2 weeks ago

May 8, 2018

"CAESAR: Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar's. Unless Caesar was lending it to you, in which case just render it back later. And if Caesar gave it to you, then it is yours, and not Caesar's, in which case there is no need to render it. Those things which were not Caesar's in the first place do not need to be rendered unto Caesar, but instead should be rendered unto those whose they are. Except in the sorts of conditions Caesar just described."
--Pippin Barr, pippinbarr.com/2009/01/05/rendering/
TFW you realize there's, like, less than one month before that "serious spring cleaning, for reals" will no longer be spring... (I go with meteorological seasons, which are much more tuned to the human condition and school year than the astronomical ones...)

May 7, 2018

Polar Sparkling Seltzer Mango Limeade has a terrific taste I can only describe as "spiky".

if you had the choice

May 6, 2018
I said: 'Imagine that you were on the threshold of this fairytale, sometime billions of years ago when everything was created. And you were able to choose whether you wanted to be born to a life on this planet at some point. You wouldn't know when you were going to be born, nor how long you'd live for, but at any event it wouldn't be more than a few years. All you'd know was that, if you chose to come into the world at some point, you'd also have to leave it again one day and go away from everything. This might cause you a good deal of grief, as lots of people think that life in the great fairytale is so wonderful that the mere thought of it ending can bring tears to their eyes. Things can be so nice here that it's terribly painful to think that at some point the days will run out.'

You sat stock still on my lap. And I said: 'What would you have chosen, Georg, if there had been some higher power that gave you the choice? Perhaps we can imagine some sort of cosmic fairy in this great, strange fairytale. Would you have chosen to live a life on earth at some point, whether short or long, in a hundred thousand or a hundred million years?'

I think I sighed heavily a couple of times before going on in a harsher tone: 'Or would you have refused to join in the game because you didn't like the rules?'
--Jostein Gaarder, "The Orange Girl". This book has an odd number of parallels with my life, from the late-revealed name of the titular character ("Veronika"), to a boy coping with the early death of his father, to a tendency to write letters for future reading, like I am with my super niece

can value judgements be objectively realized, or is morality always subjective? ramble

May 5, 2018
I remember 5 years ago, being struck by this passage from the chapter "Total Turnaround", in Augusten Burrough's book "Magical Thinking" and is about the author hiding his boyfriend's old formula moisturizer skin cream so that he'll try some new stuff:
He returned, indignant. "I mean it. Where is it?"

I sighed. "Okay, fine," I said. I padded across the floor and went to the closet where I barely reached--certainly no stretching--to the top shelf and produced his favorite pale green bottle. I handed it to him and became serious. "But will you at least try the new one?"

"I'll try it," but I knew he wouldn't .

I explained the situation to him, doctor to patient. "Look. This will be better for your skin because it will remove more dead epithelial cells. I mean, I know it's just lotion, but there have been advances." I emphasized the word "advances," knowing that Dennis is wary of advances.

"Fine," he said, "I'll try it."

I was somewhat annoyed by his resistance to change, and I also felt like he was still angry with me for hiding his oily lotion, so when we crawled into bed that evening I said, "Are you pissed at me for hiding it?"

"Yes," he said, like a child who was very mad at having his blocks taken away.

I smiled and nestled against him. He kissed my shoulder. I'd never felt closer to him because I did know that he was mad and yet it didn't matter: He loved me enough to be mad at me and not then have to reconsider the entire relationship.

5 years ago I wrote "You know, I think I have trouble feeling that in general, though I don't think it's the fault of the people who love(d) me."

So now - I feel like this resonates for me less in a familial way but in what I was taught about the divine; screw up too badly and eternal punishment awaits. I'm over the literal belief in that, but a deep anxiety-tinged concern about in line with a universal sense of what one should do still resonates.

Been talking with EB, who thinks the hope for an overarching objective moral framework is misguided; everyone does their moral reasoning based on their subjective view, one impressed on them by their culture and then later firmed up by their experience and growth.

On the one hand, parts of that are undeniable; you aren't going to be able to convince anyone of anything if it's too far outside their current landscape. And yet I don't quite believe that our attempts to convince, to mature the moral reasoning of ourselves and others, is totally dependent on hopping from one lily pad of subjective belief to another.

If someone says to another "It's wrong that he treated her that way", that person's not meaning "in my current moral calculus, that was wrong" or "in the shared overlap of our moral outlooks, that was wrong" or even "in the weighted average of every moral landscape of people that you and I would find reasonable, that was wrong". It's just wrong. ("R, O, N, G, *wrong*" as Mr. Pawlowski, my 11th grade math teacher would say)

My reasoning is that there is a sense of objective morality there - as Rebecca Goldstein says, "Universal consent is not what makes for moral truth." so even if the Nazis had triumphed and killed everyone who didn't agree with them and there wasn't a single morally reasoning creature left who demurred, that would not make them morally correct.

But - I do think people are useful guideposts to what might be most likely universally true. Or, maybe it's even more subtle than that - weirder in an emergent way, in the Taoist way "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" pointed me to.

Human morality doesn't pre-exist humans doing moral and immoral things, just like the platonic ideal of a chair wouldn't have pre-existed humans selecting or making items to sit on. Instead, in a dang near impossible to put into words way, the boundary of actual chairs (or moral acts) and our interactions with them build up a transcendent guidepost of what chairs, or moral acts, "should" be - the only meaningful guidepost to the discernment of what is of higher and lower quality.

(EB pointed me to Plato's The Form of the Good which got further to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance than I expected - but if this lay summary of Plato's forms is a guide, I'm not sure if Plato sets out where the forms come from. The form of the idea chair only emerges from actual chairs. Plato says the forms are eternal, but I don't know if he means into the past or merely the future.)

And it might be virtue is objective, but still only applicable in relative ways - you can compare two outlooks or put them roughly on a scale, but there is no ultimate singular virtuous ruling.

So in short, if EB is right, I don't see how we escape an existential relativist landscape. No way to tell someone they're wrong in a meaningful way, just hope to point out internal contradictions and hope they're wise enough to accept that, or make a pitch that "sure your moral system is decent, but here's one that's a bit better, and hopefully your current moral system is at least strong enough to recognize that superiority..."

But, getting back to the original Burroughs passage; even if I find EB's outlook rather dour, and almost postmodern (not that everyone's entitled to their own facts, but they are entitled to their own value judgements), it might free me a bit to be more relaxed that it might be true, at least reminding me that I don't believe there's singular judge waitin' to get me in the end - and that even without Objective Virtue, people are still keepin' on keepin' on.

May 4, 2018

TIL: "helicopter" isn't heli + copter, it comes from helico (spiral) + pter (wing, ala pterodactyl)
I am getting so frustrated with the low quality of iPhones voice to text transcription. Probably Never enough to make me switch, but boy is it annoying... I can say the word quote to put a " there butwhat do I say to end the quote? we are barely at the Atari 2600 level of voice interface...
"People who can't distinguish between etymology and entomology bug me in ways I cannot put into words."
On FB my college roommate Rob pointed me to this guide to Siri/voice-to-text "markup" commands
Heh, CarGurus is #1 largest car shopping website in the USA. Not bad for a site that is so hard to pronounce :-D It's nice being with a company doing so great - (though honestly it's not the tech that's winning the battle, it's being more on the side of the car buyers)

they say the neon lights are bright on lansdowne... project

May 3, 2018
I took the raw parts from my collaborator Katie and made this: That's the Orange Barrel Media billboard almost overlooking Fenway... Since I don't know many official animation tools, I used p5.js, making a primitive timeline in json that the app would then use to push around some layers. You can play around with the p5.js tool I used to generate the frames before using ffmpeg to glue 'em all together as mov.

i'd rather have questions i can't answer than answers i can't question

May 2, 2018
The Sam Harris' Waking Up Podcast Live I went to in January was posted the other week, his guests were Rebecca Goldstein and Max Tegmark.

Two quotes I wrote down then:
"I'd rather have questions I can't answer than answers I can't question"
--Max Tegmark
"Universal consent is not what makes for moral truth."
--Rebecca Goldstein (on, for instance, even if the Nazis had won, that wouldn't make them right.)

(Another idea I got from listening to it again is Goldstein's concept of "mattering", how important it is to us and our philosophies. And how religion can be like "mattering cheesecake" - full of the rich fatty deliciousness that are evolutionary line was so craving, but now kind of a bit too much... )

I got to thinking about this one problem I've heard Sam Harris describe, where our sympathy / compassion is a bit broken, that we are demonstrably more likely to respond a picture of a single suffering child then a picture of her and her brother, and even less to, say, their whole class of suffering kids. It's a bit of compassion fatigue, but I think it's more that we are more stirred to action to correct an outlier of injustice than take up arms against the way the world is. I think in some outlooks that stress Moderation as a virtue, and how things find their own path, this seeming contradiction is less paradoxical than it first seems.
astronaut.io explore the lonely internet, an endless slideshow of videos (ones up loaded with generic auto-generated number names) that maybe you'll be the only person looking at, ever.
"Tattoos and babies aren't permanent like people say, both can be destroyed with lasers"
Almost 90 today? Yeesh.