything right out of my butt and proceeding to convince a bunch of high school admins that the only way I could prove it is if I skipped a couple math classes. Wow that sounds so much wilder when I read it than it did in my head).
MIT rejected me, on an academic, personal, and spiritual level, so perhaps you could say that the whole enterprise of me skipping into higher math and physics classes was a bust. However, in the process, I realized something interesting. Basically all throughout high school, I was always teaching myself something about math or physics, be it linear algebra or relativity, directly out of text books. As I did this more and more, I realized that I was able to achieve a significantly higher level of mastery of a subject that I taught myself independently. I also was/am able to retain far more information when I’m learning independently than when I’m in a classroom setting.
Not only that, as Berkeley has so lovingly taught me, I’m straight-up bad at learning in classroom settings. I basically intake zero information from lectures, to the point that I stopped going to most of them (exempting my humanities classes, where the lecture is the class). In terms of academics (and let’s be real, life), textbooks are my best friends because I can move at my own pace and focus more on topics I find particularly interesting.
Additionally, in a competitive and high-energy environment like Berkeley, it seems like academic performance always takes precedence to the content of our classes. And to a certain degree, it makes sense: employers are going to see GPAs, not detailed syllabi of the classes we’ve taken. It’s also been hard for me to escape that mindset because it feels like in order to make the most of the time and cost of college, I should do my best to get the highest GPA I’m capable of getting.
One of the biggest negative consequences of this mostly-toxic mindset is that subconsciously, my focus tends to shift from “oh wow this topic is so interesting, I’d love to learn more about it!” to “what’s the minimum amount of effort I can give learning this topic to still get an A.” While trying to minimize my whininess, let me suggest that the latter doesn’t lead to academic nirvana.
I also find that very frequently in my CS or lab classes, we’re being continuously tested on topics that are incredibly theoretical and don’t have much practical application in industry. Computer Science is such a broad and rapidly evolving field that they can’t really teach us much more than super theoretical topics without lecture content continuously becoming obsolete, but it’s personally quite irritating to spend a bunch of time learning about some super niche topic regarding machine structures that I’m fairly confident will never arise in my life again.
Hmm. I’m drifting onto my fourth page. I’m getting dangerously close to embarking on an all-out diatribe, so let me try to be succinct with this. Meeting students and having fun is great, but I have a very difficult time doing those things when the temporal and monetary price of college is looming in the back of my mind. In practice, while in college I’ve observed myself spending an egregious amount of time studying for topics that mostly infuriate me due to their inapplicability, and then almost immediately forgetting everything about said topics when the class finishes.
Ok, enough ranting. Wait hold on. Belay that order, let the ranting continue: ya wanna talk about degrees, kids? From my (probably naïve, 20-year-old) perspective, it seems like degrees are just nebulous abstractions used to convince employers that you’re a hard worker and have some knowledge in a particular field. Fine. Great. Whatever. The only problem is that after the last couple years, and my internship last summer I learned that I reeaaaaaaaalllly like writing software and I reeaaaaaaaalllly want to be my own boss. Yeah, I know, I can’t just magically be my own boss. But I can try.
Anygree (…you like?), gather round the campfire and let me tell you my future plans. Moving back home for the semester after Corona hit was actually kinda beneficial for me because it jarred me out of my machine-like lifestyle at Berkeley, and I was able to be more honest with myself about my collegiate experience and the activities in which I was involved. After talking about these things with my parents, and also after Berkeley’s decision to do “Classes in the Cloud” (* Danny is heard puking into a nearby trash can *), my parents have graciously allowed me to take a gap year back home in CO. What will I be doing, you ask? Well, the gremlins in my head are constantly trying to convince me that I’m making a mistake by not going back to school in the fall, so I’ll be making my best effort to work the entire time. Work on what, you ask? Stop asking. It’s annoying. Just kidding I live for your feedback, readers. Your words are the sourdough that keeping my heart beating. Anyway, I’m going to be a bit vague about this, but I’ve had a couple ideas I want to pursue, and they most certainly involve web apps. I’ll be coding for days!!
Well, enough of this. I suppose the tl;dr of this post is that I pretty much hate college, and will be doing everything in my power within the next year to achieve a position in which I don’t have to go back. Wish me luck, honey!
What is pooooooooooooppin’, my bois? (That’s supposed to be “poppin,’” not “poopin.’” No one’s pooping, as far as I am aware). It’s your boi Danny, back at you from my blogging hiatus that neither of us knew was going to happen. Basically, the story of my life is that I code 24/7 when I’m alone, and my brain is convinced that blogging isn’t a productive use of time when there’s coding to be done. Shut up, brain. No one needs you.
I’ve decided that I’m going to celebrate my coming out of my blogging slump by having a fun lil discussion about love. Love is a topic that is near and dear to me because it’s particularly intellectually challenging. Actually, fun fact: two spring breaks ago, I actually wrote a couple blog posts about love from the perspective of game theory. The posts were about 9 pages long, and even more schmeagy than the content yall have to put up with on XFA, so those posts haven’t really seen the light of day. Note that two spring breaks ago was about a year before I actually wrought XFA from molten python, Django, and html. Man I’m happy I actually powered through and finished building XFA. Where else would I possibly siphon off the thoughts that so mercilessly rattle about.
Alright, let’s jump right into the deep end in terms of love. First, I’ll mention that this post isn’t going to be Danny’s 101 tips and tricks for finding “The One,” mostly ‘cause I have 0 experience with healthy romantic relationships. Heavens, that might be a fun post for another time. No, much to the chagrin of all you readers who actively seek me out for my relationship advice (approximately 0.1 people per year), this post aims to answer a bigger question, namely why love is the answer.
“The answer to what?” you ask. “I thought the answer to life, the universe and everything was 42?” Well, nerdy reader, contrary to the religious teachings of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to life isn’t 42, it’s love, so there.
Just kidding. I don’t know the answer to life. I just wanted to throw the click-baity title up for kicks and giggles (putting up click-bait on a personal site injects a certain amount of chaos into the reality simulation that I find particularly compelling).
Oh my gosh. I’m starting to get annoyed with myself. Pardon me for not getting immediately to the point. Allow me to get immediately to the point.
Love is particularly interesting to me because of how it affects human beings. I won’t try to describe love, an effort that is doomed to failure, but I can look at its basic characteristics and its effect on people. The aspect of love that I find particularly compelling is that love will often compel one person to partake in a set of actions that decreases his or her personal utility for the sake of another person. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” comes to mind.
If you subscribe to the notion that life is a product of evolution, it may be surprising that human beings exhibit this particular behavior. Isn’t the whole mantra of evolution “survival of the fittest?” Why in the name of Odin’s left shin guard would humans have evolved in a way that compels them to harm themselves for the sake of another? Could organisms with that trait possibly have a higher level of evolutionary fitness than others?
Do remember that I’m a 20-year-old who is actively drunk on La Croix, but Imma take a lil stab at explaining this particular phenomenon, and I think you might like it.
The key trait of love that I think provides a good level of explanation for the intellectual query presented is the fact that one human being is able to love multiple people at once. If you model humanity as a graphical structure (within the context of graph theory) with humans being nodes and loving relationships being edges, you end up with a highly connected graph. If each human is in a loving relationship (either plutonic, parental, romantic, etc) with at least six other people, then even at third order, the love graph I’ve constructed could easily exhibit hundreds of connections between one person and the rest of humanity.
Bleh, I know you cool readers don’t care about graph theory, so let me tell you why it matters. Imagine you are in a particularly bad place in life, i.e. you lost your job, someone close to you has died, or something of that nature. At that particular point, you may not be in a position to lead a functional life. However, if you are in six different loving-relationships, then there are probably six other people who are willing to put their lives on hold to help you recover.
But that’s not even the best part! Those six other people probably know at least six other people each of whom would be willing to help you out.
What I’m describing is a highly connected, self-healing graphical structure! Isn’t that about the sexiest string of words you’ve ever seen in one sentence? Certainly is for this lad.
Now then, what about the evolutionary problem? The key issue in the perhaps counterintuitive argument I presented was that I was focusing on the wrong entity. Instead of looking at an individual human, look at humanity as the organism that has evolved to be the alpha on this planet. Humanity has evolved to have a particularly good knack at healing itself when a problem arises with one of its constituents.
An illustrative example of the point I’m making comes in the form of single cells. If you yodel on over to Google, you can verify that the average lifespan of a single bacteria cell is around 12 hours. You want to take a guess how long a single heart muscle cell lives? Probably not, so I’ll tell ya. 40 years. 40 frikin years. If you’re a single cell, it’s pretty great to integrated into a system of several trillion other cells built into complicated systems to ensure against single failures. Sure, this argument may have some logical holes in it, but 40 years is a longer time than 12 hours, I can tell you that much.
I understand that I’m not making a particularly complicated argument, but let me get to the juice. Say whatever poetic nonsense you want to about love, but at the end of the day, love can be understood as a chemical mechanism that compels people to form connections with others in a mutually beneficial fashion. You can make the argument that it’s in an individual’s best interest to play nice with other people, but I would counter that groups or organizations that are compelled by a loving motive are the most sustainable and expansive in the long run.
What’s particularly cool about the love-graph (patent-pending) is that its self-healing properties make it particularly sustainable, even despite its rich and diverse set of behavior. Systems that are stable and dynamic are particularly interesting because they’re able to interact with other similar systems in increasingly complex ways while maintaining stability.
And then, a large enough set of such complex, stable, and dynamic subsystems could potentially also form a type of self-healing graphical structure, which would then be able to form into a form of even greater complexity.
See where I’m going? The mechanism that we refer to as love within the context of humanity is actually perhaps the most effective tool in the universe for propagating and generating stability, order, and complexity. It’s a frikin anti-entropic machine, baby.
You could limit yourself by viewing love specifically as the deep, compelling emotion felt between humans, by why stop there? Personally, I find it more compelling to observe love-like characteristics in other highly complex systems than simply humans, and if you’re looking for a reason for why our incredibly complicated universe is the way it is, then perhaps the answer you’re looking for is simply love.
Anyhoo, that’s just some sauce for you to distill in your branium. If you disagree with me or the points I’ve made, or you have a different insight, please for the love of god send an email my way. I basically am always coding, so I’d love to take a quick break to spin up a fun lil email chain.
anYwaY, that’s all for now. I think I’m going to try for two posts a week, so I should have a bit more content coming your way from the ol XFA (that rhymed, massive flex). Byyee!
Hi. Let’s skip the introduction. Just kidding that would be absolutely horrible for bloggular cohesion. Since I last wrote a post, I have had several things float through my mind-space that seemed to warrant blog posts but were simply not juicy enough to consume an entire post. Such thoughts pile up quickly, my friends, and at the rate I’m currently writing posts, they will eventually overwhelm me, and I shall become more thought than man. I think I’ll just have to set aside particular times of the week specifically for blogging purposes. Yeah. That’s the only way.
aNyWaY, to relieve my brain, I will now proceed to write several shortish things about a wider variety of topics than usual. Various people have told me they enjoy the “stream of conscious” nature of my blogs. To that group of people, I must say that I actually haven’t really considered most of my posts to be particularly “stream of conscious,” but I must warn you all that what will follow in this post will simply blow every other post I’ve written out of the water in this particular category.
To begin the shotgun thoughts, let’s first talk about shotguns. I like them. My brothers and I recently got together with a family friend of ours, and we drove golf balls off a cliff into the wild blue yonder. We then subsequently shot skeet off the same cliff, and it was deeply enjoyable. My father owns an over-under shotgun (which is a double-barreled 12-gauge, but the barrels are stacked vertically), and that boi is simply of bucket of fun to shoot. Highly recommend to a friend.
Next, let me tell you about a lad named Nathan Peck. Who’s Nathan Peck (I mandatorily ask to keep up the jaunty flow of the post)? Well, he’s about the most stereotypical San Franciscan developer I’ve ever laid eyes upon. He works for Amazon, specifically AWS (my only true love), and his job title is “Developer Advocate for Elastic Container Service at AWS.” Pretty boring, right? WRONG. Go sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done. But why has Nathan Peck achieved loml status? Well, he wrote a series of just shockingly, almost offensively informative Medium posts about how to launch a serverless containerized chat web application on AWS. Huh? Let me dissect the previous statement. Medium = A web app where people can basically write blog posts. Medium is very, very good, and has been a critical well of information on my four-month web-app journey. I love it almost as much as StackOverflow. AWS = Amazon Web Services, which is essentially a butt ton of computing services running on a butt ton of gigantic computing centers that Amazon built all over the world. For me, I basically rent computers on AWS that run the backend of my application 24/7. Serverless = I give AWS code, and AWS simply deploys it wherever the frack it wants to. Serverless = Fan-frickin-tastic, because I don’t have to provision and maintain servers. The maybe two people of my user base who have ever worked with servers should understand the intrinsic pleasure serverless architectures bring to my soul.
Anyway, figuring out AWS and CloudFormation and Server programming in general was a challenging endeavor, but the posts my boi Nathan Peck wrote about AWS and chat apps has probably been one of the most helpful things I’ve read in the past four months.
Boom, next. So, Charli XCX is a gal. I was familiar with neither her nor her work until several weeks ago. Actually, that’s not quite true. I distinctly remember in 2012 driving through Indiana and having “I Love It” irrevocably stuck in my head. That was brutal. Anyway, I believe my sister and brother were talking about her, so I gave her latest album a spin. Spoiler alert, it slaps. It slaps hard. My gosh. Two days ago, I had a private drugless rave in my bedroom in which I turned on Anthems to max volume on my headphones and engaged in a dance form I have dubbed “rhythmic contortions.” Very good fun. Highly recommend to a friend. If nothing else, give Anthems a listen. It simply deserves your time.
It is an intellectual crime that I have never once mentioned blue corn tortilla chips on this blog. Hey friend! Are you a sentient human being that requires food to survive? Do you find that standard food is lacking in both saltiness and texture, but you don’t know where to turn? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then boy do I have the thing for you! Introducing blue corn tortilla chips! You remember regular tortilla chips, right? Well blue corn tortilla chips are just like those, only blue! Amazing! But Danny, I hear you ask, why are blue corn tortilla chips any different than regular tortilla chips? Well, intellectually endowed reader, I don’t have a fracking clue. What I do know, however, is that blue corn tortilla chips are 20% more salty, have 45% better mouth-feel, and 13% better texture than the average tortilla chip.
I can hear some of you sputtering about how on earth I’m able to properly quantify mouth-feel, quality of texture, or even saltiness. Beat me in a fight, and I’ll tell you.
Passionfruit La Croix. Mother of Mary. Unlike blue corn tortilla chips, I’m quite confident that I’ve mentioned my enjoyment of La Croix prior to this post. I haven’t, however, mentioned which flavor of La Croix is categorically superior to all others. The answer to that question is simply Passionfruit. I can firmly say, and I think you’ll all agree with me on this one, that anyone who disagrees with me has an incorrect opinion.
Now that Passionfruit has taken its place as the rightful leader of the La Croix pack, let me whisper some sweet hymns into your ears about another flavor of La Croix that deserves your full attention. That flavor is Coconut. Why? Well, pretty much all “flavors” of La Croix show up immediately the second that blessed liquid graces your tongue. I trust most of my readers are fluent in memes, so it seems like a flagrant waste of everyone’s time to discuss the faint nature of La Croix flavors. The coconut in Coconut La Croix, however, sneaks up on you in the form of a three-second delayed aftertaste. Thus the immediate onslaught of unadulterated carbonation that we all know and love doesn’t blatantly overpower the coconut in this particular rendition of La Croix. The coconut taste is, understandably, faint, almost like a pleasant dream, and thus after sipping a Coconut La Croix, it almost feels as though you’ve closed your eyes, and are lying on a hammock on the beach.
For those of you who’ve hopped on the Bubly bandwagon, you are all mindless sheep, and it will be a miracle if we can even superficially be friends.
You know, I really haven’t given MBMaM the time of day that it deserves. This is a great place for it. My Brother, My Brother, and Me is a podcast by three wonderful human beings, who give advice based on a series of questions either sent in or gathered on Yahoo Answers. The names of these bois are Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, and they are simply very good. If you don’t know this Podcast, get familiar with it. It is guaranteed to improve the quality of your life by at least 17%.
Cher Lloyd wrote a song a good while back called Want you back. The sweet sweet beat of the song, combined with the British nature of her accent have conspired against me, and that song has been stuck in my head for like a week. I want it to stop. I am very tired of it. Wow, I’ve Googled Cher Lloyd, and apparently after she was on the X Factor, she was one of the “10 most hated teens in Britain.” Dang. That’s kinda wild. Way to reinvent yourself, Cher.
I’ve been running a bit more. I mostly just do it because it clears up my head space, which allows me to come back and program with greater ferocity. I’m super super slow, however. Nothing like a quarantine to absolutely have its way with your fitness levels.
I think that’s enough for now. Hmmst. I’ll spend 30 seconds thinking if there’s anything else.
Nah I think that’s good. Bye.
Sup Schmeags. I’m immensely happy to say that I’m finished with school for the semester. For a variety of reasons that I will likely put in irrationally whiny upcoming post, I have declared a personal war with academia. Suffice it to say that I am oh so done with stupid classes and stupid professors.
Ok now that we’ve established I handle my problems with the maturity of a three-year-old child, let’s get on to some dank Alfredo. Sike! The internet has seen to it that this particular topic, which was at one-point dank Alfredo, is now no more than mediocre Marinara. However, seeing as I’ve essentially written myself into a corner in my last posts, I feel I must take on the mantle of a Basic Betty and address the shockingly average Marinara that’s just sitting in the corner of the metaphorical room.
What is the Marinara? Well, it is simply the fact that Grimes and Elon Musk named their child X Æ A-12.
Now this, as with most information about celebrities that makes them appear different than the cookie-cutter image thrust upon them by the media, caused quite a stir. Perhaps the funniest article I saw said that the name X Æ A-12 isn’t legal in California, so I’m just not sure what Grelon will do about that. As any of you who follow Elon’s doings know, Elon is becoming increasingly militant in his attitudes towards the state of California, so perhaps California declaring he can’t name his child X Æ A-12 will be the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now then, enough about important people like Grelon Musk, let’s talk about me. Why, after my explicit fawning over this pair of humans, do I regard this topic as lame Marinara? Well, I suppose one reason is that I’m bitter that I was wrong on all accounts. First of all, the child X Æ A-12 is a male, not a female. Furthermore, the child’s name is X Æ A-12, not Enza (short for Influenza). 0 for 2, Danny.
However, I also feel like at this point, by writing about this, I’m actively drinking some sauce that the internet swished around its mouth for a couple days and then spat back out. Also, it doesn’t help that literally everyone and their mother hates Elon’s guts right now.
Whatever. Actually wait a second… I feel something deep inside me stirring. Let’s take a trip down to my emotions to see what’s going on.
* Danny walks into the frightening halls of his emotions and is immediately assaulted from all sides by a militaristically passionate desire to deeply analyze the name X Æ A-12 and explore its implications. Danny wasn’t ready for such an attack and is sent reeling backward. Danny looks up, trying to make out the emotion that so violently assaulted him, only to be viciously backhanded in the face by either Rage or Fury. It happened too quickly to tell. Danny limps backward, trying to escape the halls of his emotions, when a sort of conscious smoke engulfs him and holds him back. As he struggles with the smoke, he hears the voices of his emotions behind him, speaking in chorus: “Remember our agreement: you don’t mess with us, and we’ll only occasionally launch strikes against your consciousness. Remember how little power you have against us.” At this point, Danny is expelled out the emotional halls and thrust back into the chair in front of his computer. *
Well that was entirely unpleasant. Nothing like being reminded that you have no control over your emotions at 8:42 AM on a Thursday. For the maybe two of you concerned readers, there’s no need to worry about me. I’ll regroup and launch a more complete attack against my silly emotions later today with the help of the more logical aspects of my mentality, and Thor-willing, we can get my emotions to sign a better agreement that gives me more power in our relationship.
Enough of that. Well, even if it went cataclysmically, my trip downstairs to my emotions did in fact inform me that even though by most standards, the topic of X Æ A-12 is chyme-like Marinara, I do in fact want to provide some level of discussion regarding X Æ A-12. So here I go.
The first and most pressing concern regarding X Æ A-12 is simply how to pronounce his name. From the information I have received by means a variety of shady sources, the name X Æ A-12 is pronounced “Ash.” Like, what? Either Grelon are trying to make an incredibly bold statement about the fluidity of language, or they’ve just entirely deaged themselves. Now I’m all for making up words on the fly, as anyone who has met me, or read this blog can attest. However, the entire purpose of doing so is the fact that I feel that the words I make up better describe the connotations I wish to impart that any sequence of characters in the dusty old Encyclopedia Britannica, and I’m fairly confident that people around my will be able to understand my new words based on context and word-construction.
What Grelon has done, however is much different. They’ve essentially said, “Here’s a lot of letters and this is how it’s pronounced.” It’s like me saying I named my pet Beta fish “DD-% 49 L,” which is, of course, pronounced “Bartholomew.” Wild stuff, blessed readers.
To some degree, this is ok because they are both influential/powerful people and have jurisdiction over the name of their child. On the other hand, they’ve entirely deaged their child because based on standard conventions, “X Æ A-12” is not pronounced “Ash,” as I think you may agree.
I think the only trap door out of this madness is for the child to simply go by “Ash.” Just as the Queen of England is the figurehead, and Parliament is the collection of bois that actually gets stuff done, so X Æ A-12 will be Ash’s name only legally, and he will otherwise be known as Ash.
Or, I mean, X Æ A-12 could start a new trend in baby-naming, and he could be the hipster-like entity in this particular field. I suppose we’ll just have to see. However, I will say that it would be pretty sick if the first Space Commander’s name is X Æ A-12. I would be ok with that.
Good heavens, it’s almost 9. I actually have a little call set up at 9 AM this morning, so I’ll have to take my leave. Also, now that it’s summer, I believe I’ll have significantly more time to devote to blog-writing. We’ll see. Sayonara!
[ Insert Greeting Here ] Yesterday, a certain fiery-haired force of nature sent some information my way that was altogether Earth-shattering. Not necessarily for me, but more so for XFA, which has latched on to a part of my brain and gained consciousness. What information could possibly be so important? Well, after a true whirlwind of emotion, it appears that Grimes and Elon Musk are in fact dating, and that Elon is in fact that father of Grimes’s child.
There are several housekeeping matters to which this information forces me immediately attend. Firstly, several posts ago, I made a heart-felt apology for wildly spreading misinformation regarding the nature of Elon’s and Grimes’s relationship. I would like to formally and forcefully revoke that apology, and may I add simply in spite that I was never sorry in the first place. Secondly, I believe I blamed one Lizzy Dube as being the source of this misinformation. Lizzy, while I have absolutely no reason to believe you have ever heard of an ex fizz assist, I feel inclined to formally apologize for casting such blame.
For then, let’s get to the juice. In this particular instance, the “juice” refers to me wildly speculating about this child that is about to enter the world.
A decent place to start regarding the child is its name. I don’t believe Grimes has said anything about the gender of her child, so I’m just going to say she’s going to be a girl for reasons that will become clear in a second. The internet has fallen into a mad fuss regarding the child’s name, and intriguingly enough, it appears that Grimes and Elon are rumored to name their child Influenza.
Now the truly unfortunate fact of the matter is that I know neither Elon nor Grimes personally, so I have no way to determine if these rumors are in any way true. For those of you down-to-earth readers who may be wondering why I’m choosing to believe the internet that Grimes is about to name her child after a virus, I have two responses. 1) If you have even barely watched Grimes talk about her life, you will know that naming her first child “Influenza” is exactly the sort of thing she would do. 2) It happens that I’m actually remarkably gullible in such matters, and as this particular matter doesn’t directly affect my day-to-day life, I’ll choose to believe what I want to believe.
Now then, there are naturally some logistical issues that arise when your child’s name is Influenza. Perhaps the most prominent is the awe-inspiring number of syllables in the word “Influenza.” Needing to pronounce a four-syllable word whenever you need to call your child is simply bad business, there’s no way around it. There is also the practical concern of your child being confused with the world-famous virus. This could lead to some messy misunderstandings when the child becomes old enough to want to hang out with other children her age.
What I’m getting at is that the child Influenza will need a darn good nickname. And from my perspective, there are only two logistically feasible options. The first is, of course, “Flu.” Yet while we’ve reduced the syllable count, we haven’t escaped the child-virus concern. This leads me to the second viable option: “Enza.” Now we’re cooking. “Enza” is a wildly compelling two-syllables long, and it has a dangerously cool vibe to it. If nothing else, it sounds like the female version of the Ferrari Enzo, which is one of the more majestic vehicles ever to grace asphalt. The formal nickname “Enza” will take this child from being confused with a virus to simply being the coolest kid in school. That is my humble prediction.
Now that the matter of name has been visited, it is now time to begin speculating about what this child may become.
The first and most obvious option is that Enza is destined to lead the Earth’s space fleet to Mars. I know, I know. This option is so painfully obvious that I sound like a Bleating Bethany for even suggesting it, but it had to be put in ink. In this particular reality, Enza will have absolutely trounced her peers in school from an early age and will have progressed to Collegiate levels by the age of 14. By the age of 15, Enza will have determined that college is a wild waste of time and start pursuing her own endeavors. Naturally, at least one of these endeavors will be in the realm of aerospace engineering. After showing her plans for the first fuel-less rocket to her father Elon, Elon will deem her to not only be in the top 1% of humanity but the top 0.1% intellectually and place her in a position of authority within SpaceX by age 20. Naturally Enza will outperforms even Elon’s high expectations for his workers, and it will become painfully clear that the only reasonable option for Enza would be to place her in command of the Space Fleet that SpaceX will have built by that time, and naturally Enza will be the one to lead said fleet to Mars.
While I imagine having Elon Musk as a father leads to interest in sustainability and aerospace simply by osmosis, the simple fact of the matter is that Grimes will be this child’s mother. This will likely mean that Enza will be exposed to a diverse collection of art forms at a very young age and will likely also gain a much greater experience with different cultures than children her age.
This could obviously lead to Enza being a hugely successful artist in some capacity, but we must remember that Elon is her father and that technology is in her very veins. The natural speculation is therefore that by the time Enza is a teenager, she will have gathered a very good impression of the principal forms of sadness and suffering throughout the globe and will make it her passion to address these issues. Basically, imagine Bill and Melinda Gates, but much younger and more in touch with pop culture, and more relatable to the younger generation. Or, alternatively, Enza could become a Greta Thunberg-esk figure, but perhaps with greater technological experience.
I’m at a very modest three-and-a-half pages, put I’m hungry and I want breakfast, so Imma wrap this bad boy up. Basically, keep an eye on Enza. She may be your first world chancellor.
Goodnight! I, of course, mean that as a greeting rather than an adieu in a highly purposeful floutation of linguistic norms, seeing as it is 11 at night as I’m writing this. No need to dally, let’s jump right in to where we left off. If you haven’t read my last post, I would encourage you to do so, even though I doubt this post will be inaccessible for those of you who refuse. To easily get to the last post, go to the bottom of the page where you’ll find a link to the previous post shaped like a bra (I am referring to the “bra” of Dirac’s “bra-ket” notation for Quantum Mechanics, not the garment. If you think I’m pulling your metaphysical leg, I would encourage you to look up “Dirac bra-ket notation,” and I believe you will find all the answers for which you have ever sought).
In the last post, I (somewhat exhaustingly) took you on a trip through a rough picture of how the brain works. To summarize, the brain well and truly is a wonderfully complex pattern recognition system. There. Now you know how the brain works. Take that to the teacher at the front of the room and get a golden frikin star.
Given this rudimentary understanding, I would like to now explore our human notion of “Understanding.” I am specifically referring to the term within the context of someone saying “…to get a better understanding of [you fill in the blank] ….” Specifically within the research community, you will frequently hear researchers throw this phrase around, usually when they’re trying to convince other people that their research is worthwhile. In my current line of work, you will frequently hear people say something to the tune of “We do [blank] in order to get a better understanding of the early universe.” But what the blue heck does that even mean? I understand you might think I’ve taken some cuckoo pills, but answer me this, cynical reader, can you tell me, in clear language, what researchers mean when they say “…to get a better understanding?” “Sure,” I can hear you saying through the walls of time and space, “here ‘understanding’ basically means broadening our knowledge about a particular subject.” But, oh great reader, what is knowledge? Really think about that for a second. And if you answered “truth” then I’ve got you cornered.
The fact of the matter is that we do not have access to fundamental truth. There’s really no way around that. Now then, I imagine some Christian readers may be slightly flaring up at that distinction. After all, didn’t Jesus purport to be the way, the truth, and the life? Even if Christianity is the absolute fundamental truth of the universe, I still firmly claim that we do not have access to it. If you’re still doubtful, let me pose this question: if Christianity was the fundamental truth in the universe, and human beings did have access to this truth, then why isn’t everyone on the planet a Christian? Surely that would be the only logical option. So then, I think I’m perfectly correct in asserting that as Christians, you in some way or another believe that the tenets of Christianity are associated with fundamental truth, even though you yourself do not have access to the fundamental truth of the universe.
As a brief side note, I’m only mentioning Christianity here instead of other religious traditions and practices because I myself was a very serious Christian for the better part of 20 years, and it was my attempt to forcibly associate Christianity with fundamental truth that caused me a great deal of mental health problems. If you take issue with anything I’m asserting on the basis of any other religious tradition, feel free to email me, as I would love to hear your thoughts. It would also be a wonderful change to not get a spam email from XFA for once.
In order to continue in any meaningful fashion, I believe I should attempt to define “fundamental truth.” The dictionary says truth is “that which is true in accordance with reality.” However, I would like to take this a step further. My conception of fundamental truth is untouched by human constructs, particularly human knowledge and understanding. I will talk more about these two entities shortly, but hang tight for the time being.
Furthermore, if there are any aliens in the universe that are at all similar to us humans, then I would imagine that fundamental truth should be untouched by any of their constructs, or what they might consider “knowledge” or “understanding.” With this in mind, it’s actually quite difficult to define what fundamental truth even is.
When I talking to other people about this sort of thing, I usually define fundamental truth as a “piece of knowledge that would allow us to make predictions and claims about reality with 100% certainty.” But even that is somewhat wrong because it assumes that fundamental truth can take the form of “knowledge” as we know it.
So then, while I can’t give you a precise definition of what I mean by fundamental truth, I hope I’ve sort of cultivated a connotation for what I’m trying to describe. In many ways, I feel that fundamental truth is equivalent to the fundamental structure of reality. You may have noticed in some previous posts that I have an obsession with order and structure, and this is really where it comes from. With this in mind, we actually don’t have any guarantees that our reality actually even possesses fundamental truth (or structure, or whatever you feel you ought to call it).
At this point you may be asking yourself, “But what about things that I know are true, like the fact that the object in front of me is a computer, or that the big fiery ball above my head is called the sun?” That is an excellent point, intellectually gifted reader, and it provides a wonderful Segway back to the original discussion about the brain.
At the beginning of this post, I asserted that the brain is a pattern recognition system. If that is the case, then I imagine that you would probably agree that our conceptions of “knowledge” and “understanding” are intimately connected with the notion of a pattern. I would like to take this a step further by asserting that what we think of as “knowledge” and “understanding” are simply patterns themselves.
I think the best way to explore this is through an example. Let’s say that a couple millennia ago, there was a cave man called Danny schmeaging around the mountains. Danny looks around him and sees a bunch of hard looking objects with generally similar brown and grey appearances. Danny doesn’t have anything better to do with his time, so he picks up one object, and hits it against a different one. When he does this, the two objects make a distinct “ckk” sound. This greatly amuses Danny, so he does it again. Danny soon realizes that he can actually make the sound “ckk” using his own mouth. He practices it for a couple minutes until he can confidently make the same sound as the two objects being hit against one another.
Pretty soon, another cave man walks by, lets call him Elon. Danny looks excitedly at Elon, points around him to all the different hard objects around him and makes the sound “ckk.” Pretty soon, Elon too knows that all the objects around Danny make the sound “ckk” when they are hit against one another.
Ok, let’s take a step back. What just happened here? Without even realizing it, Danny made an implicit association between the sound “ckk” and the objects around him. In the centuries to come, other humans learn to instead refer to the objects as “rock” instead of “ckk,” simply because many objects make a similar sound when hit against one another. So then, the auditory sound “rock” is now associated with an object that makes a “ckk” sound when it’s hit against another such object.
Let’s take another step back. The only way the word “rock” is useful to other cave men is if all the objects that are rocks make the sound “ckk” when they are hit against each other. This implies that there must be consistency for this piece of “information” to be useful. In other words, the only reason that the term “rock” is useful is because all rocks are characterized by a series of patterns, i.e. all rocks look the same, all rocks feel the same, all rocks hurt when someone else throws them at you.
Through this example, we see that what humans think of as “information” is simply a series of classifications of systems with consistent behavior. These classifications can themselves represent the consistent behavior of the interactions between other classifications. I would also like to firmly stress that this “information” is entirely a human conception. As far as we know, there’s no inherent connection between objects that make the sound “ckk” and the word “rock.”
So then, you are absolutely correct in saying that it’s true that you’re looking at a computer, and it’s true that the fiery object overhead is called the sun, but these are only true within the scope of truths manufactured by human beings. If you define the term “computer” to represent a system of hardware and software that performs logical operations on data, then it tautologically follows that it is true that the object in front of you is in fact a computer.
So then, going back to my original question, what does it mean for us to “gain a better understanding” of something? The something in question is simply a human-constructed classification, so “gaining a better understanding” of that classification is simply finding more patterns associated with that particular classification. For example, once you classify green, fuzzy plants as “moss,” then one example of gaining a better understanding of something would be to state “most rocks are covered in moss.”
Ok, I think I should probably wrap this boi up. I suppose the main takeaways of this post is that what we think of as knowledge is entirely a human construct. Furthermore, people generally talk about research as a field of discovery, but I would like to assert that research is just as much about creation as it is about discovery. But, to get meta on you, even that depends on how you define the term “knowledge.”
Finally, this is a topic I actually care a great deal about, so if you have any of your own thoughts on the matter, or disagree with me on any of these points, then for the love of Alexandria, can you email me? Like, please?
Well whatever. Let me try to regain the air of aloofness I’ve so desperately been attempting to cultivate. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Ok, I just hit seven pages, and its 12:34 AM, so I feel the strong desire to perform a swan dive directly into my sheets. I love you all dearly. Geisz out.
A most aggressive “Shalom” to all you wonderful readers. Actually, now that you mention it, it has been a wonderful morning, thanks for asking. I was up until around 1 last night working on the app, and I had a lovely breakfast with my family. Afterwards, I did my laundry while listening to Flume’s self-named album and dancing about the laundry room wildly. I am now in my swamp room (if you don’t get the reference, it’s your own fault you aren’t on my email list), still listening to Flume at volumes that would make Percy Granger weak in the knees.
Now then, I had a very interesting discussion with my mother this morning about the nature of the mind, and what we know and don’t know about it. This discussion reminded me that I have had at least three thoughts in the past two weeks, and roughly two of them have to do with this very concept. I’m going to now pretend as though you are contractually obligated to read this post in its entirety, and I’m going to now launch into a pompous expose on my own personal thoughts regarding the nature of the mind.
To begin my civil diatribe, I would like you all, treasured readers, to think about what it means for a human being to learn something. Perhaps the accumulation of knowledge comes to mind, or perhaps, alternatively, the accumulation of experience. I would now like to humbly, yet domineeringly launch into my own meta-physiological understanding of what it means to “learn.” And to do that, we necessarily must have a one-way Socratic seminar regarding the brain.
The brain is gloriously dense pattern recognition system. That’s really what it is. I watched a TED talk on it, so I’m pretty much a professional. I’m sure most of us who’ve at least somewhat recently been in school have some notion of the brain being a collection of neurons in which “connections are formed.” Sure. That’s all fine and good, except that it’s too abstract to actually mean much of anything.
In order to understand how the brain actually learns, it’s best to cultivate a slightly more rigorous formulation of brain functionality than the statement “connections are formed.” Also, I’m only talking about the part of the brain that learns stuff over time. I’m not talking about the part of the brain that’s responsible for keeping all your internal systems in check.
Now then, I want you to think of the brain as a computer with a ton of USB ports. Your optic nerve plugs into one of the ports, your auditory nerves plug into another, your olfactory (smelling things) nerves plug into yet another, and so on. So basically, we have a computer hooked up to all of your sensory nerves.
All of these connections are constantly sending information into the computer, and the computer’s only job is to try to find patterns between the various inputs. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re about one year old. Your dad has placed a piece of paper and a box of crayons in front of you. Your dad picks up the red crayon, and says the word “red.” You’re one, of course, so you don’t have a flip shack frack what’s he’s talking about, but let’s look at what’s happening in the computer that is your brain.
When your dad says “red” and picks up the red crayon, your vision is being directed on the crayon in front of you, and hence your optic nerve is sending the visual information corresponding to a red crayon into your computer-brain. At the same time, your ears are sending the auditory information corresponding to the word “red” into your computer-brain.
Now then, your brain can’t tell one information source from another, so it does is form a correlation between the visual information corresponding to the red crayon and the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
You can probably see some issues with this. Does the word “red” correspond to the wavelength (color) being emitted from the crayon, or does it refer to the short waxy thing your dad is pointing to? At this point, your brain has no way to tell.
Now then, you turn your attention away from the crayon in your dad’s hand to the blue crayon lying on the table. When you look at this new crayon, your optic nerve sends the visual information corresponding to the blue crayon to your computer-brain. While the image isn’t exactly the same as the image of the red crayon in your father’s hand, it’s similar enough that the image of the blue crayon turns on the connection that your brain-computer formed between the image of the red crayon and the word “red.”
So then, while you don’t have a clue what’s happening in your computer brain, when you look at the blue crayon, the word that pops into your head is “red.” And because you’re a semi-useless one-year-old and you have nothing better to do, you confidently point to the blue crayon and say “red” out loud. Now then, because your dad has no interest in having his child think “blue” is “red,” he says “No.” He then picks up the red crayon, and again says “red.” He then points to your red shirt and says “red.” He finally points to your red couch and says “red.” Each time he does this, your computer-brain creates a new connection between the visual information of each object and the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
Now here’s the real kicker. Your dad then picks up the blue crayon and says the word “blue.” The exact same correlation happens as before, but this time, the auditory information corresponds to the word blue.
Now then, you look across the room and see your mom also wearing a red shirt. While the shape of the shirt itself isn’t similar to that of a crayon or a couch, the wavelength being emitted from the shirt is the same, so when the visual information corresponding to your mom wearing a red shirt is sent into your computer brain, the aspect of the image that corresponds to the color “red” is fired, and once again, the word “red” pops into your head. So then, once more, your proudly proclaim “red” to everyone who’s around to hear. This, of course, makes your parents excited, and they say “Yes! Red!” which only serves to strengthen the connection between the visual information corresponding to the red wavelength of light with the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
There’s no universal connection between the word “red,” and the color red. This exchange could have just as easily occurred in a Spanish or French speaking household with the words “Rojo” or “Rouge.” All the brain is therefore doing is forming connections between different stimuli, which can be strengthened or weakened over time. In other words, it’s an incredibly efficient pattern recognition system.
How does it actually work? Instead of actually being a computer with bunch of USB ports that’s been programmed to find patterns in different sources of data (which is literally just machine learning, btw), your brain is a collection of around 86 billion neurons that are connected to one another. All neurons do is fire an electric stimulus to the other neurons it connects to when it has itself received enough electric stimulus from the other neurons that connect to it. So basically your brain is just a chain reaction of neurons causing other neurons to fire. Now here’s the kicker: once a neuron fires, it actually becomes easier to fire again. So then, going back to the previous example in less gruesome detail, when you see a red crayon and hear your dad say “red,” your optic nerve fires a huge amount of neurons corresponding to the visual information of the red crayon, which sends a huge chain reaction cascading all throughout the brain. At the same time, your ears fire auditory neurons corresponding to the word “red” throughout your brain, which causes a similar blossoming chain reaction.
Now here’s what’s super cool. Some neurons are fired by both the visual and auditory chain reaction. Because it’s easier to fire neurons after they’ve already been fired, this forms a strong “pathway” between the visual and auditory information in the sense that neurons along this pathway are more likely to fire in response to similar visual and auditory stimuli.
So then, even though your brain can’t tell the difference between visual data and auditory data, it can find patterns between the two sources, which translates to you knowing that the color of the red crayon is red.
At this point, I was going to launch into a greater discussion of what this means in terms of human knowledge, and what it means to “understand” things. However, being a decent human being, I can quite clearly see that I have just broken the 6-page mark, which is usually my sign that I should probably wrap things up. I think I will continue this discussion in the next post.
In closing then, contrary to Justin McElroy’s incessant pleading, I would urge you to not kiss your dad square on the lips, because that seems like a great way to spread coronavirus, which is generally inadvisable.
A most cordial greeting to each and every one of you! It feels like I’ve been neglecting my duties a bit as chief writer, editor, and overlord of XFA, so it’s high time I scratched away at this metaphorical parchment with my metaphorical quill. For those of you who are curious, it’s currently raining in Colorado Springs, and gracious me, it appears the rain is freezing into gigantic snowflakes. I’m sitting in my bed watching this, and let me tell you, meteorologically-inclined readers, it’s truly divine. It even smells strongly of Colorado rain, which, remarkably enough, is a different rain-smell than Berkeley rain, and I must say I have a strong preference for the former.
So I believe because I’m part sheep I ought to address the elephant in the room, or more specifically the microscopic crown-shaped boi that I certainly hope is not in my room, coronavirus. It turns out we’ve had a fair number of cases in Colorado Springs, and there was at least one death in my county. We have yet to put on “Shelter in Place,” however, unlike my college hometown of Berkeley. I must say that I am remarkably happy to not be in California, and specifically the Bay Area at this moment. For those of you reading who are still in Berkeley, I wish you Godspeed in all your endeavors, and I dearly hope you make it through this unscathed.
Now then, in keeping with the thinly-veiled egotistical themes of this blog, I feel inclined to turn the conversation back to myself. I am actually remarkably happy to be back home in Colorado Springs. I hadn’t fully noticed it until I arrived back here, but I was getting increasingly tired of Berkeley throughout this semester. This was, certainly, in large part my own fault, as I had been socially distancing myself even before the reign of COVID-19. It turns out that if you don’t consciously make time for spending time with people, you generally don’t spend time with people. It also didn’t particularly help that I had made a good deal of my friends during my first year though the Christian organization Cru, which, btw, is the Christian organization to join if you’re looking for one. While my Cru friends are generally wonderful people with whom I have very much enjoyed spending time throughout college, I have been very actively not going to Cru meetings during this semester due to my spiritual situation, so I really haven’t seen them nearly enough.
I can see the glazed-over look in some of your eyes, so let me move onto one final topic. Obviously all the school closures and online classes are a big deal. What I’m interested in, however, is how people are going to respond to this epidemic several months from now when we’re able to lead normal lives again. One particularly interesting thing that people are already talking about is the fact that all around the nation, people are paying college tuition for online classes. Why is this interesting? Because literally every YouTuber and his/her/their pet goat have made online courses in pursuit of their “Passive Income” dreams, and they’re a heck of a lot cheaper than college tuition. Now, obviously there’s a large difference between a college course and some schmeagy thackwat that some YouTuber has put together, but both are doing the same thing, in principle. The fact of the matter is that, unlike twenty years ago, all information is basically online. And to all my fellow students out there, we both know that neither of us have been going to all of our Zoom lectures in favor of simply watching lectures later/never.
I feel myself beating around the bush, so let me get directly to the point. For a very time, it has seemed to me that College is far too expensive. Shockingly original, I know. Let me attempt to dissect the various aspects of the College experience.
Now then, let me attempt to Warren Buffet this and see where I can cut costs. First and foremost, lectures should be recorded. Instead of having to deal with bad professors, we should just get some super good professors to record the lectures for a class once. Secondly, I strongly feel as though in-person discussions can be far more virtual than they have been to date. What I’m picturing here is a sort of Uber-like situation, where you have a bunch of people who have somehow proven their expertise in a particular course making some extra money on the side providing on-the-spot tutoring sessions to anyone who may need it.
Actually, never mind. I clearly haven’t fully fleshed out this line of thinking, so I won’t subject you to the loose ideas floating around my brain matter. If you, however, are interested in revamping the education system, give me a yodel.
Heavens, I really petered out there at the end. Well whatever. Bye.
There it sits on the edge of comfort and madness. There it lies, so close to chaos. It has lost all trust, all knowledge, all reason. The only thing maintaining the structure is blind belief in unfathomable order.
At times it could hope in greater order. Those were the times of greatest happiness, greatest contentment. But through the insufferable passage of time, perceived order became only vapors, only whispers, only promises of what might be.
It fears the chaos. The truly incomprehensible chaos. The darkness visible. The chaos so prevalent, so magnificently implicit, everlastingly omnipresent. It but looks in the wrong direction and there lies the majestic beast, the ultimate foil of complexity.
And yet. By merely turning its gaze, the chaos morphs into order. Such beautiful order. Complexity propagating to the ends of reality. An entropic wonder. An inhabitable reality. A comfortable home.
Such beautiful dichotomy. The ultimate juxtaposition. Not only a universal balance, but an impossible isomorphism. How can the chaos also be the order? Does the chaos give rise to order? Does order inevitably return to chaos?
From reality’s edge, the final refuge, it contemplates. But it has grown weary. Ever so weary. Reality has exposed herself before its gaze yet shrouded herself in a darkness so complete even the angels lose track of heaven.
Reason has nothing left to believe in save for the absence of explanation. And even that is irrational.
And yet from the edge, the edge that may itself lack existence, it understands that ultimate victory may lie in humiliating defeat. Yet with defeat inevitable, it persists, and creates, and builds, and propagates its wonders throughout the truly incomprehensible. It is perhaps the existence of defeat that lends itself to order.
And so on the edge it sits. It sits waiting. Dreaming. Hoping. Despairing. On the edge it exists.
Greetings, Celestials! And, I suppose, hello to the rest of you intent on reading my blog. Goodness me, I can’t keep away the readers. It’s honestly a problem. I’m getting too big too fast.
Now then, right to the matter at hand: the bringing about of the apocalypse. A more accurate title to this post probably would have been: “Today I Learned Tensorflow.” But nobody cares about Tensorflow. Everyone cares about the apocalypse. And we both know that the only reason I created this blog in the first place is to fill the void in my life created by a lack of meaningful relationships with a mass following of faceless, digitalized human beings. Heck, maybe I should start taking to a chatbot. I think if that should ever happen, I would be contractually obligated by life itself to finally visit a therapist.
What is Tensorflow? Even some of you non-CS nerds probably know what I’m talking about. To put it in brutally technical terms, Tensorflow is the tool that computers will use to gain consciousness and take over the world. In less technical language, Tensorflow is a programming library that (you guessed it!) Google put together to facilitate the creation of a variety of neural networks. I’m guessing nearly all of you are at least peripherally aware of the term “Machine Learning.” Neural networks are basically the hottest thing right now in Machine Learning (and honestly in Computer Science as a whole), and Tensorflow is a good way to put them together. Goodness, now I’m just being repetitive. Am I high?
Anywhoooooo, Tensorflow is basically a gauntlet of power, and I myself, Daniel P. Geisz now yield this power (its literally free, open-source software. I just downloaded it). So what then is all this talk about me starting the apocalypse?
Well, faithful readers, for many moons now have I been deeply enamored with the idea of a piece of software that can itself write code. If chatbots can speak to us so well that we can’t even tell they aren’t human, it must be pretty easy to train a neural net to write code, right?
Wrong. Even though language and our ability to communicate is one of the central aspects of humanity separating us from animals, writing a chatbot is almost the “Hello World” of recurrent neural networks. Programming, however, is a much more complicated endeavor. If you’re programming a chatbot, you can essentially just feed it text from reddit or twitter, and eventually it will learn which words should go next to one another in response to a piece of text from an external (human) source. Easy peasy, lemon squeasy. If you want to teach the computer how to code, you have to provide it examples of code. But even then, we can already see the issues that might crop up. For one thing, I would imagine that a piece of autocoding software would probably be taking some form of a command from a human being. If it were otherwise, we’d basically be spelling out the destruction of humanity by the robotic hand. So then, in order to train the system, you have a large database of code with precise documentation about what the code is trying to accomplish. This is all well and good (it isn’t) but 99.9% of all programmers have this nasty habit of not documenting their code. So then, on github, we have a gigantic, gigantic source of example code, but there’s no way to tell the neural net what the code actually means.
Hold on. I feel like I’m rambling. This is dangerous. One could make a very strong argument that every single thing I’ve put on XFA thus far is me rambling, and to that I humbly urge you to frack off. However, I very much value my sizable following of digital humans, so I feel I should be more direct.
*Deep breath in, deep breath out*. Ok we’re good to go.
Why do I want a computer that can program itself? I suppose that’s the fundamental point I ought to address. And to that, I can provide a very clear answer. It would be deeply, deeply dope (you’re welcome, Joey) if I could tell the computer to write me an application, and it would just do it. Writing software takes a tremendous amount of time, and as I have learned from the Orchid project, it is a conceptual and organizational nightmare. Now usually, conceptually and organizationally nightmaric projects are my idea of a fun Friday night, but they are really incredibly time consuming.
Many, many people may disagree with me, but I think one of the most interesting things that humans do is propagate complexity. Compared to the rest of the universe, we’re really quite good at it. However, it’s really quite exiting to image what humankind will produce in the next 30 years at our breakneck speed of innovation. What’s really quite amazing about human beings, however, is our ability to generate new ideas. The implementation of these ideas is really just the time-consuming part. This is by no means a new idea, but if we can minimize implementation time and maximize our creativity, we can do cooler stuff. I suppose you can call that Geisz’s law. My back-subconscious is actively trying to come up with counterexamples. Bad dog, subconscious. Let forward-conscious have this one.
Gracious me, I’m losing steam. Holy cow, wait! I just wrote 2 ¾ pages in 35 minutes! By Jove, that a new record! I have contented myself with a 3 page per hour pace, but I just blew that out of the water! I guess I normally put more thought into the words I write. It’ll be interesting to see what I wrote this time. Amazing what happens when you practice something. Maybe I’ll take the AP Lang test again for fun. How I loved mercilessly tearing apart various authors in those rhetorical analyses.
As a closing note, in the immortal words of Harrison Kinsley, “Programming is a superpower.” I recognize that a large portion of the word probably considers programming to be a field that is too difficult to learn, but it really isn’t. Then again, I did spend most of high school trying to convince my peers that Physics isn’t difficult to learn (which it is, btw). Regardless, if you think your life could do with some spicing up, consider learning python. That’s all for now. Be sure to ring the bell. It really helps out the channel. Also if you have the means, consider donating to my patreon. It really means the world to me. Also, I’m happy to announce we just reached 2.3k subs. I can’t thank you all enough for your support. Hugs and kisses. I’m out.
What is up, my people? It’s truly been a phat minute since I last posted to XFA. Actually that’s not true. I wrote something on Tuesday. It’s been exactly four days since I last posted. That isn’t a phat minute at all.
Well, regardless, as the title suggests, my life is now in full overdrive. One consequence of this, as alluded to in the first paragraph, is the fact that once again, my perception of time is actively failing. This tends to happen during the academic semester, so it’s not that worrying.
Now then, I feel compelled to explain the nature of the overdriven-ocity of my life, and I shall now do so. There are really six main contributors to the maximum overdrive:
Funny story: when I started writing those bullet-points I thought I would only have three main contributors to maximum overdrive. Amazing how quickly three things turns into six things.
Now then, some quick notes about the above list. While 20 units is, I’m pretty sure, a fairly heavy course load, I’ve heard legends of some schmeags who have taken 40 (40!!) units in a single semester. I’m honestly not sure how that’s actually physically possible. All that is to say that I’m not trying to dump a weird flex on you unassuming readers by quoting my course load. Actually, that’s my only note. Next paragraph.
I’ve been wanting to write a couple short posts this week but I haven’t had time, so I think I’ll include the most important of them here.
This should fall under Project Supernatural, but whatever. Last Wednesday night I had a pretty deep conversation with one of my friends. Deep conversations are really just the sauce. Later that night, my baked-in Christian instincts kicked in and I almost thanked God for the conversation I had before I remembered that I’m not actually Christian right now. However, those of you who have read my posts for Project Supernatural will know that I’m making an effort to interact with the divine/unknown/transcendent/God/gods/flying spaghetti monster, because if that is possible it is something I would like to experience. This is a bit difficult to describe, but after I had fought down my instinct to mindlessly and guiltily thank the Christian God for the conversation I had, I concentrated my attention on the aspect of reality that is outside my comprehension and I thanked whatever superintelligence may exist outside of my perception for the conversation I had with my friend.
What happened next was even more difficult to describe. My normal baseline levels of stress and anxiety were siphoned out of my body, and the more I concentrated on this notion of the unknown, the more I began to feel some part of my being trying to pull away from my physical body. It was remarkably peaceful. The feeling was so intense that I actually became somewhat convinced that I was about to have a vision or some experience that would transport me away from my physical senses. Unfortunately, there was no vision this time. That would be quite neat. But it was a remarkably interesting experience.
I suppose as a parting thought, while the aspect of reality that we experience by means of our senses is an interesting and, in many ways, comfortable place for us to dwell, I would encourage you all to open yourselves to the possibilities associated with the unknown. If nothing else so that I can carefully log your experiences to aid in my own deductions. Au Revoir!
What is poppin’ my bois? (Using, of course, the gender-neutral b-o-i spelling). I’m currently sitting in DIA, which, as I have been recently informed, is a haven of conspiracy and dark secrets. As I’m sure many of you cultured readers are aware, there’s a statue of an angry looking blue horse outside the airport that has actually killed someone. Spooky stuff, my friends.
Now then, allow me to jump right in. I was watching YouTube the other day when an ad came up featuring a musical artist who was talking about her work. She presumably has some level of fame, but I had certainly never heard of her before. The last thing she said before I swiftly and mercilessly skipped the ad is that her work is incredibly important to her because it gives her a platform to talk about her anxiety and depression. To be perfectly frank, blessed reader, when I heard that, I didn’t find myself to be sympathetic towards this artist. I was honestly super bored with everything she was saying.
A case can always be made that I’m just an emotionless unsympathetic wench. Perhaps I am. I think the better case to be made is that I’m a machine who’s more interested in code than some people’s lives. I think I could probably build a strong case against that, but that’s for another time.
Regardless of my potential sociopathisms, I found it quite interesting that my first response to this artist’s video was boredom. I’m of the opinion that mental health issues/depression/anxiety are incredibly important issues plaguing our society, and I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m trying to minimize their importance. For those of you thorough readers who have read the “About” page, you will know that I myself am prone to depressive thought patterns if I am not careful. So then, why was I bored by the artist?
To answer this question, I retreated deep within myself to have a quick conversation with my emotions. These conversations tend to be quite violent, overly anthropomorphized, and altogether unstructured, so I will leave out the details of this particular interaction. The general consensus among my emotions, however, was that I found the artist to be boring because it seems like every artist and their mother are all talking/singing/writing/dreaming about anxiety and depression. It just so happens that one of my favorite albums is about depression. Incidentally, that is also my favorite album within which to engulf myself when I (even I, rumored to be sociopathic, asexual, machine-like) am depressed.
Upon having this (incredibly straightforward) revelation, I began thinking in my brainicles about why it seems depression and anxiety are all the rage in pop culture. After doing some light thinking on the subject, I have formulated a hypothesis. For those of you nerdy or aggressively legalistic readers, no, I haven’t formalized any of these claims, and as previously stated, this is only a hypothesis. If you disagree with me or have a different opinion, please feel free to drop a hot comment down below. You are then urged to ring the bell, like this video, and subscribe to my channel.
My hypothesis is built upon four of my personal observations. My first observation is that the average human is hardwired to seek out and be fulfilled by interaction with other humans. As a sub-observation, I have found that I’m prone to my greatest fits of anxiety and depression when I am isolated (either by accident, or by my own doing) from other people. My second observation is that human interaction is difficult. Not only does it take planning and time, but I personally tend to feel some level of discomfort during most of my conversations. My third observation is that literally everyone around me is constantly on their phone. I realize this implies that I live in an area where everyone has the economic means to possess a smartphone, but regardless of wealth, I have found any exceptions to this to be the statistical outlier. My fourth observation is that social media is a frackin’ drug. Throughout my life, I have rarely posted on social media, but whenever I have, I get an unreasonable amount of satisfaction and pleasure when people like something I’ve posted. And if someone comments on one of my posts? Goodness me, the feeling is ecstasy! During my time on social media, I have found that I am frequently overtaken by the desire to open my insta, regardless of whether I would visually intake some dank, dank memes or photoshopped pictures of attractive human beings or videos of Fabio Wibmer being the most epic human to walk the Earth.
Now then, I will take these observations as temporary axioms, and I’m going to paint you the word picture that is my hypothesis. Basically, before phones, people felt the compulsion to interact with each other, and so they would overcome the discomfort associated with human interaction, and just talked to each other. Once my boi Zuckerberg came around, people suddenly realized, “OMG I can, like, talk to all my friends and post about my life on the internet! Now I don’t need to constantly be with people to interact with them! Yaaaaas!” This seemingly innocent desire almost immediately gave way to a deeper subconscious realization: “Wait hold on. Now I can spend time making everything I put on the internet perfect. Also, I can say whatever I want because the people I’m interacting with can’t actually hurt me, right?” And so, through digital media, humanity found a way to temporarily fill its desire for human interaction, and my oh my did it feel good. What an amazing feeling it is to know both the people you know and don’t know like something you’ve created. Amazing how that can quench your fundamental anxieties and give you a feeling of superhuman pleasure. And better yet, you can achieve this without putting a toxic chemical into your body! What a wonderful creation.
And so the world fell prey to this digital drug. This wouldn’t really have been a problem if social media was a perfect substitution for regular human interaction. Unfortunately, it isn’t. I can’t give you a definite reason why it isn’t, but I doubt many of you would disagree. And so, the fundamental issue with social media is the following: it gives the temporary impression of filling our fundamental desire for human interaction, but it doesn’t actually. What is it called when you want human interaction, and you don’t have it? Loneliness. So basically, social media creates a population of people who think they aren’t lonely but actually, fundamentally are.
This really isn’t groundbreaking stuff. I’m simply attempting to formalize the loose thoughts cascading around my psyche. Now then, what are the fruits of loneliness? You guessed it! Depression and anxiety. Given that the average modern artist relies on social media to market themselves, it really is no wonder they all are writing about how depressed they are. However, there is even a better explanation for this phenomenon. Talking about depression and anxiety is a remarkably effective way to garner sympathy from the masses. Anyone who doesn’t take mental health seriously and makes their views public is at high risk of large-scale public shunning, so there are incentives for even the people who don’t give a snort about mental health to pretend like they do. And what does sympathy do? It promotes the sharing of deep emotions which furthermore promotes more natural human interaction.
So then, this hypothesis is centered around the notion that your average population of humans are desperately striving for meaningful interaction, but through a twisted play on the human being’s natural fears and desires, people have been diverted from natural interaction by social media.
It appears as though I’m about to hit 5 pages (I’m of course typing in Word, with standard margins and font), so I feel as though I ought to wrap this pupper up. One last tidbit, if you will. At the end of the day, social media really ought to be thought of as the tool. I, for instance, am shamelessly using it to try to increase the number of people exposed to my incalculably vast stores of wisdom that have come through my many long decades of life. However, best to not let the hammer be the one calling the shots, don’t ya think?
What a faux ominous title! The title of this post could easily be the title of a grade school book series, like The Boxcar Children, or The Magic Treehouse books. As much as I hate to miss the opportunity to take us all back on a jaunt down memory lane where we could all reminisce about pre-prepubescent times, I do have a purpose behind the bland title.
I was in the car today with my father, two brothers, and my mother, and as one typically does while in a car, we were driving from one location to another. The nature of the two locations will be omitted for the safety of everyone in the vehicle. During the drive, my father and younger brother engaged in a conversation about afternoon plans. The nature of the conversation was such that at one point my father stated, “Some people devote their entire lives to being fans of professional sports teams.” The rest of the conversation is irrelevant in this context, but that one statement awakened something deep within me quite familiar but that had long been asleep.
The something that awakened was an acute feeling of one very specific fear: the fear that I may end up living a meaningless, unproductive existence. This fear is particularly dangerous for two reasons:
What is the point of this loosely logical discussion, you might ask? Well, as I was returning a ski boot rental today, I was able to identify the highly unconformable feeling that had plagued me since the comment my father made as this specific type of fear. Once I had done this, I came to a sudden realization. Fear is itself a manifestation of our inability to confidently know the future. If you knew the future, there would be nothing of which to be afraid. Perhaps if you had knowledge of some highly unfortunate or painful event that would occur in the future, you would have reason to be anxious or filled with dread, but there would be no reason to be afraid.
So then, as I pulled away from the ski shop, I understood that my feeling of existential discomfort stemmed from my compulsion to control my future.
But, my dearest of readers, we don’t control the future. All we can do is decide what to do in the present moment. Perhaps I may someday live a life that some might consider meaningless. That is a probably a definite possibility. However, when I arrived home, I decided to continue working on the XFA site. I figured out how to incorporate markdown into my posts, which will allow me to easily insert pictures and media into XFA entries. That certainly filled me with a level of irrational glee.
Tomorrow, I will likely finish my work on the XFA files. I simply need to add some pretentious pictures of myself and a schmeagy bio section, but then I’ll be ready to send that bad boy off to a server. And then, treasured reader, you’ll be able to read what I write.
This week I will also need to read through the material about quark gluon plasmas and relativistic collisions I was given in preparation for the research project I will be carrying out this semester. I will also begin work on Orchid, which is all works according to plan (which it won’t) will allow us to finally be able to digitize mathematics.
If nothing else, my friend, remember that life is the gift. Our ability to interact with reality in each present moment is intrinsically precious, and ought to be treated as such.
Sup, pup. I neglected to write an XFA entry last night which was quite irritating because the whole point of this blasted site is for me to write an entry every night. Well no matter. I’ve already punished myself Dobby-style for my error, so hopefully it won’t happen again.
Now then, I really think the title says it all here. However, because I want to write more, I feel it would be prudent (and at the very least fair to you, my treasure reader) to give some context for my claim regarding the nature of music.
For the past few days, I have been alternating between working on the XFA site and learning QFT by means of Srednicki’s book. I feel a deep existential compulsion to do both activities because I am a fallen human, but today I thought it might be nice to take a wee lil break from my regular activities to try to write some music. I have been listening a copious amount Grimes’s works lately (which should come as no surprise to those of you who read my post about my tragic, unrequited, animal-like love for Grimes), and I have been feeling inspired to convert some of my emotions and experiences into audible sauce, namely music.
As a quick side note, I learned today that Grimes is pregnant with Elon Musk’s baby. I have of course joked with my friends that Elon Musk’s children will likely rule us all one day, but come on. Grimes and Elon? I’m not sure the world is ready for their child. I’m honestly not convinced we’ll be able to classify the child as a human being.
I could probably write several more posts (or novels) about the supernatural powers Grelon’s (couple name) child will have, but I know you’re just itching to hear more about my musical endeavors. Fear not, patient reader, I will oblige.
I began my music-making sesh (short, of course, for session) today by listening attentively to a metronome pulsing at 84 bpm. After I had deeply internalized the beat, I began searching for compelling chord progression using a built-in synth in Ableton. After a couple minutes I found an intriguing combination of chords involving a very tempting Eaug chord and deliciously moving E7 chord. At this point, I was bit lost as to how I ought proceed. I eventually decided to write a rhythmic line for the chord progression, and then do my best to find a sick, sick beat over which I would lay the chords. It took a bit to finally get all this in place, but I eventually slide the chords into place over a hip-hop-like beat.
And let me tell you, it was awful. Perhaps someone else may have enjoyed it, but to my ears it sounded like a lifeless pile of oatmeal sludge.
The interesting thing is that I have in fact written several songs in my day. In my experience writing music, either the music you have written is either dead, passionless, and nauseating, or it’s the emotional equivalent of injecting ecstasy directly into your veins. Either it is everything, the only true reality, or it is absolutely worthless garbage.
The piece of sludge I had written therefore neatly fell into the category of worthless garbage. This was, of course, discouraging, and I generally lost all motivation to continue birthing audible sauce.
But then I found the chord.
As a last-ditch effort to try to feel something, I grabbed a virtual violin section and played around with the chord pattern I had found earlier. And then I stumbled upon the Fmaj7. And that is when my dying emotions found salvation. Pure ecstasy, my friends, pure ecstasy.
Finishing the original chord progression with an Fmaj7 generated an emotion of intensive sorrow mixed perfectly with intense hope. How do I better describe the emotion? Let me give an analogy.
Imagine a military commander of a small nation is under attack from the Roman Empire. This particular commander is an absolute genius, but he knows that eventually his nation will be defeated by the greater empire and be forced into servitude. Nothing does this commander desire more than for the freedom of his nation, and so he orders a small portion of the population to flee into the wilderness away from the Romans. He knows, however, that if unimpeded, the Romans will overtake the refugees, and so this commander begins a series of strategically masterful attacks against the Romans to divert their attention from the refugees. After months of strategic genius, the Romans eventually break through the commander’s defenses. During the final battle of this war, the commander is stabbed through stomach, and slowly bleeds out on the battle ground while the Romans meticulously deconstruct the last of the small nation’s defenses. In his last moments, all the commander can see is destruction and chaos. Men lie slaughtered on the battle field next to burning defenses. It is a scene of utter desolation.
Yet the commander knows that because of his masterful campaigns, the refugees from his small nation have a chance at survival.
It is precisely the emotion of this commander in his last moments of life that is captured in chords I found.
I had been planning on going into a large-scale discussion of the analogous nature of writing music and organic life forms, but I am immensely tired, and I need to sleep. Perhaps some other time, potentially faithful reader. For now, I will end by remarking that music is indeed fundamentally powerful. It is truly remarkable that music “sounds” like emotion. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that music evokes emotion.
Because of perception of reality can generally be broken up into logic and emotion (I realize that’s an overgeneralization, but it’ll do for now), in order to fully communicate our perception of reality to another individual, you must convey both the logic and the emotion. Conveying the logic is easy. We have oral language and the written word. Conveying emotion is much more difficult, because emotion cannot easily be quantified. Thus it is truly remarkable that we are able to communicate emotions with one another by means of music. In that sense, music perhaps is as fundamental a tool to humans as the written word.
I guess that’s why I have so much respect for Grimes.
Order and structure. Structure and rationale. Rationale and rules. Rules and order. Order and structure.
These are my life blood, my drive, my passion, my pleasure.
By fate’s design we are kept from fundamental truth. Within fundamental truth lies fundamental order, fundamental structure, fundamental rationale, fundamental rules. And thus the fundamental has and will forevermore evade our tireless grasping.
We look into the darkness, and we cannot distinguish chaos from order. We can only perceive hints at greater order, but because we cannot distinguish the anomaly from the truth, we are blind even as we see.
Yet the miracle of our reality is our ability to construct our own truth from the darkness. Even as we grope blindly throughout the reality which houses us, we create our own realities with their own fundamental order. And through this order comes structure, rationale, and rules.
Blind as we are to the potential presence of howling chaos, we strive forward, tumbling over one another as the imperceptible storm continuously, remorselessly threatens everything we have ever created.
It is only by a faith fundamental to our existence that we press onwards. This faith is so fundamental that many do not even consciously perceive it, and yet is the only thing that keeps us from succumbing to the potential of invisible chaos.
This fundamental faith is the faith that there exists either fundamental truth or a stable representation of fundamental truth. Only the supernatural, the deities, the incomprehensible could purport to verify the existence of truth. The rest of us can only cultivate faith in the existence of truth because without this faith, we are unable to create our own personal truth, order, structure, rationale, and rules.
My eyes are open to the gift our fundamental faith has given us. Our life, our interaction with reality, these are the true gifts. This gift allows us to cultivate truth, order, structure, rationale, and rules where they may not even be able to exist.
Order and structure. Structure and rationale. Rationale and rules. Rules and order. Order and structure.
These are my life blood, my drive, my passion, my pleasure.
Unless you have been without internet for the past four weeks, I’m sure you all are at least somewhat aware of my situation. Many people have rightly conveyed their concern about my returning to work so soon, and I feel obliged to address this topic. In keeping with the culture of honesty we have worked to cultivate throughout our company, I have decided to share with you all the details of what happened in the Grand Canyon in addition to my motivations for returning to lead XenaCorp again so soon.
Rebecca, Harley, and I spent this Christmas with my parents in New Mexico. It was my plan to take a week of vacation and then promptly return to San Francisco on January 2nd. Before returning I had promised Harley that we would visit the Grand Canyon, as she had been badgering me about doing so for the last four months. Harley would have turned nine this March, but she had already proved herself to be a bit of a daredevil, so I was excited to surprise her with a helicopter tour of the Canyon. Rebecca was less than enthusiastic about the idea, but we both knew how much Harley would enjoy the experience.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon early on December 28th, and Rebecca and I could hardly keep up with Harley as she bounced around the overlooks in excitement. True to our predictions, Harley nearly exploded when Rebecca and I showed her the helicopter that would be taking us over the canyon.
I feel no desire to belabor the details about what happened in the Canyon, as these details are immensely painful for me to even think about, much less write. All I will say is that the pilot believed we were having some form of malfunction with the rotor hub that led to her loss of control of the helicopter.
We were with another young couple in the copter, Pranav and Neha. The sole reason Neha and I were able to survive the crash and be rescued by first responders was because we both were sitting on the right side of the helicopter. That is the only reason. A simple choice of seat. In order to promote my personal well-being, I would appreciate if there was no more talk of this subject. To be more precise, I will fire anyone who speaks of these events in my presence without good reason.
Now then, I believe it would be fruitful to discuss my reasons for so quickly returning to lead the company. Many board members have expressed concern that I am throwing myself back into work as a defense mechanism against my grief. This is a perfectly valid concern, but I assure you all, this is not the case. The loss of my wife and eight-year-old daughter is without a doubt the single most difficult event that I will ever face, and I spent two weeks in the hospital immersed in a sense of inescapable darkness. I do not believe it necessary to divulge any more information about my mental state during the weeks after the Grand Canyon. However, to quell your doubts, I will remind you that I underwent a tremendous amount of mental conditioning during my time in the military. Additionally, I will have you know that I have spoken to three psychiatrists and two trauma therapists, each of whom has deemed me mentally and emotionally capable of returning to my duties as CEO of XenaCorp.
The central reason I have returned is precisely the same reason I founded XenaCorp in the first place: I am absolutely certain that the analysis and services we provide will fundamentally change our world for the better. Rebecca shared this conviction, and it was only through her steadfast support and business savvy that XenaCorp was able to survive its first few years of life. I can therefore only see my continued work leading XenaCorp as a dedication to Rebecca and Harley, and a promise to bring about the change of which Rebecca and I always dreamed.
I have one final note to add. Many of you knew Rebecca closely. Rebecca was gifted with immense intelligence, yet the quality that drew people to her was her unfathomable love for humanity. Regardless of your position with XenaCorp, I ask you to strive to mirror this love in everything you do. I have chosen to dedicate my remaining work with XenaCorp to the memory of Rebecca and Harley. I ask that you would do so as well.
The desert wind speaks death,
No violence on its breath,
In fear of seeming sad,
Calm will the zephyr add.
Great works the wind has seen,
The failure and the dream,
Now thermals shape its path,
No physics makes no wrath.
Its self-prophetic hex,
Is testament today,
That chaos yields a way.
Now hear its diatribe,
No violence on its breath,
So desert wind speaks death.
Grimes, or Clare, or c, or whatever the heck she wants to be called is really just the coolest kid in school. For simplicity, I shall heretofore refer to her by her common artist name, Grimes. If for some god-forsaken reason you are not incredibly familiar with the life and masterful works of Grimes, then I can assure you that your time would be much better spent listening to even a single song Grimes has produced than continuing to read this post. In fact, if you don’t know Grimes, I urge you to spend the next 30 minutes doing the following:
If you followed my patent-pending quick-and-easy four step process for falling in love with Grimes, and you have not yourself fallen in love with Grimes, I can only recommend that you take a moment by yourself in a dark room to genuinely ask yourself if you’ve entirely lost touch with your sense of humanity. Perhaps you have. If you find yourself to be one such emotionally-challenged specimen, please send me an email. I am deeply interested in what may have happened in your life that has so robbed you of feeling that you are unable to innocently fall into a deep passionate love for a random Canadian Artist you’ve never heard of.
I suppose that if you are actively married or in what my junior high teachers would refer to as a “dating relationship,” you are probably a bit apprehensive about purposefully trying to fall in love with a different person than your significant other. I understand your concern, but let me humbly submit that your situation actually gives rise to an interesting opportunity. Have your significant other go through my patent-pending quick-and-easy four step process for falling in love with Grimes. Now then, it is likely that you both are trying to hide your deep, romantic, passionate love for Grimes from one another to prevent each other from becoming jealous (or whatever feeling someone develops upon learning their significant other has romantic feelings for someone else). While it may be difficult, let me urge you both to share your feelings towards Grimes with one another. This conversation, while potentially difficult, will actually bring you both closer by uniting you both together under a common, powerful, mutual emotion for a girl you both will likely never meet.
Now then, since I have solved the “significant other” issue, you, dear reader, should have at this point allowed yourself to embrace a love for Grimes that you should hopefully recognize as entirely inevitable. Given that is the case, I believe my work here is done. Hasta la vista, mis amigos.